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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health
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Coronavirus Vaccinations Underway in Florida

Florida health workers are starting to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Vanessa Arroyo, a 31-year-old nurse in Tampa General Hospital's COVID-19 unit was among the first in the state to get an initial dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday morning.

The hospital received about 20,000 doses.

"This is 20,000 doses of hope," said TGH CEO John Couris. "This is the beginning to the end. This is monumental, if you are sitting in our shoes caring for the patients that need us the most."

All who received the vaccine today will need a booster in a few weeks for it to be fully effective.

Gov. Ron DeSantis was there for the event. He said boosters have been allocated for every dose shipped this week but that they won't arrive until they are needed later this month.

He said health care personnel around the state who work with high-risk patients and nursing home residents are first in line for the Pfizer vaccine.

DeSantis said if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Moderna vaccine this week, the state should get about 365,000 doses.

“That is going to continue to help serve our long-term care mission but also start, hopefully as the frontline health workers have this available, to start getting it out to the elderly population outside of long-term care facilities,” he said.

Tampa General is one of five hospitals in the state receiving the first wave of Pfizer doses. The others include AdventHealth Orlando, UF Health Jacksonville, Jackson Memorial in Miami and Memorial West in Broward County.

All agreed to share their supply with other health systems in their regions.

“After 10 long months of responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, today marks a significant turning point," Mary Mayhew, President of the Florida Hospital Association and former head of Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, said in a statement.

"The first allocation of 179,400 vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Florida this week heralds not only a major scientific achievement but a beacon of hope on the horizon."

The state government, CVS and Walgreens are also receiving shipments this week which will support vaccination efforts at long-term care facilities.

DeSantis said all seniors and people with serious health problems or multiple comorbidities are next up in terms of vaccine priorities.

He did not mention any specific plans to prioritize Black and Latino residents, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Plans for other essential workers or vulnerable communities did not come up either.

DeSantis said he is hoping a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will aid in efforts to get the general population immunized, but it likely won’t be ready for FDA consideration until next year.

“But as we get into potentially February you could be in a situation where there's going to be a vaccine available for people regardless of circumstances or health risks or age — probably not before that and maybe not quite at that point, but that is very possible,” he said.

Most health experts aren't projecting widespread availability until late spring or summer, even with other vaccines on the horizon.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, TGH executive vice president and dean of the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine, called the vaccine's arrival a "magic moment." But he told Floridians it is not the moment to relax with safety measures.

“Please keep wearing masks, socially distancing, avoiding large gatherings," Lockwood said. "We're almost there.”

A key factor in how quickly Florida can vaccinate its residents is whether the state will receive thousands of additional doses from Pfizer later this month. DeSantis said that was expected but is now up in the air.

If all shipments come through as planned, the governor said Florida could have a million doses by the end of the year.

Cape Coral Senior Living Community Prepares for COVID-19 Vaccine

In Cape Coral, the senior living community Atrium at Liberty Park is getting the message out to residents and staff that the vaccines will be available soon.

Executive Director Robert Lord said the facility will not require residents and staff to get vaccinated.

“It’s optional, we’re not mandating it,” Lord said. “We’re just educating and encouraging.”

Lord said the state directed Atrium at Liberty Park to register with a pharmacy to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines.

“We went with CVS and we’re just waiting now, any day now, to get our clinic dates, we’re going to get three clinic dates to offer the vaccine.”

Atrium at Liberty Park residents are looking forward to taking the vaccine, Lord said.

“The population that we serve, the seniors, they’re trailblazers in their own right,” Lord said. “They were some of the first to have their kids get the polio vaccine, some of the women were the first to drive, I mean that generation even put a man on the moon, so they’re familiar with being the first to do things. So they’re onboard, most of them, for getting this vaccine and seeing what it will do to change what we’ve been through.”

Lord said he hopes to have the first clinic day scheduled as soon as next week.

Lee County commissioners will be briefed on the anticipated COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Tuesday morning, and will learn about the county's role to serve as a support mechanism to the state. This will be during the county's regularly scheduled meeting.

Florida Health Department reports more than 8,400 New COVID-19 Cases and 137 Deaths, Monday

State health officials reported 8,452 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,134,383 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 137 new coronavirus-related deaths, Dec. 14, increasing the statewide death toll to 20,271 fatalities since the start of the pandemic. Florida surpassed the 20,000-death mark on Saturday.

Over the past seven days, the single-day average number of new infections reported has increased to nearly 9,760 cases a day. The average number of daily deaths reported over the past week has increased to nearly 104 fatalities a day. In the past week, there have been three consecutive days that the number of new cases of the virus reported topped 10,000. The same thing happened during three days last week, but before that, daily new infection rates hadn't been that high since July.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (using the formula recommended by the World Health Organization) stood at 10.62% on Sunday. Over the past two weeks, the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 9.14% and 10.87%.

The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration reports that as of this morning there are a total of 477 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties combined.

Florida's Hospitals Say More Patients With COVID-19 Coming In

Florida’s hospitals have almost 5,000 patients who have COVID-19 as a primary diagnosis, which is up by about 300 patients from last week according to the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Justin Senior said frontline workers at Broward’s Memorial and Miami-Dade’s Jackson are getting inoculated this week, but not all at once.“You cannot vaccinate all frontline workers at the same time. So you have to be pretty judicious in the way that you use this vaccine,” said Senior.

“The reason for that is that apparently this vaccine can cause some mild to moderate reactions, including fever.”Hospitals are worried about the disease spreading in communities, where staff live and can get sick.Doctors urge people to keep wearing masks, especially indoors with people they don’t live with. It will be many more months before everyone has access to a vaccine.

SWFL Hospitals Restrict Visitation Amid COVID-19 Spike

The Lee Health and NCH Healthcare Systems have limited hospital visitation in response to the current spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region following the Thanksgiving holiday and the return of seasonal residents and visitors.

Both Lee Health and NCH are limiting visitation to between noon and 6 p.m. daily and rules for mask wearing, temperature checks and health screenings remain in effect.

The Naples Daily News reports Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Collier is not making changes to visitation policy at this time.

Southwest Florida hospitals restricted visitation during the first wave of the pandemic earlier this year, but relaxed those restrictions in late August and September as coronavirus activity was declining.

As of Monday, Lee Health reported having 137 hospital admitted COVID-19 patients and NCH reported treating 80 COVID-19 patients. As of Monday afternoon, 72% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 20% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 8 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 20 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

Beginning this week, patients in a Lee Health hospital can designate up to two total visitors who can only visit one at a time. Children under 12 are not permitted to visit, with some exceptions.

NCH hospital patients are also only allowed one visitor at a time.

White House Task Force Says Florida Should Do More to Fight COVID-19

Florida should be doing more to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to recommendations in a report to state officials from a White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The AP reports, the Dec. 6 report, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, recommends stricter measures including mask wearing at all times in public, increased physical distancing by reducing capacity or closing indoor spaces at venues like restaurants and bars.

The report also recommends limiting gatherings outside of immediate households and urges state leaders to begin warning about the risks of gathering during the holiday season.

Two newspapers are suing the DeSantis Administration for failing to make public the weekly reports, which provide recommendations and snapshots of pandemic conditions from state to state.

DeSantis Defends Raid on Home of Former Health Dept. Employee

Governor Ron DeSantis is defending the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and how agents served a search warrant at the home of former Florida Department of Health employee Rebekah Jones. Jones is being investigated for alleged unauthorized use of an emergency alert system. Jones denies the accusation and has not been charged.

The AP reports, DeSantis addressed the FDLE's investigation into Jones on Friday, saying officers were doing their jobs and did so properly. Jones recorded the first half a minute of her encounter with FDLE officers, and video shows them entering her home with guns drawn.

Jones helped develop the Florida Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard, but was later fired for insubordination. Jones alleges she was fired for refusing to manipulate COVID data and has publicly questioned the accuracy of information being released by the Department of Health.

Florida Senate President Tests Positive for COVID-19

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, one of the state’s three most-powerful political leaders, has tested positive for COVID-19.

The 54-year-old Simpson, R-Trilby, underwent testing for the virus on Sunday, in advance of a Monday afternoon meeting of Florida electors.

The electors were slated to gather in the Senate chamber to cast ballots for President Donald Trump, who defeated President-elect Joe Biden in Florida by more than three percentage points in last month’s election.

In a letter to Gov. DeSantis, Simpson said he regretted not being able to attend the meeting because he tested positive for COVID-19. Simpson, who has advocated for the use of face masks, is experiencing quote “mild symptoms,” similar to having a mild head cold or allergies, according to his spokesperson.

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was the alternate who replaced Simpson as a presidential elector.

“Our prayers are with him, as he’s kind of going through this right now, but, I’ve spoken to him today. He’s in good spirits and working hard on the business of the state of Florida,” said Brandes.

Senate staff members who had contact with Simpson last week were tested Monday morning.

While some other Republican leaders have taken more-cavalier approaches to COVID-19, Simpson has adopted more-stringent protocols for senators and staff to try to reduce the spread of the highly contagious virus.

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.

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters,WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.
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.
Verónica Zaragovia
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .