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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health

The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported by state health officials, Wednesday, shatters the previous daily record of new cases. The Florida Department of Health reported 5,508 new cases of the virus, June 24, increasing the statewide total to 109,014 cases. Wednesday’s increase in coronavirus cases is 36 percent more cases than the previous single-day record announced last Saturday.

State health officials also reported 43 new deaths, Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 3,281 fatalities including 1,724 deaths in long-term care facilities. Coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities accounts for 52.5 percent of all virus-related deaths in the state.

The total number of hospitalizations in Florida due to the virus since the pandemic began has now risen to 13,574 patients.

Of the 1,669,440 tests that have been performed in the state so far, more than 6.5 percent have been positive for the virus. Florida's positivity rate continues to climb.

Here in the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 488 new cases, June 24, and three new deaths for a total of 12,179 cases and 538 deaths.

Florida business regulators shut down a web portal launched to make it easier for the public to file complaints about businesses that violate COVID-19 guidelines last month, just as cases statewide started to surge.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation created the online form in mid-March, but removed it May 29.

A spokeswoman said the agency eliminated the portal because complaints had dwindled.

“As the state moved into reopening the number of complaints greatly reduced and the agency returned to the standard online form for receiving complaints regarding a licensed business or an individual licensee,” spokeswoman Karen Smith said in an email.

But the department’s own records show the number of complaints doubled from April to May.

Since May 29, when the number of coronavirus cases statewide doubled, the outbreak has continued to accelerate, with numbers steadily climbing. June 20 set a new statewide record with 4,049 cases and on Monday, Miami-Dade hit a new record.

The climbing numbers and uneven compliance led Miami-Dade to crack down on enforcement. Last week, Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a new executive order saying businesses that failed to follow guidelines would no longer be warned but ordered to close immediately.

Under the order, they will not be allowed to reopen until they sign an affidavit vowing to follow rules or face a $500 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

Mayors in several cities in the county, including Miami, Miami Shores and Key Biscayne, said they would sign orders making masks in public mandatory.

The online portal was launched just before Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars and gyms to shut down. About a week later, he issued ‘Safer at Home’ orders, advising residents to only leave home for essential business. When the state’s reopening began in early May, experts warned that numbers could spike.

During May, the number of complaints to the portal doubled from 1,312 to 2,053. Smith said Monday many of the submissions were questions or comments and not complaints. Among the businesses listed on the form were restaurants, bars, hotels, vacation rentals, barber shops and salons and “other.”

“So when we started reopening, even at 25 to 50 percent, there were complaints that that was not being observed,” she said.

She said the agency is now relying on its existing system to monitor complaints, with inspectors and law enforcement “maintaining an enhanced daily field presence” in which they conduct routine inspections and answer complaints. Businesses that don’t comply with rules will be issued a warning first, she said, and could face other penalties including having their licenses suspended.

Nearly 900 of Lee Health's 14,500 employees are voluntarily taking summer sabbaticals or quitting through a workforce reduction plan announced by health system officials in May.

The plan comes as a way to mitigate operating losses amid the coronavirus pandemic. The News-Press reports Lee Health estimates it will lose between $50 million and $75 million by the end of its fiscal year September 30.

Lee Health isn't alone, as the American Hospital Association estimates that acute-care facilities nationwide are suffering short-term losses totaling nearly $203 billion just between March 1 and July 1.

Lost revenue stems from elective surgeries being halted at the start of the pandemic, increased costs of providing personal protective equipment, cost of equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients, and fewer people going to the hospital to seek non-COVID-related medical treatment.

The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County projects $55 million in losses by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Back in April, NCH executive leadership took a 10 percent pay cut and staffing adjustments were made that resulted in some workers losing hours, but no further efforts have been made to mitigate projected financial losses at NCH so far.

The way hospitals in Florida update their available intensive care unit beds to the state may change.

The Florida Department of Health wants hospitals to report only the number of COVID-19-positive patients receiving I-C-U level care and not every single COVID-19 patient in the ICU.

Before, hospitals would report the “current number of COVID positive patients admitted into ICU beds.”According to an email from the state health department, hospitals are using a portion of their ICU beds for patients with positive cases of COVID-19, including “those that do not require intensive care”. This week Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the decision.“Some of the hospitals had told us they were just using their ICU wing as their COVID wing,” said DeSantis.

Nursing Officer at Jackson Memorial Hospital Dr. Carol Biggs said her team puts only patients who need critical care in the ICU.

“We have criteria for what meets the level for critical care. So that’s no different with the COVID patient,” said Dr. Biggs.

“When you come in, you’re evaluated for what level of care is appropriate to treat the symptoms that you have.”

Nurses are trained for intensive care and hospitals have a smaller ratio of nurses per patient in the ICU.

Florida school districts are considering what measures they’ll need to put in place so kids can return to the classroom later this summer.

Chief Medical Officer at Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami Dr. Barry Gelman said kids aren’t typically getting very sick, but they can spread COVID-19.

“The virus is going to keep circulating, and when kids go to school, they will spread to each other,” said Dr. Gelman.

“The important thing is to monitor them for symptoms if they’re getting sicker and also to keep adults who are at risk, safe.”

A 17-year-old student of Cypress Lake High School in Lee County died of complications from COVID-19, Tuesday. According to the Florida Department of Health, another 17-year-old in Pasco County has also died from the virus.

Governor Ron DeSantis has formally signed off on teacher pay raises. The state is planning on spending about $500 million to bring Florida to near the top of states for starting salaries. The move comes as DeSantis has promised cuts to the upcoming state budget to deal with revenue losses from the pandemic.

“Although we have not made every decision about the budget, I can report This will be there 100%. We’re going to have to make tough choices, but this is important," he said Wednesday during a bill signing at a South Florida charter school.

The teacher pay plan creates a base teacher salary of $47,500. The plan is a compromise between the House and Senate and allows for districts already at that level, to use some of the money to increase pay for other teachers. The approval of raises comes as the state continues to grapple with a teacher shortage and has been a longtime priority of teachers' unions.

"This $500 million investment in Florida’s teachers is especially meaningful given the current circumstances. It speaks to the deep value of public education to our state’s future,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram in a statement sent after DeSantis signed the bill.

“We’ve all heard the reports that many issues, including some of the governor’s priorities, are on the chopping block for vetoes. The decision to leave this investment for Florida’s schools intact is an acknowledgment of the hard work our members do each and every day for Florida’s students. We thank Gov. DeSantis for signing this very important bill into law, and we look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to ensure Florida's public schools move from the bottom in the nation to the top when it comes to per-student spending.”

Two major sports — basketball and soccer — are bringing their seasons to Orlando next month. The National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer will hold games and tournaments at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World.

All 26 MLS teams will compete in a World Cup style tournament starting July 8.

Speaking to Orange County’s Economic task force, Orlando City Soccer Club’s Cesar Lopez stressed the league’s commitment to safety and outlined a strict COVID testing and quarantine plan for players — which includes testing every two days.

“The players will also go through a baseline antibody test as part of their physical exams, and the League has actually partnered with a lab to help streamline that process,” said Lopez.

Players and staff will stay at one of the Walt Disney World Resorts. The soccer tournament will last through August 11.

The NBA is also committed to safety, limiting the number of personnel that can travel along with testing players and staff daily. Officials said travel outside the Disney campus is discouraged.

“Everyone in the travel parties will be quarantined for a few days in their rooms upon arrival again as part of the safety measures that we’re taking to avoid any spread of COVID-19 in this campus community,” said Orlando Magic’s Alex Martins

NBA teams began arriving this week for practice and they’ll play in front of empty stands starting at the end of next month. Games will continue through the NBA finals with Disney hosting the NBA through October. Players and staff will stay at Disney’s Grand Floridian, Yacht Club and Coronado Springs resorts.

Tourism leaders are welcoming the events to Central Florida. Despite not hosting any spectators, the games will air to fans globally.

“The exposure that our community and Walt Disney World will receive will exceed that of the exposure that is typically found at the Olympics,” said Martins. “The international and regional television that will take place from these games will be tremendous.”

There's a widening gap between Republicans and Democrats in Florida when it comes to voters seeking to vote by mail. The AP reports Democrats have a significant lead over Republicans in the number of voters requesting absentee ballots. As of last week, Democrats led by more than 300,000 with 1.46 million Democrats in the state applying to vote by mail compared to 1.16 Republicans.

This comes as the Democratic Party has mounted an aggressive campaign to get voters to request vote-by-mail ballots and as President Trump continues to attack the integrity of vote-by-mail systems. Election officials across Florida are pushing more voters to apply for absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.