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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 219 new coronavirus-related deaths, Tuesday, increasing the statewide death toll to 9,758 fatalities since the start of the pandemic. Tuesday marks the tenth consecutive day the Florida Department of Health reported more than 200 COVID-19 related deaths in a single day.

Health officials also reported 3,838 new cases of the virus, Aug. 18, bringing the statewide total to 579,932 cases. Tuesday marked the third consecutive day health officials reported fewer than 4,000 new cases of the virus in a day. The last time that happened was June 21-23. Tuesday was also the 23rd consecutive day the health department reported fewer than 10,000 new cases in a day.

Of the 4,285,720 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.53%, but the latest single-day positivity rate is significantly lower at 7.86%

Testing statewide remains on a downward trend with Tuesday marking the fourth consecutive day of the state reporting fewer than 60,000 test results. That hasn't happened since June 28-30.

State health officials reported 501 new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, Tuesday, for a total of 34,695 hospitalized patients since the start of the pandemic.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, health officials reported 146 new cases of the virus, Aug. 18, for a total of 49,780 cases.

There were also 23 new COVID-19 deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Tuesday, including nine deaths in Lee County, five new fatalities each in Collier and Sarasota Counties and two new deaths each in Charlotte and Manatee Counties for a total of 1,113 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

In its last meeting before schools reopen on August 31, the Sarasota County School Board adopted a stricter mask policy, and heard from local health department officials Tuesday that cases of coronavirus in the area are trending downward.

The board voted 3-2 for changes that require students to wear face masks, not "face-coverings" as the previous policy had stated, which would have allowed students a choice between masks or shields.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend clear plastic face shields as a substitute for masks, which the federal health agency says are more effective at protecting against the spread of coronavirus.

The new Sarasota policy calls for students to wear masks made of solid material, unless they get a medical waiver, in which case a shield could be substituted.

A doctor’s waiver could also be sought so that a student doesn't have to wear any face covering at all.

Board member Shirley Brown wishes that people don’t abuse that option.

“I would hope that only doctors would do that if there is a medical reason, but I know there are people out there who have political reasons for not wearing a mask. But then it becomes, what about the rest of the class? What about their rights? What about their health?”

Bandanas, gaiters, and buffs are not allowed under the new policy, which passed despite board members Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler voting against it.

Ziegler said she believes it will be hard for the youngest children in school to wear a mask all day.

"I won't be supporting it truly because I believe that - I would have liked to see some accommodations in a deeper way for K through 2," said Ziegler.

Although infectious disease expert Manuel Gordillo of Sarasota Memorial Hospital was on hand for the beginning of the workshop, no school board members attempted to ask him any questions until more than an hour later, after he had already left.

Sarasota Health Department officer Chuck Henry told the board that cases of coronavirus in Sarasota are on the decline. Over the past two weeks, he said the county's positive test rate has been around 5.5%. It would be 4.5%, if excluding cases in the local jail.

Global health experts say this rate should stay below 5% for two weeks before schools reopen.

Henry said the overall pediatric positive rate in the county is 8.6%over the past two weeks.

Board member Jane Goodwin said she is concerned about the numbers.

"We should have pediatric cases under five (percent), I see from the department of health's summary every Friday, it's ten (percent)," she said, referring to reports dating back to July.

"I'm concerned about it. I'm concerned with us going back to school that we will have a great spread in our community. But we are going back to school because, um, because we are," Goodwin said.

"And because we know from Hillsborough County and from Monroe County and how they attempted to do other things that it didn't meet with the Department of (Education) and the governor very well. So I'll leave that at that."

Lee County officials, on Monday, began the second phase of a federally funded bailout program for residents and businesses in the county facing financial woes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The News-Press reports this second phase of the program expands resources available for families struggling to pay rent, mortgages, utility bills and child care costs. Assistance for covering the cost of childcare is increasing to $2,500 per child and will extend through the end of the year.

Grant amounts for businesses are based on the size of the organization and the number of workers being hired or rehired. Grant amounts are also scaled based on how much eligible companies are paying their workers.

Funding for the LeeCARES program comes from the $134.5 million allocated to Lee County through the Federal CARES Act.

U.S. Census officials say the COVID-19 pandemic threw off their data collection schedule by two whole months. Now actual door-to-door census takers are working the neighborhoods trying to make up for lost time.

Regional Assistant Census Manager Marilyn Stephens says a lot has happened since the in-person outreach part of the census was suspended just days after it began in mid-March.

"A lot of things became top-of-mind. And the more things that became top-of-mind, the more the Census was pushed to a secondary concern,” said Stephens.

However, with time running out, Stephens said the Census is again a primary concern.

"Although the enumerators are out knocking on doors, you can still self-respond, online or on the phone right now,” said Stephens.

Just one month remains to wrap up the data collection with the Census Bureau’s field operations slated to wrap up at the end of September. With so many critical government services tied to Census data, Stephens says this count is more important than ever.

Collier County’s public high schools will begin fall athletic team practices Aug. 31.

School district athletic director Mark Rosenbalm announced the start date, Tuesday, after meeting with athletic directors and principals.

The News-Press reports, this is a week later than the earliest date allowed by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Lee County Schools have not announced a starting date for their fall athletic practices.

A Southeast Florida school district is instructing 232 students from two high schools to quarantine for two weeks due to exposure to the coronavirus.

The AP reports, the students, from a high school in Stuart and another in Jenson Beach, are to switch to remote learning during quarantine. A school district spokeswoman says the students exposed include members of a swim team and students who traveled on a particular bus route.

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.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.