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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health
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There are now more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida. State Health officials reported 2,962 new COVID-19 cases, June 22, bringing the statewide total to 100,217 cases since the pandemic began. Monday’s single day increase was below the daily record of 4,049 cases set on Saturday, but still a significant increase.

Monday’s numbers also show an increase of nearly 23,000 cases in the past week.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 12 new coronavirus-related deaths, Monday. Half of yesterday's reported deaths statewide were in Lee County.

As the number of coronavirus infections in Florida continues to rapidly increase, some say they now feel the state began reopening too quickly.

This past weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would begin cracking down on restaurants and bars that don’t follow guidelines limiting the number of people inside the establishments, but stood by his decision not to mandate that people wear masks.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, said that’s too little, too late.

““Unfortunately, when we opened so fast, it’s created a false sense of security for all of our citizens in our state. We opened so fast. You don’t see our governor wearing a mask. You don’t see the President wearing a mask. People are thinking that COVID is behind us, and that’s just not accurate,” said Fried.

Florida joins five other states in topping the 100,000-case threshold including California, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 226 new cases of the virus for a total of 11,344 cases. The six new deaths reported in Lee county, June 22, brings the death toll for the Southwest Florida region to 531 fatalities.

The News-Press reports, scientists and medical professionals are warning that Florida will likely be the epicenter of the next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the Southwest Florida counties of Collier, Lee and Hendry could be among the few responsible for that depiction.

Gov. DeSantis has attributed the current spike in cases to increased testing in nursing homes and farmworker communities, but hospital data and the growing rate of positive COVID-19 tests tells a different story.

As of Monday, 27 percent of intensive care unit beds statewide were available. State Health officials reported 82 more hospitalizations, Jun 22, bringing the total number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began to 13,119 patients.

Lee Health has averaged 120 coronavirus patients in its hospitals each day this month compared to an average of 88 patients on a given day in May. Lee Health hospitals recorded 141 COVID-19 patients last Wednesday and again last Friday, marking the health system's highest single-day number of COVID-19 patients to date.

The NCH Healthcare system in Collier County reports similar rates of COVID-19 patients with an average of 51 patients a day this month compared to a daily average of 37 in May.

Of the 1,618,540 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 6.2 percent have been positive. The positivity rate has been trending upwards and the positivity rate for those whose test results have come in just since June 15 is 12.2 percent.

Some municipalities in Florid are taking steps to make the wearing of masks mandatory. Collier County Commissioner William McDaniel, however, said requiring people to wear masks would be unenforceable. McDaniel's district covers the COVID hotspot town of Immokalee.

Meanwhile some businesses and restaurants in Southwest Florida are voluntarily closing for the time being due to concerns about COVID-19 or because staff and/or patrons have tested positive for the virus.

The Florida Democratic Party and Latino groups are pushing back on a statement Gov. DeSantis made last week. The governor said that a recent spike in cases has been tied to “overwhelmingly Hispanic” agricultural workers.

Natasha Otero Santiago is a Puerto Rican activist in Miami. She’s asking for an apology and an explanation.

“We are asking DeSantis to please do an announcement or a statement saying where he has gotten his information that Latinos are the ones spreading and are the cause of this exponential growth,” said Santiago.

Positive cases of the coronavirus have sharply spiked over the last week, but the state has not released any data or information that attributes that spike to one sector of the economy or one ethnic group. The Florida Department of Agriculture says the largest spikes in recent cases have happened in counties where there is little agriculture.

More than a third of COVID-19 deaths in the United States so far happened at nursing homes.

Now Congress is demanding answers from five of the companies that run them, including one with 69 facilities in Florida.

Consulate Health Care is one of the largest for-profit nursing home chains in the United States. It's also one of the five that received a letter June 16 from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, demanding documents on infection control and virus preparedness.

There have been at least 61 deaths and 246 cases among residents at Consulate Health Care’s 69 locations in Florida, according to data from the state Department of Health.

Another 101 Consulate employees have tested positive for the virus.

Nearly half of the deaths happened at facilities in Brandon, Lakeland, and Bradenton.

Clyburn's letter outlined what he called the long-term care industry's "widespread and persistent" pattern of deficiencies that include chronic understaffing, low wages, lack of paid sick leave, improper hand hygiene and poor disease prevention practices – all of which have contributed to the crisis.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found “most nursing homes ha[d] an infection prevention and control deficiency cited in one or more years from 2013 through 2017 (13,299 nursing homes, or 82 percent of all surveyed homes)” such as staff who “did not regularly use proper hand hygiene or failed to implement preventive measures during an infection disease outbreak.”

The report warned, “Many of these practices can be critical to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”

Clyburn’s letter also says a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services inspection found that some nursing homes had severe deficiencies in infection control that placed residents’ health and safety in “immediate jeopardy,” including staff members who failed to wash their hands, wear masks, or follow isolation protocols.

The letter asks Consulate to provide a variety of documents to the task force by June 30, covering January 1, 2020 to the present.

These include records on the number of beds; how those beds are paid for; demographic information of residents; wages and paid time off for employees; a breakdown of available personal protective equipment and its use; suspected number of coronavirus infections and deaths; and complaints made about the company.

Similar letters with the same demands were sent to chief executive officers of Genesis HealthCare, Life Care Centers of America, Ensign Group, and SavaSeniorCareSava.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and other members of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families held an online roundtable discussion on Facebook about the impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes.

Deutch stressed that just because the recent rise in Florida cases appears to be residents in their 20s and 30s, doesn’t mean the work to protect the elderly is over.

“We can't give up preventing outbreaks because it's mostly younger people, as the governor pointed out, and expect Floridians and nursing homes will be okay because they're locked away. That's not acceptable. It's not what aging in America should look like.”

Deutch said in the 100 days since Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered nursing homes to close to visitors, the state has failed to come up with a long-term, comprehensive plan for the virus.

“Instead, he blamed farmworkers with racially charged rhetoric; he blamed young people. He blamed the media. And it is the most vulnerable Floridians who are paying the price,” Deutch said. “Residents and staff at long-term care facilities account for more than half of the reported deaths in our state.”

A new nationwide survey by Florida State University shows older folks are using online tools better than anyone expected to deal with the social isolation caused by the pandemic. The school's Institute for Successful Longevity, headed by Dr. Neil Charness, was a principal player in the research.

“We're helping the research project even as we speak and we hope to continue to provide opportunities for seniors to take advantage of the new tools and new opportunities that technology is making available,” said Dr. Charness.

The survey, which actually began in February before COVID-19 became widespread, involved 2,000 people between the ages of 18 and 98.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians of scammers trying to impersonate health officials. Moody said the calls are going out from people pretending to be contact tracers to get personal details from victims. She's advising people to verify that contact tracing calls are coming from county health departments.

"Know that a legitimate contact tracer will never ask for your birthdate; they already have this information and will simply ask for confirmation,” said Moody.

“Contact tracers will never ask for your social security number or banking information. They also will never reveal the identity of the COVID-19 positive person you may have had contact with."

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, health workers try to call people who have been near that infected person. It's called contact tracing, and the CDC reports it's a key strategy in preventing the coronavirus from spreading.

Danny Rivero
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.
Julio Ochoa
Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Robbie Gaffney is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.