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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 2,673 new COVID-19 cases, Tuesday, increasing the statewide total to 605,502 cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 183 new coronavirus-related deaths, Aug. 25, bringing the statewide death toll to 10,717 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The downturn in the number of COVID-19 tests being reported in Florida continues, even though public health experts say more testing is crucial to containing the virus.

The state health department reported 43,524 new test results, Tuesday, which is the second lowest number of tests reported in a day in the past two weeks.

Even with reduced levels of testing being reported, Florida's daily positivity rate increased, Tuesday, to 7.49%, which is the highest it's been in a week.

Of the 4,473,343 COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida since the start of the pandemic, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.54%).

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 259 new cases of the virus, Tuesday, for a total of 51,736 cases.

There were also 16 new deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Tuesday, including six new deaths in Sarasota County, four fatalities in Lee County, three deaths in Collier County, two fatalities in Manatee County and one death in Charlotte County for a total of 1,159 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

After a Leon County judge sided with the statewide teachers’ union in the legal battle over reopening brick-and-mortar-schools yesterday, the state has filed an appeal. That means an automatic stay has been applied to the case by the First District Court of Appeals.

As a result of the state’s appeal, school districts for the time being are still under the Department of Education’s order. That includes Leon County – Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district is gearing up to welcome back 15,000 students to campus:

“So, we’re starting school as planned on Monday,” Hanna said during a meeting Monday night, in anticipation of the appeal’s filing.

Professor Louis Virelli teaches constitutional law at Stetson University – he explained why a stay is commonly applied in high profile cases on appeal.

“When that appellate court makes a decision, if it is different than the decision the trial court made, then whatever the trial court put into effect will have to be reversed,” Virelli told WFSU Tuesday. “So, if the teachers are in the classroom they can be brought out, or vice versa. In a situation like that, the appellate court often stays the trial court decision in order to keep the status quo in place, so we avoid lurching back and forth between all these dramatic changes, while we’re waiting for the final decision on appeal.”

Virelli says the same thing can happen between an appellate court and the state Supreme Court. He made clear why a stay is so often applied in cases involving the state:

“It would be common when the state is a party to the suit, because generally speaking, an instruction by the court to the state is going to have significant consequences to the people in that state,” Virelli said.

In a statement Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he’s “100 percent confident” the state will win the case on appeal.

In response to Monday's ruling against the state mandate to open brick and mortar schools, the Collier school district released a statement. Since they recognize that the decision may be appealed, district officials say they'll move forward with plans to reopen schools on Monday, Aug. 31, in addition to giving families the choice of two virtual learning options.

The school district said it will continue to work alongside the department of health and listen to local medical professionals.

As of Aug. 5, the District says, 59% of students planned to return to campus, 34% plan to use the virtual option Classroom Connect, and 6.5% will use the eCollier Academy option.

Florida medical examiners are no longer required to certify COVID-19 deaths as they'd been tasked with doing since the start of the pandemic. Instead physicians can now report coronavirus-related deaths directly to the Florida Department of Health.

The Medical Examiners Commission approved the change through a motion on Aug. 14.

Florida Today reports, the change brings an end to what had been an independent and detailed accounting of COVID-19 deaths in Florida.

Removing the requirement comes in response to medical examiners offices, particularly in South Florida, being overwhelmed by skyrocketing numbers of deaths in July.

The chief investigator for the Medical Examiners’ office in Brevard County, Craig Engelson, said medical examiners officers will continue to investigate suspected COVID-19-related deaths that occur outside of hospitals.

Manatee County Commissioners modified the county's mandatory mask policy, Tuesday, to explicitly exempt churches and other places of worship.

Manatee County's emergency resolution requiring face coverings applies to people in indoor businesses when social distancing is not possible.

The Herald Tribune reports, the change to the mask policy comes amid a lawsuit against the county over the inclusion of churches filed by Palmetto pastor Joel Tillis and State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Clermont.

Commissioners plan to review the amended mask policy at their next regular meeting in September.

Manatee County School district officials say two more schools have had exposure to someone infected with COVID-19. The Herald Tribune reports staff, parents and students of Manatee High School were notified over the weekend of positive coronavirus cases involving people who had been on campus. Lincoln Memorial Academy in Palmetto also reported a confirmed case of the virus.

Those who've had direct exposure to the infected individuals at those schools have been instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Since opening for the fall semester Manatee school officials have reported coronavirus cases associated with nine schools in the district.

Some Black small business owners say they feel they’ve been given little help during the global pandemic. During a roundtable on the discussion held by the Biden campaign, one local owner shared her hardships.

Arlene Williams has owned her own Barbeque & Grille restaurant in Pensacola since 2007.

“I’ve been through the recession, the depression, the oil spill you name it," said Williams.

She made it through those times but says the global pandemic has hit her harder.

“It’s so depressing that to keep the lights on here the gas here I’m doing Door Dash, Uber Eats, Postmates you name it I’m doing it," said Williams. "Just to keep a roof not just my business but myself as my home.

Former Rep. Allan Williams (D-Tallahassee) who hosted the discussion says the number of Black businesses dropped from 1.1 million in February 2020 to 640,000 in April.

As COVID-19 conditions improve in South Florida, school district superintendents there are considering opening public schools sooner than they had planned.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, Tuesday, that kids could be back in classrooms by mid-September or even earlier.

“We will be launching a physical school experience for the most fragile students in our community. That includes students with disabilities and others. It will be sometime after the 31st of August, this coming Monday, but shortly thereafter.”

Miami-Dade is set to begin the virtual school year Monday. Aug. 31. Students in Broward County already started remote learning Aug. 19.

The Broward district is also considering a pilot program to bring students with disabilities back to campuses first. Superintendent Robert Runcie also said he was optimistic schools could reopen by early fall, depending on local health data.

“A key check point for us to revisit our status will be after the Labor Day holiday,” said Runcie.

“So, I'm optimistic. I'm encouraged. Look, our goal, again, is to open our schools as soon as possible.”

The South Florida school district superintendents offered these updates during a virtual event on Tuesday.

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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.
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.
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.