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Florida Cases Near 28,000; Lake County Offers $20 Tests; Florida Among Slowest States to Process Unemployment: Your Coronavirus Update for 4/21

Dr. Michael Lauzardo, an expert on infectious disease and global medicine, speaks to the media as drive-thru testing takes place behind him in The Villages. Photo: Joe Byrnes
Dr. Michael Lauzardo, an expert on infectious disease and global medicine, speaks to the media as drive-thru testing takes place behind him in The Villages. Photo: Joe Byrnes

Florida cases approach 28,000

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

27,869 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the state of Florida according to figures released Tuesday night by the Florida Department of Health. 4,226 people have been hospitalized and 867 people have died.

Orange County has 1,222 cases with 27 deaths and more than 200 hospitalizations. The county began testing at mobile sites throughout Orlando this week, in addition to the state run drive through testing available at the Orange County Convention Center.

Sumter County, home of the Villages retirement community, has 153 cases, 11 deaths and 34 hospitalizations.

The US now has 816,240 coronavirus cases, with 43,921 people dying from COVID-19.

Hover over the map for details about cases in other Florida counties.

Lake County offers $20 coronavirus tests for residents, regardless of symptoms

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Lake County is teaming up with Adult Medicine of Lake County to provide drive-through coronavirus testing -- for a fee -- for its residents with or without symptoms.

They can pay a subsidized $20 charge and get tested. The company advertises a normal price of $85.

The locations are the Adult Medicine office in Mount Dora, Cooper Memorial Library in Clermont and the Venetian Gardens park in Leesburg. The times are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

All together, the county will have access to 700 tests per week.

County Commission chair Leslie Campione says people won't need a doctor's order.

"This is an opportunity for people who want to be tested whether they have symptoms or not," she said.

Campione hopes the testing will give county officials more data to inform their decisions.

Meanwhile, they’re surveying businesses on the hurdles to reopening safely during the pandemic.

14% of unemployment applicants received benefits, Florida slowest in nation to distribute

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Around 281,000 payments have been made to out-of-work Floridians who applied for unemployment benefits. The system lags behind others in the nation and hundreds of thousands of applicants are still without compensation.

Around 14 percent of those who managed to apply, and were approved,received benefits -- up from 6 percent just the day before.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity said that’s thanks to an upgrade to one of the state’s benefits systems over the weekend. But the DEO cautions that number will level off, although it promises more consistency for the process.

Some 94,000 applicants received checks with funds from both the state and federal government -- more than $125 million so far.

But nearly half a million applications have yet to be processed. An Associated Press investigation found Florida the slowest state to process unemployment claims.

Fourteenth TSA officer at OIA tests positive for coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

A fourteenth TSA officer at Orlando International Airport has tested positive for coronavirus.

In an email to officers, Federal Security Director Pete Garcia said the worker did not contract the virus at the airport and hadn’t been at the checkpoint since March 25.

Garcia said the airport has sufficient masks and gloves and screeners should use them to protect themselves and those around them. 

He recommended workers observe a county-wide stay-at-home order and practice social distancing.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority continues to provide daily cleaning at checkpoints.

Demand spikes for student mental health, financial help

Daniel Santiago, WMFE

The number of students seeking mental health and financial help from UCF's Student Care Services has spiked in the last month, but Knights Pantry is seeing fewer students come to the food bank.  

Student Care Services associate director Ann Marie Palmer said her office is looking for ways to help students, through community resources and emergency funds.

Palmer said anyone who needs help should contact their office, even if it’s for a peer or friend.  

Jeannie Kiriwas, associate director of Knights Pantry, said students can go online and order up to 10 items in emergency bags to pick on the curbside. 

Kiriwas gave a shout out to the students who are still working at Knights Pantry.

Florida jogger dons costume to cheer up neighborhood

The Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. (Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)) — More than a week after Easter, there’s still one mythical creature hopping around a Florida neighborhood trying to spread happiness.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that 40-year-old Corey Jurgensen has been donning a 7-foot-tall inflatable unicorn costume to jog, jump and dance around the streets near her Tampa home for almost a month.

Jurgensen told the newspaper she purchased the inflatable for Halloween, but gave it a new life March 21 in an effort to cheer up neighbors as they remained indoors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, she says she's made multiple outings in the costume, prancing around and drawing smiles, honks, claps and plenty of photos.

Florida among slowest states to process unemployment claims

The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Federal data suggests that Florida has processed its hundreds of thousands of new unemployment claims more slowly than any other state.

U.S. Department of Labor figures show Florida at the bottom among all 50 states and the District Columbia in the percentage of the unemployed it is serving, lagging behind states big and small.

Nearly 7 of every 8 Floridians who managed to file claims during the three weeks from mid-March until early April were waiting to have them processed.

The state is already among the most inhospitable places to be unemployed, and the economic downturn from the coronavirus outbreak has only added to the misery.

Courts remain open for filing protective injunctions

Regan McCarthy, WFSU

Large parts of the state’s court system are closed as part of an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but Florida officials want people to know they’re still open for emergencies including helping abuse victims file restraining orders.

Alexcia Cox heads up the domestic violence unit at the state attorney’s office in West Palm Beach.

“You can still seek an injunction; you can still receive an injunction during this time period. So just because you hear the courts are only hearing certain matters, please don’t let that be a barrier to you seeking help through the court system if you need it.”

Filing protective injunctions, like restraining orders, is considered an essential service.

The Florida Clerks and Comptrollers Association recommends calling the local clerk’s office directly for assistance. Cox also suggests reaching out to local shelters or organizations aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence for help filling out the needed paperwork.

DeSantis' 'Re-Open Florida' Task Force Debuts. Notably Absent? Doctors, And Agriculture Commissioner

Ryan Dailey & Blaise Gainey, WFSU 

On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis held the introductory meeting of his assembled Re-Open Florida Task Force. The group will look at when and how to begin opening up the state’s economy – but ideas haven’t started flowing yet.

“How do you approach this in a way that is obviously going to be safe, but I think even just as important, is the confidence of the public,” the Governor said, asking the task force to consider those criteria as its first meeting got underway.

There weren’t any significant suggestions to DeSantis on how to re-open pitched during the first conference call – but listeners did learn who will be advising the governor.

The group’s executive committee includes state agency heads and legislative leaders. The entire Florida cabinet except for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone statewide elected Democrat, is included.

From the private sector, the Re-Open Task Force executive group features executives from these Florida businesses:

“We’ve got Josh D’Amaro from Disney, we’ve got John Sprouls from Universal Resort, Joe York (of) AT&T, Eric Silagy Florida (of) Power & Light, John Couris (of) Tampa General (Hospital), Alex Sanchez Florida Bankers (Assn.), Paul Riley of Raymond James, Patrick Sunderland (of) Lockheed Martin, Todd Jones (of) Publix, and Syd Kitson from the Board of Governors of the state university system,” DeSantis said, giving a rundown on the call.

Notably absent from that group are any medical doctors, as the only healthcare industry representative is a hospital executive.

The governor’s office of policy and budget will oversee the work of the task force, which was assembled in a tiered structure. Three working groups, divided into representatives from high, medium and low-risk industries as identified by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, will meet each day.

Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson explained to the group how “risk” was calculated.

“Thinking about social distancing – if you look at if these jobs can be performed in close proximity to other employees and to the public, then what you can see here, is the total number of jobs that are vulnerable on a going-forward basis,” Wilson explained.

Wilson says in total, 3.4 million Florida jobs are “at risk,” out of more than 10 million in the state. The Chamber says it’s going to be a lot harder for smaller firms to re-open versus larger companies, and lower-income people are going to have a harder time getting back to work because they’re more likely to be in “high-contact” jobs.

Much of the discussion from state leadership Monday concerned testing for COVID-19, which DeSantis says is key to re-opening the economy.

“We need to get the economy back in a safe way,” DeSantis said. “Part of that, I think, is having the testing – I think it’s going to give people confidence that they’re going to be able to participate in the economy.”

The working groups’ ideas will advise the task force’s executive committee. The executive committee will meet every afternoon to discuss the working groups’ ideas.

Meanwhile, as the Governor’s task force is mulling how to re-open, one Florida congresswoman is warning making the move too soon could be a dangerous repeat of history.

The Spanish Flu, or H1N1, caused a global pandemic in 1918 infecting nearly 500 million people. Congresswoman Donna Shalala believes leaders should look into the past when deciding if the time is right to get back to business.

“They thought they had the virus whipped because they did a certain amount of testing. And then people went out on the streets and the beaches and the disease spike again, much worse than the first time. So we have to pay attention to the public health experts.”

Shalala is worried opening up the economy could lead to history repeating itself. She agrees with health experts that more testing needs to be done before people can get back to their lives before the pandemic began.

Here’s the entire list of the Re-Open Florida Task Force executive committee:

  • Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, Lieutenant Governor of Florida
  • Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer
  • Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General
  • President Bill Galvano, President, Florida Senate
  • Speaker Jose Oliva, Speaker, Florida House of Representatives
  • Senator Wilton Simpson, President-Designate, Florida Senate
  • Representative Chris Sprowls, Speaker-Designate, Florida House of Representatives
  • Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education
  • Jamal Sowell, President & CEO, Enterprise Florida, Inc.
  • Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Mayor, Miami-Dade County
  • Mayor Dale Holness, Mayor, Broward County
  • Mayor David Kerner, Mayor, Palm Beach County
  • John Couris, President & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
  • Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Todd Jones, CEO, Publix Super Markets
  • Syd Kitson, Chairman, Board of Governors for the State University System
  • Paul Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
  • Alex Sanchez, President & CEO, Florida Bankers Association
  • Eric Silagy, President & CEO, Florida Power & Light Company
  • John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
  • Patrick Sunderlin, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Joe York, President, AT&T Florida and Caribbean

Click here for more of WMFE’s coronavirus coverage.

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