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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 7,347 new cases of COVID-19, Tuesday, increasing the statewide total to 213,794 cases since the pandemic began. July 7 marked the 14th consecutive day of single-day increases of at least 5,000 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 63 new coronavirus-related deaths, Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 3,841 fatalities.

Since Phase Two of Florida's reopening plan went into effect June 5th, state health officials have reported a more than 70 percent increase in new cases of the virus.

Of the 2,271,267 people in Florida who have been tested for COVID-19 so far, 9.4 percent have been positive for the virus. Tuesday marked the 23rd consecutive day that Florida's positivity rate has increased.

State health data also shows 380 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, July 7, for a total of 16,425 patients since the pandemic began.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties state health officials reported 505 new cases of the virus, Tuesday for a total of 21,442 cases.

State health officials also reported eight new coronavirus-related deaths in the Southwest Florida region, yesterday including five new deaths in Lee County and three new deaths in Manatee County for a total of 595 fatalities.

On Monday, Florida's Education Commissioner issued an emergency order for brick and mortar schools to reopen for the fall, with the full array of services schools provide. It said "school openings must be consistent with safety precautions as defined by the Florida Department of Health, local health officials and supportive of Floridians, young and adult, with underlying conditions that make them medically vulnerable."

However, leaders of teachers’ unions said they need much more guidance when it comes to protecting everyone involved, students, teachers, aides, bus drivers and others.

Pat Gardner, president of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association said Governor Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran should be offering guidance on how to keep everyone safe now.

"How do I keep my 55-year-old teacher from getting sick, who has diabetes and maybe some underlying health problems and they're not discussing that and that's what they need to discuss now," Gardner said.

"Are they going to fund that, the money to buy masks and shields...and everything else that it takes to keep people safe? Or is this just because the governor wants to do what the president wants to do? And the president says 99% of the people are fine. So, are we suffering because of politics? And that's what I believe, and my teachers are scared to death," she said.

Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said with just five weeks until school is back in session, "I would like to see all options explored. Anything that we can do to ensure the safety of our society is going to be have to remain on the table and we're going to have to talk about that and what the implications of that are.

"But I will tell you this, this is going to cost us more money. It's not going to cost less money."

Both Gardner and Ingram said they wanted to know where the money would come from to pay for the options families are being offered in this time of coronavirus.

"Because if you offer the virtual school online, and you offer the brick and mortar you are going to have to have more staff, more faculty, not fewer people," Ingram said.

Florida Democratic lawmakers say the governor is downplaying the state’s rising coronavirus cases. The Florida Department of Health reported more than 7,000 new cases today. Democrats are continuing to call for a statewide mask policy, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly rejected the idea. Sen. Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) says the governor is blaming young people instead of taking action.

“He’s the governor. The buck stops with him. He has to show leadership. We don’t have that type of leadership,” said Thurston.

DeSantis said Tuesday some “young people” weren’t cooperating with COVID-19 contact tracing efforts. He also says the increase in cases is driven in part, by people in the 20-to-30 age range.

A Southwest Florida man has lost his job after video surfaced, showing the man yelling at a fellow shopper who had asked him to comply with the store's face covering policy at Costco’s Gulf Coast Town Center location in Estero.

The News-Press reports, the video went viral after it was posted by Miami documentary filmmaker Billy Corben and attorney and civil rights activist Shawn King.

The incident exemplifies how contentious the topic of mask mandates has become. Earlier this week, Cape Coral City council members voted against adopting a mandatory mask policy for people in public. The Sanibel city council, meanwhile, approved a mask mandate June 30 for people in public, and in indoor situations where six-foot social distancing isn't possible.

The Lee County Commission and Fort Myers City Council have not taken up the issue.

Plasma from the survivors of COVID-19 can be a life-saving therapy for those who are hospitalized due to coronavirus, but Sarasota doctors say supplies are critically low and donations are urgently needed.

“We are in desperate need of plasma," said Kirk Voelker, a critical care pulmonologist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

"It is one of our mainstay medications -- treatments -- for COVID. And we are running critically short on it.”

This pool of survivors presents a large opportunity to save lives, as the outbreak continues to mount, said Voelker.

"Every time you donate, you can save four lives," he said.

While medical professionals have made progress in their understanding of how to treat COVID-19, they are also grappling with a nationwide shortage of one of the only promising drugs against coronavirus, known as remdesivir.

That leaves the plasma of COVID-19 survivors as a frontline treatment. And soon, it may have to be rationed, Voelker said.

“Before, when you came into the hospital if you required oxygen or were short of breath, you would get the convalescent plasma. Right now, we are going to have to start looking at how sick are patients? Are they on higher amounts of oxygen? Are they on the ventilator? Are they definitely ill? And we're going to have to start stratifying who gets it," he said.

"We have not had to do so until this point, but if we do not have the supply, then we have to ration.”

The Herald Tribune reports Sarasota Memorial had 82 coronavirus patients, Tuesday, including 17 in the intensive care unit. Both of those numbers mark new record highs.

Voelker says plasma is needed from survivors of all blood types. Donations can typically be made 28 days after a person tests positive for COVID-19.

The Red Cross offers more information on how to donate plasma here.

More people are being tested for coronavirus in Florida causing a log-jam, not only in getting tested, but also in receiving results.

University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins said rapid tests recently implemented by the state can produce quicker results and identify positive cases right away, but she said they are not as accurate as standard tests, and something to consider for anyone who wishes to be tested.

“What we’re seeing right now is just an overload of the system and then we’re not being able to get those results back as quickly,” said Dr. Prins.

“So, there may be some value again in rapid testing there, but a lot of caveats associated with that kind of testing.”

In addition to testing, health experts point to contact tracing as one of the most effective ways to stem the steep rise of coronavirus cases in Florida.

Dr. Prins said people may feel inconvenienced by the phone calls from tracers, but that it is a necessary step in the state’s efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

“Really, all they’re trying to do is try to prevent more cases of COVID-19. So, I really would ask them sincerely to please talk to these contact tracers and let them do their job to help protect other people.”

Dr. Prins said the demands on contact tracers are growing sharply as they try to reach more people who may have been exposed to the virus.

A growing number of Republican U.S. Senators are talking about skipping this year's Republican National Convention in Jacksonville. President Donald Trump now says he's "flexible" on the size of the event. The AP reports, Trump said during an interview, Tuesday, that whether he'd want a big event "really depends on the timing,"

Republican Senators including Iowa's Chuck Grassley and Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, both in their 80s, say they will stay away from the convention.

Collier County, Marco Island and Naples have lifted their beach restrictions again. Local officials there had modified weekend beach hours and parking requirements to stave off overcrowding, including by out-of-towners, on the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Collier County beaches are back to regular sunrise to sunset hours until further notice. Naples beaches returned to their normal hours of being open 24 hours a day seven days a week, as of Tuesday morning. City of Naples beach parking is open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.
Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.
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.
Dinorah Prevost is a WUSF Public Media news intern for summer 2018.