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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 5,294 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 2,057,735 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 87 coronavirus-related deaths March 31, increasing the statewide death toll to 34,072 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management stood at 8.27% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 6.05% and 10.1%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 2,934 patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 are admitted to hospitals throughout the state. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 200 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, compared to 189 admitted patients on Tuesday.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 82 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. That's up from 61 patients a week ago. Currently 65% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 8% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 7 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 10 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 5.8 million (5,871,740) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.5 million (2,564,417) people who have received a first dose, and more than 3.3 million (3,307,323) who have completed the series, including 234,962 people who have received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Gov. DeSantis Against Vaccine Passports in Florida
In Florida, COVID-19 vaccines become available to everyone 16 and older next Monday, April 5. As more people get vaccinated, the discussion to carry a vaccine passport is starting to take root. These are documents that show proof of inoculation. The idea is to help businesses, but, state government isn’t on board.

Governor Ron DeSantis says Florida residents should have the right to choose whether they’ll get a COVID-19 shot or not. Plus, he said he worries about people’s medical privacy in the hands of corporations. DeSantis expressed his disgust with these so-called vaccine passports on Monday.

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida. It is completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement you show proof of vaccine to simply be able to participate in normal society,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis said he plans to take emergency action to halt any mandates for vaccines or vaccine passports.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration says it will not issue a federal mandate requiring proof of inoculation. The White House will be letting private companies handle the logistics for vaccine passports. The passports could come in a scannable code on phones. Or as a physical document for people that may not have access to technology.

DeSantis To Receive COVID-19 Shot This Week
Governor DeSantis said he’d get a COVID-19 vaccine shot sometime this week at a news conference, Wednesday.

However, he did not say where, when or whether he'll do so in front of the media.

The 42-year-old DeSantis will join about 5.8 million Floridians who have already received at least a first dose of the vaccine. Next Monday, Florida's vaccine eligibility will expand to include people 18 and up. 16 and 71-year-olds also become eligible for the vaccine on Monday, but only for the Pfizer version and only with parental consent.
Young Florida Residents Urged To Get COVID-19 Vaccines, And Have Patience
Infectious diseases clinical pharmacist at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood Corey Frederick urges people not to fret if at first appointments are hard to make.

“More supply is coming and by the summer we’re expected to be swimming in vaccines,” said Frederick.

For people who feel unsure about getting vaccinated, he recommends speaking to a nurse, doctor or pharmacist rather than relying on social media, and when they are ready, to go get the shot.

“For the pandemic to end everybody has a role to play and everybody needs to do their part in getting vaccinated and helping protect our community,” said Frederick.

He said to keep in mind that COVID-19 symptoms are not like the flu. The disease can have serious complications. It’s also possible to have COVID-19, not show any symptoms and still infect others.

Farmworkers in Homestead Push For COVID-19 Vaccinations
Miami-Dade County officials spoke with a group of agriculture workers, Wednesday, in Homestead to discuss vaccinations against COVID-19. Time is tight before the current crop season ends.

A farmworker named Cristina said she and many colleagues have had COVID-19. She only gave her first name. She has a message for Governor Ron DeSantis, saying her work is a backbone of Florida’s economy and she has a right to dignity and a vaccine against COVID-19.

Director of Miami Dade County’s Emergency Management, Frank Rollason, said he hears their message.

“It’s imperative that we try to get these individuals vaccinated before they leave South Florida and they begin their journeys through Florida, heading towards Georgia and the Midwest following the crop cycle.

Rollason said he knows people under 18 work in agriculture, but not all of the vaccines are approved for younger ages. County vans will be in Homestead April 10-11 to vaccinate as many farmworkers as possible.

COVID-19 Vaccine Demand Softens In Some Areas As Eligibility Expands
As COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Florida continues to expand counties are pushing for people to sign up.

Some counties are struggling to fill available appointment slots.

“I really did expect that as we move through the age ranges, we would see a higher demand, and we were ready for that,” said Jacob Saur, Manatee County Director of Public Safety. “So far, we have not seen a mass influx of those wanting to get vaccinated.”

As of Tuesday, Manatee had heard from 4,274 people in their 40s who were interested in being vaccinated.

An additional 4,000 people under 40 are on a county waitlist awaiting eligibility.

Those 8,000 people make up just 6% of the estimated 132,722 people between the ages of 18 and 49 in the county, according to census data.

“I would say we're only at about 25 percent of our population here locally that's been vaccinated, and the majority of those are 65 and older,” Saur said. “We have a goal of getting the 75 percent before we start talking about herd immunity and getting back to some normalcy, so to be in this type of position this early in the game is troublesome and worrying.”

The low number of appointments also changed the way Manatee County receives vaccine doses from the state.

The county typically received 11,000 doses each week. But with supply outpacing demand, the state changed the way it allocates vaccines to Manatee.

Instead of the state sending a set amount of vaccines to the county every week, it's providing a number of doses based on the county’s demand.

“Through no-shows and just not being able to schedule enough willing participants to get the vaccine, we've had some overages, so we have a pretty good stockpile of vaccines,” Saur said. “As we continue to have trouble, we might back down how many appointments that we schedule and we might close down a drive-thru site.”

After many of Florida’s seniors received their vaccinations, other parts of the state have also seen a softening of demand.

The FEMA site at Tampa’s Greyhound Track was not overwhelmed when Florida expanded vaccine eligibility to those age 50 and over, with reports that there had been leftover doses as fewer people sought vaccinations.

This week, the Department of Health in Pinellas County tweeted out that it has many appointments available for the first week of April when vaccine eligibility is set to expand to those 16 and older.

In anticipation of more demand due to expanded eligibility, the state increased the number of first doses at the federally supported sites from 500 to 3,000 this week.

FEMA sites in Orlando and Miami began offering vaccines to people 40 and over ahead of the state’s eligibility expansion. And earlier this month, there were reports that some federally sponsored sites were vaccinating all Florida residents over 18 due to low demand.

State Attorneys General Sue Biden Administration Over Tax Provision On Federal Relief Funds
Attorneys general from 13 states, including Florida, have filed a lawsuit against the Biden Administration over a provision in the federal stimulus that bars state governments from using the relief funds to offset tax cuts.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama Wednesday, requests that judges strike down the provision barring states from using the federal aid to "either directly or indirectly offset a reduction" in net tax revenue.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is named in the suit. In March, she said states can still cut taxes as long as federal relief dollars aren't used to make up the difference.

DeSantis Proposes $1,000 Bonuses For K-12 Teachers & Principals
Governor DeSantis announced Wednesday that principals and teachers at Florida's K-12 public schools will receive $1,000 bonuses.

The proposed $216 million will come from a federal pandemic emergency relief fund for educators. DeSantis made the announcement at Palm Harbor University High School in Pinellas County.

"This proposal will provide a bonus to more than 3,600 principals and nearly 180,000 full-time classroom teachers,” said DeSantis.

Pinellas County School District Superintendent Michael Grego said educators have earned the bonus.

"The teachers have been in the center of this journey every single day, trying to figure it out, how to make it work, and refusing, and this has been our mantra; We're going to refuse to allow this year to be anything less for our students."

Before it becomes official, Florida's legislature must approve the payments to educators, as well as the $1,000 bonuses for first responders that DeSantis announced two weeks ago.

FL Lawmakers Consider Bill To Protect Schools/Universities from COVID-19-related Lawsuits
A bill to protect Florida schools and universities from COVID-19 pandemic-related lawsuits is advancing in the Florida legislature.

The AP reports, the Senate Education Commission unanimously approved the measure, Tuesday. The bill seeks to protect colleges from lawsuits filed by students or parents who want a refund on tuition because students were forced to take courses online. The measure also would allow parents of elementary school students to have their children repeat the grade for academic reasons.

Florida Lawmakers Debating State Budget And Use of Federal Relief Funding
Florida lawmakers are now debating state budget plans even as uncertainty looms over how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will affect upcoming revenue projections.

Another point of contention in shaping the state budget concerns how to use $10 billion in federal pandemic relief funding.

The AP reports, the Senate's proposed $95 billion proposed budget does not include the federal relief dollars while the House's proposed $97.1 billion spending plan does draw from those relief funds.

Governor DeSantis initially had proposed a $96.6 billion budget, which he later amended with $4.1 billion in additional spending stemming from federal relief funds.

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Veronica Zaragovia
Jacob Wentz
Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.