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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 3,309 new COVID-19 cases, Thursday, increasing Florida's total to 726,013 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 164 new coronavirus-related deaths, Oct. 8, bringing the statewide death toll to 15,254 fatalities.

Of the 5,496,985 COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.21% and the latest single-day positivity rate increased slightly to 4.56%

Here in the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, health officials reported 390 new cases of the virus, Thursday, for a total of 60,501 cases.

There were also 17 new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Thursday, including seven new fatalities in Sarasota County, four deaths in Manatee County, and two new fatalities each in Charlotte, Collier and Lee Counties for a total of 1,476 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Collier County will not be participating in the latest effort by the Florida Department of Agriculture to expand COVID-19 testing for farm workers.

Thousands of migratory agricultural workers come to Florida each year for a harvest season that runs roughly October through May.

Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said her office has been working with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, farm workers unions, and agricultural producers throughout the state to find ways to keep laborers safe during the peak growing season amid the pandemic.

“We were starting to see some outbreaks in some of the [farm worker] communities as they were starting to leave the state and so as a lot of our guest workers are coming back, we wanted to take as many precautions as possible to protect them,” Fried said.

To try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among the essential farm labor workforce, the Department of Agriculture partnered with the Department of Emergency Management to expand testing in agriculture hubs throughout the state.

On Oct. 1, the agriculture department announced St. Lucie, Hendry, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties will be participating in the expanded testing effort.

Collier County, home of the agriculture community of Immokalee, will not be participating at this time.

“We are going to continue to have conversations with the [Collier] county commissioners which we’ve been doing these last few weeks, to really work through that if in fact they change their minds and would like us to bring in additional resources, of course we will be there if needed and called upon,” Fried said.

A representative for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County said via email that the state agriculture department did not offer additional resources to supplement the county’s current COVID-19 response efforts.

DOH-Collier currently offers walk-up COVID testing three days a week in Immokalee and representatives have said the department can offer additional testing if needed.

New unemployment claims in Florida had been on a decline amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but new data released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department said the number of unemployment claims increased by more than 7,800 in the week ending Oct. 3, from the previous week to more than 40,000 new unemployment claims.

The AP reports, nationally the number of new unemployment claims over that time period declined by about 9,000 to 840,000 new unemployment claims.

Florida, however, experienced recent layoffs in the airline industry and businesses that support it due to a tourism market that continues struggling to come back.

Disney World workers are responding to the news of a deal between their union and The Walt Disney Company. More than 25,000 workers have been recalled to their jobs during Disney’s phased reopening.

Carmen Arroyo is one of them. She is a full-time housekeeper at Walt Disney World, and she came to Florida from Puerto Rico.

Arroyo says the job is both security for her family and a legacy for her two kids.

“I have to show them you cannot stay quiet. You have to fight for what you want, right? Not because I’m a housekeeper this is not an important position. We are hospitality, you know? I think that my legacy is to fight for what you want. It doesn’t matter what position you have.”

Part-time Walt Disney World housekeeper Belinda Hanzman is from Honduras. She said knowing that she will be recalled back when the company’s ready for her to work again is also a relief for her family.

“Ten years from now I want my kids to talk about what we went through and we came up on top. Because I fought for them. So that’s what is my vision.”

Many Disney workers in Orlando have been furloughed since mid-March.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Marked by COVID organization joined Thursday to hold a virtual vigil mourning lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groups are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to rethink phase 3 reopenings as COVID positivity rates hold near 5 percent.

More than 15,000 Floridians have died from COVID-19 according to the state Health Department dashboard. And for some health advocates that’s more than 15,000 too many.

Sydney Reiss of the PIRG hosted Thursday’s online vigil for what the organization is calling a National Week of Mourning for the Floridians, and more than 210,000 Americans across the country, who have died from COVID-19.

“The ultimate goal is that not another person dies from COVID-19,” Reiss said.

Florida continues with its Phase 3 reopening plan. The vigils speakers, all who have lost loved ones to the pandemic, called on DeSantis to step up and put people over profit.

Nancy Batista lost her uncle, a school janitor who contracted the virus from a coworker.

“It could’ve been avoided if only we had elected officials that didn’t care so much about opening the economy, but cared about those who had little to no chance of surviving,” she said.

Tampa resident Diana Ruso, has already lost two family members to the pandemic. Ruso said her grandmother was in a nursing home when she got sick and died alone. For the last 30 years, Ruso and her grandmother spoke daily. Those conversations ended as her grandmother’s condition worsened. Now, Ruso said, she is forever haunted wondering how her grandmother spent her final moments.

“There are questions that cross my mind every day,” she said through tears. “Did she know she was dying? Was she in pain? And if she felt abandoned by her family. My spirit is broken knowing that I couldn’t be there to comfort her.”

The last thing Marco Reyes heard his father say was that his electric bill was due. From his hospital bed, he asked his son to remember it needed to be paid. Reyes said he’s angry with the Governor. His father, he said, believed in DeSantis as Florida increased its reopenings. But DeSantis failed his father.

“Your failed leadership has caused many deaths in the state of Florida,” he said. “There’s still time to save a lot of people, but you need to man up and you need to be the leader that you claimed to be, that you said you would be when you ran for governor. And it’s time.”

The World Health Organization has said governments can consider reopenings if test positivity rates stay at or below 5 percent for two weeks. Health Department data shows Florida’s positivity rate has hovered near 5 percent recently, climbing to nearly 6 percent on Sept. 21. That’s less than a week before DeSantis announced the State would move into phase 3. On Monday, the positivity rate was again over 5 percent.

Reiss, PIRG’s Public Health Campaigns Associate, said its time to roll back reopening and focus on safety instead of dollar signs.

“When it comes to reopening, healthcare professionals have been clear for months what needs to happen. It includes a statewide mask mandate, it includes comprehensive testing and it includes contact tracing,” Reiss said. “It’s something that Florida needs to take seriously if they hope to reopen safely.”

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.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.
By Danielle Prieur