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COVID-19 Morning Report

Rico Rozier
Marta Lavandier/AP
Florida International University student Rico Rozier gets the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a site on campus, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Lawsuit Challenging Ban on School Mask Mandates Continues

Witnesses for the state of Florida began testifying Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging an executive order from Governor Ron DeSantis that bars school districts from requiring students to wear masks amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s witnesses included Stanford University Professor of Medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who has participated in press events hosted by DeSantis during the pandemic.

Bhattacharya argues there is evidence of physical and developmental harm to children from wearing masks, adding there is little proof they slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Public health measures do not identify the majority of the infections, and the infections spread. This is partly why the lockdowns have been so ineffective at stopping disease spread,” said Dr. Bhattacharya.

Earlier in the day, other doctors testifying for the plaintiffs disagreed, including pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Tony Kriseman. He argued mandatory masking is important for the greater good of society.

“If this were a noncontagious disorder, like tetanus, then you could say to a parent ‘you are free to not get a tetanus shot for your child,’ but the parent’s decision doesn’t only have an impact on their own child. It is a global decision. It has an impact on society,” said Kriseman.

On Monday, Duval County joined several other Florida school districts in enacting mandatory mask requirements including Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota.

The trial is expected to conclude Aug. 25.

Lee Health Reports New Record-High Number of Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients as Staffed Operational Capacity Reaches 98%

Lee Health reported another all-time record-high number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Tuesday, with 641 cases, including 12 children hospitalized due to the virus. The current surge in cases is further straining the health system's hospitals, which are now at 98% of staffed operational bed capacity.

Lee Health reported six new COVID-19 deaths, Tuesday, for a total of 847 patients who have died from the virus while in hospital since the start of the pandemic. As of Tuesday afternoon, 53% of ventilator capacity and 96% of ICU rooms were in use. Lee Health reports having 84 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 103 receiving care in the ICU.

Less than 10% of Lee Health's hospitalized COVID-19 patients are vaccinated.

If new hospitalizations continue to climb, Lee Health officials say they'll have to start housing patients in traditionally non-treatment areas like cafeterias. That could happen if the hospitalization rate tops 700 patients.

Meanwhile, the NCH Healthcare system in Collier County reported treating 221 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Tuesday, including six pediatric patients. This marks a slight decrease from 231 patients on Monday. However, the number of patients requiring critical care continues to outpace the hospital system's capacity: NCH has 77 critical care patients, but only 47 dedicated critical care beds. Forty-four of those critical care patients are battling a COVID-19 infection.

NCH reported Tuesday that 82 % of its coronavirus patients are unvaccinated.

Physicians Regional Healthcare System reported treating 121 COVID patients, Tuesday, marking a slight drop from 125 patients on Monday.

Doctors Urge Pregnant Patients to Get COVID-19 Vaccines

Hospitals in Broward County are seeing more unvaccinated pregnant patients coming in with complications from COVID-19. Staff and doctors at Broward Health are urging maternity patients to get vaccinated.

Pregnant people have suppressed immune systems, making them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Coral Springs OB-GYB Dr. Mary-Beatrice Squire said many people worry that getting vaccinated could harm a fetus in the womb, but actually, it’s the other way around.

“What they receive is the mother’s reaction to the vaccine, which is a positive antibody, which will protect the mother and hopefully will reduce infection for the baby as well,” said Squire.

She said she’s seeing unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in the maternity ward who end up delivering prematurely or who need a ventilator or supplemental oxygen.

Her colleague Lucia Pizano Urbina found out she was pregnant after her first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose.

“If you get COVID and you go to deliver your baby, you know, you may not be able to be with your baby. It’s just extremely scary,” said Urbina.

She followed her doctor’s advice and got the second dose, too.

Medical Experts Hope FDA Approval Will Helps with Vaccine Hesitancy

State health experts are urging people who have been vaccine-hesitant to revisit the idea of getting a coronavirus shot. Florida Department of Health EMS Medical Director Dr. Ken Scheppke said now that the FDA has approved Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, that should give people another level confidence.

“I know a number of folks have been waiting to see how the vaccine rolls out. Some of them are waiting for full FDA approval. Now we can say millions of Floridians get this. Hundreds of millions of people get the vaccine world-wide.”

Scheppke said the vaccine is the best tool available for reducing the spread of the virus and reducing the severity of the virus if people get sick.

Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Reports 57 COVID-19 Cases Among Staff

Ninety-three employees of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office are out from work and 57 are positive for COVID-19. The Herald Tribune reports, even though about 10% of the law enforcement agency's workforce is out sick, the department is not imposing repercussions on staff members who knowingly came to work with COVID-19 symptoms and positive tests, even though they were repeatedly instructed to stay home if they were sick.

The sheriff's office encourages pandemic safety protocols, but does not mandate mask wearing and does not offer any incentives for staff to get the vaccine. The department does not track vaccination rates among employees.

The Herald Tribune reports, that of the Sarasota sheriff's office staff currently out, 53 are from the Courts and Corrections Division, 19 are from the Administrative Division and 21 are from the Law Enforcement Division.

The COVID-related staff outage is not yet impacting day-to-day operations for the sheriff's department.

As of Monday, 48 inmates in the Sarasota County jail were positive for the coronavirus and asymptomatic. As of Friday, 303 of the jail's 975 inmates were fully vaccinated.

Disney Requires Union Workers to get COVID-19 Vaccine

Employees of the Walt Disney Company will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or lose their jobs. The AP reports, that's according to an agreement reached, Monday between the Disney company and a coalition of unions.

Unionized Disney workers now have until Oct. 22 to show proof of vaccination unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

Non-union hourly and salaried Disney workers are already required to get inoculated and the company plans to provide on-site vaccine events for workers over the next several weeks.

The agreement between Disney and the unions came shortly after the FDA announced full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

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