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COVID-19 Morning Report

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 3,184 new COVID-19 cases, Wednesday, for a total of 2,278,549 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 51 coronavirus-related deaths May 12, increasing the statewide death toll to 36,598 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 5.73% on Tuesday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 5.73% and 8.73%.

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning the number of patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 admitted to hospitals throughout the state has dropped to 2,708. In Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined there are currently 247 admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19.

Lee Health reported Wednesday afternoon that 107 patients are being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 78% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 12% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 13 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 18 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

As of Wednesday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported nearly 9.4 million (9,397,252) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.1 million (2,146,487) people who have received a first dose, and more than 7.2 million (7,250,765) who have either completed the two-dose series or who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Family Health Centers Holds COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic in Fort Myers Saturday

This Saturday, Family Health Centers of Southwest Florida will hold a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Saturday, May 15 at Rosa de Saron Assembly of God Church at 13235 Palm Beach Blvd. in Fort Myers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Interpreters will be onsite to assist and the vaccine is free. No appointment is needed. Those looking to get a shot should bring a form of I.D. and an insurance card if they have one.

Florida to Reinstate 'Work Search' Requirement for Unemployment Benefits

People in Florida’s unemployment system will have to start showing they’re looking for work on a weekly basis after Memorial Day, as the state pushes to get workers back on the job.

Also, a process is being set up for business owners to report unemployment claimants who don’t follow the “work search” rule, which requires people to apply for five jobs a week.

Speaking at a Tallahassee restaurant Wednesday, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle said the work-search requirement, which was lifted last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be reinstated June 1 for new applicants.

Eagle said many people are taking advantage of the $275 dollars a week in Florida benefits and $300 more in federal assistance, which when combined are competitive with weekly pay at many restaurants and leisure-industry businesses.

“You've seen restaurants that have had to close earlier or open later or close certain days of the week,” said Eagle.

“All over the Panhandle I've seen signs that say, ‘Welcome to the new pandemic.’ The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire. So, we've got to put an end to that.”

Rob Bazemore, owner of Metro Deli in Tallahassee, said he’s been lucky that most of his staff of about 12 people has kept working through the pandemic, but as the economy picks up it has been hard bringing new hires on board.

“If we got any applicants, I would be forced to basically really look it over and maybe even hire people I wouldn’t normally hire, just because they were there,” said Bazemore.

“So, we used to get our pick of the litter. Now, we are on the verge of taking anybody who walks in the door.”

Governor Ron DeSantis waived the work-search requirement in an executive order in April 2020, when the pandemic forced businesses to shut down or dramatically scale back.

State-Run COVID-19 Testing Sites to Close

The Florida Division of Emergency Management plans to close all of the agency's state-run COVID-19 testing sites by the end of the month. Health officer with the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County Dr. Jennifer Bencie delivered that news at Tuesday's county commission meeting.

The Herald Tribune reports, state health officials attribute the pending closures to decreasing demand.

Sarasota Health Department spokesman Steve Huard said closing the state-run testing sites is part of the "natural progression" of the pandemic, but Dr. Bencie in Manatee County said between 800 and 1,000 tests a day are being run at the state's testing site at the Bradenton Area Convention Center and that positivity rates remain "well over" 10%.

Once the state-run sites close, people will still be able to get COVID-19 tests through pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS.

The convention center testing site in Palmetto will close Saturday, the walk-up testing site at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex in Sarasota will close Friday, and the drive-through testing site at the Sarasota Kennel Club is set to close on Sunday.

Florida Ranks High For COVID-19 Hospital Admissions, Especially Among Young Adults

The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 is going down in Florida, but new admissions are still higher than in most parts of the country, especially for younger and middle-aged adults.

An analysis of federal data conducted by Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida, found Florida ranks fifth in the nation for confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions for the week predating May 8.

The state jumps up to third in the nation for people between 30 and 50 years old.

During that same seven days, 25% of new patients fell into that age group, up from 13% in mid-January. On the flip side, Floridians ages 70 and older went from accounting for nearly half of admissions in January to 27% last week.

The good news, according to Salemi, is that these numbers show the COVID-19 vaccines are protecting seniors from severe illness like they were intended.

The online coronavirus dashboard he operates shows about 80% of seniors in Florida have received at least one dose of a vaccine. For working age adults, the percentage is about half that.

“I think lower-than-we-would-like vaccination rates in the younger working age population, coupled with the fact that a lot of these people are back to work — they're at higher risk of exposure to the virus — is why we're seeing this,” he explained, adding that younger people are accounting for more new coronavirus cases as well.

Salemi said he hopes the figures serve as a cautionary tale.

“Go out and get vaccinated, that's the No. 1 way to protect yourself and for us to get back to normal,” he urged young adults in the community.

“But No. 2, is be mindful that nobody is immune to the ramifications of this virus. We are still seeing people hospitalized every day due to it. So, the best way to protect yourself is to couple getting vaccinated with some of the mitigation strategies — you know, distancing, wear a mask, those things are still very valuable in preventing yourself from getting infected in the first place.”

Salemi noted Florida's rankings for confirmed admissions do not include suspected COVID-19 cases, which are also included in hospitalization data that states share with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Patients labeled as suspected typically show signs and symptoms of COVID-19 but don't have a positive test result at the time of reporting.

The percentage of confirmed versus suspected differs among all the states. For example, in the week leading up to May 8, about 63% of adult COVID-19 admissions in Florida were confirmed cases. In California, just 35% of cases were confirmed.

On his dashboard, Salemi compares states for confirmed cases only, and for confirmed and suspected combined. In the latter analysis, Florida’s ranking drops to 13th in the nation for new COVID admissions, which ultimately is still high.

He said it’s important to note that the strides Florida is making in terms of reducing severe COVID-19 in older residents are significant, but that there is a lot more work to be done.

Hundreds of thousands of seniors in the state still have not been vaccinated, which is why despite the decline in admissions, there are still a lot of older adults hospitalized with the disease.

And the shift in age distribution, mirrored in other parts of the country, highlights the toll the virus continues to take on younger populations as well, as more dangerous variants spread in the community.

Salemi said he is concerned to see the pace of new vaccinations slow in Florida and stressed the importance of engaging with those reluctant to get shots.

“When you balance the risk versus benefits, there’s no comparison, the benefits of vaccination, especially at the community level, are just massive,” he said.

Timeline for Vaccination Of 12 To 15-Year-Old Children

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15-year-old children and after a review, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 and older.

Dr. Lisa Gwynn [GWIN] is a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System.

“Kids are the vectors for this virus now more than adults,” said University of Miami Health System pediatrician Dr. Lisa Gwynn.

“So, if we don’t get our kids immunized it’s still going to be hanging around and we’ll never reach herd immunity. So, hopefully everybody will turn the corner and do the right thing and get their children vaccinated.”

Doctors say vaccinating children will make all kinds of activities safer, from team sports and travel to classroom learning.

CVS pharmacies are among the vaccine providers that say they plan to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-old children.

Southwest Florida School Districts Look to Loosen Mask Mandates

Collier County school board members will consider making masks optional for summer school at their meeting June 8.

Last week, Gov. DeSantis issued a pair of executive orders that suspend pandemic-related restrictions put in place by local governments and that sunset local COVID emergency measures by July 1.

Those executive orders don't apply to school districts, but Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, in April, directed school districts in the state to make mask-wearing optional for the coming school year.

The Naples Daily News reports, president of the Board of Directors for the Collier County Medical Society Dr. Rebekah Bernard tells Collier school officials the organization recommends people continue following CDC guidance for mask wearing and physical distancing.

Meanwhile, Manatee County school officials are facing increasing opposition to the district's ongoing mask mandate for students, staff and visitors while on school campuses.

Ahead of an anticipated anti-mask protest at May 11 school board meeting, the district posted a notice to its webpage, informing people that there's too little time remaining in the current school year to implement a policy change on mask wearing. Proposed changes in district policy are required to be advertised for 30 days before the school board can vote on them

School district spokesman Mike Barber said Tuesday that the school board will likely make changes to the mask policy for summer school and for the coming school year that begins this fall.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.

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.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Verónica Zaragovia