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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State Health officials reported a new single-day record high number of coronavirus-related deaths, Tuesday. The Florida Department of Health reported 276 deaths, Aug. 11, increasing the statewide death toll to 8,685 fatalities. The previous record was 257 deaths on July 31.

The health department also reported another 5,831 new cases of COVID-19, Tuesday, bringing Florida's overall total to 542,792 cases.

Florida's caseload has been on a decline, but at the same time, the state's testing volume has also gone down. State health officials reported fewer than 67,000 new tests, Monday, which was also the fifth consecutive day that Florida has reported fewer than 100,000 test results in a single day.

Of the 4,055,587 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 13.38% have been positive for the virus.

The total number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Florida has now risen to 31,354 patients since the start of the pandemic.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 285 new cases of the virus, Tuesday, for a total of 47,406 cases.

There were also 49 new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Aug. 11, including 17 deaths in Lee County, 15 fatalities in Sarasota County, seven deaths each in Collier and Manatee Counties and three new fatalities in Charlotte County for a total of 1,025 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Florida might seek a loan through the U.S. Department of Labor to cover the state’s portion of a plan by President Donald Trump to extend federal unemployment benefits and have states put up 25 percent of the cash.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the loan idea is under review.

“We're looking to see what that would entail,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Florida State University. “My one concern I have is I just, you know, obviously this is a tough budget time for us. And so, if I'm having to potentially have general revenue obligated for this (unemployment benefits), then that is something that would be very problematic, given our circumstances. So, this (Department of) Labor thing may give us a way.”

Trump issued an executive order over the weekend that seeks to reroute disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency toward unemployment benefits.

Under the plan, unemployed people would be able to receive $400 in weekly assistance, with the federal government putting up $300 and the states responsible for $100.

The plan came after a $600 weekly benefit funded by the federal government ended in July. That money came on top of regular state unemployment benefits.

Florida has distributed just under $13.5 billion in state and federal benefits since March 15. The state has provided $2.8 billion of the money.

DeSantis said a second option that had been considered would be to use federal stimulus money. But he added that option isn’t available because the money has already been designated.

Another issue is whether Trump’s order will face a court challenge.

“I want to make sure that there's no legal risk for us if someone were to challenge this,” DeSantis said. “Then we'd be left on the hook.”

Florida will participate in a federal COVID-19 vaccine pilot program. The News Service of Florida reports, state Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees announced Florida had been asked to participate during a conference call, Tuesday, with hospital officials.

Florida is among four states chosen to participate in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine pilot, along with the city of Philadelphia.

Rivkees said more details about the pilot will be revealed as a vaccine becomes available.

Scientists around the globe are racing to develop vaccines. On May 15, President Donald Trump announced "Operation Warp Speed" which is aimed at delivering 300 million doses of a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by January of 2021.

On the turf of Florida State University’s athletic training facility, Governor Ron DeSantis held a discussion Tuesday with University President John Thrasher about the future of the coming football season.

Seminole football coach Mike Norvell, who’s heading into his first season at the helm at FSU, was also on hand.

DeSantis says he hopes to see the season go forward as planned in September, and thinks FSU can do that safely:

The protocols that they have in place are really even above and beyond what I would’ve even imagined, and I’ve been doing this stuff since February, day in day out, across the state in a variety of different contexts,” The governor said. “So, this is probably the safest environment these student-athletes can be in.”

Those protocols include daily temperature and symptom checks, as well as social distancing enforced during team meetings, according to the university’s athletic director David Coburn.

The Seminoles have had two football players opt out of playing this season. Norvell says he and the program “fully support” their decision, but told media Tuesday the rest of the team wants the chance to play this fall. He says 120 players on campus getting ready for the season are “here voluntarily.”

“These guys want to play. They want to be a part of this team, they want to grow together. They know that the protocols that are in place are safe, they know this is a place they can come to continue to develop in all aspects,” Norvell said. “And I worry if that’s taken away from them, what is that going to do to them mentally? And having to experience more challenges, more setbacks.”

On the same day Florida State officials and the governor voiced support of going forward with a season, the Big 10 and Pac 12 – two of the “power 5” conferences alongside the Atlantic Coast Conference, which houses FSU – announced they will delay their fall sports seasons until at least the spring.

Other division one conferences, the Mountain West and Mid-American, have postponed their fall sports as well. Some smaller conferences like the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, home to Florida A&M University, and the Ivy League, announced postponements weeks ago.

FSU President John Thrasher told media he doesn’t want to delay fall sports until spring.

“Our first game is September 12, we’re ready to play,” Thrasher said. “I plan on making sure that our friends in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and frankly our friends in other conferences, understand that student athletes really do want to play football this year.”

At the governor’s press event Tuesday were two FSU football players, who expressed their desire to play games in the fall. Wide receiver Keyshawn Helton, who endured a season-ending injury last year, said not playing this season would be a “disappointment,” adding he feels safe going forward with games in September.

“You talk about 18 to 22 year olds, just quarantining at their house, that’s unrealistic,” Helton said. “There’s so many other things that guys are going to go do, which is not safe. So, being here with my team and all of us all together, is the safest for us.”

The Southeastern Conference, which houses the University of Florida’s football program, is planning to do a conference-only schedule this year, calling into question the FSU-UF rivalry game this year. DeSantis has repeatedly said he wants to see the ACC and SEC agree to make the classic match-up happen.

The Hendry County School Board held an emergency virtual meeting, Tuesday, to discuss plans to re-open schools for in-person education.

The district had already planned to start schools online for all students Aug. 24. This remains the plan, but students who elect for in-person learning will be able to physically go to school starting August 31 after attending a week of distance learning.

In Hendry county there are three options as the school year begins: in-person; distance learning on line, during which students attend school remotely, following the standard school schedule and bell times; or through the state's k-12 virtual school.

Gov. DeSantis says he is not happy with the FloridaAgency for Health Care Administration[DJ1] 's award of a contract to the same company he says mishandled the state's unemployment filing system. DeSantis said, Tuesday, the situation is out of his hands and that he can't, by law, deny the award.

The AP reports, AHCA has awarded a $135 million contract to Deloitte, over four other competing vendors, to create a new system to manage Medicaid data.

The announcement that Deloitte won its bid, last week, came just hours after DeSantis told WFOR-TV in Miami that the state's unemployment system, designed by Deloitte, appears to have been intentionally built with pointless roadblocks in order to pay out the least number of unemployment claims possible.

Problems with the state's unemployment system got worse amid the ongoing pandemic with large backlogs of unemployment applications. That prompted DeSantis to ask the state inspector general to investigate Deloitte.

Earlier this month, DeSantis said the state's unemployment system, which was created in 2013 under the administration of former governor and current U.S. Senator Rick Scott, did not justify it's $77 million price tag. DeSantis is asking the state inspector general to look into why the system was so expensive, yet so ineffective.

Lake County Public Schools started a massive coronavirus testing program Monday using rapid antibody tests from Healgen.

The blood tests appear to be used for a diagnostic purpose – which is at odds with recommendations from the FDA, CDC and Health Department.

Adult Medicine of Lake County tested nearly 2,000 teachers and found about 20 may have the coronavirus. They’ll be retested.

The school board also plans to test any student who wants it before school starts later this month. And the district has a new protocol where kids testing negative can return to class three days after possible exposure.

The rapid tests get around the long wait for lab results and make widespread testing workable. Matt Cady of Adult Medicine says the viral tests that go to a lab can take 21 days.

“We would be in absolute gridlock if we tried to PRC-test your whole, not only your teacher population but your student population,” he said.

These tests aren’t the rapid antigen tests used in nursing homes.

Board chair Kristi Burns called the approach cutting edge – but questioned whether a key antibody could be found early in the infection.

“I think it might take a week or more for the IgM that we’re testing for to actually be in the body,” she said. “Once it’s there, this test will find it. But will this test find it on day three?”

Health officials don’t recommend antibody tests for diagnosing COVID-19 as the immune response takes time to develop.

The Estero-based rental car giant Hertz Global Holdings recorded $832 million in revenue, but $847 million in losses for the second quarter of the year.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May amid economic losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Two months earlier, the Hertz Corp. laid off 12,000 employees and furloughed another 4,000 workers.

The News-Press reports, as the company attempts to work its way out of bankruptcy protection, it's realigning its labor force to reflect reduced demand, cancelled new fleet orders, consolidated off-airport rental locations and cut non-essential spending and capital expenses.

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Brendan Rivers comes to WJCT News with years of experience reporting and hosting news for several stations in the Daytona Beach area.
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.
Joe Byrnes