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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 708 new cases of the coronavirus in Florida, Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 32,846 confirmed cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 83 new deaths, yesterday, bringing the number of COVID-19-related fatalities to 1,171. Tuesday's death toll was a new single-day high for the number of fatalities, despite an overall downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks. The number of deaths in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities has grown to 369.

The total number of hospitalizations due to the virus now stands at 5,222.  Of the 368,651 COVID-19 tests that have been performed in Florida, 8.9% have been positive for the virus.

Here in Southwest Florida, Lee County continues to lead in the total number of cases with 990 confirmed cases of the virus and 40 deaths.  Manatee County has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in Southwest Florida with 46 fatalities, despite having fewer total cases than Lee and Collier Counties.

Collier reports 568 cases and 16 deaths.  Sarasota has 334 cases and 39 deaths.  In Charlotte, health officials report 219 cases and 15 deaths.  Hendry has seen 72 cases and 2 deaths and there have been 5 confirmed cases in Glades County with one death.

Gov. Ron DeSantis met with President Donald Trump in the White House, Tuesday, saying he'll announce plans, today (April 29) for the first phase of reopening Florida. The AP reports, DeSantis largely painted a positive picture of how Florida officials have responded to the pandemic, saying it hasn't been as severe a problem as many predicted.

On Monday, DeSantis said Florida's reopening from the coronavirus economic shutdown will be in incremental "baby steps."  He said different regions of the state could reopen at different times and rates and that the first phase of the reopening will not be much different for most people from what they are experiencing now regarding schools and nonessential businesses closed and being encouraged to stay home.

In Lee and Collier counties, commissioners voted in favor of reopening parks and beaches with certain restrictions on Tuesday.

In Lee County, commissioners voted in favor of opening parks, beaches, beach access points and nature preserves to the public starting Wednesday, April 29. During a meeting, commissioners said the move is part of a phased-in approach to reopening county facilities while still observing the Governor's executive order.

While the aforementioned locations in Lee County will open, amenities like playgrounds, recreation centers, soccer fields, basketball courts and piers will remain closed.

Commissioners stressed that people comply with social distancing guidelines outlined by the CDC while visiting public places, and that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will assist with monitoring and promoting public safety.

In Collier County, commissioners also passed measures that would open public beaches and parks starting Thursday, April 30th.

The Sheriff’s Office in Collier County will also be enforcing social distancing guidelines and education.

Beaches in Manatee County will reopen Monday with some restrictions.  Manatee County Commissioners voted unanimously, Tuesday, to reopen beaches Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The reopening only applies to county-owned beaches like Coquina beach and Manatee Public Beach.  The Herald Tribune reports restrooms will be open at those locations, but concessions will remain closed for now and parking will be limited to two-hour increments.

Commissioners say the reopening is intended for people to be able to get out and exercise and is not intended for sunbathing. Unlike Sarasota County, which reopened beaches Monday, in Manatee County there will be no restrictions on bringing supplies such as beach chairs, coolers and blankets.  Charlotte County officials also reopened beaches, Monday, with no restrictions.

As early as this Friday, the first part of a lawsuit against the State of Florida for its broken unemployment system will go before Leon Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey. Gautier Kitchen is co-counsel in the suit along with the Marie Maddox Law Firm's Julie Meadows-Keefe.

“We are hoping that the judge will order them to do immediately do what’s necessary to repair the system, immediately do what’s necessary to approve people,” said Kitchen. “200,000 people have been deemed ineligible with no appeal.”

Over the longer term, Gautier and Meadows-Keefe said they'll prove that the system, set up when U-S Senator Rick Scott was governor, was designed to discourage applicants.

The federal government's second round of stimulus funding called the Paycheck Protection Plan started taking applications on Monday. In Tallahassee, First Commerce Credit Union Vice President Kim Howes said applications left over from the initial round would have first priority.

“We had so many applications that we already had in-house and ready that have come in and those were ready to be loaded as that portal opens,” said Howes.

“They have some challenges getting that portal to accept applications. But we are working day and night trying to get those loaded up and get everything processed as quickly as possible, because once again the funding is expected to go very quickly."

Besides small businesses, the new round of funding also targets cities and counties badly hurt by the economic downturn from the pandemic.

A new report suggests Florida’s economy will take at least an $850 million hit due to school campuses’ being closed during the coronavirus pandemic. The study is from a group of business leaders who advise the governor called the Florida Council of 100.

Gov. DeSantis decided, last week, students will continue distance learning for the rest of the school year and as they stay home, their parents are not as productive as employees.

The Council of 100 estimates that lost productivity will cost employers between $1.7 billion and potentially many times that amount if parents can’t find reliable child care once schools reopen, for example.

As the governor looks at how to reopen schools and the economy the Council of 100 is recommending school districts offer teachers more training over the summer so they can better teach from a distance if there’s another outbreak of the virus.

The business group also says the state should offer more support to parents as they try to help their children with virtual education.

The statewide teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is asking the state's education commissioner to create two groups that would guide how schools should reopen. These groups would be separate from the Governor's Reopening Florida task force.

The FEA is encouraging Florida's Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to form two committees—one for PreK-12 schools, the other for colleges. The organization also wants students, parents, and community groups like the NAACP and Hispanic Federation to be on the committees.

For the PreK-12 group, the FEA wants members to focus on younger students, students with disabilities, and students from lower socioeconomic communities.

Both groups would address issues like mental health when giving recommendations on how to reopen schools.

Non-profit think-tank the Florida Policy Institute is warning state leadership that money earmarked for Florida through the federal CARES act won’t cover state budgetary shortfalls. A massive spike in unemployment will lead to depressed sales tax revenue, and the Institute’s analysts claim COVID-19 will cause disruption worse than that of the Great Recession. Out of a $150 billion federal coronavirus relief fund for states and local governments, $4.6 billion is going to Florida.

Although Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight said none of that money can go toward supplementing revenue losses for the state.

“It included some stipulations on which expenses would be allowable under the coronavirus Relief Fund, or CRF, and it did not include spending to directly address revenue shortfalls,” said Knight.

“This was confirmed last week in additional guidance that was published from the U.S. Department of Treasury, which states that CRF funds cannot be used to backfill revenue losses and shore up state budgets.”

Knight says allowable expenditures have to be directly related to helping addressing the public health crisis that is COVID-19. For that reason, Knight thinks states will need additional federal funding specifically for stabilizing their budgets, and Florida is no exception.

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.
Robbie Gaffney is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.
Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.
Brendan Rivers comes to WJCT News with years of experience reporting and hosting news for several stations in the Daytona Beach area.