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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health
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Florida now has 21,019 confirmed cases of the coronavirus according to the latest update from the state Department of Health.  In the past week, health officials have reported more than 200 new COVID-19-related deaths, which is a nearly 69% increase.  The death toll currently stands at 499 people.

Nearly 200,000 coronavirus tests have been performed in Florida, so far, and the number of hospitalizations has increased to more than 2,800.  The number of hospitalizations includes people currently in the hospital as well as those that have recovered and been released, although, the Florida Health Department has not yet reported data on how many people have actually recovered from the virus.

Florida residents might be social distancing and even wearing facemasks for a year because of COVID-19.

Florida Surgeon General and state Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees, M.D, said it’s likely to be at least that long until a vaccine is ready. “So as long as we have COVID in the environment, and this is a tough virus, we are going to have to practice these measures so that we are all protected,” said Rivkees.

Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said, Monday, the anticipated peak of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak has been moved back to April 26. Some areas are expected to lag behind that, including the Panhandle.

As the number of coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities climbed to more than 800 Monday, state officials announced plans to begin testing more nursing home residents and staff for the disease.  Speaking to reporters at the state capitol, Gov. DeSantis said the Florida National Guard will begin visiting long-term care facilities to collect specimens.

Their efforts will be focused on Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties in South Florida, where about 60 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state exist.  DeSantis said some asymptomatic staff members are unknowingly bringing the disease into the nursing homes.  “They’ll be taking samples from all willing individuals in each facility, both staff and residents,” said DeSantis.  “It’s critical to identify people who test positive as early as possible and this will help us do that.”

Hundreds of long-term care facility residents and staff have already been voluntarily tested in South Florida, but DeSantis hopes the additional National Guard strike teams will significantly increase that number.

Gov. DeSantis said, Monday, that unemployment claims are being paid out to Floridians.  “I had the write up this morning,” said DeSantis.  “I don’t want to quote a figure and then be wrong, but there have been claims paid and there’s a lot in the hopper right now.”

DeSantis said the wait times when people call in have gone down after the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hired more staff. He said they can also continue to add more help if necessary.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is gathering petition signatures in an appeal to Gov. DeSantis to establish a field hospital in the rural farmworker town amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.  The Herald Tribune reports, Coalition of Immokalee Workers co-founder Greg Asbed recently wrote in the New York Times that the clustered living and working environments of migrant farmworkers make it extremely challenging to comply with social distancing guidelines and that should the virus strike farmworker communities, it could be particularly devastating and could disrupt the food-supply chain.

The CIW's 25,000 members in Immokalee represent farmworkers in Florida's tomato fields, which is a $620 million industry annually.  Executive director of the Fair Food Standards Council in Sarasota, Laura Safer Espinoza, echoes Asbed's concerns, saying a major outbreak in Immokalee could "set off a major economic and labor crisis across Florida.”  That's because farmworkers tend to travel throughout the state as they follow the growing season.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is asking for help from Florida businesses, to prevent hoarding commodities during the coronavirus pandemic.  Moody said hoarding items like sanitizers, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and masks often leads to price gouging.  Moody is asking retailers to place strict limits on the number of essential items customers can purchase at one time, in order to keep more products in stock.

Mood reports that price gouging complaints continue to come in at a steady pace, especially on goods that are often sold out. “I have been assured by our retailers across the state of Florida that our supply chains can remain strong,” said Moody.   “These products will remain available as long as we have the cooperation of Floridians and that they only take what’s necessary for this specific time of emergency.”

In addition to price gouging, Moody is also warning Floridians to be alert for scams as the federal government begins sending out federal stimulus checks.  “Please keep in mind that anytime money is being doled out by the government, scammers will devise schemes to steal as much of it as possible,” said Moody.

The first checks are being deposited directly into accounts of tax filers who submitted bank information to the IRS. Those who don’t get their money deposited directly into their accounts will receive checks in the mail. “Stay up to date about how and when you might receive your stimulus payment and be suspicious of anyone requesting personal or financial information in exchange for an expedited deposit,” said Moody.

Moody reminds Floridians that the IRS will not ask for personal information via email, text messages, or social media.

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.