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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 808 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, Thursday for a statewide total of 43,210 cases. The Florida Department of Health also reported 48 new coronavirus-related deaths, yesterday, for a total of 1,875 fatalities.

The total number of virus-related hospitalizations in Florida stands at 7,749 patients.

Of the 609,574 tests that have been performed in the state so far,7.1% have been positive for the virus.

In the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, health officials reported 109 new confirmed cases of the virus, Thursday, and 13 new deaths, which is a significant increase from the single-day increase of 37 new cases reported, Wednesday. However, Thursday’s increase in cases is more in-line with single-day case increases trends reported earlier this week.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County continues to have the highest number of cases with 1,350 confirmed cases and 73 deaths. Manatee County continues to have the highest death toll with 78 fatalities from a total of 813 cases of the virus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a brief update, Thursday, on Florida’s unemployment system. Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and executive orders halted much of the state economy, DeSantis says $1.8 billion has been paid to claimants.

“Since Monday morning, there have been 53,575 new unique claimants that have been processed and paid, and there have been 356,776 payments made just this week alone,” said DeSantis.

When he ordered additional servers and employees to fortify the overburdened unemployment system in April, DeSantis said the agency had a goal of processing 80,000 claims per week. As of Thursday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it has paid about 712,000 claimants. The agency reports nearly 1.3 million unique users have filed claims.

Gov. DeSantis is teasing an announcement coming today, May 15, on gyms and workout facilities, though he didn’t give any details during his afternoon press conference.

While speaking in South Florida, DeSantis seemed to indicate that will mean relaxed restrictions.

“You know, you had certain guidelines that CDC put out, and they think that gyms were like a problem. So, that’s why they were closed,” said DeSantis.

“I think if they do sanitation; first of all, this is a virus that if you’re in good shape, you’re probably going to be okay. So why would we want to dissuade people from going to be in shape??

DeSantis ordered all gyms in the state to close back on March 20.

Gov. DeSantis says he will extend an executive order intended to prevent foreclosures and evictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The executive order, which takes legal steps to try to prevent foreclosures and evictions, was issued April 2 and is set to expire on Sunday. The move comes as Florida had nearly 222,000 first time unemployment claims filed last week, according to numbers posted Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I think we’re going to do it through the end of the month, but we’ll have an announcement on that, I think, pretty soon,” said DeSantis.

Incoming Senate Democratic leader Gary Farmer had asked DeSantis this month to extend the order, saying many residents are not capable of paying their rent or mortgage right now due to the surge in unemployment.

Lawyers representing the families of people who died of COVID-19 have put nursing homes on notice that they plan to sue. This comes as representatives of nursing homes have asked for immunity from lawsuits.

Gov. DeSantis has so far declined to give lawsuit protections to nursing homes and other health care facilities. The New York Times reports that immunity was granted in New York and at least nine other states.

Morgan and Morgan attorney Alexander Clem alleges that workers in one facility were told not to document when patients had a fever.

“They were concerned about proper reporting of signs and symptoms of COVID-19 because if it got found out their residents had it, it would be very bad for the public relations of that facility,” said Clem.

Morgan and Morgan represents families of residents who died in the Opis Coquina nursing home in Volusia County, where 16 residents have died from the new coronavirus. They also represent families who have died at the Suwanee Health Care Center in the panhandle, where 18 residents died.

So far, 814 long-term care residents or staff members have died of COVID-19, according to Florida Department of Health data. More than 40% of the overall death toll in Florida has been at long-term care facilities.

Gov. DeSantis says the state has not had a “huge spread” of COVID-19 in the prison system, even as corrections officials reported 100 more cases, Thursday, among inmates and a ninth prison with an outbreak.

Corrections officials have reported large clusters of COVID-19 cases among inmates in nine facilities across various parts of the state. Hamilton Correctional Institution became the latest prison to record an outbreak on Wednesday, with 112 confirmed cases.

DeSantis, who is trying to slowly reopen the state’s economy, told reporters this week that people should not conflate what is going on in prisons with how the virus is behaving in the broader community.

“They are isolating people. They have transferred prisoners. They’ve done things to be able to mitigate the spread,” said DeSantis. “But you will continue to see some cases coming out of prisons because the testing is ramping up.”

943 inmates and 225 corrections workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Nine inmates ranging in age from 65 and 84, have died from complications of the coronavirus, according to medical examiner's reports.

Florida is expected to get enough doses of an experimental coronavirus medicine to treat anywhere from 100 to 200 patients. Earlier this month, the Federal Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the drug Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients.

Even though the FDA is allowing doctors to use Remdesivir to treat severe coronavirus cases, the agency has not officially given the drug its stamp of approval because a lot more testing needs to be done to make sure it’s safe.

Early results from a clinical trial by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases show patients who got Remdesivir had a 31% faster recovery than those who got a placebo. But more detailed information has not yet been released. Now that same organization is doing another trial, this time pairing Remdesivir with an anti-inflammatory drug. Gov. DeSantis said that priority for the drug will go to patients on ventilators.

A drive-thru COVID-19 testing site is set to open in the city of Venice May 21 at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. South.

The Herald Tribune reports, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County is opening the testing site at the request of Venice city officials who say that the current nearest testing site at University Town Center Mall is too far away for some residents.

People who want to be tested at the Venice Community Center site must make an appointment in advance. Testing will be limited to healthcare workers and those experiencing symptoms.

The site will be open next Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and the site will be able to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.

To make an appointment call 941-861-2883.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley says he hopes voting precincts will all be open and welcoming voters during the upcoming primary and general elections, but he's asking voters to request vote-by-mail ballots just in case.

“It's an insurance policy to make sure you have some method to vote because right now it's uncertain what our options are going to be,” said Earley.

During a Thursday afternoon teleconference, Earley assured voters that vote-by-mail is a secure and safe way to cast ballots. He also said simply requesting a ballot does not mean voters can't go to the polls in person if that remains a safe option.

Publix grocery stores will expand their hours of operations, Saturday May 16, from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Publix pharmacies will return to their regular operating hours as well.

The Lakeland-based grocery store chain will also be suspending the reserved hours for elderly and immune-compromised shoppers that were imposed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Publix officials encourage those who would prefer to continue shopping in less crowded conditions to visit stores during their first hour of operation.