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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 4,853 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 1,957,586 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 59 coronavirus-related deaths March 10, increasing the statewide death toll to 32,543 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 6.88% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 6.65% and 9.84%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning the number of patients admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 has dropped to 3,212. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 232 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 64 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 71% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 8% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 5 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 9 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the state Division of Emergency Management reported more than 3.78 million (3,784,870) people have been vaccinated including more than 1.75 million (1,753,286) people who have received a first dose, and more than 2 million (2,006,204) who have completed the series with two doses. More than 25,000 people (25,380) people in Florida have received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Gov. DeSantis Vaccine Eligibility Will Soon Expand Again

Florida's COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will expand to include people 60 and older on Monday, March 15 and Gov. Ron DeSantis said that soon after, he'll drop the eligibility age to anyone 55 and older.

After that, DeSantis says Florida will likely open up vaccines to people in any age demographic. The AP reports, DeSantis said the vaccine rollout may go more quickly than expected due to the increase in supply coming to Florida each week.

Each 5-year age group adds nearly two million people to the population eligible for the vaccine. DeSantis said he still wants to prioritize access to people 55 and older due to their increased risk from the virus compared to younger adults.

More CVS Pharmacies To Begin Offering Vaccines Friday

An additional 76 CVS Pharmacy locations in Florida will be offering COVID-19 vaccine doses on Friday, which will nearly double the number of stores where the retail chain is providing the vaccine in the state.

Gov. DeSantis made the announcement, Tuesday, at a CVS pharmacy in Lehigh Acres. The expansion will mean 157 CVS pharmacies throughout Florida will be offering the vaccine as well as 730 Publix pharmacies, 119 Walmart and Sam's Club locations, 43 Winn-Dixie stores and 12 Walgreens throughout the state.

People will be able to begin signing up online for vaccine appointments, Thursday, at CVS.com

The new sites include locations in Lee, Charlotte and Collier Counties in Southwest Florida as well as in 21 other counties. The News-Press reports, during Tuesday's announcement, DeSantis also predicted that 60% of Florida seniors will soon have been vaccinated.

Starting Monday, the age eligibility for a vaccine in Florida will increase to include anyone 60 and older.

K-12 school employees, firefighters and law enforcement officers 50 and older in Florida are also eligible for the vaccine as are people of any age who have a medical condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus.

COVID-19 Bills Would Protect Florida Nursing Homes From Neglect Lawsuits, Opponents Say

Two bills being considered by Florida lawmakers would make it harder for people to sue health care providers in COVID-19-related cases. Opponents say nursing homes should be held accountable.

AARP Florida is pressing members of the Legislature to oppose two bills that would grant health care providers some immunity from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The bills, first introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would protect health care providers from lawsuits over abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for AARP.

Health care providers covered under the proposed bills include nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and other facilities defined by the state.

But opponents argue nursing homes and long-term care facilities should not be included in the civil liability protections because the institutions have historically required significant reform in the face of abuse.

“Florida's procedures for negligence actions in nursing homes are already among the most difficult and complicated to maneuver in the country,” McCray said. “They are among the most vulnerable residents in the state of Florida. Negligence or exploitation in any form is unacceptable in a nursing home.”

More than 10,700 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have died in Florida due to complications from COVID-19. That’s 33 percent of Florida’s overall death toll from the virus.

Proponents say the state should shield health care providers from unnecessary lawsuits, citing structural and logistical challenges, such as staffing, that goes beyond the control of the institutions.

But opponents argue the bills (House Bill 7005 and Senate Bill 74) would make it harder for mistreated patients to hold health care providers accountable.

“So far the focus has been on the welfare of the industry and not the welfare of the nursing home residents,” McCray said. “Clearly this legislation is being promoted by the nursing home industry. If nursing homes are doing the right thing, they shouldn’t have to worry about it. “

The AARP surveyed 1,000 Florida registered voters over 50 and found that 95% of respondents support the right of residents and their families to hold nursing homes and other long-term care facilities accountable for neglect, mistreatment or abuse. The support was the same across party lines, the survey found.

“So this really should not be a political issue, this should be an issue of quality care,” McCray said.

The AARP supports measures that would lead to quality improvements at long-term care facilities, such as adequate staffing and increased pay for employees. Providing more oversight at these facilities would also improve care, McCray said.

“This year, we have encouraged the legislature that this is an opportunity to really take a look and to develop a blueprint for the future of long-term care in Florida — one that's going to bring long-term care out of the shadows into the sunshine,” McCray said. “There are countless things that can be done and that's where the focus ought to be, not on civil liability immunity.”

Collier School Officials Discuss Masks, End of Year Events

Collier County School District officials, this week, discussed plans for the remainder of the school year amid the ongoing pandemic.

The Naples Daily News reports, the district opened 1,000 vaccine appointments for staff 50 and older, this week. As of March 1, more than 240 Collier school employees had received both doses of the Moderna vaccine.

School board members discussed how to handle end-of-year events for students of all grade levels including prom and graduation. Officials say mask requirements will likely remain in place at least through the end of the current school year.

Parents opposed to the mask requirement have gotten more than 2,700 petition signatures. More than a dozen people against the district's mask policy spoke during Tuesday's school board meeting including Beth Sherman who removed her mask in protest. That forced the meeting to take a brief recess as the room was cleared.

Vaccine Rollout Expanding in Sarasota and Manatee Counties

Officials in Sarasota and Manatee Counties are preparing for how they'll handle an influx of tens of thousands of people 60 and older who will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. The Herald Tribune reports, officials from both counties addressed the issue with their respective county commissions on Tuesday.

A health officer in Sarasota County says they'll be providing guidance by the end of the week on how the 60-65-year old demographic can sign up through the county's "first come, first served" appointment system. Sarasota officials are also looking to expand beyond their current vaccine distribution location at Sarasota Square Mall.

In Manatee County, officials are looking to switch their lottery vaccine appointment system to Everbridge, which is the same online system used in Sarasota. Come Monday, people 60 and older will initially only get vaccine appointment slots that are declined by people 65 and older. About 30% of seniors in Manatee County are now declining vaccine appointments when contacted, mostly because they’ve secured vaccine doses elsewhere.

COVID-19 Cases in Sarasota/Manatee Schools Holds Steady

Cases of COVID-19 in schools in Manatee and Sarasota Counties remained steady last week, with new infection rates remaining much lower than they were where in January after students returned from winter break.

The Herald Tribune reports, the Sarasota County school district last week, documented 45 students and 14 staff members who tested positive for the coronavirus. Since Sarasota schools reopened last August, the district has seen more than 1,400 COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday, the district surpassed 10,000 students and more than 750 staff members who have had to quarantine at some point.

In Manatee County schools last week, the district reported four new staff cases of COVID-19 and 28 student cases. That's on par with what the district was experiencing last fall, when far fewer students were engaged in in-person learning.

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