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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 1,204 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, Thursday, bringing the statewide total number of cases to 48,675. The Florida Department of Health also reported 48 more coronavirus-related deaths, Thursday, for a total of 2,144 fatalities.

In a tweet, Gov. Ron DeSantis attributes the large single-day increase in the number of infected people to "another big dump of test results."

On Wednesday, state health officials reported receiving more than 77,900 test results, marking the largest single-day number of test results they've received since the pandemic began.

The total number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the state now stands at 8,946 patients. Of the 815-584 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 6% have been positive for the virus.

In the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the number of confirmed cases increased by 176 people and the number of deaths grew by eight fatalities for a total of 4,849 cases and 349 deaths.

Lee County continues to lead in the number of cases in the Southwest Florida region with 1,585 reported cases. Lee and Manatee Counties are tied for the most deaths with 88 recorded fatalities, each. The health department's online COVID-19 dashboard had been reporting 89 deaths in Lee County for most of this week, but that number was reduced to 88, Thursday. The reason for this reduction remains unclear.

In Sarasota County there was a single-day increase of five deaths. Charlotte and Collier Counties both reported 3 new deaths each, Thursday, and Manatee County had one new death.

This data is based on information from the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, which has been facing concerns this week bout the transparency and integrity of data provided on the site.

The chairman of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission Dr. Stephen Nelson, says state officials are no longer suppressing information about coronavirus-related deaths compiled by medical examiners throughout Florida.

FLORIDA TODAY first reported that the information was being kept from the public back in April. The Tampa Bay Times reported, last month, that the number of COVID-19 deaths being documented by medical examiners was off from what the state health department was reporting by as much as ten percent at times.

State officials have not said why they've changed course, but the timing comes amid widespread criticism and concern over the integrity of coronavirus data being reported by the Florida Department of Health.

Attorneys representing a consortium of newspapers have been fighting for release of the data, arguing that it's a matter of public record.

Floridians who have filed applications for unemployment benefits may have had their personal data stolen due to a data breach of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. DEO spokeswoman Paige Landrum said 98 people who were part of the breach have been notified.

The AP reports, officials haven't said when the breach occurred, how many people were affected or what information was taken. The DEO is making identity protection services available to affected people at no charge. Victims are advised to report any unauthorized activity on their financial accounts.

More than 223,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed last week in Florida, marking a slight uptick from the prior week.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported, Thursday, an estimated 223,927 initial claims were submitted in Florida during the week that ended May 16th. Florida’s estimate was up slightly from the previous week.

The numbers come as Florida has tried to bolster its troubled CONNECT online unemployment system and as Gov. DeSantis has moved forward with the first phase of an economic-reopening plan.

“This is a difficult time. I think we're transitioning, hopefully, into a time where the economy can start to do a little bit better and hopefully much better in the not too distant future,” said DeSantis.

The DeSantis administration has continued to face criticism about the processing and approval of claims. The governor has ordered an investigation into the $77.9 million CONNECT system, which went live in 2013, but was quickly overwhelmed when jobless claims started skyrocketing in mid-March.

Democrats, including State Senator Gary Farmer said the investigation should include the current administration’s handling of the system.

“These are proud Floridians. This is not a narrative of people looking to game the system to get by,” said Sen. Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale. “These are people in need, and they are counting on their government. We are supposed to be better than this.”

The DEO will release April unemployment figures today, May 22. The national unemployment mark hit 14.7% in April.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is joining attorney’s general from other states in asking Congress to clear the way for families of first responders who die of COVID-19 to apply for federal benefits.

Right now, the family must prove the person caught an infectious disease from a work-related activity. The attorney’s general say that might be difficult to prove with COVID-19. Moody said some Florida police officers have already died due to the virus.

“We must support these brave men and women who face danger daily on our behalf, and as the wife of a law enforcement office I can tell you we must also support their families should they make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Moody.

The U.S. Senate passed an act to temporarily suspend the barriers to death benefits. The House is considering the measure.

More than 1,700 COVID-19 tests in Florida were damaged while being transported to a laboratory for analysis according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

The AP reports, state officials say impacted individuals are being contacted and given priority for retesting at the site where they were originally tested. Information on how the tests were damaged has not been released.

Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, state officials are allowing short term vacation rentals in Lee County to resume operations with some safety restrictions.

The News-Press reports, hours after Lee County gained state approval, the Sanibel Town Council held a special meeting and became the first municipality in the county to adopt the short term vacation rental reopening.

In addition to cleaning regulations, vacation rental owners are not allowed to rent to people traveling from foreign countries or from states in the U.S. identified as COVID-19 hot spots.

Hot spot states are those with viral infection rates exceeding 700 per 100,000 residents. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hot spot states includes Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina.

Lee County is reopening park amenities today.

According to the county's Facebook page, pools will reopen for lap swimming and exercise only. Playgrounds, pavilions, athletic fields and fishing piers will also be open. Staff will be onsite to promote social distancing and to assist in cleaning.