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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health
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The Florida Department of Health reported 826 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 38,828. State health officials also reported 61 new coronavirus-related deaths, May 7, bringing the death toll to 1,600 fatalities including 622 deaths in long-term care facilities.

Of the 493,576 tests that have been performed in the state so far, 7.8% have been positive for the virus.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County continues to have the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus with 1,212 cases and 54 deaths.  Manatee County has the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in the Southwest Florida region with 68 fatalities out of a total of 737 confirmed cases.

Health officials report there have been 705 cases in Collier County and 27 deaths.  In Sarasota County there have been 412 cases and 51 deaths.  In Charlotte County there have been 304 cases and 30 deaths.  Hendry County has seen 129 cases and five deaths and there have been six reported cases of the virus and one death in Glades County.

COVID-19 testing in Florida continues to expand, but it could be better according to a new NPR data analysis.

The first set of numbers is average tests per day in each state as recorded by the non-profit COVID Tracking Project.

Then those numbers were compared to estimated targets published by a Harvard research group.

According to the analysis, Florida is currently conducting an average of more than 15,000 tests per day, which is fewer than the projected target of nearly 24,000 tests per day needed by the middle of May to contain a state's outbreak.

Testing plays a key role in states' efforts to reopen the economy. The good news for Florida is that 4.5% of tests have come back positive for the virus in the last week, which meets the recommended rate of 10% or lower.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration imposed a new rule, this week, requiring patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to have two consecutive negative tests before being discharged to long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The two negative tests must be taken 24 hours apart.

Long-term care facilities in the state have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp tells the Naples Daily News that some hospitals with their own laboratory capacity to test for the virus were already complying with that protocol, but that many rural hospitals don't have the same testing capacity.

Also this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis mandated that nursing homes without the isolation space needed to care for COVID-19-positive residents transfer those residents to another facility.

Initial jobless claims in Florida fell by more than half, last week, compared to the week before.  Florida had more than 173,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits last week according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor, Thursday.  The week prior, the state received more than 433,000 initial unemployment benefit claims.

The AP reports, Florida officials say more than 1.1 million confirmed claims have been submitted since mid-March.  Of those, nearly 481,500 applicants, or 43%, had been paid out more than $1 billion as of Tuesday. 

Still, hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers have been unable to get their unemployment money from the state's beleaguered online system for registering claims.  They got more bad news, Wednesday, when a state judge said she has no authority to order the immediate payment of jobless claims.

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis called for an investigation into the state's unemployment system which he called, "broken."

Collier County officials are working to activate an application system for residents to get help making rent or mortgage payments.  Last week, Collier officials announced a $1.4 million assistance program funded through state and federal dollars with the help of the United Way of Collier County and the Keys.

The Naples Daily News reports, the United Way has been building the online application system and could have it ready by today or as late as May 15th.

The program is designed to provide rent or mortgage payment assistance for residents who meet certain income restrictions.  It would also cover back-payments as far back as March.

Collier has about $636,000 in federal funds that's only available for rental assistance for households earning 50% or less of the area median income.  The county has $800,000 in state funding that can be used for rental and mortgage payment assistance to households earning up to 120% of the area median income.

The application process will be online at collierhelp.com, although currently the site is only accepting applications for help being provided by the Salvation Army.  Residents can be notified when that website will be equipped to take applications for mortgage or rental payment assistance by signing up at unitedwayofcolliercounty.org.

Sarasota County officials announced plans, Wednesday, for a phased-in approach to easing shutdown restrictions.

The Herald Tribune reports, that included the opening of beach concessions, Thursday, at Siesta Key.  Concessions at all other public beaches in the county will open by Monday.

Recreation rental venders for services like kayak rentals will be allowed to reopen Saturday.

County officials are also considering lifting restrictions down the road for libraries, dog parks, summer camps, county events and programs, and games and practices at sports complexes.

Sarasota's phased-in reopening plans come as the number of new confirmed cases of the virus is slowing down.

Research shows Florida is different than the rest of the nation in terms of how our climate impacts flu transmission, but what does that have to do with the current pandemic?

While influenza is not equivalent to COVID-19, it’s a good case study in how the coronavirus might progress. So researchers, like FSU associate professor Chris Uejio, have been looking into it.

"We’ve found that the southeast has a different seasonality of flu than the rest of the U.S.,” said Uejio.

“So that might mean that the dynamics of how that may present risk to people may actually be spread out more over the year in the southeast and in Florida in particular. Many people are talking about a second fall or winter wave of this epidemic. It’s quite possible that we’ll continue to see this existing wave carry on through the summer and then next spring and next summer.”

Uejio specializes in Geography and Public Health. He said it’s possible that the virus could be spread out over a longer period of time here than in colder, drier climates.

He said one potential benefit of the current situation is a greater awareness of how diseases are spread.

“Maybe a month ago there was a stigma perhaps against wearing a mask in public, and you can see how rapidly things might evolve now where perhaps there is a stigma against NOT wearing a mask," said Uejio.

"So having a better understanding of how some of these infectious diseases work could actually help prevent other infectious diseases going forward.”

Uejio sees another silver lining in the form of an increase in the resilience of our institutions to respond to surprises like environmental disasters or a pandemic.

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.
Gina Jordan reports from Tallahassee for WUSF and WLRN about how state policy affects your life.
Alexander Gonzalez is a recent graduate of the University of Miami. He majored in English and was the the editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane newspaper from 2014-15. He was WLRN's digital intern during summer 2015. He subscribes to too many podcasts and can't get away from covering the arts in Miami.