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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 6,772 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 2,141,686 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 44 coronavirus-related deaths April 14, increasing the statewide death toll to 34,829 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

This week, there's been a wide flux in new infections reported by health officials. Florida reported 1,613 new cases on Monday marking the smallest single-day increase in six months, but then on Tuesday the health department reported 9,068 new infections, marking the biggest single-day increase since early February. The difference is likely due to delays in reporting some test results.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 8.94% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 7.33% and 10.46%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of Thursday morning the number of patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 admitted to hospitals throughout the state has increased to 3,269 patients. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 258 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 105 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 70% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 9% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 6 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 14 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 7.5 million (7,584,736) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.9 million (2,905,749) people who have received a first dose, and more than 4.6 million (4,678,987) who have completed the series.

Mask Wearing to be Optional for Florida Students This Fall

When K-12 students return to school in the fall, mask wearing will be optional. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued a letter Wednesday, instructing school districts to amend their mask policies to make mask wearing optional for the 2021-2022 school year.

The Herald Tribune reports, Corcoran said the Department of Education has reviewed statewide data on COVID-19 cases associated with schools and found no correlation between mask mandates and cases of the coronavirus.

Corcoran says families should have the option to decide for themselves, whether their children will wear face coverings.

Lee Schools Experience Post Spring Break Surge in COVID-19 Cases

Since returning from spring break, Lee county schools have experienced a surge in new COVID-19 cases. The News-Press reports the increase in Lee County schools is consistent with a statewide increase in infections since late March, particularly new cases in younger age demographics.

A News-Press analysis finds that in the two weeks after spring break, Lee schools reported 290 coronavirus cases, which is nearly double the cases reported in the two weeks prior to spring vacation.

Through April 3, nearly 140 schools and school district facilities have reported at least one case of the virus. Of the more than 4,300 COVID-19 cases documented throughout the school district, students account for 78% of all cases while faculty and staff made up 11.3%.

High schools account for the highest number of cases with more than 1,300 infections, followed by elementary schools with more than 1,100 cases and middle schools with 625 reported infections.

Through April 10, state health officials report more than 244,000 children in Florida 18 and younger have tested positive for COVID-19.

SWFL School Districts Plan to Cut Virtual 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.

Florida Halts Distribution of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Florida has paused distributing the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, after federal officials called out the need to investigate reports of blood clots.

University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins said a pause like this happens because officials want to look at the incidence of stroke in the population, and compare that to the norm. She wants to help people to understand the difference between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose options available."We're going to have to really think about the messaging with the J&J vaccine and also, we really need to push out a little bit more with the other vaccines to say these are primarily what's in use anyway. You know, these are great vaccines. Go and get them,” said Prins.

While people are encouraged to get both doses of Pfizer or Moderna, the CDC estimates one dose of either is 80% effective.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said no one from Florida has experienced significant side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said he got the J & J shot and only had some arm soreness.

"I don't think people should be worried who've already had it, who haven't had any effects,” said DeSantis.

“I think it's likely going to be very effective for you, but given that they're doing it, yeah, we feel that's the appropriate thing to do."

DeSantis said he thinks federal officials recommended the pause out of an abundance of caution. The Florida Division of Emergency Management reports 517,446 Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots have been administered in Florida.

Despite the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause, DeSantis said there is adequate availability of vaccines across the state.

Ag Commissioner Fried Calls On Increased Vaccine Access For Undocumented Farmworkers

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is joining other elected Democrats calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to loosen state residency requirements for undocumented farm workers who want COVID-19 vaccines.

“These people live in our state. Regardless of how they got here or why they’re here, they’re here in or state,” said Fried.

“And we have an obligation to care about everybody’s life equally.”

The Miami Herald reports that undocumented immigrants have been turned away from vaccination sites. Earlier this year, loose residency requirements made Florida a hotspot of so-called vaccine tourism, which drew a lot of criticism, leading to the residency requirements in the first place.

Fried said the state can thread the needle on the two issues.

“There are ways to tell the distinction between somebody flying in from Argentina and 15 to 30 women who have just come off the fields after a long day of work,” said Fried.

She suggests the state set up vaccine sites close to agricultural areas and work with community organizations to help them get their shots.

Effort To Vaccinate Florida Prisoners Not Affected Be Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

Florida’s new effort to vaccinate state prisoners is unaffected by the sudden pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

The state had anticipated a reduction in J&J allocations and is using the two-dose Moderna vaccine instead.

The J&J vaccine has already been administered in three privately run prisons.

Secretary Mark Inch of the Florida Department of Corrections has survived COVID-19 himself with moderate but “awful” symptoms.

And now he has posted a personal message for inmates on the importance of vaccinations and the dangers of reinfection, hospitalization and death from the virus.

FDOC says 33,000 inmates — or 41 percent — want the vaccine. And the state has allocated that amount.

They have the right to refuse. But Inch asks them: “Is this really something you want to gamble on?”

He plans to build voluntary vaccinations into the prison intake process. And masks could become optional two weeks after all the staff members and inmates getting vaccinated have received their second shot.

As for himself, Inch says he still has antibodies. He’ll get vaccinated once all of the inmates have had the chance.

Florida Man Arrested in Croatia on Pandemic Relief Funding Fraud

A Florida man wanted on federal COVID-19 relief fraud has been arrested by Croatian police. The AP reports, in February a federal grand jury indicted Don Cisternino, 45, on two counts of wire fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and three counts of illegal monetary transactions. He's alleged to have received more than $7.2 million in pandemic relief funds after making up hundreds of nonexistent employees on loan applications.

Cisternino was arrested on an international warrant on Croatia's border with Slovenia, Sunday.

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Caitie Switalski Muñoz
Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.
Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.
Joe Byrnes