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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

State Health officials reported 2,378 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the weekend for a statewide total of 45,588 cases.

The Florida Department of Health reported 98 new coronavirus-related deaths since Friday morning, bringing Florida’s death toll to 1,973 fatalities.

The total number of hospitalizations related to virus now stands at 8,230 patients, including all people who have been hospitalized and not just those who are currently receiving treatment.

Of the 653,081 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 7 % have been positive for the virus.

In the Southwest Florida region encompassing Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 287 new cases of the coronavirus and 15 deaths over the weekend.

Lee County has the highest total number of cases in the region with 1,456 cases and 78 deaths. Manatee County continues to lead in the number of deaths with 81 fatalities out of a total of 849 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida will be in full ‘Phase One’ of reopening today, May 18, after the state was effectively shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Restaurants, retail stores, museums, libraries, gyms, and fitness centers can all operate at 50% indoor capacity as long as staff and clients follow social distancing guidelines.

It also means that professional sports teams can resume training, sports venues can resume operation, and amusement parks can submit reopening plans to the state.

“It doesn't mean the diseases gone. It doesn't mean that we're not going to still have to do things to be able to protect the folks that are the most vulnerable,” said DeSantis.

“But the American people never signed up for a perpetual shelter in place, and we need to be able to get society functioning again.”

DeSantis said bars aren’t included in federal ‘Phase One’ reopening guidelines, so they’ll remain closed for the time being, but counties can ask the state for short-term rentals like Airbnbs to be reauthorized.

DeSantis said he hasn’t made a decision on summer camps yet, but he expects to make that announcement in the near future. While bars remain closed, craft breweries around the state were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity over the weekend as long as they have a food truck onsite. Starting May 18, breweries are allowed to operate at 50% indoor capacity. The food truck requirement remains in effect.

Breweries have been closed since mid-March. The News-Press reports the Florida Brewers Guild has been working with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to bring about the change.

The Florida Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit for failing to release information on how it’s handling the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons. More than 1,000 Florida inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, seven have died.

The Southern Poverty Law Center wants to know how the Florida Department of Corrections prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak, and what it’s doing now to prevent the virus from spreading. While some data on that has been released, the Center says it’s too vague.

In late March, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent out two public records requests seeking information about “plans policies and procedures” related to the virus. That includes how the Florida Department of Corrections is screening people, how it’s educating inmates and staff about the coronavirus, and how it’s caring for those who have been exposed or infected by it. After almost two months of not getting that data, The Southern Poverty Law Center argues the Florida Department of Corrections is violating the state’s open-public records law by not replying in a timely way.

The union representing workers at a nursing home in Fort Myers has filed complaints with federal and state regulators over allegations of a lack of needed personal protective equipment, or PPE, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The News-Press reports, workers at Heritage Park Rehabilitation and Healthcare say they were told in late April that they didn't need special masks or other PPE because the virus hadn't touched their facility. Days later, state health officials were reporting positive cases there.

Two workers and two residents have tested positive for COVID-19. One resident has died.

When workers refused to continue doing their jobs without PPE, they say they were given a single N95 mask and told that's all they would receive due to shortages, but state health officials say the facility has been given all the PPE supplies it's requested.

The SEIU United Healthcare Workers East 1199 filed complaints against the facility with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration. Union officials say the complaints will likely be the first of many against Florida nursing homes, as long-term care facilities account for about 45% of all reported coronavirus-related deaths in the state.

Florida had nearly 222,000 first-time unemployment claims filed two weeks ago, according to data released, Thursday, by the U.S. Department of Labor.

This comes after 175,000 claims during the prior week, and more than 500 thousand during the week ending April 18th.

Several Democratic state senators gathered at the state capitol Friday to discuss continued problems in Florida’s unemployment-compensation system. New numbers from the Department of Economic Opportunity show more than 1.5 million unique unemployment claims. Of those, 78% have been processed, and more than 740,000 people have been paid state benefits of up to $275 dollars a week.

Another 331,000 claims were being checked for fraud. Even as the claims are being processed, State Senator Gary Farmer, (D-Fort Lauderdale) said many jobless Floridians have still received no help.

He said all claims should be paid, and the state can figure out the fraud issues later. “Stop the runaround. Stop dealing with this broken system and just pay all the claims now, period,” said Sen. Farmer. “Floridians cannot suffer any longer.”

Florida had a 4.3% unemployment rate for March that represented 444,000 people out of work.

April’s estimate will be released Friday, May 22. The national unemployment mark hit 14.7% in April.

The Miami-Dade County School Board will consider creating an “academic safety net” for students during the final months of the school year.

School board member Martin Karp proposed an item that’s on the agenda for a meeting May 20. “The basic idea behind the item is that no child should be penalized for their grades this semester,” said Karp.

Other school districts as well as colleges and universities around the country have offered some leniency with grades, like a pass-fail system. Karp’s proposal asks the school district superintendent to work out the details.

Karp said, because of the coronavirus pandemic, some students are taking care of siblings or sick family members, or even dealing with worse problems at home.

“Now they're in a home environment where there could be some form of abuse,” said Karp.

“There could be some kind of domestic violence. There could be fallout from job loss. And it makes it that much more difficult for the students to be able to, to do well or to perform at all.”

Karp said his proposal is primarily designed to help high school students who might be at risk of losing a college scholarship.

The Miami Beach City Commission passed a resolution last week supporting the proposal.