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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida increased by more than 1,200, Thursday, for a statewide total of 9,008 cases as of the latest update from the Florida Department of Health.  The number of COVID-19-related deaths now stands at 144 fatalities.

The growing number of cases in the South Florida counties of Miami-Dade and Broward continue to outpace the rest of the state.  About 1,167 people in Florida are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County continues to lead in the number of COVID-19 cases with 275 so far and ten deaths. During a media brief, Thursday, Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci warns that number could double by next week if rates of confirmed cases continue to grow on the same trajectory.  One of Collier County's newest cases is also it's youngest; A six-year-old girl with no reported contact with another confirmed case and no history of travel.

In Collier County, 178 cases have been confirmed with 2 deaths.  In Sarasota County there have been 110 cases with seven deaths.  Manatee County has had 89 cases with three deaths. Charlotte County records 38 confirmed coronavirus cases and no deaths.  Hendry and Glades Counties have four and three cases respectively with one death in Glades.

Governor Ron DeSantis is clarifying parts of his 'stay at home' executive order issued Wednesday. Starting Friday, people are advised to only go outside for essential reasons like going out to buy food or caring for someone. As for exercising, DeSantis said Floridians will have to do it alone. “So, it’s less important what you do than how you do it,” said DeSantis.

“For example, if you want to go for a 10 mile run by yourself and come back, more power to you, but you wouldn’t be able to do a 20 person road race in the neighborhood with your friends.”

DeSantis said his order is meant to set minimum standards for local governments to follow, and that if they want to impose stricter ones, like closing running trails, they can.

Churches will not be closed under the executive order. DeSantis said the state doesn’t have the power to shut down churches. “The Constitution doesn’t get suspended here,” said DeSantis.  “There’s got to be ways where you can accommodate.”

DeSantis points to the First Amendment as to why the government can’t close religious services. He recommends church goers still social distance themselves from others.

Paper applications for jobless benefits will soon be accepted as the state’s rapidly growing ranks of out-of-work people have overwhelmed the online unemployment-compensation system.

On Thursday, Gov. DeSantis expanded the way people can file applications for benefits, while also directing agency heads from throughout the state to find workers to help staff unemployment assistance call centers. He also told the Department of Economic Opportunity to purchase additional capacity software.

The Department of Economic Opportunity has received more than 348,000 applications in the past two weeks, with an additional 2.1 million telephone calls seeking assistance in navigating the reemployment website. Speaking to reporters in Tallahassee, DeSantis said those numbers exceed the calls and applications for the entire 2019 calendar year. “I wish I could say that this is just something that’s only going to last a couple weeks,” said DeSantis.

“But I think this is not something that you can just turn on and off an economy like this so we need to expand the capacity, but just understand that this is going to be a problem that could be with us more than just a couple weeks.”

Unemployment assistance in Florida is among the lowest in the nation, topping out at $275-a-week for 12 weeks. A recently passed federal stimulus law is slated to provide an additional $600-a-week for four months, to people who qualify through the state for jobless benefits.

DeSantis also issued an executive order to provide temporary relief from certain mortgage foreclosures and evictions for 45 days.  Some homeowners are wondering if they can get mortgage forgiveness because of job loss from the coronavirus outbreak.  CEO of Tropical Financial Credit Union in South Florida Rich Helber said the coronavirus response bill’s grant and loan forgiveness is only for small businesses and not homeowners. “Consumers should not take the approach of saying that, ‘Oh, this bill passed and therefore I don’t have to do anything.’  That’s not the circumstance,” said Helber.

Helber said lenders can pause payments for up to 3 months.  After that, homeowners can pay the three months of past due payments in addition to the current month.  “If they don’t have the funds to do that, then they can have the lender modify the loan,” said Helber.

“They will look at your circumstances, continue to allow payments to be deferred for up to nine more months.”  However, he said the months of missed payments will eventually be added to the loan’s main balance.

Time seems to have ground to a stop as we all hunker down at home. But that doesn’t mean hurricane season is being put on hold.  Colorado State University issued its annual pre-season forecast, Thursday, calling for another above average season.  If so, it would make five consecutive above average seasons.

Meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said we could see 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.  “We do not think we're going to have El Nino conditions this summer and fall. When that occurs, it tends to increase upper level westerly winds that tear apart hurricanes in the Atlantic,
 said Klotzbach.

“Also, the Atlantic right now is running warmer than normal. Warmer Atlantic temperatures mean more fuel for storms. All of which tend to lead to more active hurricane seasons.”

An average Atlantic season produces just 12 named storms, six hurricanes and nearly three major hurricanes. June 1 marks the official beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

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.