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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 1,613 new COVID-19 cases, Monday, for a total of more than 2.1 million infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 35 coronavirus-related deaths April 12, increasing the statewide death toll to 34,720 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management increased to 10.42% on Sunday. The single-day positivity rate hasn't been that high since Feb. 7 when it stood at 10.47% Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 7.33% and 10.42%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 2,938 patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 are admitted to hospitals throughout the state, which is 180 more admitted patients than there were a week ago. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 239 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Monday afternoon that 89 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals, which is down slightly from 96 patients a week ago. Currently 70% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 17% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having nine COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 17 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Monday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 7.2 million (7,291,420) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.8 million (2,843,455) people who have received a first dose, and more than 4.4 million (4,447,965) who have completed the series, including 473,416 people who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Gov. DeSantis Assails YouTube Over COVID-19 Video

Governor Ron DeSantis railed against YouTube and Google on Monday for removing a video of a COVID-19 discussion he had with scientists who oppose government lockdowns, school closures and mask wearing, calling it censorship.

The ramped-up criticism by the Republican governor comes as lawmakers try to work out details of a bill that takes aim at tech companies.

DeSantis, who has become a harsh critic of medical advice coming from federal authorities, said YouTube and its parent company, Google, removed the video because the firms are “enforcers of a narrative for the ruling elite.”

“It has huge implications,” said DeSantis.

“If we can’t have an open debate about some of the most consequential decisions that have ever been made in our modern society, that is really, really problematic.”

DeSantis’ comments came at a Tallahassee press event where he was joined by three scientists, including Scott Altas, who served as a White House coronavirus adviser to former President Donald Trump.“This is termed misinformation. It’s almost inexplicable to me, to see what is going on with censoring the actual facts,” said Atlas.

As he ramps up his 2022 re-election bid, DeSantis has routinely been speaking out against big tech companies and what he calls the “corporate media.”

Meanwhile, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a statement Monday saying that the governor and his priorities are “shockingly out of touch” with the public and that his lack of leadership has exacerbated the pandemic.

Florida Sues CDC Seeking To Relaunch Cruise Industry

Florida is suing the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to let cruise ships sail again after being shut down for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor and Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the lawsuit Thursday at a press conference in Miami.

The CDC recentlyreleased new guidance on how the cruise industry can get back to sailing safely but set no timeframe for that.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says they don’t believe the agency has the right to “mothball” the industry for more than a year.

He says people who want to take a cruise will just go to The Bahamas at Florida’s expense.

“I’m happy to announce that on behalf of the tens of thousands of Floridians whose livelihood depends on the viability of an open cruise industry, today Florida is fighting back,” he said.

Cruise ship outbreaks were early pandemic horror stories. And to assure safety, at least one cruise industry leader has floated the idea of requiring proof of vaccination for everyone on board.

DeSantis has ruled that out in Florida.

If you give an inch, some people will take a mile, he said. “Remember last year — a little over last year, yeah, I mean it was in March of last year — 15 days to slow the spread. Fifteen days or two weeks to stop the cruise and then you guys would be back. Remember that’s what they promised us?”

FEA Seeking Clarification On Standardized Testing Exemptions

The statewide teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, is seeking clarity on recently adopted exemptions to testing requirements for this school year.

Last week, State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order waiving state test requirements for high school seniors to graduate and for third graders to advance to the fourth grade.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said the union supports the exemption for students.

“Our students have faced lots of disruption because of COVID because of quarantining. We’ve had a lot of students who were online for a period of time or still may be learning online,” said Spar.

“To say that a student’s performance this year should be tied to teacher evaluations, just makes no sense. So, it is our hope that the Commissioner and the Department of Education will clarify that particular provision of the emergency order or modify it if necessary.”

Spar said the FEA is seeking clarity on how the emergency order would apply to educators’ performance reviews.

"When it comes to teacher evaluations, it just says districts are granted some flexibility, but doesn't say districts do not have to produce a student score tied to a teacher evaluation this year."

The emergency order also allows schools to keep their pre-pandemic performance ratings, which typically rely on state test results.

SWFL School Districts Cutting Back On Distance Learning Options

K-12 students in Southwest Florida will have fewer virtual learning options available when classes resume in the fall. The Naples Daily News reports, the Collier County School district is nixing its Classroom Connect and High School Flexible models implemented last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Classroom Connect is Collier's live virtual instruction model and students currently enrolled through it will have to return to in-person classroom instruction in the fall or enroll in the eCollier Academy.

Also, this fall, the Lee County School District will no longer offer its Lee Home Connect virtual learning option.

Students enrolled through the Lee Virtual School model will also be moved back to brick-and-mortar classrooms, but will be able to reapply for a spot in the Lee Virtual School next year.

Telehealth Expansion Moves Forward But Some Say It Leaves A Few Important Provisions Out

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic there have been few silver linings. But health experts say one good thing the pandemic has caused is an expansion of telehealth. A proposal to keep many of the state’s pandemic-era telehealth practices in place is moving forward, but some say a few important provisions aren't including in the legislation.

“One of the few positive things that has happened because of COVID is the expanded use of telehealth. We’ve found out that telehealth works. It works for the providers, but more importantly it works for the patients of the state of Florida,” said Chris Newlin with the Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Early in the session Newlin threw his support behind a bill by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral). She says telemedicine can be a helpful option for people who might otherwise struggle to get access to care because they’re a long drive from their doctor, or they don’t have reliable transportation.

“Telemedicine is a voluntary service and it does not replacement of in-person visits for those who desire them, it is simply another option meant for greater healthcare access," Rodriguez says.

Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) says she agrees about the importance of telehealth. She says she helped pass a bill years ago that implemented may of the state's current telehealth practices.

"I think it took us about 5 years to finally pass a bill on telehealth. And I think we have now through the pandemic really realized how important it is," Harrell says.

But Harrell says there’s something missing from Rodriguez’s bill.

“I noticed that it does not include some of the aspects of the executive order that was allowed for telehealth during the pandemic where specifically surgeons were allowed to do their medication continuation for their follow up for surgery—that 14-day period, where physicians see the patients fairly regularly and change their medication—especially their schedule 2 medication to deal with pain,” Harrell says.

That’s something Harrell says the governor’s order has allowed during the pandemic and something Rodriguez says she would consider adding to her measure as it moves through the committee process.

Another provision that’s allowed under the governor’s order lets patients renew their medical marijuana recommendations with their doctors remotely. Rodriguez’s bill doesn’t allow that. Sen. Gary Farmer (D- Fort Lauderdale) says he'd like to see that change.

“Medical marijuana is medicine. Plain and simple. There are other, I think, substances that arguably could be considered as or more dangerous that you can renew prescriptions via telehealth and I hope that we can work on that part of it and allow for recertification,” Farmer says.

Rodriguez says she’s not opposed to considering that going forward. But she’s heard pleas in previous committee meetings to include medical marijuana renewals in her measure and has not done so yet. The measure has one committee stop left to go.

FEMA Funeral Assistance Now Open

People with loved ones who died of COVID-19 can ask the federal government for help paying for the funerals. The Federal Emergency Management Agency began accepting applications for funeral assistance on Monday, April 12.

Applicants must provide a death certificate and funeral home contracts and receipts. Those who qualify can receive up to $9,000.

To apply, call FEMA’s toll-free funeral assistance line at 844-684-6333. Details can be found here.

Lee County Consider Making Contactless Bridge Toll Collection Permanent

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, Lee County stopped the practice of having manned toll booths at the Cape Coral, Midpoint and Sanibel Causeway bridges. Now, Lee County Commissioners are looking to make that change permanent.

If commissioners approve the move later this month, tolls will continue to only be collected through electronic transponders or toll-by-plate cameras that capture an image of a vehicle tag and send a bill in the mail.

County staff have also suggested increasing bridge tolls by $2 for motorists who don't use transponders, but commissioners were less keen on that idea.

Toll payments cover the expense of operating and maintaining bridges in the county and any excess money collected is used on road projects on both sides of the Caloosahatchee River.

Florida Woman Gets Jail Time For Deliberately Coughing on Cancer Patient

A Florida woman who was caught on video last summer deliberately coughing on a customer at a Pier 1 Imports store amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been sentenced to 30 days in jail. Video of the incident went viral online.

The AP reports, a judge in Jacksonville, last week, also ordered Debra Hunter to pay a $500 fine, serve six months of probation and to undergo a mental health evaluation and anger management.

Hunter's victim is a cancer patient who fought for Hunter to be held accountable for her actions.

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Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Joe Byrnes
Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.