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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

Florida Health officials reported 9,344 new cases of COVID-19, Sunday, increasing the statewide total of 423,855 cases since the start of the pandemic. The Florida Department of Health also reported 77 new coronavirus-related deaths, July 26, bringing the statewide death toll to 5,777 fatalities including 2,667 deaths in long-term care facilities.

Florida now surpasses New York and has become the state with the second-highest COVID-19 caseload in the U.S. Florida's number of cases is now only surpassed by California, which has more than 453,000 cases, but the rate per capita in Florida is much worse given that California's population is nearly double that of Florida.

Of the 3,391,133 COVID-19 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the positivity rate stands at 12.5%.

More than 362,000 cases, or 85.5% of Florida's total case load, have come since phase two of Gov. Ron DeSantis's reopening plan went into effect June 5. The ongoing surge in cases is taking a toll on Gov. DeSantis' political favorability. A Quinnipiac University poll released July 23 finds 52% of respondents disapprove of his handling of the pandemic.

On Saturday, the Florida Department of Health reported 12,199 new COVID-19 cases, marking the fifth time in a week that the state saw more than 10,000 new cases reported in a single day.

Health officials reported 1,420 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations over the weekend for a total of 24,064 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the Florida Department of Health reported 2,384 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend for a total of 39,752 cases. There were also 21 new deaths in the Southwest Florida region over the weekend including 11 new fatalities in Lee County, three new deaths each in Collier and Sarasota Counties, two new fatalities in Manatee County, and one new death each in Glades and Hendry Counties for a total of 760 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Protesters opposed to the full reopening of Florida schools demonstrated near the Governor's Mansion Saturday evening. The group included students, educators and health care workers.

Nearly 100 demonstrators walked or drove from the State Department of Education Building to the Manson. Among the speakers was retired nurse Janet Timken."We are here to say we really don't think it will be safe for the schools to reopen,” said Timken.

17-year-old Leon High School Senior Maddie Codgy lost her grandfather to the virus a few months ago.

"I'm really angry that I have to convince our governor that teachers, students and their families shouldn't have to die for the economy,” said Codgy.

Mary Claire is a member of the task force looking at the reopening of Leon County Schools.

"Our school district is stuck between the FLDOE (Florida Department of Education) that is ordering fully opened schools subject to the advice of state and local health departments and a local health department that says it's actually not empowered to provide that advice."

The Leon School Board's next meeting is this Tuesday evening.

A federal coronavirus booster of $600 a week is set to expire and out of work Floridians could be affected. Senate Republicans are debating whether that benefit should be included in their relief plan.

U.S. Rep Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, said the House's package includes an extension of that $600 benefit.

“Give us back what you agreed to. I mean let’s be honest, whether it’s $600 or it’s a floating rate,” said Mucarsel-Powell.

“So, we need to see what they come back with, and then I need to take a look at that and see if that’s going to be appropriate for my community down in South Florida. And as you know, Miami has a very high cost of living.”

Republicans are proposing a floating rate. It would be a 70% wage replacement, according to the U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Republicans are expected to release their COVID-19 relief plan July 27.

Florida's top business regulator plans to meet with owners or bars and breweries across the state to discuss how they could reopen their businesses again safely.

The AP reports, Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Halsey Beshears, said Saturday, he's setting up those meetings this week.

Bars in Florida did reopen June 5th as part of phase two of the state's reopening plan, but closed them again later that month amid reports of bar staff and patrons not practicing social distancing requirements and a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

The Naples City Council plans to hold a special meeting, Wednesday, to discuss whether or not to opt into the mandatory face covering policy approved by the Collier County Commission last week.

The county's order applies to people while in businesses, non-profits and most other facilities open to the public in unincorporated portions of the county. The order includes exceptions such as places of worship and children under nine-years-old among others.

The Naples Daily News reports Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann requested the city council meeting scheduled for 8:30 a.m., July 29.

Owner of the Seed to Table market in Naples, Alfie Oakes, announced Saturday, he's filing a lawsuit against Collier County over the mandatory mask mandate.

Oakes announced the lawsuit, Saturday, to a crowd of about 200 people gathered outside Seed to Table in opposition to the mask requirement.

Oakes was joined by his attorney Jim Boatman and State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, who has filed lawsuits against other local mask mandates around the state.

Oakes argues the mandatory mask rule constitutes unlawful government overreach. He's suing the county and the individual commissioners who voted in favor of the mask order.

Earlier this month, Oakes filed a separate federal lawsuit against the Lee County School District seeking $50 million in damages because district officials terminated a multi-million-dollar contract with Oakes Farms after Alfie Oakes took to social media to call the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement "hoaxes."

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Friday hosted a virtual roundtable with frontline health care workers to talk about Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fried and the participants discussed what Florida’s leaders must do to properly manage the COVID-19 public health crisis. The state is experiencing an outbreak that is among the worst in the United States.

“As a physician, I am appalled at the current situation, not just in the state, but the nation. In the midst of this global pandemic with no end in sight, our elected officials, Gov. DeSantis, and the president, are acting like everything is fine – but everything is not fine,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, former national board chair of Doctors for America.

“We still don’t have enough PPE. The data that is coming out of the state and the nation, there is a lot of mistrust because of the secrecy around it. There is no national strategy to combat this pandemic, and it is a failure of leadership on so many levels. My hope is that we can finally have leadership in Tallahassee and in Washington that puts science behind all public policy.”

Dr. Ron Saff, a board member of Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the state's surgeon general and Florida Medical Association support mask wearing but Gov. Ron DeSantis has failed to act.

“Just think about the amount of Floridians in hospitals and intensive care units because the governor has failed to enact a mask mandate and the contact tracing program here is horrible,” Saff said.

Doctors, nurses and technicians also shared discrepancies in what state leaders say, versus what they're witnessing on the ground.

These frontline workers say they're still having personal protective equipment and staff shortages. They also say ICU bed capacity doesn't paint full picture of the issue when there aren’t enough trained staff to use specialized equipment or people to tend to patients.

“PPE shortages are real. We’re not being provided with everything we need to be caring for these patients,” said Alicia Ciliezar, a registered nurse from Miami-Dade County. “I would welcome any figure in leadership right now to take a tour of the intensive care unit, and then tell me whether or not if it should be a discussion — masks should be mandated right now.”

Linda Exantus, an emergency room technician from Miami-Dade County, said it's a slap in the face to be called a hero.

“They call us heroes, but staffing three nurses and two techs in a 30-room emergency room is cruel. Mandating that we wear a soiled mask for multiple shifts before providing another one is cruel,” Exantus said.

“Requiring frontline workers and ICU nurses to work overtime before giving us crumbs of pay is cruel. Not providing easy testing options for frontline workers, and having to wait three weeks before I, or anyone, can kiss our children is cruel. You call us heroes, but is this how you treat your heroes?”

Florida recently recorded the nation’s highest one-day total of new COVID-19 case, and the state’s cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise

With many elderly Floridians continuing to be isolated due to the coronavirus pandemic, scam artists are using the emergency to rip them off.

According to Attorney General Ashley Moody, an increasing number of crooks are using high-pressure sales tactics, unsolicited phone calls, requests for wire transfers and computer tech scams to take advantage of people.

Moody has set up a new website, called ‘Scams at a Glance’, with information on current and emerging scams, available in English and in Spanish.

Moody said Floridians should talk to their vulnerable family members about not becoming victims of fraud. ““As seniors are encouraged to be more isolated, because they are at higher risk of contracting very serious symptoms related to COVID, they are sitting prey,” said Moody.

She said it’s always easier to work to prevent fraud before it happens, rather than to try to recover stolen money after the fact.

To access the ‘Scams at a Glance’ information, visit www.MyFloridaLegal.com.

The number of people making claims for unclaimed property in Florida is surging amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.

Florida has $2 billion in unclaimed property. The AP reports, even President Donald Trump is among the millions of people who have unclaimed property waiting for them, but the state's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says he's focused on helping those who may have an extra need now with unemployment soaring.

Patronis says $38 million in unclaimed property was returned to Floridians, just in March.

Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Alexander Gonzalez is a recent graduate of the University of Miami. He majored in English and was the the editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane newspaper from 2014-15. He was WLRN's digital intern during summer 2015. He subscribes to too many podcasts and can't get away from covering the arts in Miami.
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.