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Licensed Pharmacists Can Order, Administer Coronavirus Tests; Orange County Reached Peak Four Weeks Ago; State's Unemployment Website Goes Dark This Weekend; Your Coronavirus Update for 4/24

Photo: Mike Haupt
Photo: Mike Haupt

Florida cases pass 30,500 person mark

30,533 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the state of Florida according to figures released Friday night by the Florida Department of Health. 4,817 people have been hospitalized and 1,046 people have died. Orange County has 1,290 cases with 30 deaths and more than 250 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 167 cases, 12 deaths and 39 hospitalizations. In the United States, there are currently 890,524 cases of coronavirus and 51,017 deaths. Hover over the map for details about cases in other Florida counties.

Governor Ron DeSantis says licensed pharmacists will be able to order, administer coronavirus tests

Danielle Prieur, WMFE  Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to allow licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 tests. Right now, only licensed healthcare workers can perform tests in the state. "With this direction, it's my hope that pharmacies throughout the state consider how to offer COVID-19 testing, the state of Florida stands ready to help, but that would make this much easier if we had those folks engaged in this." DeSantis said he's focused new testing efforts on nursing homes where he's deployed 50 Florida National Guard teams to spot test residents and workers. He said the highest risk for complications from coronavirus is in people over the age of fifty-five. "If you look at who is most at risk from this virus, particularly as we've seen a little bit of decline in demand at some of the traditional testing sites. We need to be on offense as much as we can with the long-term care facilities." He said the state will get 200,000 antibody tests by the end of the day Friday.

Orange County reached peak coronavirus cases four weeks ago, Florida DOH now focusing on small outbreaks

Danielle Prieur, WMFE Orange County Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino says the county reached the peak of new coronavirus cases four weeks ago. Pino said there has been a sustained decrease in new cases for the last five weeks. "And it's the sustained decrease in the pandemic that you would like to see before you even engage in a conversation about returning to what normal may be."

He said the department is now focused on tracking and containing small outbreaks in the county, defined by at least two cases that are linked in their transmission. "How can we detect what is happening out in the community? And now we have the tools electronically speaking to do that. And also how quick can we respond and have the capacity to track, investigate, prevent and test? So that we prevent wider transmission into the community." Pino said the 32822 and 32824 zip codes, where many of the cases originate, will get DOH testing sites to be announced this weekend.

State's unemployment website goes dark this weekend

Brendan Byrne, WMFE The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's portal for unemployment claims is offline, and will remain unavailable until Monday. A message on the web page said the portal is temporarily unavailable as the state works to process payments. So far, only about 22 percent of out-of-work applicants have received any unemployment payments. Of the 701,740 claims submitted, only 153,788 applicants have received payments. The state's system handling unemployment benefits has been problematic. The servers struggled to handle the surge of applicants as state and county-wide stay at home orders shuttered businesses. So far, about $157 million have been distributed to out-of-work Floridians from both state and federal funds.

Deltona-based Family Health Source will offer free coronavirus antibody testing at the Volusia County Fairgrounds starting May 4th

Danielle Prieur, WMFE The test involves a blood draw to confirm whether someone has been exposed to the coronavirus. It’s unclear whether the test can be used to determine whether someone is immune to the virus or how long any such immunity might last. The site currently has 500 antibody test kits, but that number is expected to grow. Testing to determine whether someone is infected with COVID-19 will still be available at the fairgrounds.

"It's in the spirit of Ramadan." AMCC to offer one hundred free coronavirus tests daily starting Saturday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE A Longwood mosque will start offering coronavirus testing at its free clinic beginning tomorrow at 10 am. The American Muslim Community Centers says the testing will be on a first-come-first-served basis for those who register at the organization’s website.  The Seminole County Department of Health is providing the tests. Only people with symptoms or who have had contact with a COVID-19 patient will be eligible. People also can register for free medical care at the clinic.

Coronavirus testing will continue this weekend at the Orange County Convention Center -- no matter the weather

Danielle Prieur, WMFE The Florida National Guard has moved testing at the convention center inside an adjacent parking garage. Site spokeswoman Bailey Meyers says only extreme weather like tornado warnings would close the site. “Saturday and Sunday no matter what the weather conditions are we will be open and you can come and get a free test.” She says 750 people a day can be tested at the convention center. Meanwhile testing sites at Barnett Park and the Mall of the Millenia have closed until Monday. 

State Department of Health to reactivate inactive health licenses

By Amy Green  The Florida Department of Health is calling on health care providers to temporarily reactivate inactive licenses.   The department says the providers -- including doctors, physician assistants, nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics -- can reactivate their licenses for 90 days.  The licenses will return to inactive status as the coronavirus pandemic eases and the state surgeon general determines the urgent need for health care providers has passed.  Health care providers must make a request through the state department of health.  The offer is not extended to those whose licenses have been suspended or restricted. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has cost Ocala's SunTran bus system 48 percent of its ridership, but quick action on PPE and a boost in federal funding will keep it rolling

Joe Byrnes, WMFE The CARES Act includes millions of dollars for transit systems to add safeguards against the coronavirus and keep them afloat. In Ocala, SunTran got six-and-a-half million. It will replace carpet with washable floors, add semi-private rest areas for drivers and build enclosures for them on the buses. But Ocala Planning and Zoning Manager David Boston says most of the money will fund operating expenses for the next two years. "Within a week of them putting this out there, the city applied for this funding so that we can keep SunTran running and keep people safe as quickly and effectively as possible," Boston said. With the first hint of a pandemic, transit officials say they stocked up on masks, gloves and cleaning supplies.  SunTran has also cut back its hours and added frequent cleanings.

Restaurants in Orlando’s Lake Nona community are delivering food via autonomous shuttles

Danielle Prieur, WMFE Jessi Blakly with Tavistock Restaurant Collection, says Park Pizza & Brewing CO used the Beep shuttles to deliver pizzas to doctors and nurses on the COVID-19 frontlines at the Orlando VA. Blakely says the unmanned vehicles allowed them to maintain social distancing “I think like everyone we want to do what’s right not just for our employees, but for the community as a whole. We’re on board with the idea that things are going to take place over time and certainly be phased in their approach.” The shuttles have been used to transfer coronavirus tests for processing at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.  The autonomous shuttle service launched last September. The shuttles stopped taking passengers in March because of the pandemic.

Georgia border county chairman: 'No objection' to Floridians coming over for business

Ryan Dailey, WFSU Some Georgia businesses will begin re-opening Friday, and more will phase in after the weekend. Bill Slaughter is commission chairman for Lowndes County, which sits just over the Florida border. He says if Floridians come over to do business, they need to take precautions. “Initially on Friday, our barber shops, hair salons, spas, those type businesses, tattoo parlors – they’ll be able to open back up,” Slaughter said Thursday. Restaurants will be permitted to resume dine-in services Monday. Slaughter, a Republican who won the commission chair seat in 2012, says even though the businesses are permitted to re-open, they’ll have to follow some additional guidelines to mitigate spread of COVID-19. “For example, from a barber shop standpoint, they will be unable to use the same apron on multiple clients,” the chairman told WFSU. For some businesses, that will mean having to stock up on additional inventory. Counties like Lowndes and cities like Thomasville are a short drive for Floridians. Slaughter says he’s not discouraging Floridians, whose neighborhood businesses are still closed from coming over. But, he’s urging caution: “I have personally no objection to it, however, I still would encourage everyone to be sure that you practice good sanitation, that you keep in mind that when you are out and about, you greatly raise the potential that you could come in contact with someone that’s carrying the virus,” Slaughter said. Georgia is still under a stay-at-home order. The state’s Governor Brian Kemp recently extended the order to last until the end of the month. President Donald Trump, who backed Kemp in his highly-contested gubernatorial race, said during a press conference this week he  “strongly disagrees” with Kemp’s decision to open businesses at this point.

Florida growers having difficulty selling their produce to grocery stores

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Florida fruit and vegetable growers that once relied on restaurants, schools and other institutions are finding it difficult to sell their produce to grocery stores.

Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association President Mike Joyner says that’s because panic buying has stopped and demand is slow.

“That first week of sheltering in place, we just weren’t moving anything. And now, what we’ve seen is it has come back but it has come back very slowly. It just really is more in drips and drabs in this point.”

Joyner says it’s too soon to tell what the long-term impacts on Florida agriculture will be.

Rehabilitated sea turtle released in Florida Keys

The Associated Press

MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Keys have been closed to visitors for a month due to the new coronavirus pandemic, but staff at the Turtle Hospital, a popular Keys environmental attraction, continue efforts to rehabilitate injured sea turtles.

Wearing protective face masks, hospital staff released a rehabilitated green sea turtle back to the ocean Wednesday.

Aldo Leopold, a 100-pound juvenile green sea turtle, was rescued in late February after being discovered floating offshore, unable to dive.

The endangered reptile was treated at the Turtle Hospital with broad-spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a nourishing diet of fish, squid and greens.

Feds confiscate masks meant for Miami-Dade firefighters

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — A shipment of 1 million face masks en route to South Florida for firefighters was confiscated last week by the federal government.

Frank Rollason, the director of emergency management for Miami-Dade County, told WLRN on Wednesday that the masks were for firefighters who planned to begin at-home new coronavirus testing for homebound Miami-Dade residents who can’t make it to drive-thru testing sites.

Miami-Dade has the largest number of confirmed cases in Florida, with almost 10,300 as of Thursday morning.

Miami-Dade fire officials are now acquiring masks in smaller shipments.

Half a million jobless claims filed in Florida last week

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — According to new figures, a half-million Floridians applied for unemployment benefits last week.

Thursday's new figures comes as a statewide task force continues examining when businesses shuttered and forced to lay off workers because of the new coronavirus can reopen.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that more than 505,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Florida last week.

That pushes the state’s number of claims filed for unemployment well past 1 million claims since businesses around the state started closing last month under lockdown orders from municipalities and then Florida’s governor.

Florida has a civilian labor force of around 10 million workers.

Click here to read more of WMFE’s coronavirus coverage.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.
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