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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 6,658 new COVID-19 cases, Monday, for a total of 999,319 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 97 new coronavirus-related deaths, Nov. 30, increasing the statewide death toll to 18,834 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management increased to 10.06% on Saturday.

Over the past two weeks, the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 8.09% and 10.41%.

The COVID Tracking Project created by journalists at Atlantic Magazine shows a 30% increase in patients with COVID-19 infections requiring hospitalization in Florida over the past two weeks.

Lee Health officials report there were 136 COVID-19 patients being treated in the health system's hospitals as of Monday including 56 new admissions and 53 discharges since Friday.

Currently 73% of Lee Health's ventilator supply and 25% of ICU capacity is available.

Lee Health reports having 12 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 21 patients in intensive care.

New DOE Order Preserves Distance Learning Option, Urges Struggling Online Learners to Return In-Person

Governor Ron DeSantis says Florida’s K-12 schools will continue to offer parents the choice of remote or in-person learning through the Spring semester.

A previous mandate from the state Department of Education allowed districts to receive per-student funding for distance learners, which the governor and state education commissioner Richard Corcoran say will be preserved in a new order.

The new order keeps many of the same features as the one Corcoran issued in July, with some additions.

DeSantis made the announcement during his first in-person press conference held in weeks Monday in Kissimmee.

“It continues the requirement that districts offer in-person learning, and also contains the protections of school district funding,” DeSantis said of the new order. “Now, there is one new addition that I think is very important, and I think it was very well-considered, and it is this: Parents must be notified if a student is struggling with virtual learning.”

Corcoran says parents of students struggling with online learning will be urged to switch to in-person classes.

As the governor said, if you’re a parent, and you’re in a mode, and the districts are saying to you that your child is not doing well in that mode – then we want you to move them out of that mode and into another mode,” Corcoran said Monday. “And if the parent, maybe they have health concerns or other reasons … but as you heard from the superintendents, the growth in our enrollment and face-to-face instruction everyday grows.”

The governor says parents must communicate with their school districts to “affirmatively opt out” of in-person classes if they choose to use distance learning under the new directive. It comes as coronavirus cases in Florida have been on the rise, as they have in other parts of the country.

Statewide teacher union the Florida Education Association, which sued the state over its initial school reopen order, says it is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the subsequent order discussed today (Monday). In a statement, the union says Florida’s schools are ‘underfunded,’ but notes “the state’s support for students on-campus and off should remain stable this spring.”

Leon Schools' Hanna: Teachers Need COVID-19 Vaccine Priority, Too

More than 14,500 Leon County residents have contracted COVID-19 since March and 1,400 are being tested daily. Those stats are from Monday’s meeting between the city, county and Leon School District. The state of Florida is making plans to start distributing COVID-19 vaccines as they become available with healthcare workers given priority. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna says teachers should be high on the priority list as well.

“I don’t know how much autonomy we’re going to have at the local level, but we’re asking a lot of them, not unlike other essential workers in our community. So in my mind, they should be right there at the top of the list for a vaccination when one becomes available,” Hanna said, in response to Mayor John Dailey's question about where the county stood on COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans.

Leon County Administrator Vince Long says he’s in contact with state emergency response officials and will provide more information about vaccines as it becomes available.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state won’t force anyone to get a vaccine. Still, Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed a bill that would eliminate the state’s power to require vaccinations during pandemics.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Rick Minor remains concerned about infection rates. The U.S. is in the midst of another spike in cases and so too is Florida.

"There is a perception that people might be able to relax or let their guard down," Minor said. "And that could not be further from the truth."

Gov. DeSantis Speaks About COVID-19 Vaccines, New Treatments

Governor Ron DeSantis says a pair of new COVID-19 treatments have received emergency authorization to be used in hospitals across the state.

The treatments are intended to keep people out of the hospital and increase the survival rate in patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Speaking in a video released Nov. 25, DeSantis also gave an update on how vaccines currently being reviewed will be distributed.

“I spoke with the top pharmacist at both CVS and Walgreens involved in operation Warp Speed. They assured me that as soon as they have the vaccine in hand, they are ready to deploy to Florida’s over-4,000 long-term care facilities to begin vaccinating the residents,” said DeSantis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet Dec. 10 to review Pfizer’s vaccine and there is anticipation they’ll review Moderna’s vaccine soon as well.

Florida Unemployment Down as National Unemployment Increases

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Nov. 25 that new unemployment claims fell in Florida. Meanwhile, initial claims nationally increased by 30,000 from the week prior.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program are set to expire right after Christmas.

Chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, Gregory Daco tells the Miami Herald he’s concerned about the national rise in the number of weekly filings for unemployment benefits and the number of long-term filers. He said without any new policies, benefits for about 14 million people would end.

Food Demand Could Increase with Expiration of COVID Food Assistance Program

In December, a program that has helped keep Florida food banks full will come to an end. The change comes right as experts worry food demand could increase yet again as coronavirus cases rise, potentially leading to more shutdowns, more business closures, and more people out of work and unable to afford food.

Every day in Florida, families across the state are skipping meals because they don’t have enough food to go around.

“So pre COVID there were 16 million meals missing weekly throughout the state and COVID added 3 million additional meals weekly on top of that,” said Executive Director of Feeding Florida, Robin Safley.

The organization helps oversee 12 foodbanks throughout the state, which in turn help supply food, delivered to hungry people through food pantries and other distribution efforts.

Safley said the coronavirus pandemic has led to increase in demand for food as people unexpectedly out of work find themselves struggling to cover the cost of feeding their families.

“Typically under blue skies when there’s not a hurricane and there’s no COVID, (demand) is around five million pounds a week. At our peek we were up to 12 million pounds a week and probably have settled to around 10 million pounds a week,” said Safley.She said food banks across the state have been able to keep up that increase in distribution thanks largely to special programs that allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase food directly from growers.

However, one of those programs, called the COVID Food Assistance Program will end in December, just as coronavirus cases around the country are surging. As that date approaches, Safley says she and other experts are starting to worry about what they call “the commodity cliff.”
“So, that’s going to go away. The demand might increase because of where we might find ourselves, but even if we don’t have that spike, you’re still going to have the demand we have now and all the sudden a large part of our food source is going to go away,” said Safley.

She said throughout the pandemic there’s been an outpouring of generosity from people and companies that has also helped to keep food banks full, but Safley says there is a limit to how much people can give.

“People have been so generous without food bank network and contributions and corporate America has really come to the plate and stepped up, but eventually there does become a little fatigue and that’s something we also have to be aware of.”

Safley said she expects to see food demand continue into the future, especially since so many jobs in Florida are based in tourism, which is one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Cyber Monday Boon Expected

Retailers were expecting the largest day ever for online shopping sales Monday.

This comes as overall holiday sales are expected to be down 5% this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer consumers shopped in stores on Black Friday last week, while internet purchases were up substantially for many retailers.

Americans spent a record $9.4 billion on cyber Monday last year. Nationally, online sales of $11 billion to $12 billion were expected Monday.

Florida Retail Federation President Scott Shalley said shops have worked hard to make the in-person shopping experience safe in 2020, but amid coronavirus concerns, he said many consumers feel more comfortable shopping online this year.

“While retailers are going to great lengths to provide a safe shopping experience, we are seeing more people take advantage of online purchasing opportunities,” said Shalley.

Retailers are asking online shoppers to make their purchases early, to allow plenty of time for products being shipped to arrive by the holidays.

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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.
Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
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