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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 2,974 new cases of COVID-19, Sunday, pushing Florida over the 600,000-case threshold, with 600,571 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 51 new coronavirus-related deaths, Sunday, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,462 fatalities.

On Saturday, state health officials reported 4,300 new cases and 106 deaths.

Health officials had been reporting more than 100 new deaths each day for 17 consecutive days, but Aug. 23 broke that streak. Sunday also marked the eighth consecutive day the state reported fewer than 5,000 new cases in a day.

Of the 4,435,417 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.54%. The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic has now grown to 36,468 hospitalizations.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties, state health officials have reported a total of 51,342 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,142 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The leader of a union representing professors at public universities has a message for state higher education officials: We don’t want to be another University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Notre Dame.

Executive Director of United Faculty of Florida wants quick action to shut down public universities in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Marshall Ogletree wrote an email to the chief of the State University System over the weekend saying he doesn’t want Florida campuses to look like peers around the country already experiencing on-campus clusters.

In the email to system Chancellor Marshall Criser, the union leader wrote, “I certainly hope we will not have the next U-N-C, Notre Dame, or Purdue.” Those schools opened for in-person classes and then shifted online or suspended students for partying after infections began to spread.Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton began its fall semester on Saturday, with plans for some face-to-face instruction. Florida International University in Miami starts this week, with classes mostly online. Students at Florida Gulf Coast University began the fall semester last week.

Florida’s unemployment rate increased to 11.3% in July, with the jobless ranks growing by 122,000 people, as the state continues trying to rebound during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rate is up from an adjusted 10.3% unemployment mark for June and reflects more than one million jobless Floridians out of a labor force of nearly 10 million people, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

The numbers, which represent an estimate of the workforce in mid-July, show declines in construction and manufacturing but job increases in most other categories, including leisure and hospitality.

DEO Chief Economist Adrienne Johnston said the Orlando metropolitan statistical area posted the highest unemployment rate in the state in July at 15.3%, which was a decrease of 0.8 % from June.

“Theme parks did open right during the reference week in July,” said Johnston.

“That certainly had an impact in the Central Florida area, but, I think what you are seeing is an overall trend of businesses continuing to open across the board, across most sectors.”

Still, the leisure and hospitality industry remains down by 250,000 jobs from a year ago.

Senate Democrats used the monthly report to again push for lawmakers to be called into a special session to address the economic situation facing Florida.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said more help is needed for those still looking for work.

“This virus is not going away. We see our economy continuing to suffer. Until we have a coherent plan and leadership from the very top, Floridians are going to continue to suffer,” said Farmer.

Florida was one of nine states to see upticks in unemployment in July.

Here in Southwest Florida, Lee County's unemployment rate in July grew to 10.7% from 9.6% in June and compared to 3.4% in July of last year.

In Collier County the July unemployment rate increased to 10.4% from 9.4% in June and compared to 3.6% in July of 2019.

Cuts to public health funding and staffing in recent years left Florida especially unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to a joint investigation by KHN and the Associated Press. The investigation finds that as Florida's population grew by 2.4 million people since 2010, state officials cut staffing for county health departments from 12,422 full time equivalent workers to 9,125 staffers in 2019.

The grounds in front of the historic capitol were transformed into a mock-graveyard Saturday. The group, Florida Prisoner Solidarity created the demonstration to mark lives lost from COVID-19 in Florida prisons.

One of the group representatives spoke to the media during the event: “It represents the 85 people that are documented having died due to COVID-19 under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Corrections. So as you can see each body bag has a toe tag with the day they lost their life."

The group is calling on Governor Ron DeSantis and other officials to take immediate action to further reduce the state’s prison. The asks include granting parole to some 4,000 eligible prisoners, as well as authorizing compassionate and early release programs to all state prisoners.

Research from John Hopkins shows prisoners are 550 percent more likely to catch COVID-19. More than 15,000 inmates throughout Florida have contracted the disease.

Hospitals throughout Florida say they've collectively lost nearly $4 billion in the past four months due to impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The AP reports, hospitals say they're losing money due to the costs of increased staffing, COVID-19 testing and additional protective equipment.

Hospital officials say they're also losing money due to patients delaying care or canceling elective surgeries.

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.

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.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
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.