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COVID-19 Morning Report

Yuri Samoilov via Flickr Creative Commons

Judge Hears Closing Arguments Over School Masks

A Leon County circuit judge heard closing arguments, Thursday, in a challenge to Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order seeking to prevent school districts from requiring student masks.

Following three days of testimony in the case, Judge John Cooper spent more than three hours listening to both sides present their cases for a final time.

A group of parents filed the lawsuit challenging DeSantis’ July 30 order, alleging that it violates a section of the state Constitution that requires providing a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system” of public schools.

Plaintiffs’ Attorney Craig Whisenhunt said a surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations caused by the delta variant, including infections in children, has brought an urgent need for mask mandates in schools.

“The governor has sought to insert himself into matters of local health concerns and impede the ability of schools boards to do what they are constitutionally mandated to do, which is to operate and control their schools,” said Whisenhunt.

Attorneys representing DeSantis, including Michael Abel, reinforced the governor’s position that parents should decide whether children wear masks.

“Parents’ rights are a legitimate state interest. Florida parents have a fundamental right to raise their children, to include making the education and healthcare decisions for their children,” said Abel.

At least Ten school districts in Florida have enacted mask requirements that buck DeSantis’ order asserting that parents must be able to opt-out of mandates.

Judge Cooper is expected to announce his ruling Friday morning. DeSantis said Thursday that he will appeal the ruling, if Cooper sides with the plaintiffs in the case.

COVID Infections Surging in Southwest Florida Schools During First Weeks of Classes

Lee County School District officials are facing mounting pressure to change the district's pandemic policies as reports of positive COVID-19 cases and exposures have skyrocketed since classes began Aug. 10.

The News-Press reports, that in the two weeks since the school year began, there have been more than 6,000 reports filed with the district's COVID Command Center, including more than 1,000 reports on Tuesday alone, compared to about 10,000 reports filed in the first four months of the 2020-2021 school year.

Two unions, the Teachers Association of Lee County and the Support Personnel Association of Lee County sent a joint letter to district superintendent Ken Savage calling for stricter policies to contain spread of the virus.

A petition of more than 250 local physicians and another petition started by Showing Up for Racial Justice of Southwest Florida also call for changes.

School board members plan to review COVID safety measures and the district's mask optional policy on or before Sept. 10.

The Collier County School District has exceeded 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases in just the first ten days of school. In 2020, the district didn't reach the 500-case mark until four months into the school year. The Naples Daily News reports, that of the 547 infections reported as of Thursday, 90% were student cases and that cases among students are split almost evenly among elementary, middle and high schools. Elementary schools in the county have slightly more cases than the middle and high schools.

Meanwhile, the Manatee County School district reports more COVID-19 infections in the first three weeks of school than in all of the previous school year. The Herald Tribune reports, as of Thursday, Manatee County schools documented 1,356 cases compared to 1,119 total cases during all of the last school year. All but 200 cases documented since this school year began have been among students.

The Sarasota County School district reported 1,668 positive COVID cases so far this school year. All but 232 have been among students. During the entire previous school year, Sarasota schools reported a total of 2,226 cases, which the district is likely to surpass in the coming days if current trends continue.

Manatee County School board members voted, Tuesday, to extend the district's "mask-optional" policy. Sarasota School district officials have adopted a mandatory mask policy for students on Monday. That policy extends for 90 days, but could be rescinded early if the single-day positivity rate drops below 8% for three consecutive days.

Palm Beach County School Board Vote to Legally Challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Order Over Face Masks

The Palm Beach County School Board voted unanimously Thursday night to explore legal action against Governor Ron DeSantis' order banning mask mandates.

The district's attorney Shawn Bernard will work with outside legal counsel to challenge any retaliation from the governor.

“The action that the board has taken, to date, has been within the board's constitutional authority which is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of students. There are at least 10 school boards have exercised the same constitutional authority and the number of those school boards is climbing,” said Bernard.

The vote gives the district's general counsel the right to make immediate legal decisions without board approval.

COVID Hospitalization Rates Continue to Strain SWFL Hospitals

Lee Health reported another all-time record-high number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Thursday, with 657 cases, including 14 children, which is one fewer pediatric patient than the previous day.

Lee Health reports the Golisano Children's Hospital's emergency department had 209 visits, Wednesday, and that more than half were kids with COVID-19 symptoms.

Lee Health reported 10 more deaths, Aug. 26, for a total of 870 COVID patients who've died in one of the health system's hospitals since the start of the pandemic.

Lee Health reports having 114 COVID patients in intensive care, 84 of whom are on ventilators. Currently 49% of the health system's ventilator capacity and 95% of ICU rooms are in use.

COVID infections are straining the health system which is at 99% of operational bed capacity.

The NCH Healthcare system in Collier reported a slight decrease in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Thursday with 219 cases. NCH officials report that 100% of their COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated. Of NCH's coronavirus patients not requiring intensive care, 82% are unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported treating 271 COVID patients, Thursday, which is two fewer than the previous day. Sarasota Memorial reported two more coronavirus patient deaths, Thursday, for a total of 67 fatalities just since Aug. 6.

The Herald Tribune reports, the hospital is at 97% of staffed operational bed capacity, and officials have expanded Sarasota Memorial's intensive care unit capacity to 101 beds. Normally the hospital would have 62 ICU beds. 88% of the hospitals COVID patients are unvaccinated.

Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton reported 81 COVID patients, Thursday, and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center had 59.

DeSantis Announces Monoclonal Antibody Treatment Clinic in Immokalee

Governor Ron DeSantis was in Immokalee, Thursday, to announce the opening of another state-run monoclonal antibody clinic site.

MAB treatments are not a replacement for vaccines, which remain the most effective protection against COVID-19. MAB treatments can provide temporary protection against COVID-19 for those in the very early stages of symptoms of an infection. Monoclonal antibody treatments are particularly beneficial for people at high risk of complications from the virus due to a compromised immune system, advanced age, or chronic illness.

In recent weeks, DeSantis has been traveling the state touting the new state-run MAB treatment clinics. All these sites have the capacity to treat more than 300 patients a day.

So far DeSantis has opened 21 of these clinics statewide, including in Charlotte, Collier, Manatee, and Lee Counties.

The state run-clinics are offering treatments courtesy of the federal government, which has purchased the entire supply of treatments from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

State run monoclonal antibody clinic sites in Southwest Florida can be found at the following locations:

Charlotte County

Tringali Community Center

3460 North Access Road

Englewood, Florida 34224

Hours: 7 days a week, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Collier County

Old Dollar General

1500 Lake Trafford Road

Immokalee, Florida 34142

Hours: 7 days a week, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Lee County

Old Bonita Springs Library

26876 Pine Avenue

Bonita Springs, Florida 34135

Hours: 7 days a week, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Manatee County

Manatee Memorial Hospital Complex

206 2nd Street East

Bradenton, Florida 34208

Hours: 7 days a week, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

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