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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 5,807 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 762,533 cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 105 new coronavirus-related deaths, Oct. 21, increasing the statewide death toll to 16,413 fatalities.

The health department's regular daily release of new coronavirus case and death data, Wednesday, was delayed by several hours. Usually new data comes out around 11 a.m., but on Wednesday it was delayed until after 5 p.m. State health officials say the delay was due to the need for a more thorough review of death data. The AP reports that, for example, of the 95 fatalities reported Tuesday, 11 of those people actually died more than a month ago. 16 of the deaths reported Tuesday involved people who died more than two months after testing positive for the virus.

Over the past seven days, average number of new infections reported in a single day stands at 3,506 cases. The average number of daily deaths reported over the past week comes to nearly 87.86 fatalities a day.

Of the 5,786,304 COVID-19 tests that have been reported in Florida so far, the overall positivity rate stands at 13.18%.

The latest single day positivity rate recorded by the Florida Division of Emergency Management using the formula recommended by the World Health Organization stands at 8.03%.

Over the past two weeks, Florida's single day positivity rate has ranged between 4.42% and 9.23%.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, the Florida Department of Health has reported a total of 63,954 COVID-19 infections and 1,602 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Collier County Commissioners are slated, Thursday, to decide whether or not to extend the face covering order enacted in July to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Naples Daily News reports, Commissioner, Andy Solis, who supports the mask mandate, called the special meeting to revisit the issue. Without a vote to extend the mandate, the mask policy will expire at midnight.

Collier’s mask order applies to many businesses and public buildings in unincorporated portions of Collier County. It includes exceptions for restaurant patrons while they are eating, and for people working out in gyms while practicing physical distancing, among others. The ordinance does not apply to children under nine-years-old and specifically excludes places of worship.

Past commission meetings about the mask rule have garnered passionate public comment from residents both for and against the rule.

Today's vote comes as COVID-19 infections are on the rise again in Florida after slowing down in late August and September. Other parts of the country, particularly in the Midwest, and other parts of the world are seeing a resurgence of the virus.

Collier County has the tenth highest number of COVID-19 infections among Florida's 67 counties with 13,762 confirmed cases and 249 deaths.

Governor Ron DeSantis says he wants to put a stop to school closures for COVID-19 mitigation – but at the state level, that's just a recommendation.

Speaking at a Jacksonville charter school alongside the state’s education commissioner, DeSantis made the case for quarantining symptomatic students and staff, but avoiding closing entire campuses.

“Going forward, whatever the future may hold, school closures should be off the table,” the governor said, asserting closures “don’t do anything to mitigate COVID, but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of our youth.”

A number of schools around the state have closed for weeks after positive coronavirus tests have popped up, including multiple in Jacksonville where DeSantis held the press conference.

DeSantis said he didn’t know about those instances specifically. Despite the hard stance he took Tuesday, the governor says closing schools is ultimately a local decision.

“It’s not our decision to close schools. But no, we are not going to recommend school closures,” the governor said, responding to a question from media.

Statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, tried unsuccessfully to sue the Governor and Department of Education for its order requiring brick-and-mortar schools reopen for the fall. The order threatens to withhold funding from schools that don’t offer in-person learning.

The Sarasota County School Board on Tuesday voted 3-2 to extend its mask policy, requiring students and staff to wear masks through June 30.

“And teachers, you can breathe,” said board chair Caroline Zucker after the vote, a reference to concerns about teacher safety in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nearly five-hour long school board meeting drew a crowd of speakers for the public comment period, some opposed to the policy and others in favor.

At one point, Zucker called a brief recess after two consecutive speakers refused to wear masks in the room, including a man who declared, “I want to breathe oxygen. I can't cover my mouth and my nose."

Gretchen Lovewell, a scientist, was among those voicing support for the policy.

"I felt it was important to be here today for those who cannot be and to show that just because a faction may be the loudest in the room that doesn't mean they represent the majority,” said Lovewell.

“More importantly, they do not represent the science behind how to keep our students, staff, and teachers safe," she said.

Board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson voted against extending the mask policy.

Robinson, who is near the end of his term on the school board, said his issue was there was no “phase-out” included.

The board agreed to ask Superintendent Brennan Asplen to provide regular updates on the coronavirus and schools at future meetings.

Representatives of the Sarasota County Health Department told the board at an afternoon workshop that cases of coronavirus are on the rise in the area, but are not yet as high as they were in July when numbers were at a peak across Florida.

Visit Florida is expanding its marketing efforts after the coronavirus severely impacted the state’s tourism industry. The agency is hoping to convince tourists within driving distance of Florida to vacation in the Sunshine State. Visit Florida’s Staci Mellman says it’s the third phase of the campaign.

“We did launch phase two, which promoted travel to in-state residents just in advance of Labor Day, right around the end of August, and we expanded to nearby domestic drive markets for phase three on October 5,” Mellman says.

Visit Florida is also running ads in international markets like Canada. Another initiative the group is tackling is understanding how tourism can enhance residents’ lives. Visit Florida’s Kate Chunka says jobs and tax savings were popular talking points in the past. Now, she’s hoping to broaden that discussion.

“Quality of life can also mean how tourism can create the protection and preservation of cultural and national resources,” Chunka says.

Visit Florida hosted a webinar to speak with different people from across the state on how tourism impacts local communities.

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.

Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.
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.
Robbie Gaffney is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.