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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 651 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, Thursday, bringing the statewide total number of cases to 53,285. The Florida Department of Health also reported 45 new coronavirus-related deaths, yesterday, increasing the state's death toll to 2,364 fatalities, including 1,163 deaths in long-term care facilities.

Of the 953,321 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 5.6% have been positive for the virus.

In the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 146 new cases of the virus, Thursday, and 11 new deaths.

Lee County, which has documented more than 1,800 cases, reported its one hundredth COVID-19 related death on Thursday. Manatee County, which reported two new deaths yesterday, also surpassed the 1,000 total cases mark.

There were three new deaths each, Thursday, in Charlotte and Collier Counties and one new death each in Sarasota and Hendry Counties.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried asserted, Thursday, that Governor Ron DeSantis and the other state Cabinet members should have been jointly coordinating the response to the coronavirus pandemic, as a new report showed another 173,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed last week in Florida.

Thursday’s cabinet meeting was the first in nearly four months. Fried, who has increasingly locked horns with Gov. DeSantis during the pandemic, appeared in the Cabinet meeting room for Thursday’s meeting, while the other three statewide officials participated remotely.

Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, has unsuccessfully asked DeSantis to schedule updates for the Cabinet from state agencies, as the virus has killed more than 2,300 Floridians, tax revenue has plummeted, the unemployment rate has soared and people have been frustrated in trying to get unemployment benefits.

“These agenda requests are made in good faith and were not acknowledged, let alone fulfilled,” said Fried.

“That's a real shame for everyone who deserves the truth. Floridians expect our government to be united, especially during this time of unprecedented challenges to the state that we all love.”

DeSantis didn’t reply to Fried during the teleconference meeting, but Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis jumped in to defend the governor, who has spearheaded the state’s coronavirus-related efforts. “We will persevere, but we will be stronger and at the same time making sure that we're looking out for the state's finances and our taxpayer dollars,” said Patronis.

The teleconference dealt with a wide range of issues such as buying conservation land. It marked the first time DeSantis and the Cabinet had met since February 4.

The Florida Board of Governors unanimously approved a broad plan, Thursday, for reopening schools in the public university system. The AP reports, the campus re-opening blueprint is meant as a guide for state university leaders as they develop their own individualized plans amid new challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders from each of Florida's 12 public universities are slated to present their own reopening plans to the Board of Governors in June. Florida Board of Governor's Chairman Syd Kitson says the blue print was created over the past month by a task force of university presidents, other school officials and emergency managers.

The Florida Department of Health is bringing on more contact tracers to keep track of COVID-19 cases.

Florida Department of Health Deputy Director Dr. Shamarial Roberson said the state is hiring an external vendor to supply 600 tracers in next few weeks.

“Since we are a fully integrated public health system, we can move contact tracers across the state to target the areas of need,” said Dr. Roberson. “So, we’ll watch the numbers and based on the cases we have, we’ll assess our needs and we'll make changes accordingly.”

Dr. Roberson says, so far, the state has recruited more than 1,500 contact tracers. Health officials say contact tracing is crucial to slowing the spread of the virus and keeping economies op
Professor of Economics at the University of Miami Rong Hai Ph.D., says it’s too soon to tell whether the current economic crisis will have as much negative impact as the Great Recession did. Part of Hai’s research focuses on inequalities in income, housing, opportunities and the labor market. She explains people who graduated during the Great Recession have lower initial wages, longer unemployment spells, and more feelings of depression when compared to others graduating in better times.

“This kind of effect actually would last for 10 to 15 years,” said Hai. “So, it’s a very long-lasting negative impact.”

However, she says it’s too soon to tell whether that same impact will happen to students graduating during the coronavirus pandemic. Hai explains that because the current pandemic is still happening there is too much uncertainty to draw any comparisons right now.

The coronavirus is spreading quickly in the migrant farmworker town of Immokalee. The Naples Daily News reports the number of documented cases increased from 44 at the beginning of the month to 488 cases as of Thursday.

When the Florida National Guard conducted three days of free testing earlier this month, 73 people tested positive out of a total of more than 1,200 tests performed, which may have signaled the start of the spike in cases there.

Immokalee is home to about 25,000 people, many of whom are seasonal residents that travel to other regions of the country as harvest seasons change. Concern about the impending migration north is part of what prompted Doctors Without Borders to send a team to Immokalee to help with testing and educating farmworkers about social distancing and other precautions to help avoid infection.

Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel said farmworkers in Immokalee are already beginning to leave for work in other states.

The Shelter for Abused Women & Children in Naples is ready to open the doors to its Immokalee location.

The CEO of the Naples Women’s Shelter, Linda Oberhaus, said although the organization has provided community outreach in Immokalee in the form of counseling and other support services since 1997, it hasn’t offered a physical shelter facility there until now.

Oberhaus said the nearly hour-long drive from Immokalee to the emergency shelter in Naples often discouraged victims from leaving their abusive situations.

"What we saw in recent years is that families living in Immokalee were the least likely to come into Naples to be sheltered at our domestic violence center," Oberhaus said.

On May 26 the organization unveiled its new Immokalee facility: the 21,500 square foot Shelly Stayer Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking & Domestic Violence.

Oberhaus said the new location has 60 beds.

"For victims of domestic violence living in the Immokalee community and then we’ll have a specialized wing for victims of human trafficking who could come from anywhere in Collier County," Oberhaus said.

Food, clothing and personal hygiene products are provided for those who seek refuge at the shelter, free of cost and Oberhaus said the shelter will offer services in Spanish and Creole.

"Any victims that are worried about 'well I don’t have a job, I don’t have a car, I don’t have housing,' all that kind of stuff, they just need to rest assured that our staff are trained and available to help them get their needs met, whatever they might be," Oberhaus said.

People can be connected to the shelter’s services by calling the Florida Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-500-1119.

Nurses are protesting staffing cuts and equipment shortages outside Doctors Hospital of Sarasota and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. The protests began Thursday and nurses say they'll protest again Friday. The demonstrations are organized by National Nurses United and are taking place at 15 HCA-owned hospitals in six states.

A Manatee County nurse tells the Herald Tribune some nurses have had to buy their own N95 masks from questionable sources.

A Doctor's Hospital spokeswoman tells the Herald Tribune that National Nurses United rejected their plan to continue the pandemic pay program for caregivers who are unable to work their normal hours amid the pandemic. She also refutes the demonstrators claims about equipment shortages and pay.