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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 8,875 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,676,171 infections. The Florida Department of Health reported 160 coronavirus-related deaths, Jan. 27, increasing the statewide death toll to 26,249 fatalities.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management increased to 12.79% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 8.37% and 15.84%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 6,654 patients are admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 including 495 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 77% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 10% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 13 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 29 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, 1,494,003 people in Florida have received a COVID-19 vaccine including 1,290,157 people who have received a first dose, and 203,846 people who have completed the series with two doses.

Vaccine Appointment Seekers Crash City of Marco Island Website

The city of Marco Island's website crashed briefly Wednesday afternoon as it was inundated with people attempting to secure one of 200 available COVID-19 vaccine appointments for a first dose of the vaccine.

The Marco Eagle reports the website was down for about 30 minutes. Issues with the website prompted people to call City Hall, Wednesday, causing phone lines to be inundated as well.

Marco officials had urged vaccine eligible residents to make a vaccine appointment through Eventbrite by vising the city's website: http://www.cityofmarcoisland.com.

Collier county EMS and the city of Marco Island plan to hold a vaccine clinic on Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mackle Park.

Sarasota COVID-19 Vaccine Site Moves to Sarasota Square Mall

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County has moved the location of its COVID-19 vaccination clinic to the Sarasota Square Mall.

The Herald Tribune reports the new vaccination site opens Thursday, Jan. 28 in a 13,000 square foot storefront that used to be an Old Navy clothing store.

County officials say as many as 1,500 inoculations a day could be performed at the new site.

Health Department spokesman Steve Huard says the location was chosen, not only because of its size, but because it's more centrally located than the previous vaccination site at the Health Department's offices in downtown Sarasota.

The new location also increases access for those who rely on public transportation.

COVID-19 Cases At FGCU Prompt Testing

Florida Gulf Coast University is offering COVID-19 testing to students in an on-campus dormitory following a rise in coronavirus infections in the building.

The News-Press reports, FGCU's COVID case management system identified a pattern of coronavirus cases on two floors of the Osprey Hall residence building. Four students had tested positive and another five were in quarantine after a possible exposure.

The students have been given saliva PCR test kits and have been asked to use them by 10 a.m. Thursday.

FGCU has also temporarily shut down lakeside activities and pools on campus due to the pandemic.

Dems Fume As Florida Surgeon General Appears Before House Committee, Doesn't Take Questions

Florida state House Democrats are furious after Surgeon General Scott Rivkees appeared before a chamber Health Committee, outlined his role, spoke sparingly about the coronavirus pandemic and wasn’t allowed to answer questions from lawmakers. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) questioned that decision.

“I’m disappointed he [Rivkees] can’t answer questions publicly, and I think that it just contributes to the perception that this process is a sham if we can’t ask legitimate questions to the top public health official in this state.”

Committee Chairman Will Robinson, Jr. justified the decision saying the committee was short on time and had a lot of items to get through. He also took issue with Guillermo-Smith's characterization of the process as a "sham."

"Ranking member, like I said, you're more than welcome to get your questions answered, and I obviously disagree with your perception this is a sham. We have a robust agenda to get through," he said.

Committee members were told ahead of the meeting that they wouldn't be allowed to question the Surgeon General. Rivkees told lawmakers they could call his office to schedule a meeting.

In the last few months, the surgeon general has only been seen and heard sporadically as the governor’s office has taken greater control over messaging. The flare-up over Rivkees’ appearance comes amid efforts to vaccinate seniors—a process rolling out unevenly across the state.

Monoclonal Antibody Treatments Are Accessible For South Florida COVID-19 Patients

A treatment for COVID-19 has become more widely available in South Florida: monoclonal antibodies that are infused intravenously, and that’s especially helpful for older patients who are overweight and have underlying conditions like diabetes.

Monoclonal antibodies were part of the regimen that helped former President Donald Trump recover quickly from COVID-19 in October. At the time, it was an experimental treatment that had been given to only a handful of people outside of clinical trials, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. That changed around December as more facilities received these treatments — while many were focused on the initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

At a Jan. 25 press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the Agency for Healthcare Administration was in the process of reaching out to long-term care facilities throughout the state to encourage the use of Eli Lilly and Regeneron antibody treatments.

"Not everyone chooses to do the vaccine, so this can be another way to be able to deal with the effects of COVID-19," he said.

Some hospitals, like Memorial Pembroke, are treating patients with antibodies if they have COVID-19 and are at risk of becoming seriously ill. The catch is you need to start this treatment when you have mild or moderate symptoms to prevent the onset of serious illness. You also need a doctor's prescription to get an appointment for the infusion at the hospital.

If you don't have a primary care doctor or insurance, a physician at a community health clinic would be able to fill out the form and submit it to Memorial, along with the test result proving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

"If we can get the word out to the community, which is what we’re desperately trying to do, we have about 1,000 doses of this drug left. We believe we can help save 1,000 lives," said David Starnes, the chief nursing officer at Memorial Pembroke.

The hospital is prioritizing patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 10 days and who are at high-risk for hospitalization.

The treatment lasts an hour, then patients recover at home — which frees beds up for other patients. Memorial Pembroke has treated 315 patients so far and only six have had to return to the hospital.

Criteria for Memorial patients:

Adult patients must weigh at least 88.19 pounds, have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 10 days and have mild to moderate symptoms. Other criteria include:

  • body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater
  • chronic kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • immunosuppressive disease or receiving immunosuppressive treatment
  • older than 65 years of age
  • older than 55 and have underlying conditions like obesity, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and immunodeficiency

CDC: Polk County wrestling tournaments tied to 79 COVID-19 cases, one death

CDC scientists reported this week in a major medical journal that schools where coronavirus precautions are in effect have not been a major source of community transmission.

But they cited wrestling tournaments in Polk County as a cautionary example of how things can go wrong.

The two tournaments, involving 10 high schools, were held on December 4th and 5th at Mulberry High.

A CDC study released this week connected them to at least 79 cases among coaches, referees, wrestlers and their contacts at home and at school. One contact over 50 died from COVID-19.

Their families were hit the hardest.

As the cases surged, Polk County Public Schools suspended athletics. Now a school spokesman says they have resumed, with limits on attendance.

Attendance is limited to 50 percent, and the district announced Wednesday that, beginning Feb.1, it will be reduced further, depending on the venue.

The district continues to monitor coronavirus cases.

The CDC concluded that high-contact sports where mask wearing and physical distancing are not possible should be postponed while COVID-19 rages in the area.

Otherwise, expect it to spread on campus and in the community with the potential for severe outcomes, including death.

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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.
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