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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

As of the latest update from the state Department of Health, Florida currently has experienced 4,950 confirmed cases of the coronavirus including 60 deaths. 

Of Florida's 67 counties, Lee County has the highest mortality rate per number of positive COVID-19 cases with six deaths.  Meanwhile, state health officials announced the first coronavirus death in Collier County Sunday night involving a 61-year-old man who had traveled to Haiti and Mexico.

Here in Southwest Florida, Lee County leads with 152 cases of COVID-19.  Collier County has 111 cases, followed by Sarasota County with 61, Manatee County with 38, Charlotte County with 16, two cases in Hendry County and one reported case in Glades County.

South Florida continues to be the epicenter of the outbreak in Florida.  Miami-Dade County leads the state with more than 1,400 cases in the county alone.

Governor Ron DeSantis said, Friday, he’s taking steps to block travelers coming into Florida from Louisiana, because New Orleans is becoming a hotspot for the coronavirus.  DeSantis is expanding an executive order issued last week that requires all travelers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to self-isolate for 14 days when they get to Florida.

To enforce the Louisiana travel restrictions, DeSantis will authorize the Florida Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies to establish checkpoints at Florida entry points, including Interstate 10 and US Highway 90. The travel ban will not affect commercial drivers.

Speaking to reporters at the state capitol, Friday, DeSantis said the goal is to keep COVID-19 out of the Florida Panhandle, where relatively few cases have been reported, when compared to the rest of the state.

“New Orleans has obviously got a lot of problems.  It may not be quite as widespread as New York city, but I think there was a concern in the panhandle that this could impact them,” said DeSantis.  “They’re working hard to keep their rates low so we don’t want to cause any problems for them.”

Additionally, the governor announced a two-week suspension of any new vacation rentals in Florida.  The order does not apply to hotels and resorts at this time.  DeSantis has also authorized Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers to break up any boat parties of more than ten people.

DeSantis is directing the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to open up $100 million for local infrastructure projects. The money comes from Hurricane Irma block grants. DeSantis said, given the circumstances, sweeping those funds could be good for the economy.

“We really believe that given the economic circumstances, putting this into some infrastructure would be good for the economy, be able to put some people back to work,” said DeSantis.  “So, stay tuned on that.”  DeSantis said he expects the funds to open this week.

Congress approved a $2 trillion stimulus plan, Friday, in response to COVID-19. Part of it gives unemployed workers an extra $600 a week on top of what they receive from their state. But Director of Politics and Public Policy with the Florida AFL-CIO Rich Templin said the money won't do Floridians any good if they can't qualify for the benefits.

“What difference does it make if the federal government raises the amount by $600-a-week if they aren’t eligible?” said Templin.

“Remember two-thirds of all workers right now in Florida never qualified for benefits, so it doesn’t matter if the amount goes up by $600 if you don’t qualify and most workers are not qualifying?  You get nothing.”

Templin and others are calling on Gov. DeSantis to make changes to the unemployment system they believe would expedite the process and get money into the hands of workers who have been forced out of work by the global pandemic.

The Collier County Board of County Commissioners convened Friday for an emergency meeting to hear from the public on a possible shelter-in-place order, ultimately deciding not to order a county-wide shut down yet. Three Commissioners were there in person, sitting one seat apart from one another. Two joined by phone.

First, Dan Summers, Director of Emergency Services, and Kathleen Maar from the Florida Department of Health in Collier gave updates on numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The board then heard from medical leaders, including NCH Health System CEO Paul Hiltz; the past president of the Collier County Medical Society, Dr. Cesar De Leon; and Dr. Zubin Pachori, who had just come off doing rounds at Physicians Regional.

Commissioners heard that for the first time there are more community transmitted case of the virus than travel-related cases in the county.

When asked if Collier's health system has adequate beds to treat people who need intensive care, Hiltz said they have 300 beds, but that it’s impossible to make any predictions whether this is sufficient as the number of infections is unknown due to lack of community-wide testing.

Dr. Pachori urged Commissioners to order people to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19 through the community, saying overwhelming the system would lead to more deaths. "You can eat an elephant in small pieces, but you can't eat an elephant all at once," Pachori said. 

The proposed order exempted 35 types of businesses, which led some commissioners to question whether it would even be effective. Board members also expressed concern over issuing a stay at home order in one county when neighboring counties have not.

Public comment pushed the meeting into three and a half hours before commissioners voted to wait on any stay at home order until early next week when Lee County's plans become clearer.

By Sunday the number of people hospitalized in Miami-Dade County was still under a hundred, even as the county leads the state in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 1,400.

Dr. Maria Alcaide with the University of Miami said social distancing appears to be working so far.

“I think our hospitals are not overwhelmed right now, but that could happen and its very important that everybody follows the recommendations to stay at home,” said Dr. Alcaide. 

“It seems to slow the curve and it seems to slow the new number of infections and that’s the only thing that’s going to prevent the hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.”

The idea of slowing the curve means that by slowing the number of new cases every day, that hospital systems will be able to keep up with the number of people who need to be treated. If the numbers grow too quickly, Dr. Alcaide said it could lead to a worst-case scenario.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.