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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 3,116 new COVID-19 cases, Tuesday, increasing Florida's total to 668,846 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 145 new coronavirus-related deaths, Sept. 15, bringing the state's overall death toll to 12,946 fatalities.

Of the 4,975,926 COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.44%, but the single-day positivity rate for tests reported the previous day is at 4.21%.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 136 new cases of the virus, Tuesday, for a total of 55,846 cases.

There were also 15 new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Tuesday, including six new fatalities in Sarasota County, three new deaths each in Charlotte and Lee Counties, and one new fatality each in Collier, Hendry and Manatee Counties for a total of 1,328 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Florida Democratic Party hosted a call, Monday, denouncing the state’s school reopening policies.

On the call, founder of the advocacy group Teaching for the Culture, Bianca Goolsby said not all students can access the internet.

“COVID has illuminated the digital divide. Some educators are having a difficult time with the Wi-Fi being strong enough to even connect with their students,” said Goolsby.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said the rush to reopen districts will affect South Florida, too.

“We do not have all the resources and support we need in our schools to make sure that students are safe and that the learning environment is of high quality and protected and that's been the big challenge,” said Spar.

The FEA recently sued Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran over their insistence of requiring face-to-face classroom instruction. Corcoran has said the policy is designed to give the option of returning to classrooms.

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to make a ruling any day now.

The Sarasota County School Board on Tuesday took steps to advance its mask policy until the end of the school year to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

During a midday workshop, board members heard from Sarasota Memorial Hospital infectious disease doctor Manuel Gordillo, who said talk about masks lowering oxygen intake “is just simply a myth, and it should not be in this conversation.”

He also lamented the push — by some members of the community — to end mask-wearing, when the virus is still spreading and there is no vaccine against it.

“This is one of the few effective measures we have,” said Gordillo, responding to questions from the board.

“And to me it's like asking the question, ‘When can we stop wearing seatbelts because we haven't had any accidents?"

Manuel Gordillo, infectious disease specialist

The positive test rate in Sarasota county is currently low, at 2.7%. Among children, 18 and younger, it’s 9.5% according to county department of health data.

“We have a long way to go,” said health department administrator Chuck Henry.

“The concern is there is nothing that holds us at that level as a community other than the steps we have taken collectively as a community, and that would include social distancing and wearing a mask,” he said.

He added that as businesses and schools open “we expect to see an increase in those numbers but hopefully if we continue wearing a mask and social distancing, those numbers will still stay low.”

Board member Bridget Ziegler pressed for language in the district mask policy that would allow students to take breaks from wearing them.

Asked what such breaks should look like, health department officer Michael Drennon said “ideally breaks would occur best outside the classroom, outside, when they are in fresh air. I don’t think mask breaks are a bad idea, it is just how they are implemented is going to be very important.”

Drennon said students must maintain a proper social distance.

“It is going to be critical that the duration that they are not wearing the mask is definitely kept less than 15 minutes -- probably less than five,” he said.

“They can’t be getting up and interacting with others if they are going to have a break.”

Amy Cook of North Port was among the speakers during the public comment section

At a school board meeting later in the afternoon, more than a dozen people spoke during the public comment portion to demand that schools stop requiring masks. Many identified themselves as parents, and a few wore “Women for Trump” masks.

“It has been reported that children going back to school have developed bacterial infections from these face diapers,” said Amy Cook, a North Port mother of two.

“It also makes it easier for them to not to be identified for child traffickers,” she said, as others in the audience snapped their fingers and murmured in support.

After the public comment portion of the meeting ended, the crowd shouted over board member Jane Goodwin as she attempted to read aloud statistics on COVID-19 from the Department of Health.

“More students are getting COVID, more youngsters are getting COVID,” Goodwin said.

“They are testing more! Zero deaths!” people in the audience yelled.

Soon after, board chair Caroline Zucker asked security to clear out of the room.

A final vote on the mask policy is expected at the next Sarasota School Board meeting Oct. 6.

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