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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health
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State health officials, Tuesday, reported a new record high number of coronavirus cases recorded in a single day since the pandemic began. The 2,783 cases reported June 16 bring the statewide total number of cases to 80,109.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 55 new coronavirus-related deaths, Tuesday, increasing the statewide death toll to 2,993 fatalities including more than 1,500 deaths in long-term care facilities.

The total number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the state now stands at 12,206 patients. Of the 1,461,297 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 5.5 percent have been positive for the virus.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 363 new cases of the virus, Tuesday and six new deaths including four deaths in Lee County and one death each in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The total number of COVID-19 cases documented in Lee County now tops 3,000.

The median age of people getting infected by the coronavirus in Florida has dropped from 65 to 37. It comes as the number of positive cases has increased in recent weeks, but Gov. Ron DeSantis said he doesn’t believe the state needs to scale back on its reopening efforts.

“Would shutting down the state stop some of the examples I’ve shown? I don’t think so,” said DeSantis.

“You have to have society function, to have a cohesive society, that’s the best way to deal with the impacts of the virus, but particularly when you have a virus that disproportionally impacts one segment of society—to suppress a lot of working age people at this point, I don’t think would be very effective.”

DeSantis attributes recent increases to more testing in communities considered high-risk, including low-income areas, farming communities, nursing homes, and prisons.

DeSantis held a late afternoon news conference at the state capitol, Tuesday, amid increasing questions about the surge in cases and just hours after state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried accused him of acting recklessly.

Over the past week, there have been more than 14,000 new COVID-19 cases reported by the Department of Health, including 4,500 in just the past two days.

DeSantis pointed to several cluster areas around the state in the last week that he said skewed the percentage of positive cases upward. Despite the increase, DeSantis says he feels the state needs to stay the course.

“We are not shutting down. We are going to go forward,” said DeSantis.

“We are going to continue to protect the most vulnerable. We are going to urge and continue to advise our elderly population to maintain social distancing, avoid crowds.”

Earlier in the day, Tuesday, Agriculture Commissioner Fried said DeSantis had “lost control of Florida’s COVID-19 response.”

Even as Florida is reopening, the state is seeing record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. A group of doctors has asked Governor DeSantis to make the wearing of protective face masks mandatory in certain settings.There is much that isn't known about the coronavirus. But Dr. Howard Kessler, president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, said one fact is undisputed.

"Face masks help slow the spread of the virus. They help lessen the chance of the wearing getting the virus and they help lessen the chance of the wearing, if infected, of spreading the virus," he asserted.

But it seems fewer Floridians are wearing masks voluntarily. So Public Health Professor Dr. Donald Axelrad wanted sterner measures.

"I'm respectfully requesting Governor Ron DeSantis to issue an executive order mandating that all persons in Florida wear face masks in enclosed spaces or crowds as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Please! It's a matter of life and death, not choice."

The doctors made the plea Tuesday in front of the Governor's Mansion. An earlier letter to the governor requesting the order has gone unanswered.

Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday he’ll soon slash enough spending from the state’s proposed $93.2 billion budget to keep lawmakers from having to address a loss in tax revenues before the November elections.

A late May report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research said revenue collections in April were more than $878 million dollars below estimates, with a large chunk of the drop due to the decline in tourism.

Lawmakers passed a record spending plan in March for the fiscal year that starts July 1st.

But the proposed budget has not been formally delivered to DeSantis, who has line-item veto power.

With two weeks until the fiscal year begins, DeSantis said his office has already been targeting cuts, identifying areas in agency budgets that can be held back on a quarterly basis and allocating federal stimulus dollars to cover pandemic-related costs.“There are a lot of things in there that I think are meritorious, but at the same time, we are living in a different reality. We’ve got to take that into account, and so we will exercise that authority accordingly,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis has made a priority of teacher pay hikes and spending on environmental issues and hinted those items will likely not be cut.

The state has already lost hundreds of millions of dollars in expected tax revenues after the coronavirus forced businesses to shut down or dramatically scale back operations.

The Legislature had largely finalized the budget when the devastating effects of the pandemic began to become more apparent, with theme parks ultimately closing, the tourism industry cratering and unemployment soaring into the double digits.

Lee County Commissioners, on Tuesday, approved funding for Florida Gulf Coast University researchers to conduct a COVID-19 antibody study.

The News-Press reports, commissioners approved spending no more than $450,000 from the $134.5 million the county received from the federal CARES Act.

The two-part study is aimed at getting more data to get a clearer picture of the community's true infection rate that could help guide response to a potential second wave of the viral pandemic.

The first phase involves blood draws on 4,000 volunteers who live in Lee County. The second part of the study involves antibody testing of first responders and frontline healthcare workers who have already been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The study is set to begin in July and researchers plan to have some preliminary results available four months later.

With the start of school just two months away, Gov. DeSantis is suggesting public schools return to campus for the fall semester.

Tampa Bay Times education reporter Jeff Solochek said some districts had hoped to get specific recommendations from the governor and state Department of Education. Instead, he says they're scrambling to work out logistics, and trying to make sure families will be on board with their plans.

“They need to figure out more about what it's going to look like and they want to hear from parents,” said Solochek.

“Because if parents are not comfortable sending their children, then everything they do is for naught.”

More than 2.75 million children attend Florida's public schools, and the state employs 180,000 teachers.

Unprecedented job loss due to the coronavirus means that more people across the country have enrolled in the nation's largest health care insurance safety net program.

Florida's Medicaid enrollment increased by nearly 5 percent in April and about 3 1/2 percent in May.

Anne Swerlick with the Florida Policy Institute said the rising enrollment by itself isn't something to be concerned about.

“I think it shows that the Medicaid program in Florida is doing exactly what it was set up to do. And that's to be a safety net program,” she said.

“So, when times are bad economically, enrollment will expand to meet the need and when better economic times arrive, the enrollment will contract. So, it’s truly a lifeline for families when the economy is down.”

But Swerlick said the program needs more money to sustain that growth.

"We're going to need some more help at the federal level to preserve the program, and we need it urgently."

The National Governors Association recently asked Congress for a 12% increase in Medicaid funding to states, similar to the funds many states received under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The more recent Families First Coronavirus Response Act did increase Medicaid dollars to states by 6 percent but Swerlick said this falls short of what states will need in the long term.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.
Mary Shedden
Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF Public Media, where she oversees a team of reporters covering 13 counties on Florida’s west coast.
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.