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COVID-19 Morning Report

Sofia Senra, Emma Orell
Lynne Sladky/AP
Students Sofia Senra, left, and Emma Orell, right, bump elbows as they work on a lesson together at iPrep Academy on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Miami. Schools in Miami-Dade County opened Monday with a strict mask mandate to guard against coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Federal Judge Strikes Down Lawsuit Challenging DeSantis’ Order Barring Schools from Imposing Student Mask Mandates

A federal judge in Miami, Wednesday, declined to block Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order barring school districts from imposing mask mandates.

The AP reports, Judge K. Michael Moore denied a request from parents of disabled kids for a preliminary injunction against the executive order. The order served as the basis for a Florida Department of Health rule requiring school districts to allow parents to out their kids out of mask wearing.

Moore's ruling says the parents should have pursued administrative claims before filing a lawsuit.

AARP Says Florida Leads Nation In COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths, While Staff Vaccinations Remain Low

As COVID-19 deaths climbed to unprecedented heights in Florida last month, the situation took a sharp turn for the worse in its nursing homes, too.

With the arrival of vaccines, nursing home deaths from COVID-19 dropped sharply. Now AARP is sounding the alarm in Florida based on data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In the four weeks ending Aug. 22, Florida lost at least 237 nursing home residents to the virus. That’s the most of any state and highest rate of deaths.

Florida is one of just three states with fewer than half its nursing home workers fully vaccinated.

AARP Florida spokeswoman Jamie Champion Mongiove points to that as a key concern.

“The Biden Administration has answered the call and said that toward the end of September they will release rules that lay out a vaccine requirement for these workers,” she said. “AARP supports that, and we believe that having a vaccine requirement to get everyone on board is the right thing to do.”

Florida’s vaccination rate among nursing home residents themselves is also near the bottom.

Florida County-Level COVID Death Data Available Again

County-level data on COVID-19 deaths in Florida is once again available through a federal website, more than three months after state officials ended the public reporting of such information.

Weekly COVID death totals broken down by county are now available through a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, but only for recent weeks, as the state of Florida stopped reporting the county-level information in early June.

The News-Press reports, most public health officials on the local level have not been releasing the data, and at least one county acknowledged simply not having the data. Until this week, the CDC had been showing county-level coronavirus data for all states except for Florida and Nebraska.

During a recent news conference in Fort Myers promoting monoclonal antibody treatments, Gov. Ron DeSantis said reporting county-level COVID death totals would be "appropriate."

Until early June the Florida Department of Health had reported detailed COVID data through an online dashboard, but a Health Department spokesperson hasn't commented on whether the state will bring back that dashboard.

In August, State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, and the Florida Center for Government Accountability filed a legal challenge alleging that Florida officials were violating open records laws by not disclosing the county level COVID death data.

The data remains confusing, however. For example, the CDC reported 123 COVID deaths in Lee County between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12, but Lee Health reported 60 COVID deaths of patients in its hospitals during that time period.

On Wednesday, Lee Health reported treating 367 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, down from 394 on Tuesday. For more than a week, Lee Health's daily hospitalized COVID patient population has been declining.

As of Sept. 15, Lee Health was treating five pediatric COVID patients in the Golisano Children's Hospital, down from eight pediatric cases on Tuesday.

96% of ICU bed capacity is full with 79 coronavirus patients in intensive care, including 63 on ventilators.

Resources remain strained as Lee Health reported being at 95% of staffed operational bed capacity, Wednesday.

Lee Health reported 11 more deaths of COVID patients, yesterday, for a total of 1,069 fatalities of hospitalized COVID patients since the start of the pandemic.

Will Biden's Vaccine Mandate Worsen the Healthcare Worker Shortage? Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida Says Probably Not

One Florida healthcare expert says the federal mandate requiring coronavirus vaccinations for workers at all hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding could help reduce concerns about vaccine requirements exacerbating worker shortages. The reasoning is that the mandate takes away the worry that a healthcare worker might leave one hospital for a new job at a different hospital.

Governor Ron DeSantis has railed against the new mandate handed down by President Joe Biden. DeSantis worries the move will force workers who are hesitant about the shot to leave their jobs.

“What have we been talking about for so long about the hospitals? It has never been about the beds, even though that’s what they said at the beginning. It’s, you have very short staff sometimes. And it’s very hard to get nurses if there’s a shortage,” said DeSantis.

“They have contract nurses. There’s all these different things. Every single hospital, that’s like the number one thing they say. Well, how is that going to help that problem? You’re going to fire all these nurses who have been treating COVID patients? Who’ve been working all this time?”

Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida CEO Jason Senior said that was a concern and was one reason some hospitals had not yet put their own mandates in place. However, he says that worry is reduced because with a federal mandate, nearly all hospitals will have to follow the same rules.

“It does take away the possibility that one of your ER nurses is going to go to another ER because all of the emergency rooms, all of the hospitals and emergency rooms by and large are going to take Medicare and Medicaid, but they could go to a private practice. They could to another setting where there is no mandate,” said Senior.

He said another concern for hospitals has been timing. Some people experience a couple days of illness following a COVID shot and hospital officials want to make sure their workers aren’t all calling out sick at the same time coronavirus cases are spiking.

Senior said that should be easier to navigate now too because many workers have already been vaccinated.

“There were a lot of different concerns back in July and in August that were abated a little bit as the caseloads have started coming down and abated a little bit as hospitals have put out incentives for their workers to become vaccinated in the absence of a mandate; things that have really increased the percentage of hospital workers who have gotten the vaccine,” said Senior.

He also points out that it’s not unusual for workers in a healthcare setting to be required to get certain vaccines and he said several hospitals in the state had already put mandates in place.

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