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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

First Florida Nursing Home Residents and Staff Vaccinated

Long-term care facility residents and staff in Broward and Pinellas counties began receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesday.

The first vaccination was given to 88-year-old Vera Leip, a retired schoolteacher and a resident of John Knox Village in Pompano Beach.

Speaking at the Broward County nursing home Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis said he has directed strike teams to begin using the state’s supply of more than 21,000 Pfizer vaccine doses that were received earlier this week in a shipment from the federal government.

“The quicker you can get in to vaccinate, the easier it is going to be over the next couple of months. If you wait, you are providing basically opportunities to have outbreaks in the height of respiratory season,” said DeSantis.

The strike teams are using supplies that DeSantis directed toward the state. CVS and Walgreens, which inked agreements with the federal government to supply vaccinations at long term care facilities, should begin their vaccination efforts on Monday.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said every day matters for residents of nursing homes.

“This is the beginning of the end to all of that, for all of these people who have had to suffer with being alone and the mental health impacts of that in their elder years,” said Moskowitz.

According to DeSantis, Florida was the first state in the nation to begin inoculating long-term care residents. He said Tuesday that Florida expected 205,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week and 267,000 doses the following week.

However, DeSantis said, Tuesday, production issues could cause delays. He said he expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant clearance to the Moderna vaccine by Friday.

If so, doses could begin being shipped to Florida this weekend. Florida is expecting 370,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week and 163,000 doses the following week.

The Palm Beach Post reports, DeSantis said he's particularly excited about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because unlike the Pfizer and Moderna versions, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require two doses and does not need to be kept at especially low temperatures.

Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected by the end of January.

Southwest Florida Hospitals Expect First Vaccine Doses Next Week

Both Lee Health and NCH health care system officials said Tuesday they're preparing to receive their first shipments of a vaccine for COVID-19 sometime next week.

The Naples Daily News reports, Lee Health president and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said the first doses will go to staff with the highest risk of exposure. Chief Nursing Officer for NCH, Jonathan Kling spoke at a virtual town hall with Naples officials, Tuesday, saying priority for the vaccine will be employees 55 and older who care for COVID-19 patients as well as staff and residents of long-term care units run by NCH hospitals.

In preparation, NCH purchased two sub-zero freezers to store vaccine doses three months ago. Lee Health has two freezers to store the vaccine and additional freezers have recently been ordered.

Five metro hospitals in Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando and Hollywood divvied up Florida's initial shipment of 179,400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

Hospitals in Sarasota and Manatee Counties also expect to get their first doses of a coronavirus vaccine next week. An official with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County told the Herald Tribune, Tuesday, that doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected within a week.

On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis released a list of 173 hospitals slated to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine.

That list includes Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, Englewood Community Hospital, Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, Manatee Memorial Hospital and Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Florida Reports 11,541 New COVID-19 Cases and 122 Deaths Wednesday

State health officials reported 11,541 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,155,335 cases.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 122 new coronavirus-related deaths, Dec. 16, increasing the statewide death toll to 20,490 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Over the past seven days, the single-day average number of new infections reported has increased to 10,242 cases a day. The average number of daily deaths reported over the past week has increased to nearly 109 fatalities a day. In the past week, there have been four days where the number of new cases of the virus topped 10,000, and three days in the past week where the daily infection increase has topped 11,000 cases.

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 11.31% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks, the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 9.13% and 11.96%.

The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration reports that as of Thursday morning there are a total of 506 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties combined.

Lee Health reported Wednesday that 143 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals, which is up from 137 patients on Monday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 72% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 13% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reported having 9 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 18 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

FDLE Commissioner Defends Search of Rebekah Jones’ Home

Florida’s top law enforcement officer on Tuesday continued to stand by his agents who conducted a search of the home of a former state employee accused of hacking into the state’s COVID-19 emergency response system.

While asserting that his agents did not point their guns at the children of Rebekah Jones, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Richard Swearingen defended the way agents dealt with her by pointing out that she had previously been involved in an altercation with a police officer in Louisiana.

Swearingen told reporters that in 2016 the Louisiana State University Police Department charged Jones with one count of battery on a law enforcement officer and two counts of resisting arrest.

He said the search warrant of Jones’ home was executed in the way officers are trained.

“If we get into an apartment and we have our weapons holstered and somebody steps out, whether it’s from a closed door or at the top of a stairwell, and they already have a gun in their hand, we’ve lost that battle,” said Swearingen.

“So, I don’t have to defend why my agents would go into a room, or into a home, certainly not after a 23-minute standoff.”

Jones, who helped build the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, was fired from her job in May.

While state officials maintain she was let go for insubordination, Jones said she was pushed out for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, said some blame for the entire situation lies with Gov. DeSantis.

“He continues to spin data. He hasn’t listened to science or to medical experts. He has completely suppressed numbers when it comes to those inside of DOC (Department of Corrections) and our prison system, to the nursing homes,” said Fried.

“We would not be here today if he in fact still had the trust of the people.”

Since her firing, Jones has become a force on Twitter, amassing more than 361,000 followers. She has also made several appearances on national TV shows.

Last week, Jones posted video of FDLE agents entering her home with weapons drawn as they executed a search warrant for computer equipment.

City of Naples To Consider Mask Ordinance for Third Time

Naples City Council members are once again set to consider imposing a mask ordinance amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in July and again this month, Naples city council members voted against adopting a mask mandate or opting into Collier County's mask ordinance.

The Naples Daily News reports, after hours of debate, Wednesday, council members unanimously voted to hold a meeting on Monday to consider a staff-written resolution to require mask wearing.

The proposed resolution would require mask wearing "inside any public building or any retail or commercial establishment." Exceptions would be made for children under two, people with a health condition that would make mask-wearing a challenge, and people actively engaged in eating or drinking.

Some city council members who have opposed a mask order, say that instead, the city should consider a plan to require people coming into Naples to quarantine for seven to ten days when they first arrive.

Eviction Filings Could Have Long Term Impact

Eviction filings during the pandemic could have long term impacts on renters. Stephanie Johnson is the managing attorney with Legal Services of North Florida. She says the filing alone could prevent a person from being able to rent in the future.

"You’re talking about thousands of people statewide who are going to have an eviction on their record because of COVID. And it doesn’t even have to be like it could just that the landlord filed and then the landlord got money and everything worked out," said Johnson. "The fact that the landlord filed is what people are going to see when they check those court records."

Johnson wants the Florida legislature to step in. She suggests the creation of a waiver that would prevent landlords from using evictions during the pandemic against renters.

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Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
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.