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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 3,269 new cases of COVID-19, Thursday, increasing Florida's total to 611,991 cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 135 new coronavirus-related deaths, Aug. 27, bringing the statewide death toll to 11,011 fatalities.

Thursday marked the fifth consecutive day health officials reported fewer than 4,000 new cases of the virus in a day. Of the more than 4.5 million COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate remains at 13.53%.

The total number of Coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Florida since the beginning of the pandemic has now risen to 37,718 patients.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties state health officials reported 295 new cases of the virus, Thursday, for a total of 52,213 cases.

There were also 17 new coronavirus related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region Thursday including seven deaths in Sarasota County, five new fatalities in Lee County, two deaths each in Collier and Manatee Counties and one new death in Charlotte County for a total of 1,189 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state will prevail in a lawsuit over reopening schools. This week, a judge sided with teachers’ unions who challenged the Florida Department of Education’s order that schools must open for face-to-face instruction this month. The state appealed the decision, but on Thursday, a judge vacated an automatic stay of the order.

Speaking in Tampa, Aug. 27, DeSantis said parents should have the option to send their children to school. “Every Superintendent I've talked to said that the going back the first day was one of the best days they can remember in their career because people,” said DeSantis.

“Look, when you're out and you haven't seen your friends and stuff to be able to get back. A lot of students were happy and I know a lot of parents have been happy to have that choice.”

The ruling means local school districts have the authority to open or close schools based on conditions, but the state can still appeal this decision as well.

Academic institutions across the country are grappling with how to keep campuses open while keeping students and faculty safe during the pandemic.

At Florida Gulf Coast University, reports of off-campus parties have already put the future of the fall semester in jeopardy.

At FGCU, faculty members like Lutgert College of Business professor Michael Zahaby are taking the responsibility of trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seriously.

“[The college] provides us with masks, wipes, sanitizers, everything, Zahaby said. “Standing at the door as people are coming in, I give them a squirt of sanitizer, I give them a wipe so they can wipe the chair, just to be sure you know? I don’t want anyone getting sick on my watch.”

Classes started Aug 24 and the university has already received reports of large parties taking place off campus. FGCU president Dr. Mike Martin said university staff learned about the gatherings from social media.

“Two fraternities, there may be more, we’re still kind of determining whether or not anybody else was at it, but two for sure had decided that their short-term gratification was more important than the long-term commitment to their fellow students in the neighborhood,” Martin said.

The fraternities have been placed on interim suspension pending an investigation.

“They've basically been disbanded for the time being and that will continue to be reviewed and adjudicated by our student conduct folks,” Martin said. “But for now, they are basically not operating as a fraternity.”

Martin said the alleged parties violate safety protocols outlined by the FGCU code of student conduct. The code applies to students both on and off campus.

In the meantime, professor Zahaby is considering ways to keep his students safe amid the party allegations.

“Put a [zoom] link out to the class and you are invited without any judgement to use the link and join the class and just accommodate everyone and just protect those that didn’t partake in this,” Zahaby said. “That was my main concern, the others.”

President Martin said the alleged parties put the health of the entire FGCU community at risk.

“If we get to the point where we have to disperse 15,000 students back off campus and out of this community for the sake of everyone’s health and well-being, we’ll make that decision,” Martin said. “Right now, I still have some optimism that the majority of the students really do understand the challenges they face.”

Martin said he hopes the investigation into the party allegations will be completed by the end of the week.

An elementary school principal in Manatee County has been placed on administrative leave for violating the school district's COVID-19 policy.

The Herald Tribune reports, Kinnan Elementary School principal Paul Hockenbury continued coming to work two weeks ago after possibly being exposed to the virus and while he was awaiting results of a test that turned out to be positive.

The school district's policy calls for staff who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 to isolate for 14 days, and for anyone with a positive test result to isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms.

Hockenbury got his positive test result Aug. 16th, four days after getting tested. That was before the school had opened to students. Hockenbury says he's not experiencing symptoms.

Orange County Sheriff's deputies arrested a man at Disney's Epcot Center in Orlando after he struck a security guard and threatened to kill him over the theme park's mask rules.

The AP reports, Enrico Toro was arrested Aug. 14 on misdemeanor battery charges. Toro was at the park with his family. They first arrived at the park entrance without masks and were sent back to their vehicle to get them. One of the children's masks still did not fit Disney's rules, which is when Torres struck the security guard in the head.

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