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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 9,785 new cases of COVID-19, Wednesday, increasing Florida's total to 379,619 cases of the virus. The Florida Department of Health also reported another 139 coronavirus-related deaths, yesterday, bringing the statewide death toll to 5,345 fatalities.

Of the 3,158,741 COVID-19 tests that have been performed in Florida overall, 12.02% have been positive for the virus.

The positivity rate for tests reported yesterday stood at 10.5%. Over the past two weeks, daily test positivity rates have gone as high as 18.5%, but have not dropped into single digits.

More than 318,000 positive tests, or 83.8% of Florida's total caseload, has been reported since phase two of Gov. Ron DeSantis' reopening plan went into effect June 5.

State health officials reported 463 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, July 22, for a total of 22,243 patients since the pandemic began.

Here in the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 841 new cases of the virus, Wednesday, for a total of 36,541 cases.

The state health department also reported eight new deaths in the Southwest Florida region, Wednesday, including five new fatalities in Collier County, and one new death each in Hendry, Lee and Sarasota Counties for a total of 733 deaths since the pandemic started.

As school districts in Florida gear up to open brick and mortar campuses in the fall, Gov. DeSantis said, Wednesday, he’s supporting choice for parents and students.

The state Department of Education’s emergency order calls for in-person instruction to be made available for the coming school year, unless local or state health departments say otherwise.

However, it also allows districts to get funding for students who opt for distance learning.

DeSantis said he wants districts to have flexibility regarding when they start the year.

“For those teachers who may be higher risk or even those who just don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction; they should be given the option of working remotely,” said DeSantis.

“Why force someone to be in the classroom if they’re uncomfortable doing so? Let’s just find a way to make due. And if a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape? Have at it.”

Many teachers in Florida have expressed concern about resuming in-person classes. Some report they’d rather retire or leave the profession that risk contracting COVID-19.

Earlier this week, statewide teachers’ union the Florida Education Association filed a lawsuit, claiming the Department of Education’s emergency order is unconstitutional.

Still DeSantis said he does not recommend changing plans to resume brick-and-mortar classes for millions of children, teachers and staff. Instead he said children have borne the brunt of the restrictions designed to slow the spread of a virus.

“Our kids are at the least risk from this virus and much lower risk than they are from seasonal influenza. Our kids also play the smallest role in transmission of the virus. Yet it is our kids who have borne the harshest burden of the controlled measures instituted to protect against the virus,” said DeSantis.

The governor made his comments, Wednesday, from the state capital in an address without reporters present.

More than two-thirds of parents who responded to a survey from the Sarasota County School District say they plan on having their kids return to the classroom for in-person instruction when schools resume next month.

The Herald Tribune reports 67% of the more than 24,000 survey respondents choose face-to-face learning, 26% said they're have their children enroll full-time remotely at their schools, and just 7% said they would enroll in Sarasota Virtual School.

Households representing just over half of the total number of students enrolled in Sarasota Schools responded to the survey and now district staff are reaching out to those who did not respond, in order to get a better idea of how they can best prepare for the fall semester.

Last week, Sarasota School Board members voted to delay the start of the school year until August 31.

Collier County health officials want residents to be wary of people going door-to-door selling at-home COVID-19 tests.

Department of Health-Collier Public Information Officer Kristine Hollingsworth said the department was notified of the scam by concerned residents.

“This is not something that the Department of Health is doing or health care providers in the community,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth also said the Collier Health department is working with local law enforcement agencies to alert the community.

“We have every red flag to believe that this is a scam and we don’t want people to give their hard-earned money to people who are scammers,” Hollingsworth said.

People can report those trying to sell at-home COVID-19 tests by notifying the Collier Department of Health, or by calling the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s non-emergency line at (239) 252-9300.

A vote on whether the Florida Keys will become the first place in the U.S. to release genetically modified mosquitoes has been delayed for a month.

A majority of the Mosquito Control Board said during a meeting yesterday [Tuesday] they are in favor of the trial Including Dr. Stanley Zuba.

“I had a whole speech planned about how I was going to vote for this yes for this until I heard comments that made me really think that we're in the middle of a pandemic right now,” said Zuba.

“The last thing we want to do is put more on people's plates.”

Zuba said the board will have a better handle on the course of the pandemic by its next board meeting.

“I just did not think tonight was the right time. There was too much emotion. There was misinformation, too much passion,” said Zuba.

The proposed trial is aimed at the aedes aegypti mosquito species, which can transmit diseases like dengue fever and zika virus to people. Key Largo is currently having an outbreak of dengue with 16 confirmed cases so far this year.

More than 100 Florida breweries could shut down permanently due to state restrictions on businesses in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, according to a letter sent to the Governor by the Florida Brewers Guild.

The Guild, which represents around 320 state breweries, reports around 90 percent of members have been closed for more days than they have been opened this year — leading to fears that many might not be able to weather the economic hit.

After initially shutting down in March, bars reopened. Then they were shut down again in June after state leaders linked a spike in cases to the reopening and establishments not following guidelines.

That shutdown included breweries. “Unfortunately, there are bars that probably weren’t following safety protocols,” said guild member and Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company owner Glenn Closson. “But every brewery that I know in Central Florida, if they found out that a customer had come down with COVID, or one of their staff, they immediately shut down and did the right thing. We cleaned up and then we made sure we opened with even better protocols.”

In the letter, the Florida Brewers Guild argues tap rooms serve small groups during daytime hours — far different than the bars and nightclubs that are linked to the recent spike in numbers.

Since the Department of Business & Professional Regulation announced the alcohol consumption guidelines for all establishments, some breweries have been able to reopen if they have a kitchen or offer package beer to go. Others opened under an exemption that has since been rescinded.

Ivanhoe Brewing has a new license which allows it to operate under restaurant guidelines. Still, the tap room is taking a hit. “We’re probably at least over a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of lost revenue,” said Closson.

The Florida Brewers Guild said around 10,000 jobs are linked to Florida’s breweries.

“It’s devastating right now,” said Closson. “We wish Florida DBPR would have come to the table earlier and at least compromise with us. It’s sad that it’s gotten to this point that we need to reach out the way we have, but we’re hoping in the end this kind of opens their ears and they realize that this is small business. It’s tough.”

According to data from the Brewers Association, Florida breweries poured $3.6 billion into the state economy in 2018.

Florida’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation which ordered the shutdown has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.
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.
Mary Shedden
Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF Public Media, where she oversees a team of reporters covering 13 counties on Florida’s west coast.
Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.
Brendan Byrne