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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 11,576 new COVID-19 cases, Monday for a total of 1,488,586 infections.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 163 coronavirus-related deaths, Jan. 11, increasing the statewide death toll to 23,424 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management stood at 13.17% on Sunday. Over the past two weeks, the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 10.04% and 26.34%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of Tuesday morning 594 patients were being treated in hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties combined. Statewide, 7,651 patients are currently admitted to hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Monday afternoon that 192 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals.

Currently 74% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 17% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 27 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

As of Monday, 587,956 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered across the state.

DeSantis Gives Update On COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

State-run health departments will continue inoculating seniors until more COVID-19 vaccine doses become available. Over the weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis said when demand lessens and supply becomes more available, other groups like teachers can hopefully gain access to the vaccine.

"By focusing on 65 and plus, that is the best thing we can do to reduce both morbidity and mortality from the coronavirus," said DeSantis.

He is under increasing pressure to provide vaccines to essential workers, like teachers. DeSantis said if the COVID-19 vaccine from the company Johnson & Johnson gets approved for emergency use, officials could give those doses to the general population.

"That is a one-dose vaccine,” said DeSantis.

“You don't got to put it in the freezer like you do the Pfizer or even the Moderna, and that would be widely, I think, distributed. So, that would be the easiest thing for a lot of people in the workforce," said DeSantis.

This week Florida is scheduled to get 250,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, but DeSantis said the state will burn through those fast.

State Deploying Help To Speed Up Vaccine Efforts In Nursing Homes

The state is coming to help nursing homes distribute vaccines faster. Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said the partnership between nursing homes, and pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens, is falling short.

“It’s not just falling short here. We have over 5,000 facilities in Florida. We’re not making enough headway,” said Moskowitz.

“So we’ve hired folks up, and going into 800 facilities starting on the 11th. The goal is to complete all long-term health facilities by the end of January.”

The Florida Healthcare Association recently said about 30% of nursing homes had received the vaccine in the first few weeks of availability. An association spokeswoman described vaccine efforts as going smoothly.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in Lee County

9,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses will be available this week in Lee County for frontline medical workers and people 65 and older.

The News-Press reports Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais spoke to reporters at the county's Emergency Operations Center in Fort Myers, Monday, where he urged residents to be patient.

Desjarlais said the county has the staffing power to administer 8,000 to 10,000 doses a day if the supply were available. The county's vaccine distribution site near Southwest Florida International Airport reopened Tuesday and will also be open on Wednesday for those with vaccine appointments booked.

The county's reservation call center is closed at this time, indicating that all available appointments are filled up, but the county is providing updates online at leegov.com/vaccine.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota Counties

Less than an hour after officials in Sarasota and Manatee Counties announced they would not be getting any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, each county received 1,000 doses each on Monday afternoon.

The Herald Tribune reports that in Manatee County 85,400 people have already entered their information into the county's vaccine lottery system.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County says they're preparing to take vaccine appointments later this week, but specific dates and times have not yet been announced. Sarasota officials are working on establishing a drive-thru vaccination site and changing their appointment system from the current Eventbrite website because the site has been unable to handle the surge in traffic from people looking to secure appointments.

In DeSoto County, a first-come-first-served drive-thru vaccine clinic is open Jan. 12 at the Turner Agri-Civic Center in Arcadia.

DeSoto County officials say they'll move to an appointment-based vaccine distribution system next week.

Florida Tax Watch Study Shows Business Liability Protection Could Boost Economy

A study commissioned by a state government watchdog group says the absence of COVID-19 liability protections may have cost the state more than 16 billion dollars. The Florida TaxWatch report suggests more than 200,000 jobs could have been lost. The report comes amid an effort to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits. Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says the protection will help provide a boost to the economy by providing confidence for businesses to reopen.

“The biggest concern they’ve got is dealing with COVID, you know will I even reopen again. And we have seen it pretty recently at least what I’ve been hearing and seeing from those boots on the ground," said Patronis. "Especially those family-owned businesses that may not have a succession plan or they have burned through the reserves they’ll simply make the business decision and pull the plug and not reopen.”

Patronis says the liability is not meant to be a blanket shield and is meant to protect businesses that follow safety protocols. The TaxWatch study says more than 400 COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed. The proposal gets its first hearing in a House committee Wednesday.

Publix Pharmacies in Central Florida Begin Vaccine Rollout

Twenty-two Publix grocery store locations in Citrus, Hernando and Marion Counties have begun administering doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to seniors 65 and older.

The Ocala-Star Banner reports 5,000 doses were administered last Thursday and Friday. The store's online reservation system remains the only way to secure a vaccine dose from a Publix pharmacy.

Eligible residents seeking the vaccine through Publix are encouraged to visit publix.com/covid-vaccine to make an appointment.

Publix stores are set to administer 15,000 first doses. A Publix spokeswoman says people who receive their first dose of the vaccine will be assured a second dose at the same location and at the same appointment time.

More Students Return to In-Person Learning in Lee Schools

More than 5,600 virtual students in the Lee County School District are returning to in-person classroom learning. Classes resumed Monday following winter break.

The News-Press reports that last month, district officials said that the families of about 16,000 students in the Lee Home Connect virtual learning model were being encouraged to send their kids back to brick and mortar classrooms.

The Florida Department of Education has issued an executive order calling for students who are falling behind in a remote learning model to return to in-person learning, unless their families object.

More than 10,000 students in Lee County returned to in-person learning at the start of the second quarter in November. Another wave of students returning to a physical classroom is expected in February when another semester begins.

State Senator Kathleen Passidomo Tests Positive for COVID-19

State Senator Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has tested positive for COVID-19. On Twitter, Sunday, Passidomo indicated that she was experiencing "mild, cold-like symptoms."

Florida's 2021 legislative session begins in March and lawmakers are convening committee meetings this week.

Passidomo, whose district covers portions of Collier, Hendry and Lee Counties, said she'll participate in legislative committee activity remotely while in quarantine.

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Robbie Gaffney is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.
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.
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.