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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 11,615 COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,601,011 infections.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 142 coronavirus-related deaths, Jan. 20, increasing the statewide death toll to 24,965 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management increased to 13.22% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 10.82% and 13.24%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 7,119 patients are admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, including 557 patients in hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 164 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals.

Currently 76% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 12% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 5 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 20 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, 1,122,405 people in Florida have received a COVID-19 vaccine including 1,011,217 people who have received a first dose, and 111,188 people who have completed the series with two doses.

Publix Locations in Charlotte and Lee Counties Join COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Florida's partnership with the Publix grocery store chain to administer COVID-19 vaccine doses has now expanded into Lee and Charlotte Counties.

Starting Thursday, 32 Publix pharmacies throughout Lee County will begin offering vaccine doses to eligible people 65 and older, frontline medical workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Seven Publix locations in Charlotte County are also set to begin administering vaccine doses Thursday. 16 Publix pharmacies in Collier County joined the vaccine rollout effort last week.

The only way to make a vaccine appointment through a Publix location is online at: publix.com/covid.

Publix's website indicates that store locations in every Florida county currently offering the vaccine are fully booked. The website will resume taking new vaccine appointments at 6 a.m. Friday, Jan. 22.

Publix Pharmacies in Brevard, Martin, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties are also set to begin administering vaccine doses Thursday.

Governor Ron DeSantis says 242 Publix pharmacies in 17 Florida counties will be administering the vaccine by the end of the week.

Sarasota County Rolls Out New COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Registration System

Sarasota County's new COVID-19 vaccine appointment system opened at noon, Wednesday, and the Herald Tribune reports that more than 50,000 people had registered through the new system within the first hour.

Sarasota officials are now using a first come, first served, appointment reservation system that allows people to sign up online, through a mobile app or by telephone.

The new system works with Everbridge, which is already being used for emergency response. As doses become available, people in the registration que are assigned appointments. Sarasota County has 3,300 vaccine doses to administer during clinics Thursday and Friday.

During a media conference, Wednesday, Sarasota County Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said that people who cannot accept the vaccine appointment time they're offered won't lose their place in line, but that if someone turns down an appointment three times, they'll be moved to the back of the line.

In an effort to combat "vaccine tourism" eligible people must now provide a state ID, a utility bill or some other proof of full-time or part-time Florida residency.

Health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, Chuck Henry, said people who received their first dose of the vaccine in Sarasota in late December will begin receiving notifications about getting their second dose by the end of the week or early next week.

Those who have already received their first dose do not need to register again with the new system.

Eligible seniors 65 and older and frontline medical workers can register by downloading the Everbridge app and searching "941 vax" in the app. They can also call 941-861-8297 or visit: member.everbridge.net/730492332670985/login.

The Paycheck Protection Program's Second Round Is Underway, Here's What Small Businesses Need To Know

The gates are open for a second wave of forgivable loans meant to help small businesses keep their employees. Dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) can also be used to help offset costs brought on by COVID-19. Bill Herrle heads the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida. He says the program will help small businesses stay open.

"It's much more of a targeted program this time, and I think the hope is that can ferret out some of the unwarranted PPP loans that we experienced in the first round, and that's good for us because we know that small businesses are the ones that need it the most," Herrle says.

During the PPP's first round, large corporations applied for loans, some returning the money after facing criticism for taking away dollars meant to go toward small businesses.

Now, during its second round, PPP applications are open for first and second draw loans. First draw is for those who weren't able to get a PPP loan at all. Second draw is for business owners who got a PPP loan and want another one. Michele Pellino with the First Commerce Credit Union says even if a business hasn't had its first program loan forgiven, it can still apply for a second one.

"So, you'll take a look at how you performed in [the] first quarter 2020. Then, you'll compare it to your first quarter of 2019, and if you see that you've had a reduction in revenue of at least 25%, you would be eligible," Pellino says.

Pellino says business owners can take that same comparison through all four quarters, and if there's a drop of at least 25% in profits, then they are eligible.

For those who are still waiting to have their first PPP loan forgiven, Michael Barrera with the Small Business Administration (SBA) says people need to make sure to have their paperwork ready.

"You work with your bankers throughout everything that you're doing. And that's one of the most biggest keys. And just have all your documentation ready. And answer any questions—if they ask you for more information, just get the information back to them as best that you can," Barrera says.

Barrera says there's no easy workaround for businesses to get their loans approved or faster. As of last week, the SBA says more than $1.1 million of the program's loans have been forgiven.

Gov. DeSantis Addresses Vaccine Tourism

Governor Ron DeSantis says COVID-19 vaccines in the state are for Florida residents only and that the Agency for Health Care Administration may issue a statement clarifying who can get the vaccine.

DeSantis said snowbirds who live in other states, but migrate to Florida for six months out of the year can still get the vaccine.

He said these people are Florida residents at least part-time. However people should not be traveling from other states to get those vaccines.

“So we’re not going to do that. We’re not doing vaccine tourism,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis was in Jupiter, Tuesday to announce an expansion of Florida’s partnership with Publix to administer COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Florida Outpaces California In Cases of A More Contagious Strain of the Coronavirus

There are now 46 confirmed cases of a new more contagious strain on the coronavirus in Florida according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new strain was first detected in Britain in December and the AP reports, it appears to be spreading globally.

CDC officials had previously identified California as the epicenter of the new strain in the U.S. with 40 confirmed cases, but Florida now has more.

Survey Reveals Americans Are Divided On COVID-19 Vaccines

Americans remain somewhat divided as to whether or not they will receive the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months.

The University of South Florida School of Public Affairs, in partnership with The Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF, surveyed approximately 1,000 voting age Americans.

About 59% of the participants who were asked if they will get vaccinated, said they would either “definitely” or “probably get vaccinated,” while 23% said they will “probably not” or “definitely not” get vaccinated.

Disagreement also exists among those polled when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of the recently approved vaccines.

The survey shows that 29% of respondents said they are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that the vaccines are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. One-third said they are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that the vaccines are safe.

Stephen Neely, Associate Professor at the USF School of Public Affairs, suggests that some of the unwillingness may be because the extent of potential side effects isn’t yet known.

“The rollout of the vaccine hasn’t been very smooth,” said Neely. “For that reason, we haven’t seen as many people get vaccinated and be okay, so that hurts people’s confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

Politics also plays a role in the mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines.

“There is certainly a concern over political messaging.” said Neely. “We see a lot of misinformation swirling around on social media and other places about vaccines.”

“One of the biggest challenges facing the new (President Biden) administration is how to depoliticize this conversation,” Neely added.

Less than a third of respondents said that they get information about COVID-19 vaccines from government websites (30%) or a medical professional (28%), which Neely says is “concerning."

The most commonly cited sources of information that people use for COVID-19 vaccines are television news (57%), friends, family, and coworkers (40%), and social media (32%).

All of which, according to Neely, are “potentially politically biased.”

There were variances among different demographics as well.

Men who were surveyed are more likely (64%) to indicate they will get vaccinated than women (53%). Neely suggests that a lack of further research on the vaccine may be what is causing hesitation.

“There’s no data on the effects of the vaccine on (women’s) fertility,” said Neely. “There’s going to be more of a ‘wait and see’ approach just to make sure there are no unexpected effects.”

Almost half (49%) of African American respondents said they will “probably” or “definitely get vaccinated” despite the community being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. That compares with 60% of both whites and Hispanics.

Small differences were also visible among age groups.

A majority of people (60%) between the ages of 18-24 said that they will likely get vaccinated. That number is lowest among respondents between the ages of 45-54 at only 48%. People over the age of 65, who are more vulnerable to the virus, were the most likely to get vaccinated, as 76% say they will “probably” or “definitely get vaccinated.”

The survey included a sample of 1,003 voting-age Americans, which according to Neely, is “representative of the nation by region, gender, race, ethnicity, age and education level.”

The survey was conducted between January 9 and 12. The poll was reported with a margin of error of +/- 3%, and with a confidence level of 95%.

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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.
Danielle Prieur