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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 4,555 new cases of COVID-19, Thursday, increasing the statewide total to 588,602 cases. Aug. 20 marked the fifth consecutive day health officials have reported fewer than 5,000 new cases in a day.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 119 new coronavirus-related deaths, Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll over the 10,000-fatality threshold with 10,186 total deaths. Thursday marked the 15th consecutive day that health officials reported at least 100 deaths.

Of the 4,342,418 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.56%.

The slowdown in testing continues. The seven-day average for new tests results stood at 69,232 through Wednesday, which is about 30,000 fewer tests per day than the state was reporting in late July.

State health officials also reported 450 new coronavirus related hospitalizations, Aug. 20, for a total of 35,650 hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties health officials reported 358 new cases of the virus, Thursday, for total of 50,439 cases.

There were also 11 new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Thursday, including nine new deaths in Lee County and one new fatality each in Collier and Sarasota Counties for a total of 1,129 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The state finished presenting its case in the legal challenge to Florida’s school reopen order Thursday.

The high-profile lawsuit was brought by statewide teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association. It alleges state education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order calling for brick-and-mortar campuses to operate in the fall violates the state constitution, which requires public schools be “safe.”

Attorneys for the state called parents of Florida students as witnesses, who said continuing with distance learning will be harmful for a number of reasons. Also called as witnesses were two doctors, who spoke in favor of opening campuses. One of them is Stanford professor and researcher Dr. Jay Bhattacharya. Using his testimony, the state tried poking holes in the theory that child-to-adult COVID-19 transmission is a risk

“The main finding from that literature is that kids do not pass the disease on to adults at any appreciable rate,” Bhattacharya “The risk that kids pose to adults is very very small, even if they’re positive.”

There, Dr. Bhattacharya cited a study done in Iceland, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Jacob Stuart, an attorney representing the teachers union, called into question Bhattacharya’s credibility.

Stuart: “After medical school, did you ever complete an internship or residency?”

Bhattacharya: “No, I do research full-time.”

Stuart: “So, it’s fair to say then, part of your research, you’ve never treated any patient formally, your entire career. Is that right?”

Bhattacharya: “In medical school I did, but no – I do research full time.”

Stuart: “Have you ever treated anyone with COVID-19?”

Bhattacharya: “I don’t treat patients; I do research full-time.”

Leon County Judge Charles Dodson scheduled closing arguments in the case for noon Friday. Dodson says he's hoping to make a ruling in the case early next week.

Sarasota city commissioners voted, this week, voted to extend a mandatory mask ordinance in the city for another 60 days.

The mask rule requires people to wear a face covering while in public spaces, both indoor and outdoor. Only one city commissioner voted against extending the ordinance.

The Herald Tribune reports, so far, the city has not issued any citations for noncompliance. The city’s mandatory mask rule is now extended 60 days from Aug. 19.

At least three schools in Manatee County have reported positive cases of COVID-19 during this first week of school.

The school district isn't disclosing the number of confirmed cases or how many others have been instructed to quarantine at home for two weeks after having direct exposure to an infected person.

The Herald Tribune reports, the Rowlett Academy charter school has also had a positive case of the virus.

Half of students enrolled in the Manatee County School District are either attending classes remotely or are on a hybrid schedule that brings them to campus only two days a week.

More than a dozen people, including some of Florida's top law enforcement officials, have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the Florida Sheriffs Association Conference last month in Bonita Springs.

The Naples Daily News reports Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch and six Florida sheriffs who attended the conference reported testing positive, though it’s still unclear precisely where they contracted the coronavirus.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri became the seventh Florida sheriff who attended the conference to announce a positive COVID test last Saturday.

Two more sheriffs who attended the conference, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter and St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara confirmed positive coronavirus tests last Friday.

A Florida Sheriffs Association spokeswoman says at least four staffers who worked the conference have since tested positive and a Lee County Sheriff's office staffer who also attended the event tested positive as well.

Several sheriffs who attended the conference also attended a campaign event with President Donald Trump in Tampa that same week, although none of the officials who participated in the Trump event are among those who tested positive.

COVID-19 clusters are popping up all over the country at universities that have started in-person classes and some have already shifted online including the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Michigan State University, Notre Dame. Faculty, students and staff at the University of Miami are wondering if it’s inevitable that they’ll be next.

Before classes even started at UM earlier this week, a viral TikTok video showed a crowded party in a dorm room with students not wearing masks. The university administration said they’ve taken action including removing some people from student housing.

The situation has got students like UM junior Griffin Carter wondering.

“How long do you think we're going last? And people are like, ‘Oh, I think maybe three weeks, maybe a month,” said Carter.

“I'd be surprised if we get to October before something pops off.”

President Julio Frenk said a public dashboard with information about positive cases will be ready by next week, but some people on campus are frustrated it’s not already available, including third year Ph.D. student Preston Taylor Stone. “Anytime there is like secrecy revolved around public health crises, we should be skeptical,” said Stone, who is also a senator in UM’s Graduate Senate.

“The university knew it would probably have to close anyway, and they just brought people back knowing that so that they could get people's tuition money and housing money.”

Other students, faculty and staff expressed similar sentiments, but President Frenk says it’s not true.

Frenk said the university has spent millions to make in-person classes safe. He’s the former Dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health.

“It is actually expensive to open in person. We're doing it because we're convinced that that is the way to fulfilling our mission,” said Frenk.

The university has distributed masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer and installed plexiglass, air filters and new sound systems in classrooms so students can hear faculty even with their faces covered.

A lot of countries of late claim they’ve developed COVID-19 vaccines. The latest is Cuba, which is set to begin testing its vaccine next week.

Cuban scientists told President Miguel Díaz-Canel this week they’re set to start a phase one clinical trial of their vaccine, called Soberana 01. They said it’s shown promise in mice and rabbits creating antibodies against the new coronavirus, similar to vaccines used previously against the SARS virus.

The initial testing on humans will begin next Monday to confirm the drug’s safety. A phase two trial would then begin next month to determine the vaccine's actual effectiveness. Cuban state media say the results probably won’t be ready until January.

Soberana 01 was developed at Cuba’s biotech facility, the Finlay Institute, which is well regarded internationally for its vaccine production. Its name means “sovereign" — meant to signal that amid its wrecked economy, Cuba needs to rely on a domestically-produced vaccine.

This year Cuba has also touted its coronavirus treatment drug, interferon alfa 2B. But epidemiologists say no clinical trials have yet proven it effective as a stand-alone treatment.

Cuba has seen a sharp jump in coronavirus cases this month and has had to pull back on reopening the island to badly needed tourism. Earlier this month it closed Havana's José Martí International Airport again to international flights.

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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.
Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.
Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. He has reported on Latin America for almost 30 years - for Newsweek as its Mexico City bureau chief from 1990 to 1996, and for Time as its Latin America bureau chief in Mexico and Miami (where he also covered Florida and the U.S. Southeast) from 1996 to 2013.