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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

Florida now has 26,314 positive cases of COVID-19 as of the Sunday evening update from the Florida Department of Health, which is an increase of 822 cases from the previous day.  The death toll has now risen to 774 people. State health officials report there have been more than 3,800 coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Florida, although that number includes people who have recovered and been released.

There have also been 1,694 confirmed cases in nursing homes in the state.  10.3% of the nearly 258,000 tests that have been administered in Florida have been positive cases.

When it comes to total numbers of cases, Lee County leads in Southwest Florida with 769 cases followed by Collier County with 463 cases.  Manatee County reports 417 cases, Sarasota County has 284.  Charlotte County has reported 138 cases, Hendry has 41, and Glades County counts five cases.

Public schools will remain closed in Florida and distance learning will continue throughout the rest of the school year. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the decision Saturday.

“As we looked at the clock and we looked to see what it would look like, we’ve got pretty good momentum for distance learning,” said DeSantis. “It’s obviously not the ideal situation, but given where we are in the school year, we felt that that was the best decision to go forward.”

DeSantis called his decision a hard one knowing some parents are having a tough time and that kids haven't seen their friends in more than a month. He says high participation rates influenced his choice to have students and teachers remain at home.

Democrats and elder care advocates have been calling on the state to release more coronavirus related data on long-term care facilities and on Saturday Gov. DeSantis cleared the way for Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, M.D., to start allowing the names of nursing homes with positive coronavirus cases to be listed in the daily reports.

“I have now directed him to determine that it is necessary for public health to release the names of the facilities where a resident or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19,” said DeSantis.  “Now what had been done is as soon as there was a positive test, the facility was required to notify all the other residents, all the staff members and all the families.”

Previously you could only see the total amount of cases from long term care facilities within a county. Now using data, you can determine which facilities have or have not had an outbreak.

Over the weekend the state also started listing coronavirus data for specific correctional facilities.

As of Sunday night, the number of inmates with the virus is 113, along with 80 corrections workers. Three of the facilities have it the worst. Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell reports 24 COVID-19 infections, Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Milton has 40 and Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach has 47.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released March unemployment numbers, Friday. While they show a significant jump from February, they do not reflect the true increase in joblessness yet.   Florida’s unemployment rate rose from 2.8% in February to 4.3% in March.  However, Florida Gulf Coast University Dean and professor of economics, Dr. Christopher Westley, said that number is based on data collected during the second week of March. 

"The fact is that things turned on a dime after that, and I'd be surprised if April's official numbers aren't double digits for this region,” said Westley. “ A lot of the models are saying that nationally we're looking at unemployment levels we haven't seen since the 1930s."

Gov. DeSantis said Thursday that only a small percentage of all unemployment claims had been processed so far, and that the state faces a backlog of nearly a million applications.  In response, he signed an executive order suspending the normally required biweekly “actively seeking work” reporting requirement to help ease the state’s overburdened system.

Last week, Gov. DeSantis announced he’d be putting together a task force to work on reopening Florida’s economy. Now the Florida Democratic Party and medical professionals are gathering to urge DeSantis to focus first on the global pandemic.

Following that announcement, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry decided to reopen Duval County’s beaches. Since then, coronavirus cases have grown by nearly 2,000. In a statement, Jacksonville’s Curry advised people to stay within the social distancing guidelines while on the beach. However, pictures on social media show people not following those recommendations.

Today, April 20, Democratic U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (FL-27), Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo and others will join Dr. Brent Schillinger, the past President of Palm Beach County Medical Society, to speak on why it’s important to focus on mass testing rather than opening business.

Lee Health has been selected as a participating site in Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Study. Beginning today, April 20, all patients admitted to any Lee Health hospital with a confirmed COVID-19 infection may qualify to enroll in the trial. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated Mayo Clinic as the lead institution for investigating convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19.

Convalescent plasma refers to blood plasma collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19. That plasma is then used to treat others with advanced illness.

Being admitted to Lee Health with COVID-19 does not guarantee a patient will qualify for this trial.

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.