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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

Florida bars have been thrown a lifeline with the decision to allow them to re-open at 50% capacity. The easing of restrictions takes effect Monday, Sept. 14.

When he announced the move to reopen bars last week, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears said he’d talked to hundreds of bar and brewery owners and seen their commitment to health and safety.

He said allowing reopening is vital to this sector of the hospitality industry.

Rob Chase, owner of Digress Wine in College Park, focused on retail and deliveries over the summer, but he says closing the bar had a big impact on his business.

“You know, it effectively cut out half of what we could do, and now that we can get a little bit of that back, I’ve got a spring in my step today. It’s pretty great, and I think this will help us get through everything now,” said Chase.

Chase thinks bar owners and customers have learned from the last time bars reopened and will be able to do so safely.

“I think a lot of people were a little bit more cavalier than we should have been, so we are going to be a little bit more strict around here,” he said.

“It’s never exactly fun to tell grown adults to put their mask on five or six times during their visit, but that’s where we are and people are understanding, so that’s just what we’ve got to do to move forward.”

New daily COVID-19 cases have been falling since the summer, and reported fatalities have also been trending down.

State health officials reported 2,423 new cases of COVID-19, Sunday, increasing Florida's total to 663,994 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported eight new coronavirus-related deaths of Florida residents, Sept. 13, bringing the statewide death toll to 12,764 fatalities.

On Saturday, state health officials reported 3,190 new COVID-19 cases and 98 deaths.

Of the 4,930,974 million COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.47%.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations has increased to 41,297 patients, although hospitalizations in Florida continue trending downward.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials have reported a total of 55,566 COVID-19 cases and 1,315 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Florida’s hospitality businesses, and especially restaurants, have been hit hard by coronavirus fallout. Restaurants closed in March as officials worked to stop the spread of COVID-19. They’ve reopened now, but at a reduced capacity and for many that means a reduced income and reduced hours for staff.

However, Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s hoping to raise the capacity limit soon, which is good news for business owners like Jay Johnson who owns Bubba’s Roadhouse and Saloon in Cape Coral.

“We were able to adjust our business in April to where we were down 63%, but at the end of the day I’m proud to announce a profit of $150 for that month,” said Johnson. Since then, he said he’s been able to hire back most of his staff, but at reduced hours.

Johnson said he has 35 employees that he sees as family.“ So it was tough to have to lay them off in March, but now they’re back and now we want to get them to the point that they can get their incomes back,” said Johnson.

“And now we want to get them to a point to where they can get their incomes back to what they need for their families. We’ve worked out a system for us where our employees are giving up shifts to people who have a family, more kids at home, so that the people who need the money can get the money. We’ve like to be able to get all our staff back to where they were.”

Restaurant owners say they’re hoping DeSantis will lift the restrictions soon. They say that not only would let them keep more servers working, especially on weekends when many say they reach their capacity limit, but it would also send a message to the public.

Paul Avery is CEO of World of Beer.“The relief from the 50% would be an amazing, important indication to the public that it’s okay, that it’s safe to go out,” said CEO of World of Beer Paul Avery.

“Then they would need to count on us, which they can, to provide a safe environment for them all around and to come out and dine in our restaurants and restore some normalcy and therefore we would absolutely be bringing back some employment into the state and reopen some locations. We’ve had to close a few locations that just couldn’t get through it.”

Avery said he oversees 18 locations thought Florida and that some of those have not been able to open and some are working with limited staff.

In others, he said there are sometimes waits to get in. Gov. DeSantis said the request for increased capacity makes sense to him. He said the large groups of people he sees waiting outside restaurants for a table almost seem more dangerous to him than if those people were just seated.“You know if you’re in close contact with someone for a long period of time and they’re talking or sneezing and they’re talking loud, you’re going to be at higher risk,” said DeSantis.

“But I’m not sure the magic thing is 6 feet versus 5 feet if you’re in there. So I think the restaurants are going to be able to make sense of a lot of this as we look to have more capacity.”

DeSantis said he also thinks Florida residents are becoming more comfortable with every day activities and will soon be more interesting in going to stores and dining out. As far as a timeline for when capacity might be increased at restaurants? DeSantis said “Stay tuned.”

Despite a worldwide pandemic and little support from the White House, America could still cut greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change by more than a third by 2030.

That’s according to a new assessment of states, cities and businesses that committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Accord after the Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in 2017.

Carl Pope is co-chair of America’s Pledge. “When COVID came in and devastatingly attacked both people's lives and the world economy, it looked like something that the devil could have designed to disrupt clean energy progress,” said Pope.

In South Florida, West Palm Beach, Key West, Miami and Miami Beach are among the cities participating.

Michael Bloomberg and California Gov. Jerry Brown launched the Pledge after President Trump withdrew from the Climate Accord that committed countries to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

“So, we went out to understand how bad this result was,” said Pope.

“What was actually happening to the pace of retirements of coal-fired power plants. What new models were the automobile industry actually investing in what was happening to investment flows for renewable energy versus coal and gas?”

To their surprise, Pope said they found no changes in the switch to clean energy. The full assessment is slated for release Sept. 14.

Collier County Public School students enrolled in virtual and in-person classes will have access to breakfast and lunch starting Monday, Sept. 14.

The meals are made possible through the Collier County Public Schools’ Nutrition Services extension of the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.

Curbside distribution of the meals will be available for children not attending in-person classes

Guardians will be able to pick up meals for children, but will need to present identification for their child such as a student ID badge, passport or birth certificate.

The meals will be provided each weekday to all children 18 years of age and under until Friday, Dec. 18.

Earlier this month, Gov. DeSantis gave Palm Beach County approval to enter phase two of the state’s reopening plan. On Friday, he announced Broward and Miami-Dade Counties will follow on Monday, Sept. 14.

Once a county enters phase two, schools may reopen for in-person instruction. DeSantis said he thinks Miami-Dade can rise to the challenge.

“Let’s just be honest. It’s a lot easier to run a school district in a rural county than it is in a big urban area. So I think as they go and they show them how it’s done, will be great for the state, but I also think it will be a model for the country,” said DeSantis.

Broward plans to return to in-person schooling in October. The Miami-Dade school district has not yet set a date, but it’s had major problems since remote classes started two weeks ago. Its online learning system crashed on day one, and was ultimately scrapped altogether.

The World Health Organization’s target for reopening schools and businesses is reaching a 5% positivity rate for COVID-19 testing over 14 days. While Broward recently hit that target, the rate in Miami-Dade County stands at about 6%. Officials in both counties say reopening will not include bars, at least not yet.

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