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COVID-19 Morning Report

Yuri Samoilov via Flickr Creative Commons

Masks Now Optional in Sarasota Schools

Starting today, Sept. 27, mask wearing will be optional for students and staff in the Sarasota County School District.

A mask mandate put in place by the Sarasota School Board as an emergency policy calls for mask wearing to become optional once data from the Florida Department of Health shows the positivity rate has dropped to 8% for three consecutive days.

The school district announced the suspension of mandatory mask wearing on Sunday. If the positivity rate increases again above 10%, mandatory mask wearing will resume, under a policy set to expire Nov. 23.

The Herald Tribune reports, Sarasota School district officials still encourage continued mask wearing indoors, in an effort to keep the daily positivity rate below 8%.

COVID-19 Booster Vaccine Questions

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated last week that it would grant emergency use authorization for a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for people 65 and older, people with high risk of severe disease and people whose jobs put them at risk of high exposure to the virus.

That starts at six months after completing the two-dose series of shots. Plus, it's now officially flu shot season.

University of Miami physician and professor Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., said even healthy people can benefit from a COVID-19 booster shot.

"Clearly, the booster is most important for the elderly and for people with underlying conditions," he said. "Ultimately, I would say everyone will need to get the booster. But I mean ... there's no need for rationing."

He pointed out that with the delta variant being more contagious he wants to see vaccination rates among adults reach between 85 and 90% before considering a future without masking and social distancing.

"When do we stop masks? When does everybody get vaccinated? That's what I tell everybody," he said.

Carrasquillo also reiterated that current guidance advises people can get a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster shot (if eligible) at the same time.

"There's been some questions because initially, you know, we're trying to space out other vaccines at two weeks, but now we have a lot of data. And so it's safe to get them both at the same time. It's not an 'either or,' it's you should get them both and you should do it at the same time," Carrasquillo said.

Last week, Pfizer announced that its vaccine is safe and effective against COVID-19 in children ages 5-11.

They expect to release results of how the vaccine performs in children under 5 years old later this year.

Healthcare Worker Turnover on the Rise

Stress, frustration and burn out associated with the coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in healthcare workers leaving their jobs.

“In a normal year, the average turnover rate is about 17.5%. This year, we’re tracking closer to 45% annualized turnover rate,” said President of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Gino Santorio.

“Most of those are staff that have been here for less than three years. They’re a little more mobile. They’re a little more able to move in and out of state and it has significantly driven up the cost of providing care.”

That higher turnover is piling onto the nursing shortage hospitals were already facing before the pandemic began. It is also multiplied by the fact that COVID-19 patients tend to require more care. Hospital administrators say they are shuffling staff and hiring traveling nurses to fill the gaps, but they say a long-term solution is needed like growing the workforce so shortages won’t be such a problem during future public health emergencies.

Florida Teacher Disaster Relief Payment Checks Have Bounced

Some Florida teachers have seen their state-issued $1,000 bonus checks bounce due to a banking error.

The AP reports, the disaster-relief payments were sent to about 176,000 educators across the state. The Florida Department of Education said Friday, that about 50 teachers were affected by the JPMorgan Chase error. Bank officials say they're fixing the problem and that any fees incurred will be refunded.

Carnival Cruise Line Loses in 3rd Quarter, but 2022 Projections are Up

The Carnival Cruise Line announced Friday, it lost $2.8 billion in the third quarter of the year ending Aug. 31, but that shares in the company rose after officials announced bookings for the second half of 2022 are running ahead of even pre-pandemic levels.

The AP reports, Carnival cruise ships that are sailing, aren't full yet, but Carnival says passengers are spending more per person than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sarasota Arts Groups Introduce New COVID-19 Safety Rules

Sarasota's live arts organizations were among the hardest hitby the pandemic.

Canceled seasons and long-term closures had a significant impact on what comprises one of the three largest employment sectors in Sarasota County.

Now, theater companies, concert halls, the opera and the orchestra have teamed up for the uniform initiative, Safe Arts Sarasota.

Leaders of more than two dozen arts groups in Sarasota say they've heard from an increasing number of patrons and artists who want safety protocols in place, and that failure to so would put these organizations in danger of once again closing their doors.

Nine of the area’s largest performing arts groups including
Asolo Repertory Theatre, Circus Arts Conservatory, Florida Studio Theatre, The Hermitage Artist Retreat, Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, first announced they would follow a uniform set of safety protocols as a new cultural season gets underway.

Since then, dozens more have said they will do the same.

The measures require patrons 12 and older to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of a performance for a PCR test or within 24 hours for an antigen or rapid test.

To avoid the testing measures, patrons may show proof they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days prior to a performance or entry.

All patrons 6 and older also must wear masks at all times inside the buildings.

In a group statement, the organizations said that, “our sector has been unable to operate normally since March 2020. Since the arts community is a major economic driver for the Suncoast, our organizations are working collaboratively to ensure that our patrons can continue to safely experience the joy of live performances, and we can keep our artists and our staff employed.”

Ferret in Florida Tests Positive for COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced, Friday, that a ferret in Florida has tested positive for COVID-19. The AP reports, this marks the first ferret to test positive for the virus in the U.S. Previously, a ferret in Slovenia tested positive for the coronavirus.

The infected ferret in Florida showed symptoms including sneezing and coughing. Officials say they believe the small pet acquired the virus from a person with COVID-19. Officials haven't said where in Florida the infected ferret was found.

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