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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State Health officials reported 5,409 new cases of COVID-19, Wednesday, bringing Florida's caseload over the 500,000-case threshold with 502,739 documented positive cases of the virus.

Florida is the second state in the U.S. to report more than 500,000 cases, behind only California.

Testing in Florida has been ramping back up after a temporary shutdown of some state-run testing sites because of Tropical Storm Isaias.

The Florida Department of Health reported 225 new coronavirus-related deaths, Aug. 5, increasing the statewide death toll to 7,627 fatalities.

Wednesday marked the 11th consecutive day Florida has reported fewer than 10,000 new cases in a single day.

Of the 3,820,683 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.16%. State health officials reported 621 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, Wednesday, for a total of 28,573 hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.

Here in the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the Florida Department of Health reported 412 new cases of COVID-19, Aug. 5, for a total of 45,083 cases.

There were also seven new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Wednesday, including five new deaths in Lee County and one new fatality each in Manatee and Sarasota Counties for a total of 892 deaths.

It can take as long as two weeks to get back COVID-19 test results, but Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this week that tests with a 15-minute turnaround time would be available at state-funded sites in Miami-Dade County, including at Marlins Park and the Hard Rock Stadium.

“Now we're going to get every day at these two sites total of 1,250 tests. We're going to be able to get real time data about the percent testing positive, the number of people testing,” said DeSantis.

“So, I think it'll be really, really good.”

For now, the quicker ‘antigen’ tests are reserved for people with symptoms or those 65 and older. Testing sites will still have a lane for regular testing, for people who don’t have symptoms.

Most Florida school districts will reopen with some students learning from home and others learning in person.

However, what happens when the coronavirus spreads through a school? Most reopening plans don’t address that, or do so vaguely.

When a student does test positive for COVID-19, plans call for each school district to oversee contact tracing with guidance from the Florida Department of Health. The student's classmates may have to quarantine at home.

But the plans are unclear on what constitutes an outbreak. That's left to the health department, which released a statement saying a single case could be considered an outbreak, but didn't say how many cases might close a school.

Full statement:

An outbreak is more illness than expected. For a disease like COVID-19, where no cases should be detected, only one confirmed case would be considered an outbreak.

If the Department receives information regarding a case in a school, we will conduct a thorough investigation to determine who should self-isolate or be quarantined to prevent any further spread of the disease. Additionally, the investigation will identify any areas requiring cleaning and disinfection. This information will be provided to school leadership and school district staff and used to determine if a school can safely remain open and properly staffed.

Anyone exposed to a case of COVID-19 would be expected to quarantine for 14 days following exposure. The Department is working with the school district to explore methods for testing students and staff at schools. Testing is available in Hillsborough County at all community test sites.

Stephen Hegarty, a spokesman with Pasco County Schools, said variables such as close contact and masks will determine who quarantines.

“We are not going to be in the habit of closing schools, but if certain variables go the wrong way, then if we're forced to close a school for whatever period of time, we might only close the school for a day or two, or maybe the weekend would suffice for us to clean the school," Hegarty said. "And then whoever was infected would remain home. Once we've cleaned the schools, we could bring the students back."

He says a large outbreak could close a school for longer. Classes would pivot to online similarly to the way they did earlier this year during the initial school closures.

Meanwhile, teachers’ unions across the state are still pushing for schools to start online.

Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, said it’s not a matter of if an outbreak happens, but when.

"We're going to have a problem with getting substitute teachers and delivering instruction in an inconsistent format in terms of going from brick and mortar to e-learning is going to be much more difficult than say, starting the school year with all the learning until we know it's safe enough to go back," Kriete said."

Kriete worries that social distancing will be impossible to practice and enforce in small classrooms and hallways, even with protocols in place that limit social gathering, sharing supplies, and riskier extracurriculars, such as contact sports.

Florida’s international visitor market has collapsed with the pandemic. Brand USA President and CEO Chris Thompson had that message for participants of Wednesday’s meeting of the Economic Club of Florida.

“"Remember the $2.9 trillion number I told you was the contribution (of overseas tourism to the U.S. economy?) It's expected there will be a loss of $1.2 trillion of that as a result of the coronavirus,” said Thompson.

“Eight million jobs lost in the hospitality industry alone. That's 38% of all unemployment in the United States and on its current trajectory, our industry is not likely to recover until 2024."

Brand U-S-A promotes America as an international travel destination. Thompson is the former head of the state's tourism marketing arm Visit Florida.

A battle over a mask ordinance in Florida’s capital city is headed to a state appeals court.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper rejected arguments that the county’s mask ordinance violates a series of constitutional rights, including rights to privacy and due process.

The plaintiff is the county’s Republican Party chairman, Evan Power. He teamed up with lawyer and State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills.

They said they’ll take their challenge to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.This is one of several cases playing out across the state after local governments passed face-mask requirements.

The Leon County Commission passed the ordinance June 23 as Florida’s coronavirus cases spiked. The ordinance requires people to wear masks inside businesses and other public places, with some exceptions. Violators can face a civil fine of $50 for a first offense, and up to $250 for multiple offenses.

Manatee County officials, on Wednesday, launched a public health initiative to help fight the spread of the coronavirus dubbed "Mask up Manatee."

The Herald Tribune reports the campaign was initiated by the Manatee County School District as an effort to encourage residents to adopt the same safety measures public schools are enacting including mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, and staying home if you've been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms.

Students in Manatee County are slated to return to the classroom August 17. They'll be required to wear masks at all times on campus, with few exceptions aside from students with a legitimate medical issue that prevents them from wearing a face covering.

The school district has ordered 50,000 face masks for students and staff, decorated with the new "Mask Up Manatee" logo.

Cyberattacks on businesses are on the rise, amid the coronavirus pandemic. With a significant number of people working from home across all business sectors, hackers are figuring out ways to breech security systems.

Most internet security used at a firm’s physical office is much more robust than when employees are home-based.

Additionally, less face-to-face contact between employees makes it easier for scam artists to trick workers into clicking fraudulent links.

Socius Insurance Services Southeast Regional President Eric Shapiro said while security hacks of large corporations usually get the headlines, the cost to smaller businesses dealing with hacks and security breaches is hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

“Most small and midsized companies are easier targets for these hackers, because they have less IT department and less money to be able to spend on their IT. So, they are just easier targets,” said Shapiro.

Cyber liability coverage is a growing insurance product being offered to Florida companies according to Shapiro. Under this type of plan, businesses get monitoring for potential security breaches on the front end, along with insurance in case a hack does occur.

Integrity Florida is hoping to debunk the myth that voting by mail is linked to voter fraud.

The group published a report Wednesday titled, “Vote by Mail: A Safe Option for Florida Voters – The Implications in a Battleground State.”

In it they point to an investigative reporting project that found 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud since 2000 nationwide. That comes out to a very small percent of the total ballots cast in that time.

Integrity Florida Research Director Ben Wilcox, said if the vote-by-mail system proves itself during the upcoming elections, it could push some governments to lean more heavily on the system in the future.

“I think people are going to be more open to going to universal mail balloting once this election is over and we see how successful it has been,” said Wilcox.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen with this pandemic.”

Currently five states including Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, and Washington conduct their elections all by mail. Those that have been doing it for multiple elections have seen an increase in voter participation.

The deadline to fill out the 2020 census was recently extended until October 31. The original timeline had been July 31, but it was pushed back by three months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the response rate in Florida is just below 60%, lagging behind the national average.

Census data collected every ten years is used for numerous reasons, including the allocation of billions of federal tax dollars and the redistribution of seats in Congress.

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said Florida’s steadily increasing population makes it even more important to count every person in the state.

““We really think there are billions of dollars at stake for funding of early childhood, Medicaid, healthcare, transportation and all of the key things the federal government supports us with,” said Calabro.

“It’s more important now than ever to fill out that form.”

Calabro said Florida’s population was undercounted in both the 2000 and 2010 censuses, costing the state a fair distribution of federal funds in both cases.

Completing the census is required by law, and fines for not participating can cost hundreds of dollars.

Verónica Zaragovia
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.
Gina Jordan reports from Tallahassee for WUSF and WLRN about how state policy affects your life.
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.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .