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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

Gov. DeSantis Responds To Criticism Over Lakewood Ranch Vaccine Clinic

COVID-19 vaccine clinics scheduled for Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 in Manatee County have been cancelled due to a shortage of supply caused by severe winter weather in other parts of the country. Governor Ron DeSantis said, Wednesday, that a shipment of more than 200,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in Florida on Thursday or Friday. The weather-related delay in shipments forced Publix to cancel a planned vaccine scheduling on Wednesday.

The Herald Tribune reports, people who had vaccine appointments in Manatee County this week will be notified of their new appointment time slot next week.

The state's controversial pop-up vaccine clinic in Lakewood Ranch, however, is continuing this week. Gov. DeSantis says that's because the pop-up clinic is using doses of the Pfizer vaccine and that delivery of the Pfizer vaccine has not been delayed by winter storms the way that shipments of the Moderna vaccine have been impacted.

Criticism of the state's vaccine site in Lakewood Ranch stems from how it targets people living in just two zip codes in a wealthy, predominantly white and conservative community developed by one of DeSantis' campaign contributors. When questioned about the clinic, Wednesday, DeSantis threatened to pull vaccine doses from the region.

“If they do not want more vaccine here, just let us know and we will make sure that it goes because there's a lot of people that want the vaccine,” said DeSantis.

In Sarasota County, vaccine appointments have not been cancelled or delayed because the Department of Health in Sarasota doesn't schedule appointments until doses are in hand or their arrival has been confirmed.

As the White House ramps up delivery of vaccines, Florida is expected to see a net increase of 41,000 doses starting next week.

First Dose Vaccine Appointments Delayed in Southwest Florida

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine appointments that had been scheduled for Feb. 17 through the Florida Department of Health in Lee County have been rescheduled for next Thursday, Feb. 25, at the same appointment time.

People in Lee County who have an appointment this week to get their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will still be able to get their shot.

The Florida Department of Health in Collier county reported that they also did not receive their shipment of vaccines for first doses this week, but that people with appointments for second doses will still receive them.

Florida Health Officials Report More Than 7,000 COVID-19 Infections and 157 Deaths Wednesday

State health officials reported 7,342 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday bringing Florida's total to 1,844,627 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 157 coronavirus-related deaths, Feb. 17, increasing the statewide death toll to 29,824 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management decreased to 8.42% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 7.11% and 11.36%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 4,409 patients are admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. That's down from more than 5,000 patients just two days earlier.

Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 295 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 100 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 73% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 33% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 17 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reports 2,487,055 people in Florida have received a COVID-19 vaccine including 1,305,889 people who have received a first dose, and 1,181,166 people who have completed the series with two doses.

AAA Survey Finds COVID-19 Still Discouraging Floridians To Travel

A recent survey conducted by AAA said Floridians are still reluctant to travel, almost one year into the coronavirus pandemic.

The top three reasons people gave for avoiding travel are: fear of getting sick, fear of the coronavirus variants and the number of COVID-19 cases.

AAA says more than 68% of Floridians canceled travel plans in 2020.

“Most people feel comfortable driving in their vehicle, like you said, about 70% are uncomfortable flying, and about half are leery about staying in a hotel. You know, more than half are uncomfortable traveling right now,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.

Jenkins said because this is a “confusing” time to travel, AAA is recommending people use travel agents.

“Because they're the ones who know about travel deals," Jenkins said. "And they can also help explain the variables involved with policies and restrictions for your trip.”

Jenkins also said trip insurance is worth looking into, but be sure you read the fine print.

Nearly 63% of Floridians say they expect to take a trip of three days or more this year. And there is growing optimism in the travel industry, he said, because of the coronavirus vaccine.

AAA Travel Advisors are seeing an increase in interest in bookings for the latter half of this year, according to a release. And 42% of those surveyed said they’d feel more comfortable traveling once they’d gotten both of their COVID-19 vaccine doses.

AAA said its Consumer Pulse Survey was conducted online among 400 Florida residents from Jan. 15-21. And the maximum margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. It further stated responses were weighted by age and gender to “ensure reliable and accurate representation of the adult population 18 and over in Florida.”

Southwest Florida Hospitals Targeting Younger High-Risk People For COVID-19 Vaccine

Hospitals in Southwest Florida are leading the effort to get COVID-19 vaccines to people younger than 65 who are considered at high risk.

The Naples Daily News reports that Lee Health has received 2,000 doses over the past two weeks designated for that younger high-risk demographic, although this week's expected shipment of 1,000 doses has been delayed due to severe winter weather in other parts of the country.

The Lee Health hospital system is identifying eligible people under 65 through electronic medical records. The NCH Healthcare system in Collier County is set to receive 670 vaccine doses this week. That shipment has also been delayed, but it could arrive Feb. 18.

NCH is working with the Florida Department of Health to identify high risk people under 65 years old.

Scam alert: Fake Vaccine Appointments Come with Lasting Side Effects

People in Florida jockeying for COVID-19 vaccination appointments are being warned by county and state officials that scammers have wormed their way in, seeking to take their money and personal information.

In short, if you’re being asked to pay for an appointment, it’s a scam.

Florida State Attorney General Ashley Moody warned that scammers hiding behind seemingly legitimate booking websites may call, text or email, offering a swifter vaccine appointment that comes at personal cost.

The office confirms that any offer requiring payment for the vaccine or hastened waitlist status is a scam.

“The Coronavirus vaccine is free,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno admonishes. “Under no circumstances should you be asked to send money, gift cards, etc., in exchange for vaccination.”

Still, the scams continue to circulate among Florida residents desperate to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Sadly, scammers are increasing their efforts, leaving innocent victims without money and without the vaccine. If you are offered an opportunity to receive the vaccine and (are) asked to pay out of pocket, you are being scammed,” Marceno’s office stated.

The Florida State Attorney General’s office warns that scammers who claim to be county health officials or vaccination-site representatives might ask for personal information such as a Social Security, Medicare or credit card/banking numbers.

One scam involves Medicare fraudsters offering in-home vaccines for seniors, requiring Medicare card information to schedule the appointment. The attorney general’s office cautions that these card numbers contain personal data that could lead to Medicare fraud.

Sharing vaccination cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online is ill advised, Moody’s office emphasizes. Vaccination cards include sensitive data that can lead to identity fraud, be used to hack online accounts or to create fake vaccine documentation.

Both Moody and Marceno ask that suspected scams related to the COVID-19 vaccine be reported to the Florida Attorney General by calling 866-966-7226 or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.

USF Program Seeks to Help Nurses Facing Pandemic Fatigue

Nurses put the health, safety and wellness of their patients before their own. But the coronavirus pandemic is placing more stress and medical risks on frontline health care workers.

The University of South Florida’s College of Nursing this week launched an educational training program designed to help nurses protect their health as they treat COVID-19 patients.

The four-part webinar series, “Frontline Nursing During COVID-19: A New Paradigm,” provides nurses with the tools they need to advocate for their own safety and well-being during the pandemic.

“Nurses are exposed to risks and hazards as part of their work environment,” said Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor at USF’s College of Nursing. “All of the hazards that our workforce is exposed to have been exponentially increased during the time of the pandemic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 403,000 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Of those individuals, 1,403 have died.

The pandemic also puts more mental strain on a nursing workforce that is already faced with widespread employment shortages, stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that stressors linked to burnout in nurses, including increased illness, longer hours and severe working conditions, are particularly prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic is mentally exhausting for nurses,” Letourneau said. “And if we don’t address these issues and support our nurses, I am afraid that they will leave the nursing profession.”

According to a nation-wide survey of 1,300 nurses, three out of five respondents indicated that they were likely to leave their position as a result of their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re working round the clock, more shifts than normal,” Letourneau said. “Pre-pandemic, a typical nurse could work about three 12-hour shifts per week. Now, nurses are working four and five 12 or 16-hour shifts per week, and they’re reporting that they are just exhausted.”

Letourneau said that the program addresses how the nursing workforce has been affected by the pandemic and aims to provide nurses with the skills to help them care for themselves.

Topics include how to navigate difficult situations, like a lack of personal protective equipment; mitigation strategies beyond basic handwashing and mask wearing; and how to stay healthy during the pandemic.

The series is available for free, thanks to a $57,000 donation from Sarasota’s David Kotok and Christine Schlesinger. Nurses who complete the program are eligible for continuing-education credits, which are a necessary part of license renewal.

To register for the program, visit USF Health’s nursing website.

Florida Lawmakers Consider Bill Aimed At Protecting Healthcare Workers

With concerns about the coronavirus causing growing anxiety for some, one Florida lawmaker says the state’s hospital workers need better protections. State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, has a bill that would add hospital workers to a list of protected people, meaning anyone who assaults them on the job could be charged with a higher crime.

However, Senator Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said he worries about what happens if a worker is hurt accidentally. “Especially for people with mental health, mental illness. To have additional charges, we’re talking about taking something from a misdemeanor to a felony,” said Powell.

“There are a lot of people who have mental illness issues and sometimes those people can act out and hit someone.”

Other lawmakers brought up the high emotions that could be found in an emergency room, such as a parent pushing a doctor aside to get to their injured child.

In order for the language in the bill to apply, an assault would have to happen “knowingly,” but during a panel discussion on the measure Tuesday, many lawmakers said they’d like to see more clarity on those issues before the bill hits its next committee stop.

Trial Date Set For North Fort Myers Business Owner Accused of COVID-19 Relief Funding Fraud

A trial date has been set in the federal fraud case against the president of Target Roofing, Casey David Crowther, who faces a seven-count federal indictment for COVID-19 relief funding fraud.

The News-Press reports, Crowther was arrested in September and charged with falsely acquiring $2 million in COVID relief funding. Crowther used nearly $700,000 of that money to purchase a 40-foot catamaran.

Charges against him include bank fraud, making a false statement to a lending institution and illegal monetary transactions. Crowther pleaded not guilty last fall. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge John Steele set the trial to begin March 22.

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Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.
Jacob Wentz