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COVID-19 Morning Report 08/04/2021

Raquel Heres
Marta Lavandier/AP
Raquel Heres gets a COVID-19 rapid test to be able to travel overseas, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in North Miami, Fla. Federal health officials say Florida has reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state's highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic. The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Florida COVID-19 Hospitalization Rates Break Another Record

Hospitalization rates in Florida due to the coronavirus broke another record for the third consecutive day, Aug. 3, reaching 11,515 hospitalized patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. Still, the AP reports, Governor Ron DeSantis doubled down, Tuesday, on his vow not to impose any mask mandates or business restrictions.

In remarks from the White House, Tuesday, President Joe Biden called on DeSantis and other Republican Governors resistant to imposing rules to curb spread of the virus to "get out of the way," and to allow local municipalities to impose mandates designed to protect their communities against spread of the highly transmissible and more virulent Delta strain fueling the current surge.

Lee Health reported, Tuesday that 321 COVID-19 patients were admitted to the health system’s five hospitals, which is up from 315 patients on Monday. Twenty-nine patients are on ventilators and 52 are in intensive care.

The NCH Healthcare system in Collier County reported having 140 admitted COVID-19 patients, Tuesday, which is an increase from 115 patients the previous day. The health system reports that 85% of those patients are unvaccinated and range in age from 18 to 100 years old. The Naples Daily News reports, 25 patients are in intensive care and 11 are on ventilators.

NCH is among hospital systems in Florida that have announced vaccine requirements for staff in recent weeks, along with Baptist Health in Jacksonville. The NCH vaccination mandate takes effect Sept. 16.

Meanwhile, the Herald Tribune reports, Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported another record high number of COVID-19 patients, Tuesday, with 136 admitted to the hospital.

Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton reported 61 COVID-19 patients, Tuesday, which is nearly double the number from a week ago.

Gov. DeSantis and Public Health Experts Continue to Clash Over Mask Mandates and Schools

As new daily COVID-19 infection rates continue to spike, Gov. DeSantis continues to say people should have the freedom to make their own decisions.

“These interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic, not just in the United States, but abroad. They have not stopped the spread particularly with Delta which is even more transmissible,” said DeSantis.

“If it didn’t stop it before, it definitely ain’t gonna to stop it now.”

On Tuesday, DeSantis suggested what he considers to be the most important ways to control the disease.

“The best defenses we have are the combination of the natural immunity that’s been built up and our ‘seniors first’ vaccination efforts. I think that’s why you have such a steep decline in mortality,” said DeSantis.

Relying on people to get infected in order to build immunity is not recommended by most health care professionals. DeSantis recently has encouraged people to get vaccinated, though he has also blocked businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 50% of the people in the hospital are between 25-55 years old, while 96% of those hospitalized were unvaccinated.

DeSantis says it should be up to parents whether their kids wear masks in schools, but medical experts say everyone has to wear masks to keep students and school staff safe.

“Bottom line is this: My risk of getting COVID is effected both by my actions and your actions,” said Florida International University infectious disease specialist Dr. Aileen Marty. She’s also a medical advisor to the Miami-Dade County Public School District.

““When all the people in the room are wearing masks, the volume of virus in the air is more easily handled by a proper HVAC system. When you have people in there that are breathing out large quantities of virus, you're defeating the protection of the child wearing a mask,” said Dr. Marty.

She plans on recommending a strategy of separating students by who is following mask-wearing guidance and who is not.

“You can group people by how risky they want to be,” said Dr. Marty.

“They want to be really risky? Put them all together. Be risky together. Let the people who understand science and the real risk to themselves, their family and their community have a safe environment.”

Marty says while the politics might be complicated, the science is simple: Mandatory masks in schools would mean fewer kids and adults getting sick.

School districts in Southwest Florida have not taken steps to require masks in the coming school year.

Sarasota Schools Relax Quarantine Rules

Fully vaccinated students and staff in the Sarasota County School District will not be required to quarantine if they're exposed to COVID-19. The school board confirmed that policy change, Tuesday, for the coming school year.

Spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, Steve Huard, tells the Herald Tribune, vaccinated people who are exposed will still be contact traced to determine who they came into contact with.

Huard said that in order to pass on the virus to others, a vaccinated person would need to be symptomatic and that anyone showing symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to quarantine.

The school district does not keep track of who is and who is not vaccinated, and instead will rely on the Department of Health for that information.

In the past school year, the district reported 15,952 cases of students or staff members having to be quarantined.

Since the Sarasota School District will not be offering remote learning options this year, elementary students who have to quarantine will get packets to complete while out of the classroom. Middle and high school students will be required to continue their coursework through an electronic format like Blackboard or Teams.

Educators will also be providing after-school help for students who may fall behind in quarantine.

Investigation Finds Alarming Spread of COVID-19 in Florida Prisons

The death rate for people with COVID-19 at Florida correctional facilities is more than 1.5 times that of the general public in the state according to a new report from the Orlando Sentinel. The paper compiled a detailed list of people who died of the virus while serving time for felonies.

Host of “Sundial” on WLRN in Miami, Luis Hernandez, recently spoke with Orlando Sentinel Justice and Safety Team reporter Grace Toohey and University of Miami professor and co-founder of the COVID Prison Project Kathryn Nowotny. The project tracks COVID-19 in prisons and detention centers nationwide. Listen to that conversation here.

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Verónica Zaragovia
Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.
Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.