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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 8,847 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday for a total of 1,018,160 cases. On Tuesday, Florida became the third state in the U.S., along with Texas and California, to surpass one million total cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 88 new coronavirus-related deaths, Dec. 2, for a total of 19,012 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

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 10.87% on Tuesday.

Over the past two weeks, Florida's single-day positivity rate has ranged between 8.09% and 10.99%.

Statewide, 54,864 total patients have been hospitalized with COVID-19, which is an increase of 333 patients since Monday.

Lee Health reported, Wednesday, having 147 COVID-19 patients in the health system's hospitals compared to 136 coronavirus patients on Monday.

Lee Health officials report that as of Wednesday afternoon 80% of ventilator capacity and 20% of ICU rooms are available. Lee Health also reported having nine COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 21 COVID-19 requiring ICU-level care.

How Florida Ranks In COVID-19 Prevalence Rate List

With a population of about 21 million people, Florida’s COVID-19 prevalence rate is 4.76%.

States are ranked by cases per 100,000 people. The highest rates are in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Hawaii and Maine have the lowest rates. Nova Southeastern University Professor of Microbiology Bindu Mayi, Ph.D., points out that COVID-19 isn’t a mosquito borne disease. Human behavior spreads it. The spread can be reduced with masks.

“We are somewhere in the middle. We can do better,” said Mayi.

Governor Ron DeSantis remains opposed to the idea of mandating masks.

“People in Florida wear 'em when you go out,” said DeSantis.

“They don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it. Fining people is I think totally overboard.”Meanwhile, Mayi urges everyone to wear a mask and keep social distances to reduce infections.

Florida CFO Seeks COVID Liability Protections

State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is calling for liability protections for businesses during the ongoing pandemic. He is trying to drum up support for legislation to protect large and small companies from COVID-19 lawsuits.

A bill is expected to move forward in some form in the 2021 Florida Legislative session, with strong pro-business lobby support.

So far, 21 states have enacted some sort of liability shields for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits. In the state legislature, the issue will require fine tuning language to avoid simply granting full immunity from negligence to businesses.

Patronis is traveling the state this week, saying something needs to be done before more businesses are threatened with what he calls frivolous lawsuits.

“We are going to be working with stakeholders this coming legislative session to roll out model legislation, to hopefully give those stakeholders peace of mind that they can move forward as long as they are abiding by good science,” said Patronis.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, recently said lawmakers must craft language that takes into account the “essential” businesses that remained open in March and April, ranging from construction and agriculture to trucking and grocery stores, while not letting other businesses off the hook for their negligence.

Health Officials Are Preparing to Administer Covid-19 Vaccines to Health Care Workers, Skilled Nursing Facilities

Gov. Ron DeSantis says once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, local pharmacies have agreed to deploy it to health professionals and skilled nursing facilities.

Dr. Terry Adirim, senior associate dean for clinical affairs and professor of pediatrics at Florida Atlantic University, said people still need to manage expectations. The vaccines are still undergoing review by the FDA.

The pediatrician said health officials are hoping that by the end of December, 20 million people could be immunized with the 40 million doses available, but in reality “not all 40 million doses are going to be available at the end of December.”

There should be about 5 to 10 million doses produced per week across the country during the month of December.

"So I think this is a really great development. It’s very hopeful,” she told WLRN. “The preliminary data looks really good. So I think if everything goes to plan, we’re going to get our highest priority individuals immunized starting the end of December.”

Adirim said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a committee within the CDC, is deliberating right now on what the prioritization guidance will be for the states. The states can “tweak the guidance based on their population.” Healthcare workers and skilled nursing facilities will be the first in line.

“Side effects from a vaccine are typically within the first 60 to 90 days. And the testing that was done was done over that period of time,” she said. “And it appears that there are not serious side effects to the vaccines that have gone through what’s called phase three trials.”

Adirim said government and external experts will ensure “that this data is accurate and valid.”

“There is going to be requirements for monitoring people after they get vaccinated to continue to collect data. So it appears, from a preliminary standpoint, that the vaccines are safe," she said.

She added that the vaccines currently being considered for authorization by the FDA need two doses to be effective. Patients will need a second dose 3 to 4 weeks after the first dose.

Receiving multiple doses of a particular vaccine is common, Adirim said. Three doses of the Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine, or Hib vaccine, for example, is normally given to babies at the early infant stage.

“There are other vaccines like tetanus vaccine where you get vaccinated as a baby but you also need a booster dose when the child is a little bit older,” she said.

At the moment, companies have not done testing yet on young children. She said officials “are currently doing studies of kids down to the age of twelve” but there aren’t studies right now aimed at young children in general.

The FDA, CDC, and other health officials are taking extra steps to look at potential side effects and to ensure the preliminary safety data is accurate, Adirim said — adding that “vaccines in general are safe” and that major side effects “are not that common.”

“It’s so important that we get a good amount of the population immunized so that we can achieve real herd immunity and get back to normal," she said.

Collier Business Owner Files Amended Lawsuit Against County Mask Ordinance

A Southwest Florida business owner who has publicly called the coronavirus pandemic a 'hoax' has refiled a lawsuit challenging Collier County's mask policy.

Alfie Oakes is owner of Oakes Farms Market and the grocery store Seed to Table in Naples. He has refiled his federal challenge after U.S. District Court Judge Sheri Polster Chappell dismissed most of the claims in Oakes' first amended complaint in November.

The Naples Daily News reports Judge Chappell dismissed most of the complaints in Oakes' last lawsuit because they were based on an older, more restrictive county mask mandate that's no longer in effect.

Collier County's current mask order runs through April. The county has previously filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Oakes' second amended complaint argues that the county's mask rule violates business owners' constitutional rights to equal protection, freedom of assembly and reasonable searches and seizures. He also said the mandate circumvents state statute for emergency-rule making and that it's being selectively enforced.

Collier Code Enforcement has issued just five citations for noncompliance with the mask mandate, all to businesses owned by Oakes.

Oakes is challenging the citations. He's also seeking damages and a jury trial.

Florida AG’s Office Recovers $2 Million From COVID-19 Price Gouging, Scams

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says the state has recovered about $2 million for consumers bilked by price gouging and scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These efforts would not be possible without the help of many Floridians who contacted us. Our team is still fielding calls and assisting consumers with those extreme price increases in PPE, disinfectants, supplies related to COVID-19,” said Moody.

“We will continue to work diligently to stop those exploiting this crisis.”

Moody’s office said it has received about 5,300 contacts from consumers about prices of “essential commodities,” such as face masks and sanitizing supplies, that are covered by a state price-gouging law.

Fried Highlights COVID-19's Impact on Food Insecurity

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spent her lunch hour on Giving Tuesday bagging satsumas for food-insecure families. During the event, Fried said providing free food for families is important because more people are out of work during the pandemic and are less able to provide for themselves.

“A lot of those jobs are not coming back yet in the State of Florida. Especially in Central Florida a lot of the tourist industry and a lot of our hospitality,” said Fried.

“So those families who were just barely potentially making ends meet before the pandemic, now are having some real issues making sure that the food is stocked in their refrigerators, and getting meals onto their plates every day for their families.”

Food insecurity has grown across Florida during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Wilkine Brutus
Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.
Verónica Zaragovia
Gina Jordan reports from Tallahassee for WUSF and WLRN about how state policy affects your life.
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.