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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 5,271 new COVID-19 cases, Tuesday, for a total of 2,217,368 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 46 coronavirus-related deaths April 27, increasing the statewide death toll to 35,646 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 8.83% on Monday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 6.99% and 10.88%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning there are 3,341 patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 admitted to hospitals throughout the state. Hospitals in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined have a total of 251 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Tuesday afternoon that 106 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 72% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 10% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 10 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 24 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Tuesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 8.6 million (8,625,933) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.7 million (2,741,216) people who have received a first dose, and more than 5.8 million (5,884,717) who have completed the series.

Demand for Johnson & Johnson Vaccine on Par with Pfizer At Most Florida FEMA Sites

Faced with a choice between the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines, Floridians who visited the state's federally supported sites on Monday were about evenly split.

It was the second day the FEMA sites offered the J&J vaccine since the federal government lifted a pause, put in place to determine risk of a rare blood clot.

All this week, patients can still choose to get the one-and-done J&J shot or get a first dose of Pfizer and return for a second shot in three weeks.

In Tampa and Orlando, it was practically a 50-50 split, with only slightly more people going with Pfizer, according to figures provided by the Florida Division of Emergency Management (see table below).

In Jacksonville, more people wanted Johnson & Johnson. That was not the case in Miami where nearly twice as many people got their first dose of Pfizer.

Monday's numbers saw a bump in J&J shots compared to Sunday when the sites first started using the vaccine again.

But demand for new shots overall on Monday was low at all four sites, which have the capacity to administer thousands of shots each day. The vast majority of patients who showed up were there for their second doses of Pfizer.

4/26/2021Pfizer - First Dose AdministeredPfizer - Second Dose AdministeredJ&J - First Dose AdministeredTotal Doses Administered
HUB: Jacksonville96482132710
HUB: Miami8483,6894955,032
HUB: Orlando5663,8865254,977
HUB: Tampa3523,5523004,204
Grand Total1,86211,6091,45214,923

Federal health officials had implemented the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to conduct a safety review. They discovered 15 women had developed a rare and severe blood clot out of nearly 8 million people who had received the vaccine. Most were younger than 50. Three died and seven remained hospitalized at the start of this week.

Health officials determined the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks and distribution resumed in Florida shortly after.

State officials say staff administering the vaccines have received additional training and COVID-19 vaccine consent forms now include language informing patients about the risks to help people decide if they should use the J&J shot or another vaccine.

The state will resume using J&J doses at its mobile vaccination clinics on Wednesday, according to Samantha Bequer, spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Florida House and Senate Divided Over Unemployment Benefits Bill

Floridians who lost their jobs in the early months of the pandemic struggled to make ends meet. Record high unemployment applications broke the state's system prompting lawmakers to take action during the current legislative session. Lawmakers are in agreement on giving a facelift to the website where people apply for benefits, but they’re torn on the issue of increasing the weekly unemployment pay.

As businesses and schools across the state were forced to close in the early months of the pandemic, state lawmakers received calls from constituents struggling to get unemployment benefits. State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, said he received several hundred calls over the summer from constituents who faced long wait times when trying to apply for benefits over the phone and through the statewide website.

“As someone in the legislature, we all faced something for me that was unprecedented: The sheer amount of calls of people requesting help in receiving unemployment benefits. The number was just unimaginable going into the summer where usually it’s quiet in the summer,” said Bean.

“That’s when we go to conferences and learn and sharpen our game, but we were answering case files.”State lawmakers are advancing a proposal to fix the state’s unemployment website to Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk, but the fate of a senate-approved bill to increase jobless benefits remains uncertain.

The Republican-controlled Senate unanimously approved raising jobless benefits and extending the length of time people may receive payments. Following the Senate’s vote approving the measure, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater, did not say whether the chamber would clear the way for the bill.

“What our focus is on in the House is getting people back to work. If you ask employers across the state - there was a sign I saw at a restaurant advertising to give cashiers up to $17 or $18 dollars an hour. If you look at nonprofits across the state, they’re doing advertisements on Facebook and social media, trying to get people to come back to work to fill a variety of positions,” said Sprowls.

“We have a workforce out there, some of whom are not back to work. We need to be focused on getting them back to work.”

Though Sprowls sidestepped the question about approving the Senate’s plan to increase weekly jobless benefits, the chamber voted down two amendments that matched the Senate bill.

State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, proposed increasing the maximum weekly jobless benefits to $375. Eskamani explained she’s been working to help people in her district find a job, but said it’s difficult for them to do so while trying to both stay safe during a pandemic and make ends meet.

“When you only get $275 a week, and are trying to think about where you’re going to feed your kids. How are you going to pay for gas? How are you going to pay for Wi-Fi so you can apply for a job? I paid for people’s broadband throughout this pandemic because they had a job interview that they wouldn’t be able to do because they wouldn’t be able to pay for their electricity bill,” said Eskamani.

Florida’s jobless benefits range from $32-$275 dollars per week which is among the lowest in the nation. Those payments only last 12 weeks. State Representative Carlos Guillermo-Smith, D-Orlando, proposed extending the length of time people can receive benefits to 22 weeks. He also spoke in support of Eskamani’s proposal increasing the maximum weekly benefit by $100.

“Last summer all of us, almost all of us on both sides of the aisle made promises to come back to Tallahassee to take these types of changes and we all understood and acknowledged that Florida’s broken unemployment system is about so much more than a website, so much more than a website,” said Guillermo-Smith.

The state House rejected Guillermo-Smith’s amendment. It remains unclear if the chamber will support the Senate’s plan to increase benefits. Governor Ron DeSantis has already said he’s not in favor of the increase in benefits, even after signing a $1 billion sales tax hike into law that would add to the state’s unemployment trust fund, which helps finance jobless payments.

Bradenton Church Leaders Charged for Selling Toxic Bleach as COVID Cure

Members of a Southwest Florida family accused of selling a toxic industrial bleach as a cure for the coronavirus through their church, have been indicted on federal charges.

The AP reports, a federal grand jury returned an indictment, earlier this month, against Mark Grenon and his sons. They’re charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit fraud and two counts each of criminal contempt.

Grenon is archbishop of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton. Officials said the church sells chlorine dioxide. The Grenons falsely claim the toxic solution can cure a broad variety of ailments.

Last year a federal judge ordered them to stop selling the substance, but they continued selling it anyway.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters,WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.
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.