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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

Thursday marked a single-day high for the number of coronavirus-related deaths in Florida. State Health officials reported 120 deaths July 9 for a statewide total of 4,111 fatalities.

The Florida Department of Health added 8,935 new cases of COVID-19, Thursday, for a total of 232,718 cases. Thursday marked the 16th consecutive day of single-day increases of at least 5,000 cases.

Of the 2,359,636 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 9.86% have been positive for the virus. Thursday marked the 25th consecutive day that Florida's positivity rate has increased.

The state has experienced more than 171,000 new cases of the virus since phase two of Gov. Ron DeSantis' reopening plan went into effect June 5.

Thursday also marked a single day record high number of new coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Florida with 409 new patients reported for a total of 17,167 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 678 new cases of the virus, Thursday, for a total of 22,942 cases. The Department of Health also reports ten new deaths in the region, yesterday, including five new deaths in Lee County, three new fatalities in Manatee County and two new deaths in Sarasota County for a total of 604 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The current surge in COVID-19 cases is prompting local health officials to once again resume daily press briefings. As of Thursday morning, 87% of Lee Health’s ICU beds were full, and 60% of critical care beds were full at NCH hospitals.

Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said the health system’s four acute care hospitals are experiencing an unprecedented 35% increase in patients compared to what they typically experience in the summer months. Lee Health is currently treating 360 COVID-19 positive patients.

Antonucci said Lee Health is implementing its patient surge plan created early on in the pandemic.

“We are now activating the plan to make sure we are using our beds in an optimal matter to care for our community. As part of this surge plan we are again reducing elective surgeries based on average daily census of staff beds,” said Dr. Antonucci.

The surge plan also calls for bringing on more nurses with Intensive Care, Progressive Care, or Post-Anesthesia Care Unit-training, including some of the nearly 900 staffers who voluntarily quit or took sabbatical when the COVID-19 caseload was trending downward before phase two of Governor Ron DeSantis’ reopening plan went into effect June 5.

Meanwhile, NCH Chief Nursing Officer John Kling says NCH facilities are treating 110 COVID-19 patients and that the health system has 101 open adult beds and 19 open critical care beds.

NCH has not yet activated a patient surge plan, but Kling said if that happens, they have the capacity to expand from 715 total adult beds to 1,000 adult patient beds including an expansion of ICU bed capacity from 48 patients to 143.

Kling also addressed the health system’s dwindling supply of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, noting they may run out before getting another shipment of the drug next week.

“However, the short window in which Remdesivir might not be readily available is another reason why NCH is asking for those individuals who have had COVID-19 and fully recovered to consider becoming a convalescent plasma donor,” said Kling.

“The antibodies contained in the blood of those who survive the disease may be helpful to others currently fighting COVID-19.”

93.5% of NCH’s ventilators and 64% of Lee Health’s ventilators are currently available.

Kling attributes the declining need for ventilators to the increasing number of new coronavirus infections in younger people who generally require less critical care. He says the ages of NCH’s COVID-19 patients has been trending downward and now stands at a median of 44-years-old.

Antonucci is also encouraging people not to avoid necessary trips to the doctor or the emergency room because of the pandemic. He also encourages everyone to wear a mask when in public, to practice good hand hygiene and keep a distance of six feet from other people even when wearing a protective face covering.

Lee Health and NCH officials plan to provide another update on hospital capacity Friday afternoon.

Fort Myers city council members, Thursday, opted not to adopt a mask mandate for the city amid the current surge in COVID-19 patients. Instead, city leaders have opted to put the responsibility of mandating the use of face coverings on local business owners and employees.

City officials in Cape Coral, Estero and Bonita Springs have also opted not to mandate the wearing of masks in public. Officials in Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, however, have imposed mask mandates.

The News-Press reports, the vote to avoid mandating masks came after a five-hour meeting including comments from the public via Zoom.

The vote against adopting a mask mandate came down to racial lines with the city council's three black councilmembers who represent neighborhoods heavily populated by minorities, voting in favor of a mask mandate.

Florida Department of Health data shows a disproportionately high impact of COVID-19 cases in black communities.

Congress could approve more help for small businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a major player in that effort.

The Miami Republican chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, and he was one of the architects of the original Paycheck Protection Program.

In an interview with CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he's talking to Rubio about what another round of PPP funding would look like.

"I think any extension around the PPP is going to be much, much more targeted to the businesses that really need this money and the smaller businesses. So, we're already working on a plan for that,” Mnuchin said.

Congress has extended the PPP application deadline to Aug. 8. Rubio supported the extension but said any further federal aid should be “targeted help” for small businesses.

The Small Business Administration says PPP saved more than three million jobs in Florida.

But some of the recipients are facing scrutiny, including the Florida Democratic Party, which says it will return a $780,000 loan.

The Bradenton Herald reports car dealerships owned by Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, received millions of dollars in loans.

Oakes Farms in Collier County filed a federal lawsuit, Thursday, against the Lee County School District over the school board's decision to bail on a multi-million-dollar contract with the farm after it's CEO, Alfie Oakes, called the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement "hoaxes." Oakes has also called George Floyd, the black man killed in Minneapolis Police custody in May, a "disgraceful career criminal."

The News-Press reports, Oakes Farms was in a three-year contract with the school district that had an annual option to renew through 2024.

Oakes is seeking $50 million in damages. Oakes also filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, accusing school board members of violating Florida's open meeting laws.

The Florida Department of law Enforcement is reviewing Oakes complaint, but currently there is no investigation taking place.

High school sports face an uncertain future for the fall season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Practice for sports like football, swimming and volleyball is still scheduled to start on July 27.

But a task force within the Florida High School Athletic Association has recommended pushing the start date back.

Beau Johnson is a part of that group, and he's also a football coach and athletic director in the Florida Panhandle. He recommended splitting the state into different regions.

“Those people in Miami and Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are going through a lot different stuff than what we’re going through at Port St. Joe, Franklin County, so forth and so on,” said Johnson.

“For this one year we may have to seriously consider letting regions of the state get approved to do certain things at different times.”

If different parts of the state start at different times, it could make it impossible to schedule statewide playoffs and championships. And that could have an impact on students who rely on big moments in big games to get noticed for college scholarships.

The statewide association is evaluating the recommendations and is expected to make a final decision in the coming week.

When the U.S. got its first cases of COVID-19, there was hope that hot summer weather would eventually help suppress the virus. It hasn’t worked out that way and Palm Beach County’s top health official says the virus could still get worse in the fall.

Dr. Alina Alonso spoke to WPTV Wednesday. She says during flu season, she expects COVID-19, influenza A and influenza B, will “float around at the same time.” And that people will have a hard time navigating the viruses. That could complicate efforts to develop and distribute flu vaccines quickly as COVID-19 “comes back stronger.”

“We'll have to be dealing with the flu and the COVID and most people are going to have to, you know — if they get the flu, they're going to think it's COVID. If they get COVID, they might think it's the flu,” Alonso said.

During the 25-minute interview, Dr. Alonso discussed everything from the county’s issues with contact tracing, increased positivity rate, and declining death rates, to education awareness and best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Alonso says county officials will remain in phase one of economic reopening until the COVID-19 positivity rate decreases. It’s currently hovering around 10 percent.

Here are just a few other takeaways from the interview.

On three basic obstacles with contact tracing:

"The first one is the people who are positive, not understanding the importance of the contact tracing — which is basically the ability that we have to stop the spread of the virus by being able to immediately get a hold of the people who that person came in contact with, and be able to quarantine them at home so they don't spread it any further.

The second challenge is that they're afraid to give out names of where they work. Of the people that they are in contact with, the people that live with them for multitude of reasons, including employers telling them that they have to keep coming to work. So, in that instance, we're trying to work with the business community to have that piece of [if you're] sick, you need to stay home. Very important.

And the third one is just the general education that people still don't have a good grasp of what the COVID does and how it spreads and how you can stop from spreading it. So that's the educational component."

On positivity rate clarification:

The positivity rate we see on the Florida dashboard is not an average percentage of people tested for a particular day. Alonso added:

"No, it's not an average. It's the number of positive tests that day divided by the total number of tests that were tested that day. It's a fraction. It's a rate of positive people over the total number of people tested that date for the labs. That changes every day. Because both of those rates should be going down. If you have less virus in the community and some people say, well, we're seeing more virus because we're testing more — we want to test even more than what we're testing."

On staying in phase one of Florida's economic reopening plan:

"We need to wrap our hands around this and get the numbers down. And so that's why the county administrator has decided not to open anything further. Miami opened and then they had to close back down. That's even more devastating to businesses. They have to get prepared to open up. They have to buy supplies. And then all of a sudden, they're going to get shut down. That's going to be the end of the business if they do that. So, I think we've been wise to keep things where we are with phase one and not go any further until we see some of these numbers coming down. And especially that positivity rate will tell us that the virus has slowed down."