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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

Thursday marked the deadliest day on record for the coronavirus in Florida with a single-day increase in fatalities of 48 people bringing the statewide death toll to 371 people.  According to the latest update from the Florida Department of Health, 16,826 people have tested positive for the virus.  2,298 are or have been treated in hospitals.

Nearly 157,000 people in Florida have been tested for COVID-19 and nearly 140,000 of those have tested negative.  Another 1,523 people are still awaiting test results.  Among the latest deaths are three people in their 70s and 80s in Manatee County and two people in their 80s in Sarasota.

Lee County continues to lead among counties in Southwest Florida with 522 confirmed cases and more than 100 hospitalizations and 14 deaths including the first confirmed case of a student at Florida Gulf Coast University in the off-campus West Lake Village dorm. The student remains in isolation.

U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Panama City), announced Thursday, he's also tested positive for the virus.

Governor Ron DeSantis said he's on the fence about closing schools statewide for the rest of the academic year.  In March, he recommended that all school districts close their campuses through May 1 to halt the spread of COVID-19.  Responding to questions following an education roundtable at the state capitol, Thursday, DeSantis said he and education officials across the state would look at the evidence and decide later.  “If we get to the point where people think that we’re on the other side of this and we could get kids back in, even if it’s for a couple weeks, we think that there would be value in that,” said DeSantis.  “I think it would be a kind of return to normalcy a little bit.”

DeSantis said his decision will take into consideration the risk the virus poses to young people, adding that he would only let kids return to school if it is safe.

Southwest Florida public schools are closed Friday and Monday due to the Easter holiday weekend, which is impacting the "Grab and Go" meal programs in effect during the COVID-19 outbreak.  In Lee County, breakfast and lunch meals for students were available at the regular pick-up times, Thursday, but in Collier County, 27 meal pick-up sites are operating as usual Friday and Monday.  The Naples Daily News reports parents and students can pick up meals between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.  For more information, visit collierschools.com.

News that the state emergency operations center is sharing addresses of known COVID-19 patients with first responders is raising some privacy concerns.  First responders say it's necessary for them to know, so they can take safety precautions when visiting areas where the virus is present. They can also look back and see if emergency workers were recently at those homes in case they need to be quarantined.

University of Florida Law Professor Kenneth Nunn said releasing addresses could violate patients' privacy. He said first responders may never know everyone who has the virus because some show no symptoms and don't get tested.  “So I don’t see what the benefit of releasing that information is now when we can assume that most of the people who you come into contact with have come into contact with the virus one way or the other,” said Nunn.

The federal government allows the release of patient information when the health of first responders could be at risk.

Orlando area patients are starting to get treated for COVID-19 with the blood of patients who have recovered.  Orlando Health confirms that a patient started convalescent plasma treatment, Wednesday night, at Orlando Regional Medical Center, although further details aren’t available.

The idea is to use the antibodies people generate to attack the infection.  Executive Director of AdventHealth Orlando,  Dr. Eduardo Oliveira says AdventHealth is also looking to start using the therapy.  “We are now lining up donors and obtaining and collecting blood products and plasma and just waiting for the right match,” said Dr. Oliviera.  “So, we currently have in the ICU three or four patients.   We are trying to match their blood type with the plasma being donated.”

AdventHealth has about 50 COVID-19 patients at the moment and the majority are on ventilators to help them breathe.  Donors have to be recovered from COVID-19 for at least 15 days to give plasma.

Sarasota County officials, Wednesday, approved the allocation of $4.3 milllion in Economic Development Corporation funds to create a loan program supporting small businesses suffering amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Herald Tribune reports, commissioners approved a process offering initially interest-free loans of up to $25,000 to small businesses.  Small business owners with a county business license for at least three years, who have also applied for help through the federal Paycheck Protection program, will be eligible.

The goal of the initiative is to have money available to businesses by May first.  As many as 35 of the slots are to be reserved for daycare providers.

First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs is not letting social distancing get in the way of Holy Week celebrations.  The church’s director, Jeff Faux said the church is putting together productions members can watch online, from the safety of their own homes.

“While we are not worshipping at the church, we are worshipping and worshipping together,” Faux said. “And encouraging people to actually access the recorded service at the same time they would have normally attended a worship service.”

Faux said Friday’s service ahead of Easter will follow the church’s usual tradition.

“Good Friday, we do a dramatic retelling of the events and that was recorded [Wednesday] evening, and that will be made available starting at six in the morning on Friday,” Faux said. “It’s a service we do pretty much the same every year and we did essentially the same service with some modification in order to get it recorded.”

For the culmination of Holy Week on Easter Sunday, Faux said the church is putting together a prerecorded production that congregants can also view online.

“Our pastor will give the sermon he had planned on giving all along and we are going to decorate the communion table  area and just make it look as much as we can like it would’ve looked had every body been in for service that day,” Faux said.

Faux said the church’s Easter production will also include music.

“Our choir actually will sing the Handel Hallelujah Chorus, but it will be a recording from two years ago with orchestra and the choir and the organ and all of the decorations that we would’ve had in the church and they’ll see a very full church,” Faux said. “That’s just kind of a way of remembering what it is we’ve done and also helping our people to look forward to the future when we get to gather again inside those four walls.”

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.