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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 4,752 new cases of COVID-19, Monday bringing the statewide total to 491,884 cases.

Monday's reported new cases of the virus mark the lowest single-day increase since June 26, when the Florida Department of Health reported 3,366 new cases. June 26 was also the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars to close for a second time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Monday also marked the ninth consecutive day the state has reported fewer than 10,000 new cases of the virus in a single day.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 73 new coronavirus-related deaths, Monday, increasing the statewide death toll to 7,157 fatalities.

Of the 3,758,496 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, 13.09% have been positive for COVID-19.

State health officials also reported 216 new virus-related hospitalizations, Aug. 4 for a total of 27,366 hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties state health officials reported 405 new COVID-19 cases Monday for a total of 44,337 cases. There was also one new death reported in Manatee County Monday for a total of 861 reported deaths in the Southwest Florida area since the start of the pandemic.

Florida’s governor, attorney general, and corrections secretary attended a Florida Sheriffs Association meeting last week. Five people who participated in that meeting have now tested positive for the coronavirus.

The News Service of Florida reports the state’s Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch has tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the meeting and visiting a prison. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody say they’ve tested negative. Another attendee, incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls says he feels fine but didn’t disclose whether he has been tested.

The Florida Sheriffs Association says its meeting exceeded social distancing guidelines. People had to sit 10 feet apart and wear masks. A total of five attendees so far have reported testing positive for the virus.

As the start of the school year nears for many students, not all college professors are ready to head back to the classroom. The United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents college and university faculty and staff, is calling on the governor to move all classes online for the next semester.

When many colleges and universities were making their reopening plans earlier this summer, school officials didn’t have a clear picture yet of what the coronavirus situation could look like in the fall. It’s something Florida State University President John Thrasher mentioned during a June meeting with the University System Board of Governors.

Things are changing almost on an hourly basis, when you have the spike in the cases that we’ve had this past week, we all see that," Thrasher said. "What we’re talking about today in our Fall 2020 plan could be very different at the end of August and we all know that.”

Thrasher said the school would be prepared to make any necessary changes to its reopening plan. But with students preparing to head back to campus, United Faculty of Florida President Karen Morian says there’s no time left for making changes.

“We think we’re beyond that. We think we’ve asked for it to be done safely and too many of our schools are not making plans that we consider fully safe. And with the resurgence, the situation is not right for students to go into crowded classrooms and then go out and be in the community,” Morian said.

Morian said her group has concerns about some of the contact tracing plans created by some schools as well as social distancing plans and class sizes.

In a letter, the United Faculty of Florida asks the governor to bar in-person classes this fall. Morian says many of the reopening plans posed by higher education leaders were put in place before a recent rise in state coronavirus cases.

“Not addressing the reality on the ground is the biggest problem that we’re facing. A lot of it is pie in the sky, it will be alright. It will work out. Fingers crossed. Because for a while we looked pretty good in Florida. But we don’t know. So mid-March we were in a pretty good situation and we shut everything down to keep our campus from being super-spreader sites. And that’s what we’re asking. We’re asking to do that again,” Morian said.

Morian says deciding now to move to distance learning will give everyone the predictability they need to prepare for their classes. She says it also won’t risk the upheaval of moving classes online part way through the semester if the situation worsens. But the group worries holding in person fall classes could be more than just disruptive. Jaffar Ali Hameed is Vice President of the United Faculty of Florida and is part of the math faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University. He says opening colleges and universities to in person classes, means risking the lives of students and faculty members.

“We risk deaths. Not a few, not 10, not 100. We risk deaths of 2,000 students. Let me emphasize, deaths of 2,000 of our own students and hospitalization of 52,000 students.”

In its letter to the governor, the United Faculty of Florida says that number is based on the current death rate for people of college age. As of May, UFF says that rate was estimated at 0.2 percent and it says about million students attend public colleges and universities in Florida.

UFF leaders say they are sending another letter Monday, after they say they have not received a response from DeSantis' office.

Hendry County residents and businesses that have been directly affected by COVID-19 can apply for financial assistance through HendryCares starting August 3rd.

The county received $7.5 million in federal funds from the CARES Act, and $1.8 has been set aside to help pay past-due utility, lease and mortgage bills of Hendry-based businesses and residents.

Small businesses and nonprofit organizations based in Hendry County can apply to receive a one-time grant of up to $20,000.

The funds can be used to reimburse the costs of business interruptions caused by state mandated closures during the pandemic. Things like vendor invoices, payroll, rent and utility bills can be covered by the grant, as long as the expenses were not already paid for by another federal assistance program or an insurance company.

Individuals who lost their jobs or experienced a reduction of employment hours because of the pandemic can apply for up to $5,000 in financial assistance. The funds are to pay past due rent, mortgages and utility bills.

The applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds have been exhausted.

More information can be found online, or by calling the HendryCares call center Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. at (863) 674-5490.

The Venice City Council is moving forward with a possible mandatory mask ordinance intended to help address the spread of the coronavirus.

Venice city council members approved the first reading of a proposed ordinance, Monday that would require people to wear a face covering in public when social distancing cannot be observed.

That vote came after an emergency ordinance that would have taken effect immediately was voted down. The Herald Tribune reports, councilmembers will consider a second reading of the mask ordinance at a meeting two weeks from now. It's modeled after similar ordinances in Longboat Key and the city of Sarasota.

The proposed ordinance could include a $50 civil citation. It would also include exceptions, like one for people who say wearing a mask would be harmful to their health, although they'd be required to provide medical documentation to back up the claim.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is launching a new campaign aimed at defeating COVID-19. Fried introduced the new initiative, called ‘Be Smart Florida,” Monday morning.

“S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that stands for; S - social distance, M - mask up, A - avoid large crowds, R - remember to wash your hands, and T - throw away disposable items like gloves, masks, and wipes," said Fried.

Fried says these are proven steps that have helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. She says the campaign will feature videos from Florida athletes, local leaders, and members of Congress. It comes just after Governor Ron DeSantis announced an initiative Friday to unite Floridians in the fight against COVID-19.

Fried, the only Democratic member of the Florida Cabinet, says her initiative isn’t a criticism of the Republican governor’s ‘One Goal One Florida’ campaign.

“I have not seen the Governor’s video; from my understanding, it was just a video on Friday," said Fried. "Ours is multi-dimensional, multi-channels from PSA announcements to videos, to toolkits, and certainly would love everyone’s voice united on this and certainly would welcome the governor to create one of these videos himself so that we are speaking in one voice.”

Fried’s push includes practicing proper hygiene, social distancing, and wear masks. Fried says when it comes to moving into the next phase of reopening there should be a pause. She also says leaders should consider scaling back to things like outdoor seating only or more limited capacity at restaurants.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.

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.
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.
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.