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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported a record 132 new coronavirus-related deaths, Tuesday, marking most deaths reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The previous record of 120 deaths in a 24-hour period was set July 9. Over the past week, the average number of deaths has risen to about 81 fatalities a day, which is more than double the average daily death rate on July 1.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 9,194 new cases of COVID-19, July 14, bringing the total to 291,629 cases. Tuesday marked the 21st consecutive day that Florida has seen single-day increases topping 5,000 cases.

Tuesday's record-breaking death toll brings Florida's total number of virus-related deaths to 4,409 fatalities.

Of the 2,688,366 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, nearly 10.9% have been positive for the virus. The seven-day average positivity rate declined slightly, Tuesday, to 16.2%.

Nearly 79% of Florida's total number of positive cases of the virus have been reported after phase two of Governor Ron DeSantis's reopening plan went into effect June 5.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 900 new cases of COVID-19, Tuesday, for a total of 28,802 cases. State health officials also reported 18 new deaths yesterday in the Southwest Florida region including 15 new fatalities in Lee County, two new deaths in Collier County and one new death in Hendry County for a total of 649 deaths since the pandemic began.

Gov. DeSantis held a roundtable discussion in Miami, Tuesday, attended by mayors from across the hardest-hit area in Florida. Most of the local leaders offered critiques of the state’s response to COVID-19. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told the governor a statewide mask mandate needs to come from DeSantis to ensure compliance.

“They’ll say, ‘You know what? I don’t think I need to wear a mask, because so-and-so says I don’t have to. Or, I don’t need to do this, because I’ve seen that one of my leaders is saying I don’t have to,’” said Gelber.

“So, I don’t think it’s just about urging. My wife urges me to exercise more and watch what I eat, and she’s failing in both of those regards. I think we need a sense of urgency in our community right now, a true sense of urgency, and I think it needs to come from the president, from the governor.”

Several of the local officials addressed the idea of reopening brick and mortar schools in the fall, expressing hesitancy as COVID-19 cases rise. The superintendent of schools for Broward County, one of the state’s most populated districts, has said he doesn’t plan on opening brick and mortar campuses under the area’s current conditions. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recently ordered schools reopen five days a week, and offer all their usual services.

Miami-Dade School Board member Dr. Steve Gallon III said schools will need a lot of federal funding to turn the idea of safely reopening schools into reality.

“We will need to more frequently clean and disinfect high traffic areas and frequent touch points. We will need to add bus routes and drivers to reduce capacity on school buses. Some schools may need to even convert libraries and gymnasiums and other non-instructional spaces to classroom space,” said Dr. Gallon.

He estimates his district alone will need between $65 million and $80 million for the changes.

State funding for the upcoming school year is guaranteed up until October, based on the number of students that were in schools before the pandemic. However, after that it’s a big question mark.

“We’re in uncharted waters based on who’s going to show up, who’s going to do distance learning, who’s going to do physical presence,” said Gallon.

“And if the parents don’t show up and the students don’t show up, the funding wouldn’t show up.”

Miami-Dade Public School officials are currently surveying parents about what they hope schools look like when they reopen. A plan should be ready by the end of the month.

Collier County School Board members voted unanimously, Tuesday, to delay the start of the coming school year by one week. The first day of school for students was initially set for August 12, but will now be pushed back to August 19t.

The Naples Daily News reports, Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton says the additional week will give the district more time prepare to reopen schools amid the pandemic, including more time to distribute laptops, train bus drivers on new safety protocols, prepare a modified food distribution plan, and prepare for a possible shift back to full-time distance learning, should that become necessary.

Sarasota County School Board members are also looking to delay the scheduled start of the coming school year. Public school students in Sarasota had been slated to return to school August 10, but during a workshop, Tuesday, school board members decided it would be better to push the start date back to August 31 to give employees more time to prepare for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed delay in starting school still needs approval from the Florida Department of Education.

Disability Rights Florida is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis and his executive office for not having a sign language interpreter during coronavirus press conferences. Disability Rights Florida is filing the lawsuit. Its lead attorney says DeSantis is breaking the law.

When viewers tune in to watch the governor, someone is missing. It's the person responsible for translating the governor's words into American Sign Language (ASL). Disability Rights Florida's lead attorney Ann Siegel says some Floridians who are deaf and hard of hearing depend on that interpreter.

"There are some individuals that studies show are approximately at a four to six grade level in reading, so closed captioning would be written normally at a higher level of reading, and it's not as accurate."

Siegel says closed captioning can be hard to understand because sometimes it skips words or uses the wrong ones. Siegel explains her group tried contacting DeSantis several times, but he never answered, prompting the lawsuit.

"In a perfect world, we would like him to immediately start including ASL interpreting services in all of his news briefings."

A similar lawsuit was filed against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he didn't have an interpreter during his daily TV COVID-19 briefings. Instead, viewers had to go online to see the interpreter. In that case, a federal judge ruled that Cuomo had to have the interpreter in the same frame as him while on TV.

Following a record-high day of new coronavirus cases reported in Collier County, local leaders rejected a proposed mandatory mask ordinance, Tuesday.

The Naples Daily News reports, Collier Commissioners voted down the proposal after about five hours of hearing public comment.

The proposed ordinance would have required business operators, workers and customers of businesses in unincorporated portions of the county to wear a face covering while inside a business.

Multiple petitions in support of a mask mandate, including one from the Collier County Medical Society, are currently gathering signatures.

In addition to rejecting a mandatory mask policy, Tuesday, Collier Commissioners approved the spending of more than $67 million in aid through the federal CARES Act.

The Naples Daily News reports, the approved spending plan includes assistance in five broad categories including $15 million for individual assistance such as help paying rent or mortgage payments, utility bills or child care; $10 million in small business grants; $30 million for community health and service initiatives through nonprofits and healthcare and community providers; $5 million for personal protective equipment; and $7.16 million for reserves.

Individual assistance will be available for those making up to $75,000 a year and households earning up to $150,000. Grants for small businesses to offset the costs of reopening will be available for businesses with 50 or fewer employees. They can also apply for one-time grants of up to $25,000.

County officials plan to open an online portal for non-profits and community health providers to apply for the CARES Act funding later this month.

There will be a second opening in August for those looking to apply for individual assistance and later in August for help for small businesses.

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.
Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.
Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.