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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

Gov. DeSantis Announces Further Expansions of COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility

Governor Ron DeSantis announced Thursday morning that beginning Monday, March 29, vaccine eligibility in Florida will extend to people 40 and older and that the following Monday, April 5, eligibility will extend to anyone 18 and older. A news release from DeSantis’ office encourages Floridians to pre-register at www.myvaccine.fl.gov.

To pre-register by phone, find a list of numbers to call by county here.

State health officials reported 5,143 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 2,021,656 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 30 coronavirus-related deaths March 24, increasing the statewide death toll to 33,480 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management stood at 7.37% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 6.17% and 7.37%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of Thursday morning the number of patients admitted to hospitals throughout the state with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 has dropped to 2,871. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 171 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, compared to 189 admitted patients on Monday.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 61 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 72% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 13% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 4 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 8 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 5.2 million (5,205,239) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.3 million (2,351,572) people who have received a first dose, and more than 2.8 million (2,853,667) who have completed the series, including 186,836 people who have received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The AP reports, that nationally 70% of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and that COVID-19 deaths have dipped below 1,000 fatalities a day on average for the first time since November.

DeSantis Sending 'Disjointed' Messaging On Miami Beach Spring Break, Says Local Black Leader

Local leaders in South Florida are putting some of the blame on Governor Ron DeSantis for the wild scenes that have emerged on Miami Beach this spring break as DeSantis has promoted Florida as being fully reopened.

The city has implemented an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in the area surrounding Ocean Drive in order to keep some of the crowds under control.

“We have this disjointed thing between the governor and Miami-Dade County,” said Chairman of the Black Affairs Committee of Miami Beach Glendon Hall.

“The governor is saying everything is open, and we’re saying ‘No. It’s not!’ It’s a conflict. So, everyone is coming down here on $50-flights and cheap hotels and Airbnbs and they’re flooding the area and that strip of the city; it can’t handle that amount of people, whether it be ninjas or nuns.”

Hall said the city is also partially responsible. He said city leaders need to create and sponsor programming for large events in order to split one huge gathering into several different parties across the city.

CDC Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire March 31

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's moratorium on evictions is scheduled to expire March 31. Billions of federal dollars are becoming available for those who have fallen behind on their rent payments and the CDC's moratorium is likely to be extended.

President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Diane Yentel, tells the Herald Tribune that little of the initial $25 billion passed in December for rental assistance has not actually gotten to those in need and that the funding won't go to people behind on their rents if the moratorium is not extended.

In Sarasota and Manatee Counties, a combined 1,100 lawsuits are currently filed to remove tenants from their housing. It's difficult to know how many of those suits are related to evictions stemming from pandemic-induced income losses because some eviction filings concern other reasons such as a lease violation.

Still the number of eviction filings in the Manatee and Sarasota region have decreased by more than 60% over the past year, primarily due to eviction moratoriums.

Whether a flood of eviction filings will come after the moratorium is lifted remains to be seen. CEO of Legal Aid of Manasota, Linda Harradine said some landlords may be waiting for the eviction ban to be lifted before taking official action to evict.

A recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau finds that more than 430,000 adults in Florida say they're living in homes not current on their rent or mortgages.

In Manatee County, a $12 million Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been taking applications since Feb. 16, and Sarasota County's $13 million program is still being developed.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition maintains a database of state and local rental assistance programs online at nlihc.org/rental-assistance.

Wide-Ranging House Plan Braces for Next Public Health Crisis

A series of proposals, from requiring the governor to justify closing schools and businesses to limiting the authority of local governments, has been lumped into a Florida House bill aimed at bracing Florida for the next health care crisis.

The House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee voted Wednesday to approve the measure, which also would require a state-owned stockpile of personal protective equipment and would direct the state surgeon general to develop a plan to ensure Florida is prepared for every foreseeable public health emergency.

Bill sponsor, state Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said one key portion of the measure would limit any local state of emergency to 42 days. Currently such emergency orders can be ordered for seven days and extended indefinitely in seven-day increments.

“It provides that a significant emergency order issued by a political subdivision must be narrowly tailored to reduce any infringement on individual liberty to the greatest extent possible,” said Leek.

However, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, calls the pre-emption of local emergency powers a “poison pill.”

“We should not be severely restricting the emergency powers of local governments,” said Smith.

“I think that makes us less safe. I think that mayors shouldn’t have to ask permission from Tallahassee, in order to be the mayors they were elected to be.”

The House bill also would make the state surgeon general responsible for reporting the number of cases and deaths during emergencies and require district medical examiners to assist the state in identifying and reporting deaths upon request.

Telehealth Expansion Bill Advances in the Florida House

Telehealth in Florida has expanded during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic thanks to an order issued by Governor Ron DeSantis. State Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Hialeah, said it’s turned out to be one of few positives in the past year, but he said when the pandemic ends, many of the current telehealth options could come to an end as well.

“At present Florida law prohibits telehealth providers from using telehealth services to prescribe a controlled substance except when treating psychiatric disorders, in patient at hospital, a patient receiving hospice services and a resident of a nursing home facility,” said Fabricio.

He’s sponsoring a bill he says will help keep the current extension in place. His measure would allow telehealth practitioners to prescribe Schedule III, IV and V controlled substances. Some lawmakers are pushing for medical marijuana renewals to be included in that list as well.

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