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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 2,678 new COVID-19 cases, Monday, bringing the statewide total to 576,094 cases. Monday’s reported cases mark the smallest daily increase so far this month, and mark the first time in August that the state has reported fewer than 3,000 new cases in a day.

Aug. 17 was also the 22nd consecutive day, health officials have reported fewer than 10,000 new cases in a day.

The Florida Department of Health reported 87 new coronavirus-related deaths, Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 9,539 fatalities.

Of the 4,259,573 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.5%.

State health officials also reported 266 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, Monday, increasing Florida's total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations to 34,194 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 194 new COVID-19 cases, Aug. 17, for a total of 49,634 cases.

There were also three new deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Monday, including two new fatalities in Collier County and one death in Charlotte County for a total of 1,090 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than 2.6 million Floridians have already cast ballots, ahead of today's primary elections.

80% of them voted by mail. As a comparison, vote-by-mail accounted for 67% of ballots cast ahead of the primary elections two years ago.

Just over 550,000 citizens used the early voting option this year, with elections officials saying the coronavirus pandemic is likely keeping many people from showing up to vote in person.

Jefferson County Supervisor of Elections Marty Bishop expects statewide turnout for the primary to be lower than usual.

He said he feels today will be a helpful learning experience for all election supervisors, as they prepare for a much larger turnout during November’s general election.

“With the COVID stuff out there, and everything else, we are already learning a whole bunch of new stuff that we are picking up and having to do,” said Bishop.

“It seems like this primary election has been a lot busier than any before in the past, just getting ready to prepare for it.”

Today's election includes partisan primary races for several Congressional and legislative seats including Florida's 19th congressional district race here in Southwest Florida.

Additionally, Floridians are casting ballots in numerous local contests, many of which are nonpartisan.

As of Midday Monday, nearly 1.3 million Democrats had voted, just over one million ballots have been cast by Republicans and 350,000 voters with minor or no party affiliation have gone to the polls or turned in ballots.

Florida’s tourism industry suffered an estimated drop of more than 60% during the second quarter. International travel was down more than 90%.

Visitors widely avoided the state that has become known around the world as a hotspot for COVID-19.

According to numbers posted by the state’s tourism marketing arm Visit Florida, the outlook remains dim following the nearly 20 million visitor drop from April through June.

The agency sites ongoing negative perceptions of Florida’s handling of COVID-19, plus international travel bans, and double-digit unemployment – especially in the hospitality industry.

Visit Florida has set aside $13 million to market toward a tourism rebound. The initial emphasis will be to get Floridians to explore other parts of the state and to attract people from nearby states.

The Florida bar exam was scheduled to be taken remotely this week by prospective lawyers around the state, but it’s been postponed last-minute. Now, many of the thousands who were set to take the exam are sounding off.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners says it will reschedule the exam, using the same content, for a date to-be-determined in October.

But many who were set to take the exam are left frustrated, given little notice – and their futures put on hold. Robert Walters, a recent graduate of Florida State University, is among them.

“You’re going to unlearn a lot of the things that you just memorized, for the test that you thought was going to be on Wednesday,” Walters said Monday, not 24 hours after learning of the postponement. “At this point, I am probably the most prepared that I would be to take this exam.”

Walters and about 3,000 others were gearing up to take the exam on Wednesday, but he came to find out it was postponed at the eleventh hour.

“It wasn’t until Sunday night at around 10:56 pm before bar examinees got an email from the Florida Board of Bar examiners, informing them that the test they were supposed to take in two days was cancelled,” Walters recalled.

In a statement, The Board of Bar Examiners says administering a “secure and reliable” online exam was not feasible.

Walters was set to take part in a stress test of the software that would’ve been used to administer the test Monday, which was also cancelled. He detailed a continuous series of proposed changes to the exam brought on by COVID-19 disruption – the postponement being the latest installment.

“From changing the bar exam to not just in Tampa, that was one change – (then) it was in Orlando and Tampa,” Walters explained. “And then the third change came when they decided to have an online exam, originally on August 18, until the bar examiners decided that you couldn’t have an exam on the day of the primary – then they changed it to August 19.”

Walters expressed disappointment at communication coming from the Board of Bar Examiners throughout those changes. He says he feels fortunate to be financially stable in the meantime, but worries for others who might not be in that position:

“A lot of examinees around the state are not in that position. They’re in a position where they thought they were going to be starting work on Monday, and that their health insurance from their employer would start on Monday. But this last-minute decision from the Board of Bar Examiners, has thrown that all out.”

The Board says it is working on developing a supervised practice program in partnership with the Florida Bar. The program will allow for people who haven’t taken the exam, if deemed eligible by the board, to practice in some capacity under supervision of a practicing attorney.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, plans to introduce new legislation next session to give families of prisoners better access to health care information during their incarceration.

The legislation will be named for Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill’s brother, who died of COVID-19.

Bracy spoke at a press conference in front of Orlando City Hall Monday alongside Hill and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition executive director Desmond Meade.

Hill said her brother, 52-year-old Edward Hill, died on August 10th of COVID-19. She said he was an inmate at South Bay Correctional Facility, a privately-run prison in Palm Beach County, and was less than a year away from release.

She said it was “horrific” that she was only notified that he was sick at the eleventh hour.

“When I was notified that my brother was in critical condition, he was on a ventilator. And then I was told that he had been hospitalized for 14 days prior to me being notified,” said Hill.

Hill said she was able to start making decisions about her brother’s care after she asked the hospital to make her his health care surrogate.

Bracy said his bill will require that inmates name a health care surrogate on intake.

He called the coronavirus pandemic in Florida prisons a “full blown crisis” with over fifty deaths in the last six weeks.

“I’ve gotten so many calls and emails from concerned citizens about their loved ones, and these requests to the executive branch have largely been ignored,” said Bracy.

More than 14,000 Florida inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

At a press conference last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the majority of inmates with the virus are asymptomatic, and that all inmates are being tested and the sick are being separated.

Orange County jail turned down free mask offer

Desmond Meade said he’s disappointed that an Orange County jail turned down an offer of free masks at the beginning of the pandemic.

Meade said the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has spent $150,000 on masks and hand sanitizer to distribute to prisons around the state.

He said the coalition offered more than 14,000 free masks to 33rd Street Jail in Orlando.

“They denied our request [of] free masks,” said Meade.

And we know that there are people in 33rd street jail that are there because they are too poor to post bail. And they’re not even convicted of a felony offence, but yet they face a death sentence. And this is totally unacceptable.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says when the offer was made, there were cases in the state prison system but not yet in the county jails.

“So we thought that it really was more appropriate, more needed for those masks to be provided to the Florida Department of Corrections,” said Demings.

He said the county had already started to provide masks to the jail staff at the beginning of the pandemic.

The first positive case in an Orange County jail was reported on June 4th, in an inmate who had been transferred from the Florida Department of Corrections. Demings said the first positive case in an Orange County inmate was not reported until the third week of June. A county spokesperson said the FRCC offered masks on April 7th.

A new survey shows that when it comes to COVID-19, a majority of Floridians believe the worst is not behind us.

According to the Emergency Preparedness Survey done by researchers at the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs, 55 percent of Floridians remain concerned about the coronavirus. A majority also support placing stricter limits on public gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

USF assistant professor Stephen Neely, one of the researchers, says the survey of Florida residents also reveals opinions about the upcoming election season. 46 percent report feeling that political candidates should not hold rallies in the state this fall.

"We'll have to watch how that plays out over the next few months, but undecided voters in Florida might be a little turned off by the sight of large rallies, and that could actually potentially have an effect on their perception of candidates,” he said.

Neely said of all the topics in the survey, the question of whether to hold rallies revealed the biggest partisan divide.

“Republicans are much more in favor of holding rallies than Democrats or independents,” he said.

According to the survey, 87 percent of respondents say they would also support a statewide mask mandate.

“This is about as compelling of a policy mandate as you're going to see, with 80 percent support, and it's spanning both parties,” Neely said. “We don't see a lot of really consequential issues these days where we find bipartisan support for specific policies. We might have bipartisan support for broad ideas, but not for specific policies. So this is a rarity in the current political climate.”

The survey also reveals a racial difference when it comes to support for keeping students learning remotely this fall. While 73 percent of overall respondents are in favor of keeping brick-and-mortar schools closed statewide, the number is higher among African Americans, 88 percent.

“We all know, unfortunately, the African American community has been hit really hard by the COVID pandemic,” Neely said. “And a lot of folks are just saying, 'Hey, we view this as a likely way of spreading the virus further.’”

This is the first year the USF School of Public Affairs has conducted such a survey. Neely said the goal is to help inform public policies.

Among findings of the survey:

Floridians are still concerned about COVID-19. When it comes to COVID-19, a majority of Floridians (55 percent) believe that the worst is not yet behind us; less than 25% believe that it is.

Trust in public health guidelines. A large majority of Floridians (82 percent) believe that prevention guidelines being emphasized by public health officials – such as wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing – are effective at slowing the spread of the disease.

Most Floridians would support closing public schools. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73 percent) indicated that they would support a statewide decision to close public schools this fall. A majority (54 percent) indicated that they would “strongly support” doing so.

Strong support for a statewide mask mandate. An overwhelming majority of Floridians (87 percent) would support a statewide mask mandate, with 73 percent indicating that they would “strongly support” such a measure.

Concerns over political rallies. With election season here, 46 percent say they feel that political candidates should not hold rallies in Florida this fall, while another 42 percent feel that rallies should only be held if they can adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Additional support for mitigation policies. A majority would support additional mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, including stricter limits on public gatherings (85 percent) as well as temporarily reclosing bars and restaurants (66 percent), houses of worship (63 percent) and beaches/public parks (60 percent).

Small partisan differences on COVID-19. Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor enhanced mitigation efforts, though some partisan differences exist. Republicans are more likely to believe the worst is behind us with regard to COVID-19 and slightly less likely to believe that public health guidance is effective at limiting the spread. Democrats are more supportive of a mask mandate, closing schools and placing stricter limits on public gatherings, though majorities in both parties support each of the measures.

For this survey, 600 Florida residents were surveyed via an online web panel using Prodege MR, an industry-leading market research provider. The survey was fielded from July 30 to Aug. 10, and the results are reported with a 95 percent confidence level and a margin of error of plus/minus 4.

Psychologists in Broward County hosted a panel discussion, Monday, covering anxiety and stress that can come with going back-to-school during the pandemic.

Chief Psychologist and Director for Behavioral Health Associates of Broward, Dr. Jessica Ruiz spoke on the panel. She said teens are balancing a lot but parents can help them make their own choices.

"We help our children build resilience during times of adversity by helping them build some skills: How we can learn to problem solve? How we can manage our emotions? How we can learn to relax our bodies?”

During the panel parents and teachers sent in their questions, whether it was about their children’s' anxiety or their own. When talking to each other, Ruiz told adults to be hopeful.

"Number one is don't panic. Focus on some of the positive and be able to share that in your conversations with others so that we can start to shift,” said Ruiz.

Students in Broward County begin the new year, Wednesday, with e-learning online.

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