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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 2,238 new COVID-19 cases, Monday, increasing the statewide total to 602,829 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 72 new coronavirus-related deaths, Aug. 24, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,534 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Monday marked the second straight day health officials reported fewer than 3,000 new cases in a day. Of the 4,453,929 COVID-19 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.53%, but the positivity rate for tests reported just yesterday stood at 5.15%.

Florida's testing slowdown continues. Florida's seven-day average for new tests reported in a day stood at about 69,500 through Sunday, which is about 28,000 fewer tests that the state was reporting each day during the last week of July.

Here in the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the state health department reported 135 new cases of the virus, Monday, and one new death in Sarasota County.

A Leon County judge is siding with the statewide teachers’ union in the legal fight over reopening brick and mortar schools in the Fall. The state is appealing the decision.

The Florida Education Association brought the suit against the state Department of Education and Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging the order to reopen campuses by the end of August is unconstitutional. The state constitution requires public schools to be “safe.”

Second Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with the FEA – in a ruling released Monday afternoon, he granted the teachers union’s request for a temporary injunction.

In his ruling, Dodson wrote that he did find the order unconstitutional, saying the state “essentially ignored the requirement of school safety by requiring the statewide opening of brick-and-mortar schools to receive already allocated funding.”

The state’s order would withhold funding from district that don’t open campuses by the end of August.

Dodson also says in his ruling the state did not provide district school boards with local control over the decision to reopen.

Kendall Coffey, an attorney for the FEA, said Monday that Dodson’s ruling gives that local control back.

“The opening decision is now in the hands of the school districts, and if in fact the school districts determine, based on their data, as we described, getting the best available local medical expertise on local conditions,” Coffey said in a Zoom press conference following the ruling’s release.

Fedrick Ingram, the teachers’ union’s president, heralded Dodson’s decision as a victory for educators, families and school support staff. He urged the state not to appeal:

“Mr. Corcoran, Mr. DeSantis, do not spend taxpayers’ money trying to appeal this case. We’re asking you – lets work together, let’s be guided by science. This is not a win where we go and hang our head and beat our chest. People are dying in our state,” Ingram said. “It is out of control that we do not have this virus under wraps.”

But, little over two hours after the ruling came down, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran did announce intent to file an appeal. Corcoran said in a statement he is “100 percent confident” the state will win the lawsuit on appeal.

Corcoran also encouraged families of parents who want to resume in-person learning to call the FEA and tell them to drop the lawsuit, which he calls “frivolous.”

Meanwhile, with the appeal underway, Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district will go forward with in-person learning at the end of the month. In a statement, Hanna says he welcomes Dodson’s ruling, but in anticipation of the appeal will gear up to welcome back about 15,000 students to campuses.

Two fraternities at Florida Gulf Coast University are suspended after allegedly throwing large parties off campus last Friday. The gatherings violate the university's new health and safety rules amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The fraternities were placed on immediate interim suspension. In an email, University President Mike Martin wrote "there will be serious consequences for those who choose to exercise very poor, dangerous judgement.”

The News-Press reports, the organizations will be adjudicated through a process outlined by the FGCU Student code of conduct.

The fall semester at FGCU began last week with a mix of virtual and in-person learning. There are about 15,000 students enrolled in the current semester.

Florida school districts have lost over 260 million dollars in school lunch reimbursements and sales revenue since the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person learning in March.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees the school lunch program, districts have lost nearly $200 million in school meal reimbursement costs, as well as over $60 million in sales revenue from food and other items.

The Department of Agriculture started its summer food program two months early this year, to provide free meals and snacks for kids at about 1,000 locations statewide.

However, schools don’t get the same level of funding for that program.

Agriculture Commission Nikki Fried said districts have done what they can to make sure kids don’t go to bed hungry.

““When schools shut down, we had to work overdrive to make sure that the kids were still receiving all of their meals,” said Fried.

“Unfortunately, here in the state of Florida, this is the only meal that a lot of our kids receive.”

According to Fried, 71% of Florida school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and nearly 60 million meals have been served to kids since March.

Up to 13,000 football fans will gather inside Hard Rock Stadium next month for a couple of games, including the Miami Dolphins’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills Sept. 20.

At a press conference Monday, Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel listed upgrades at the stadium to make it safer, including hospital-grade air conditioning filters. And touchless sinks.

“We got our people in our technology department together, built an app for food ordering, changed out concessions so that you can order food from your seat and go pick it up like curbside service at concessions, said Garfinkel.

“So, we alleviate lines there. We’re eliminating tailgating.”

Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said people with chronic health conditions should stay home.

“Don’t be selfish. If you’re feeling bad, get tested. You need to be a good member of the community with all of this,” said Gilbert.

Moving forward, if COVID numbers worsen, they won’t allow fans. If they keep improving, the stadium will consider allowing half capacity. The stadium has more than 65,000 seat
Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit is considering whether restarting in-person jury trials makes sense. Court officials are monitoring an in-person criminal jury trial in Flagler County to see what lessons can be learned. It's the state's first in-person criminal jury trial in five months. Trial Court Administrator Grant Slayden says staff will be studying trials in other jurisdictions as well:

“We have advisory workgroups of judges and other criminal justice system partners that have gotten together and looked at a lot of the components that would be required to ensure that you can conduct a case to the standards of due process. But also, at the same time, do so in a very safe manner.”

Slayden says keeping safe includes requiring masks, taking people’s temperatures, and marking off seating for social distancing. An administrative order stopped all non-essential court operations, including jury trials in mid-March, because of concerns about the coronavirus. Trials are beginning again on a circuit-by-circuit basis.

Stolen ventilators work about $3 million were recovered last week amid an ongoing FBI investigation. The AP reports, the ventilators were stolen earlier this month in Miami Dade County as they were being prepared for shipment to El Salvador by the United States Agency for International Development.

At least seven local and federal law enforcement agencies are taking part in the investigation into the theft.

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.

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.
Verónica Zaragovia
Robbie Gaffney is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.