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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 7,925 COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 905,248 cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 87 new coronavirus-related deaths, Nov. 18, increasing the statewide death toll to 17,949 fatalities.

Over the past seven days, the single-day average number of new infections reported has increased to nearly 6,735 cases. The average number of daily deaths reported over the past week now stands at nearly 56 fatalities a day.

By comparison, in early October the seven-day average number of new cases in Florida was about 2,200. Back in mid-July the seven-day average had increased to nearly 11,700 new infections.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, using the formula recommended by the World Health Organization, increased to 9.71% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks, the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 7.35% and 11.37%.

In the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, health officials have reported a total of 77,523 COVID-19 infections and 1,772 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The number of patients being treated for COVID-19 in Florida hospitals has also been on the rise. Lee Health reported Wednesday that 111 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's five hospitals.

Currently 76% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 25% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 25 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

Kriseman, Four Mayors Press Gov. DeSantis For Mandatory Mask Policy

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and four other Florida mayors asked the governor Wednesday to tighten coronavirus restrictions statewide.

Kriseman joined the mayors of Miami Beach, Sunrise, Miami Shores Village, and Hialeah in calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to institute a statewide mandatory mask policy.

During a Zoom press conference, Kriseman said public health shouldn't be a partisan issue, noting that a number of Republican governors have issued mask orders.

"This is not Republican, Democrat, red or blue. Because look at Ohio — look at what Gov. (Mike) DeWine is doing. There are ten states that I can think of off the top of my head where Republican governors all have mandatory mask orders," Kriseman said.

"All we're asking for as mayors is for the support of an administration in Tallahassee that is looking out for the residents of the state of Florida as much as we are for the residents of our community," he said.

It's considered unlikely to succeed, as DeSantis pledged in September to not institute any more lockdowns in the future. His office reiterated that position over the weekend, even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow.

With Thanksgiving approaching, Florida Education Association wants Board of Governors to take stricter measures against COVID-19

As Florida Coronavirus cases continue to rise by the thousands every day and test positivity rates nearly double the daily recommendation for phase 3 openings, the Florida Education Association is asking the Board of Governors to enact stricter regulations throughout Florida’s university system.

Some schools are taking steps beyond the Board of Governor’s recommendations.

There’s one thing Matt O’Brien is sure would change how he feels when he gets his PhD from USF.

“When I graduate and I’m Dr. Matt,” he said. “If my mom’s not at my graduation, I mean, that would be devastating.”

O’Brien, a third-year mathematics education doctoral candidate, almost came close to having one of his worst fears realized. Both his parents tested positive for COVID-19 last week. His mother’s condition got so bad she had to be hospitalized. She had to be separated from his father. She was alone and her family feared the worst for her.

“We really didn’t know what was going on. And for two days, I thought I was going to lose her,” O’Brien said. “It was extremely scary.”

COVID-19 continues to ravage the United States. Tuesday saw the highest single-day death toll in six months and some states are starting to shutter once more as fears of a winter spike quickly become reality. In Florida, this week has already seen more than 11,000 new cases and the test-positivity rate was nearly 9 percent on Monday.

The World Health Organization has said governments can consider reopenings if test positivity rates stay at or below 5 percent for two weeks. Florida entered its Phase 3 reopening in late September and hasn’t been at or below 5 percent since Oct. 24. The State’s positivity rate has almost doubled since then. The rate fell just under 10 percent last Friday.

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Florida Education Association said things are getting worse than ever and the state’s schools need more direct leadership.

“Unfortunately politics is driving the train about openings of schools, colleges and universities and not the science. Not the fact that we’re going into a period of time where COVID is much worse than it was when students were released in March. And yet, the people that lead the state don’t seem to be alarmed.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis stated the state would not lockdown again, even as the medical experts fear Thanksgiving could lead to super-spreader events. The Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s university system issued a statement Tuesday urging caution during the holiday. It advised students to wear masks and isolate before returning home for the holiday. It also asked students to get tested before leaving and returning to campus, but hasn’t discouraged staying home.

Florida State University has urged students to stay home after the break and the University of South Florida is going all virtual after Thanksgiving.

O’Brien also teaches special education math at a high school in Hillsborough County. He’s been a teacher for 15 years and knows the value of brick and mortar learning. He’s supported virtual learning since the pandemic began. But since nearly losing his mother, it’s now a plea for understanding and for saving lives.

“I am a hundred percent for online learning,” he said with desperation in his voice.

Ogletree has written a number of emails to Board of Governors chairman Marshal Criser since August. He said the only response he’s gotten is that the University System will be agile in its response to the pandemic.

“They repeat the same statement about, ‘our program is agile’ and so forth. Where’s the agility?”

Cases in public schools continue to spike with between 50 and 100 students and faculty quarantining in a single day at times. At the university level, O’Brien said his classmates and the students he teaches there also work full-time. They could face exposure to COVID-19 daily.

The exposure can often outpace the speed of testing and results.

“Our Board of Governors needs to stand up and say we need to have instruction at the university level be all virtual.”

O’Brien said COVID-19 has in some ways improved his teaching and interaction with students and classmates. He’s been able to use COVID data to help his math students better understand the pandemic. Virtual study groups have brought him and his fellow doctoral candidates closer. He said its time for the Board of Governors to get on board.

“The field of education, in terms of higher ed and K-12 is evolving to incorporate best practices for distance learning.”

With more news of possible vaccines being just around the bend, he hopes Americans can buckle down as a society and make sacrifices. We could then get to the other side of the pandemic.

“If we were able to lockdown for four weeks and people would actually follow the CDC guidelines, we would see a decrease in positivity rates. So that way, when the vaccine comes out, we’d be able to get a hold of this virus.”

Corcoran Promises 'Parental Choice' For Distance Learners Will Continue, But Per-Student Funding Uncertain

The state Department of Education is expected to issue a new order before the end of November, acting as an extension of its July mandate requiring schools to offer in-person instruction. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s original order provided full per-student funding for those who wished to use distance learning rather than go to campus.

Though Corcoran promised the new order will keep the original “parental choice” provision, he wouldn’t say definitively whether districts will continue to receive full funding for virtual learners.

“We’re going through that right now, and working with the districts,” said Corcoran.

“So, we’ve said consistently for weeks now that probably before Thanksgiving we’d have, hopefully, the new emergency order.”

As many students will continue learning online, Corcoran says in the coming legislative session, closing the “digital divide” will be a priority. That means making sure students have access to devices and adequate internet connection.

Corcoran Expects Teacher Pay Increases Will Be 'Protected' In 2021, Despite Legislators' Promises of Tightened Spending

Education Commissioner Corcoran also said Wednesday, he expects teacher salary increases passed by the state legislature earlier this year to be “protected” in 2021.

His comments come a day after new Florida Senate leadership promised that lawmakers would tighten spending in the face of revenue shortfalls. Corcoran was asked about teacher pay by state Board of Education member Michael Olenick, who has previously locked horns with the commissioner over handling of COVID-19 data.

Olenick said teachers have taken on more responsibilities while teaching during the pandemic.

“We need to urge the legislature not to pull the plug on teacher compensation,” said Olenick.

“Any reduction will cause significant problems, both financial and from a labor standpoint and it’s now more than ever, during COVID, the teachers deserve that raise. Their job description has changed drastically over the last year.”

Corcoran told Olenick “despite being in one of the worst economic times coming out of the summer,”, Gov. DeSantis will “protect” the teacher compensation package.

2,000 Rapid Covid-19 Tests are Available for Lee Schools Students and Staff

The School District of Lee County has 2,000 rapid COVID-19 tests available for students and staff who present with symptoms of the virus while on campus.

The parents of students who have been placed in a school’s isolation room will be given the option to have their child tested, with results in 15 minutes.

Lee Schools Assistant Director of Media and Public Relations Rob Spicker said the district has partnered with Lee Health and Golisano Children’s Hospital to administer the tests.

“Golisano has created four teams that will spread out across the county and be ready to respond to a school where there is a need for a test,” Spicker said.

The tests are part of the 6.4 million rapid tests given to the state in October by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The tests are available for free and will be given on a first come, first serve basis.

Spicker said Lee Schools could receive more tests in the future.

“We expect there could be more, but we have no notice of when or how many,” Spicker said.

Naples City Officials to Consider Mask Ordinance

Naples City Council members are set to consider imposing some form of a face covering requirement to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

A possible mask mandate is on the agenda of a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 3.

The Naples Daily News reports, the consideration of a mask order comes more than four months after the city of Naples declined to opt into Collier County's mask mandate in July.

At that time, City Councilors decided to instead pursue a public education campaign. However, as cases continue in Collier and as seasonal residents are returning, some community members are asking city officials to reconsider.

Collier County commissioners revised their mask mandate in October and extended it through April 13.

Several Lawmakers Miss Organizational Session Due To COVID-19

Two members of the Florida Senate, and Seven House members missed the legislature’s organizational session Tuesday after testing positive for, or being exposed to, COVID-19.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Windermere) is one of them. She believes she picked up the virus while campaigning.

“In my case, I had run for re-election. I’d had a tough campaign. And I had in the course of the campaign been out circulating with people," said Thompson. "For example, the last weekend before elections I went to every early voting site in my district.”

Thompson knew she was sick and stayed home, but some members of the legislature were not aware they had contracted the virus until they arrived in Tallahassee and tested positive for COVID-19.

The Senate required all members to get testing before Tuesday’s session. Testing for House members was voluntary.

State House Minority Co-Leader Calls for More Access to COVID-19 Data for Floridians

Florida House Minority Coleader, Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Hollywood) said this week, he thinks Floridians should have more access to data about COVID-19.

“First things first, a real stream of data and information that the state can easily understand, because at this point we really don’t know how many people have actually died in the state of Florida due to Corona,” said Jenne.

“You can look at some of the John Hopkins numbers with the deaths over flu from last year, and that number grows significantly from that 17,000 or 18,000 number that the state is currently reporting.”

After Tuesday's organizational session, Jenne criticized Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls' opening speech. Jenne said Sprowls didn't give enough attention to the coronavirus.

Jenne also called out Gov. DeSantis for what he sees as taking a hands-off approach since lifting most coronavirus restrictions. The governor hasn't held a press conference on the pandemic since late October.

Retailers Expect Decrease in 2020 Holiday Sales

Floridians are likely to see fewer presents under the Christmas tree this year.

Due to economic struggles caused by the coronavirus pandemic, retailers in Florida are expecting a five% decrease in holiday sales this year. The average consumer is expected to spend $998 on gifts in 2020, which is about $50 less than in 2019.

The holiday shopping season is the biggest time of the year for stores, with shops making 20% to 40% percent of their annual sales during the month before Christmas.

Given fears from COVID-19, Florida Retail Federation President Scott Shalley expects more people to shop online this year. He is encouraging those consumers to spend their money with stores that also have a physical presence in Florida.

“Whether it’s a big box or a small store, and you decide to shop online, shop online with somebody who has a local presence,” said Shalley.

“They are hiring Floridians and paying taxes in Florida. We need it right now. It’s been a difficult year, and we hope to close out the year strong.”

Shalley said he thinks people will buy gifts for others as they usually would, but feels many consumers won’t spend as much on extra items for themselves as in years past.

Some of this year’s most popular gifts for kids include Legos, video games and barbie dolls.

Cruise Liners Must Conduct 'Test Voyages' Ordered by the CDC

More than 10,000 people have signed up to take "test voyages" for cruise companies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ordered cruise liners to run these simulated voyages so they can resume more operations.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that it's part of a phased approach to help cruises perfect COVID-19 prevention measures.

Volunteers must be at least 18-years-old and have a doctor's note indicating they do not have pre-existing medical conditions.

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.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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.
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.
Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .