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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 9,989 new cases of COVID-19, July 8, increasing the statewide total to 223,783 cases. Wednesday marked the 15th consecutive day of single-day increases of at least 5,000 cases of the virus.

The Florida Department of Health also reported another 48 coronavirus-related deaths, Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 3,889 fatalities.

Florida has seen more than 162,000 new cases of the virus since phase two of Governor Ron DeSantis' reopening plan went into effect June 5.

Of the 2,223,783 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 9.6 percent have been positive for the virus. The positivity rate in Florida has been increasing now for 24 consecutive days.

State health officials also reported 333 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, Wednesday, bringing the total number of hospitalizations to 16,758 patients since the pandemic began.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the department of health reported 822 new cases of the virus, Wednesday, for a total of 22,264 cases.

Lee Health is asking for more critical care nurses to help staff intensive care units in the health system's four acute care hospitals.

As of Wednesday, Lee Health's ICUs were at 91 percent capacity. Health system officials are asking for any Intensive Care Unit, Progressive Care Unit or Post-Anesthesia Care Unit-trained nurses to assist with staffing.

The News-Press reports the growing numbers of coronavirus patients since phase two of Florida's reopening plan began have alarmed hospital officials. Last Friday, Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci warned that health centers could eventually be overrun.

The call for additional staffing comes two months after Lee Health launched a workforce reduction program to help make up for lost revenue after elective surgeries and other non-essential procedures were temporarily halted.

Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued a mandate Monday that all Florida K-12 schools must be open 5 days a week starting in the fall. The state school districts are now tasked with creating a reopening plan that meets this mandate, which they will submit to the Florida Dept of Education.

This came as a curve ball for local school districts, particularly as the state grapples with record-setting numbers of new coronavirus cases.

The Lee County School board met July 8 to present a proposed reopening plan. Lee County schools had planned to reopen August 10. Superintendent Greg Adkins said that the district will make a final decision on July 20 as to whether that date will still be workable.

In a statement, Collier County school district administrators said they will continue to work alongside the Department of Health-Collier to develop a plan under the guidance of the Executive Order that provides parents with options.

Collier School district officials say they'll unveil their reopening plan next Wednesday, July 15.

Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman says he has tested positive for COVID-19. In a short video message posted on Facebook, Hamman says he's only experienced mild symptoms so far.

Hamman says he's been wearing a mask in public and following CDC guidelines such as social distancing when possible. The News-Press reports, Hamman began to self-quarantine last month after having been in close contact with someone who had been advised to get tested for the coronavirus.

Fellow Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass says the news of his colleague contract in the virus is motivating him to support a mask requirement for people in public.

Hamman marks the second elected official in Lee County to announce they've contracted the virus after Fort Myers City Councilman Kevin Anderson became ill after being on a cruise ship in March.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Lee County has more than doubled in less than two weeks from 4,062 cases on June 25th to more than 8,100 cases as of yesterday/Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Sarasota County Commissioners doubled down, Wednesday, on their opposition to adopting a mask requirement for people while in public, yesterday, despite a joint letter penned by officials with Sarasota Memorial Hospital asking for them to pass a face covering mandate.

Contact tracing is a core disease control measure. When someone tests positive, a contact tracer will ask the infected patient for telephone numbers of people who may have been around them. That way, these contacts can isolate, too.

Critics say South Florida has too few tracers. Others say they’re not asking enough questions. Gov. Ron DeSantis said one problem with contact tracing is that some infected people aren’t helping.“ The younger folks aren't cooperating with contact tracers,” said DeSantis.

“And so when they're trying to call, they're just not getting a lot of a lot of support.”Florida International University infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty recently highlighted another problem on CNN.“Our contact tracing questionnaire doesn’t give us the finesse to identify exactly many of the original sources of disease because they’re not even part of the questionnaire,” said Dr. Marty.State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, has COVID-19. He says a Broward County contact tracer called him last week and used that questionnaire, but that the phone line dropped and he said he hasn’t heard from the contact tracer in a week.According to state data, more than 84,000 Florida residents who have COVID-19 have not been contacted. George Washington University professor Dr. Candice Chen is working on a model that helps states and counties figure out how many contact tracers they need. She said Florida just has some work to do, like hiring more contact tracers and getting quicker test results.

“I would hope that our goal never would be to give up. If you have COVID in your community, that’s literally people’s lives,” said Dr. Chen.

Leaders of a self-styled church in Southwest Florida face federal charges that they illegally sold a bleach-like chemical mixture as a miracle cure for COVID-19 and other diseases. Federal prosecutors have charged 62-year-old Mark Grenon and his three sons with two conspiracy counts and criminal contempt after their fake cure was sold nationwide through their organization called the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton.

The AP reports, a Miami federal judge ordered the organization to stop selling the substance in April, but authorities say they ignored the order.

A new report out this week is urging states to make changes to their voting processes amid the coronavirus pandemic. The UCLA study recommends increasing access to the polls through a series of steps. Among the suggestions: more polling sites, longer periods for early voting, and a push to increase vote-by-mail. UCLA Voting Rights Project legal fellow Sunni Waknin says people should be encouraged to vote by making absentee voting easier “But we also need to increase our polling locations. We need to ensure that people who are election workers are safe so providing PPE and safety kits,” said Waknin.

Elections Supervisors in Florida have also asked for some of the same suggestions listed. One of their requests is to extend the amount of time for elections. From the current 14 days to 22 days.

Veronica Zaragovia
Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.