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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

The number of positive cases of the coronavirus in Florida increased by 258, Wednesday, for a total of 28,576 confirmed cases.  The latest update from the Florida Department of Health also shows an increase of 34 COVID-19-related deaths in the past s24 hours for a total of 927 fatalities.

Statewide the number of hospitalizations has grown to 4,455 people, although that number includes patients who have recovered and been released.

Of the 290,476 COVID-19 tests that have been conducted in Florida, 9.8% have come back positive.  The number of coronavirus cases found in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities has now climbed to 2,333 cases including more than 230 deaths.

Here in Southwest Florida, Lee County continues to lead in coronavirus cases with 821 confirmed positive tests and 30 deaths. Collier County reports 487 cases and 11 deaths. 

In Manatee County state health officials report 448 cases and 34 deaths. Sarasota has 302 cases and 31 deaths. Hendry County has 55 cases and reports one death. Glades County has five confirmed cases and one death.

Florida will be able to increase the number of COVID-19 tests that can be processed per day by 18,000 after the state signed contracts with two new testing companies.

Speaking to reporters at the capitol, Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he anticipates the testing companies will be able to provide results within two days. DeSantis said the increased capacity will be focused on testing Florida’s most vulnerable populations.

“These tests that these labs will primarily be where we send our samples that we collect in the long-term care and assisted living facilities and at the community-based walk up sites,” said DeSantis. In order to access medically underserved communities, the DeSantis administration recently created walk-up sites where residents don’t need to have access to a car to obtain a test. These sites are available in Broward and Duval counties.

Sarasota County Commissioners voted, Wednesday, reopen county beaches next week, but there will be restrictions. Beginning April 27, people will be able to walk, swim and fish at Sarasota County beaches. These are deemed as "essential activities" outlined by Gov. DeSantis’ stay-at-home order. Beachgoers will not be able to sunbathe or buy a soda at a concession stand, and beach parking lots will remain closed for now.

Meanwhile, Sarasota City officials say Lido Beach will remain closed as city Manager Tom Barwin says the number of new cases of COVID-19 within the five zip codes in city limits continues to increase.

In neighboring Charlotte County, officials announced plans, Tuesday, to reopen some beaches and parks.  On Facebook, the county announced that Englewood Beach and Port Charlotte beach will reopen without restrictions on April 27. Parking lots will be free, but restrooms will remain closed.  Sports fields and dog parks in Charlotte county are set to reopen Friday, but pickleball, tennis and basketball courts will stay closed.  Recreation centers will also remain closed.

Amid the re-openings, county officials are advising residents to continue practicing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines.  Charlotte officials say they’re planning to speak with their counterparts in Lee and Sarasota about their plans.  Lee Commissioners, Tuesday, decided to open walking and hiking trails in county parks, but to keep beaches closed for now.

Local officials in St. Augustine and Jacksonville reopened beaches last week.  Gov. DeSantis is defending local officials from criticism over decisions to reopen beaches. #FloridaMoron has been trending on Twitter alongside pictures of people on beaches. DeSantis said Florida’s coronavirus infection and death rate are lower than states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts:

“So, my hat’s off to Mayor Curry. My hat’s off to the people of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida for doing a great job,” said DeSantis.”

“For those that try to say you’re morons, I would take you over the folks that are criticizing you any day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

DeSantis has set a Friday deadline for a task force to make recommendations on how to reopen industries and businesses that closed due to the pandemic.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says he’d like to see schools be open for summer camps. He said there will most likely be a hybrid solution for families with members vulnerable to COVID-19.

“They’ll probably stay in a learning management virtual platform with the teacher still having that direct instruction, but that would still—but we would still want to open up the campuses for everyone and open up those camps,” said Corcoran. “So you’re going to have a hybrid.”

Hybrid learning accommodations could carry over into the fall, when students go back to school. No final decisions have been made. Education officials are trying to figure out issues, such as implementing social distance in places like classrooms and cafeterias.

Florida’s universities are already projecting loss of revenue from COVID-19 closures, and that may be compounded by enrollment declines going forward. Syd Kitson chairs the state university system’s Board of Governors. He told a Re-Open Florida Task Force work group, Wednesday, that a dip in enrollment is expected to come during the fall semester.

“Fall semester enrollment may be reduced, as returning students, particularly from at-risk populations, decide to stop or postpone work on their degree and not enroll, due to personal financial hardships or other concerns,” said Kitson.

Kitson also said universities’ athletic programs will feel the squeeze from COVID-19, especially if schools have to forego all or part of football season, which is a primary source of revenue for most.

Airline and cruise ship executives say they’ll be ready, but with far fewer flights and voyages.  Juan Carlos Liscano is a Vice President at American Airlines. During a virtual town hall, Wednesday, he said the airline would resume a schedule of more than 60 destinations from Miami by May.

“Even with a drastic reduction in flight schedules from 350 to what should 150 flights come the May schedule, you will still have access to all of these many destinations that are critically important to helping uh resume the tourism industry, bring back trade and commerce,” said Liscano.  “Things that we all in this community depend on.”

Chairman of Fort Lauderdale-based MSC Cruises’ American Operations, Rick Sasso, said some ships have just returned to port in the last few days after being stranded at sea. “We met with the Vice President Pence on March 8 and even on March 8, we designed a plan that allowed us to really focus as an industry on what we would do for mitigation,” said Sasso.

Sasso said that plan includes taking temperatures and questioning all passengers and crew before they board. For now, he says all ships will be sheltering at ports for the next three to 10 weeks as the industry works out a plan to roll out operations.

Businesses wants legislators to limit coronavirus related lawsuits unless there is intentional misconduct.  Vice President of the de Moya Group construction company, A.J. de Moya is part of DeSantis’  Re-opening Task Force. He said lawmakers are already looking into the issue. “Sen. Brandes tweeted out remarks that he’s going to draft legislation that would shield Florida from job-killing frivolous lawsuits, and that is important right now,” said de Moya.

“I got some friends of mine that run DOW 30 companies in Florida and they are concerned that opening their office space will put them at traumatic risk.”

De Moya is worried businesses could see lawsuits build up if an asymptomatic person were to spread the virus in their business.

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.