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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 7,537 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,798,280 infections. The Florida Department of Health reported 160 coronavirus-related deaths, Feb. 10, increasing the statewide death toll to 28,691 fatalities.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management decreased to 8.57% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 7.10% and 18.34%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 5,111 patients are admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, including 327 patients in hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 109 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals.

Currently 75% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 15% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 9 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 19 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the state Division of Emergency Management reports 2,110,794 people in Florida have received a COVID-19 vaccine including 1,287,794 people who have received a first dose, and 823,126 people who have completed the series with two doses.

Gov. DeSantis Downplays COVID-19 Variant Concerns

Governor Ron DeSantis is blaming the news media for what he calls bias in coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AP reports, during a news conference in Venice, Wednesday, the Republican governor said the media is too concerned with super-spreader events after last weekend's Super Bowl in Tampa.

DeSantis brushed off a question about how celebratory gatherings of maskless people may be contributing to spread of more contagious strains of the virus like the U.K. variant, which is spreading faster in Florida than anywhere else in the U.S.

Palm Beach County's Director of the Florida Department of Health, however, says she's greatly concerned about the more contagious mutated coronavirus strain.

Speaking at a county commission meeting Tuesday, Dr. Alina Alonso said the variant strain, known as UK-B117, is making officials worried because so many people are traveling to the state.

“So we just have to be extra, extra, careful because we do not want this virulent virus to spread. That could be disastrous and that could put us into another wave,” said Dr. Alonso.

Dr. Alonso said the vaccines are still effective on the strain so far.

Hillsborough Tossing Nationwide Net To Track Coronavirus Cases Tied To Super Bowl

The Hillsborough County Health Department is asking for help in tracking coronavirus cases related to Sunday's Super Bowl and surrounding celebrations.

The agency is asking public health agencies nationwide for information tied to large gatherings.

Sunday's win by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led to crowds dancing in streets across Tampa, with people hugging friends and strangers - and generally ignoring COVID-19 guidelines to stay masked up and socially distanced.

Michael Wiese, an epidemiologist with the health department, said the agency will know in a couple of weeks if Super Bowl festivities initiated a type of super spreader event.

"Quite honestly, we haven't had a gathering of that size occur in our county for a very long time. So we know that if you get together in large groups and if you're not social distancing, all of those are things put you at risk for getting the illness and create the right scenario for the spread of coronavirus," he said.

Hillsborough County will trace the virus using Epi-X, the epidemiology disease sharing network from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Weise says it's a good tool to monitor the virus.

"We want to both be able to ask the question, ‘Were they there where they could have spread the disease to others, or are we seeing people that were at the Super Bowl and that's where they likely acquired coronavirus?’" he said.

The health department will document all cases of people who test positive for COVID-19 who also reported attending Super Bowl events in Tampa.

Some of the nation’s top health officials warned of the risks of the Super Bowl initiating a surge in cases, amid worries that new variants of the coronavirus have become more contagious.

Sarasota County Opens Pop-Up Vaccine Clinic in Venice

A three-day COVID-19 vaccine clinic delivering about 3,000 doses in the city of Venice began Wednesday and runs through Friday.

During a news conference at the Venice Community Center, Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis said about 25% of eligible seniors in Sarasota County have received the vaccine and that he'd like to see that increase to about 40%.

The Herald Tribune reports, the county began making appointments for the pop-up vaccine clinic in Venice on Tuesday evening. That's an unusual move, as the county typically notifies people about appointments at least a day or two ahead of time.

Having a vaccine clinic in Venice will improve access to residents in southern portions of the county, who otherwise have to travel long distances to other vaccine delivery sites.

Publix Expands Vaccine Distribution To Stores in Sarasota and Manatee Counties

Publix announced, Tuesday, that store locations in Manatee and Sarasota Counties are joining the COVID-19 vaccine rollout effort.

The grocery store chain said locations in Sarasota and Manatee Counties would being offering vaccine appointments this week. The online-only appointment system through publix.com/covid-vaccine opened to take appointments at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, and as has happened in the past, the site was inundated within minutes.

Publix now has 593 locations in 41 Florida counties, as well as locations in Georgia and South Carolina, offering the vaccine to eligible people 65 and older.

The Herald Tribune reports, Gov. DeSantis said Publix has been able to expand the number of stores offering the vaccine, in part, because of the Biden administration's Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.

Winn-Dixie and Wal-Mart pharmacy locations are also offering vaccine doses through the federal program.

Marco Island Introduces New Vaccine Registration Website

The city of Marco Island has introduced a new COVID-19 vaccine appointment registration system that prioritizes the region's oldest residents.

The new online registration system can be found at http://vaccine.cityofmarcoisland.com. Unlike the previous "first come first served" system, this new system will prioritize the oldest residents for vaccine appointments.

The Marco Eagle reports that as of Wednesday morning nearly 2,500 people had already registered.

The number of vaccine appointments Marco Island officials will give out will vary from week to week based on how many doses the city is allocated. Two weeks ago, the city of Marco Island's website crashed as it was inundated with people seeking one of just 200 available vaccine appointments.

The city's next vaccine clinic takes place Feb. 12 at Mackle Park.

COVID-19 Healthcare Liability Legislation Passes First Committee

A Florida Senate committee Wednesday approved legislation that would help shield health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The measure passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee would give hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, doctors and other health care providers protections from COVID-19-related liability claims.

Under the bill, COVID-19 claims are defined as civil liability claims that allege health care providers failed to follow clinical authoritative or government-issued health standards relating to COVID-19.

The measure also would make it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits, raising the bar of proof from simple negligence to gross negligence.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring the legislation.

“We are asking, in this piece of legislation, that we protect our health care industry that has gone over and above the call of duty in order to protect and serve every resident of the state who needed help,” said Sen. Brandes.

Opponents of the measure, including Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, feel the lawsuit immunity goes too far.

“We can’t legislate assuming every lawsuit is frivolous, and every lawyer is out to shut down nursing homes. There are many instances of where a health care provider is doing a better job because of a prior lawsuit or fear of a lawsuit,” said Sen. Polsky.

The bill also would give health care providers immunity from COVID-19-related claims if supplies, materials, equipment, or personnel necessary to comply with the applicable government-issued health standards were not readily available or were not available at a reasonable cost.

The Republican-dominated Legislature has made lawsuit limitations for Florida businesses, ranging from supermarkets to nursing homes, a priority for the 2021 legislative session that begins March 2.

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Wilkine Brutus
Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.
Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .