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Your Wednesday Update: Disneyland Reopening Delayed, Seminole County Sounds Alarm Over Rising COVID-19 Cases, Rising Cases in Young Put Elderly At Risk

Photo: Avel Chuklanov
Photo: Avel Chuklanov

Disneyland reopening delayed: park won't open to the public on July 17

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Disneyland in Anaheim won't open to the public on July 17.

In a statement on Twitter Wednesday, the company said California "has now indicated that it will not issue theme park reopening guidelines until sometime after July 4."

"Given the time required for us to bring thousands of cast members back to work and restart our business, we have no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials," the statement read.

Disney says it plans on announcing a new reopening date for the park after state guidelines are released.

In the meantime, the Downtown Disney District will reopen on July 9 as previously announced.

Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are scheduled to reopen in Orlando on July 11, but workers have called for the date to be pushed back as cases continue to spike in Florida.

Trump's freeze on H-1B work visas disproportionately affects Indians

Lauren Frayer, NPR

The Trump administration's latest freeze on certain types of work visas, designed to protect American jobs during the COVID-19 crisis, is having a disproportionate effect on workers in India.

The executive order, signed Monday by President Trump, extends a ban on green cards issued outside the United States and adds several types of work visas to the freeze, including the H-1B visa for skilled workers. Last year, 72% of those visas were granted to Indians.

The change means tens of thousands of Indians who planned to come to the U.S. this year will have to scrap or delay their plans.

On Tuesday, Sunny Kumar Hirpara awoke in India to news of a temporary ban on his exact type of visa.

"I woke up at like 5 o'clock in the morning, and I saw the messages. I almost started crying," Hirpara says.

Hirpara, 26, earned a master's degree in the U.S. and landed a job as an electrical engineer in Irvine, California. In March, he returned to India to visit his parents and to convert his student visa to an H-1B, sponsored by his company. Then the pandemic hit. His paperwork was delayed.

Read the full article here.

Seminole County sounds the alarm over rising COVID-19 cases

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Seminole County is sounding the alarm as COVID-19 cases soar and hospitalizations increase.

Health officials are also seeing an overwhelming demand for testing.

The county's four hospitals still have enough beds but the number COVID-19 patients is rising fast.

There are currently 56, including four ICU patients. That represents a dramatic increase from a few weeks ago.

And the county’s positive tests for coronavirus are rising exponentially. There were 187 new cases on Tuesday.

Health Director Todd Husty says younger adults are driving the spread but the virus is "leaking out" to older, more vulnerable people.

"They've been locked up for a while," he said. "They really don't want to hear this news. ... But anything else is a false narrative. Anything other than the fact that this thing is just bowling over us."

He urges consumer pressure on businesses that don't use masks and follow guidelines.

"Go to the businesses that are doing the right thing," he said. "And you know what to do about the businesses that aren't."

The county is recommending that people wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus. But they're not mandating it.

N.Y., N.J., Connecticut impose quarantines for visitors from coronavirus hotspots

Brakkton Booker, NPR

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will require visitors coming from other states with significant coronavirus cases to quarantine for a two-week period upon arrival.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the travel advisory would go into effect midnight Thursday. He was joined by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy at a midday press briefing.

Each state is responsible for implementing its own enforcement mechanism, Cuomo said.

He added that visitors traveling from states above a set infection rate would have to quarantine. Currently, those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Utah and Texas, Cuomo said.

"The states themselves can change as the infection rate changes," Cuomo said, adding that the list of states impacted would be updated on a daily basis.

Cuomo reiterated that the travel advisory was not a travel ban and that people are still welcome to travel to the state. Visitors who are found to be in violation of the travel advisory could be subject to a judicial order and mandatory quarantine.

Read the full article here.

New York City Marathon canceled due to coronavirus

Austin Horn, NPR

The 2020 New York City Marathon has been canceled, organizers announced on Wednesday.

The decision to shutter the race, which is the world's largest marathon and one of the city's marquee events, was due to "coronavirus-related health and safety concerns," according to a statement from the organizer, New York Road Runners.

"Canceling this year's TCS New York City Marathon is incredibly disappointing for everyone involved, but it was clearly the course we needed to follow from a health and safety perspective," Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, said in the statement.

The event, which was scheduled to take place Nov. 1, would have been the 50th running of the marathon. That will now happen on Nov. 7, 2021.

The race usually attracts more than 50,000 runners, 10,000 volunteers and about 1 million fans, according to The New York Times. Fans and spectators line the route, which goes through all five boroughs of the nation's largest city.

Last month, organizers of the Boston Marathon announced that it was canceled for the first time in 124 years and moved to a virtual event.

Runners who were registered to participate in the New York City Marathon have the option to receive a refund of their entry fee or gain complimentary entry into one of the next three years' races.

Read the full article here.

Taking a trip to visit grandparents or older relatives? Tips to reduce the risk

Allison Aubrey, NPR

One of the hardest things during this pandemic — for kids and adult children — has been staying away from their parents and grandparents.

People 65 years and older are at higher risk for getting a severe case of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about 80% of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have been in people older than 65.

So it's been especially important for older people to practice social distancing — even from family members — to reduce the risk of infection.

But the summer is here, communities are reopening and with many families living miles apart, a trip to see parents and grandparents is tempting. Here are some things to consider before you go.

Assess the risk

Remember, the risk of getting a coronavirus infection increases with age, says Dr. Ravina Kullar, an epidemiologist and spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America. So the older the parent or grandparent, the higher the risk is. And if your relative has an underlying health condition, like diabetes, lung disease, hypertension, or if they are immunosuppressed, "that puts them at even higher risk," Kullar says. So before the visit, assess the age and health of the person you are visiting — and consider whether the trip is worth the risk.

Where the women aren't: On coronavirus task forces

Malaka Gharib, NPR

There are 27 members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Only 2 are women: Dr. Deborah Birx and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It's a gender breakdown that's echoed around the world. For example, only 10 of the 31 members and advisers of the World Health Organization's Emergency Committee on COVID-19 are women, and of the 25 members of the WHO-China joint mission on COVID-19, only 20% are women.

Yet the pandemic is, by some measures, taking a greater toll on women than on men.

Health care workers are at greater risk of infection than the general population, and 70% of the world's health workforce, according to the WHO, are women.

Countries are reporting higher numbers of reports of domestic violence as stay-at-home orders have confined women to tight quarters with abusive family members. And widespread shutdowns have disrupted women's access to maternal health services. A study in The Lancet estimates, in its worst case scenario, that nearly 60,000 additional women could die of maternal health complications over a six-month time period as a result of COVID-19.

Virus cases surging among the young, endangering the elderly

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Coronavirus infections are climbing rapidly among young Americans in a number of states where bars, stores and restaurants have reopened.

It's a disturbing generational shift that not only puts young people in greater peril than many realize, but also poses an even bigger danger to the elders who cross their paths.

National figures show that almost as soon as states began reopening, people 18 to 49 years old quickly became the age bracket most likely to be diagnosed with new cases.

And although every age group saw an increase in cases during the first week in June, the numbers shot up fastest in this younger age group.

NBA, NBPA say sparking social change will be goal of restart

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association say that dealing with racial matters will be a shared goal during the resumed season.

The league and union announced  Wednesday that they will “take collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice” when the season restarts at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida next month.

Specific plans have not been finalized.

Leon County Libraries Handing Out Free Masks This Week

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU
Leon County Public Libraries are giving away masks for free. This comes after the Leon County Commission passed an ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside public buildings.

Inside the LeRoy Collins Library, Stacy Shazel stands near the entrance—picking out masks with her wife from a bin on the counter. “I think it’s an awesome thing. I think that’s very great because there’s a lot of people who can’t afford to pay five or 10 dollars for a mask," Shazel said. Shazel’s wife Jeonna: “I can’t breathe with the other ones—” “But these are the ones we just got—the ones that we just got we can breathe through them.” They’re pointing to the white reusable masks they just got from the library. Director Debra Sears says the free masks are extremely popular. “They are sort of lightweight. They are very comfortable. They are like a T-shirt fabric," Sears said. The county has about 30,000 reusable fabric masks to give away now. About 230,000 more are expected to come in over the next several days.

Orange County is passing out free pet food on Saturday, signup begins Wednesday at 12 noon

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

With furloughs and layoffs continuing in Orange County because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession, Orange County will be passing out free food to pet owners this Saturday, June 27.

The distribution will be set up at Barnett Park and is by appointment only.

Families and individuals can sign up to pick up the free pet food.

The county plans on passing out more than 2.5 tons of free cat and dog food this weekend.

Antibody testing capacity already reached at Orange County Convention coronavirus test site

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Orange County Convention Center coronavirus test site has already reached its antibody testing capacity for the day on Wednesday.

There is a four to five hour wait time today for people getting a standard coronavirus test, with some individuals arriving as early as 2:30 am at the site as new cases continue to spike in the state.

Anyone coming to get tested should have a full tank of gas and working AC. Car windows must be able to open and close fully in order to get tested.

Only people who are 18 years and older with a valid form of ID are eligible to get tested at the site.

Florida reports 5,580 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Florida Department of Health reported a historic daily count of coronavirus cases on Tuesday at 5,580 new people infected with coronavirus as the state continues with its plans to reopen.

There are more than 109,000 coronavirus cases that have been recorded in the state since the state of the pandemic in mid-March, with 13,574 people hospitalized with severe symptoms.

Data about the most recent death count was unavailable on the dashboard Tuesday morning.

As a comparison, Texas which was leading the country in daily new COVID-19 cases numbers, posted only 5,489 new cases on Tuesday.

Seven TSA officers at Orlando International Airport test positive for coronavirus in one day

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Federal Security Director Pete Garcia says multiple TSA officers at Orlando International Airport have tested positive for coronavirus.

In a message sent to staff, Garcia says the officers "will remain out of operation until they are cleared by their doctor."

He said the officers' last day at the security checkpoint was yesterday, June 23, and GOAA conducted a deep clean of their work area last night.

"It is important to remember while outside of work as restaurants, shops, barbers, salons, beaches, theme parks, and other businesses in our communities reopen, that we continue to be mindful of our surroundings," Garcia wrote.

He reminded employees to wear a face covering in public, practice good hygiene, observe social distancing, and stay at home if they're sick.

Even with this news, Deputy Federal Security Director Greg Hawko says officers will return to their normal work schedule starting on Thursday to prepare for the busy fourth of July holiday.

A proposal to freeze rent in Orange County for a year failed Tuesday at the Orange County Commission

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

Commissioner Emily Bonilla wanted to have a formal public hearing on rent-control next month. 

If it had been approved, voters would have made the final decision on a one-year rent freeze in November.

But only two members of the board voted in favor of the rent control hearing.

Here’s Bonilla:

“We were already in a housing emergency prior to this, and it has been increased significantly due to a worldwide pandemic. I mean, if a worldwide pandemic isn’t enough to say we’re in a housing emergency, I don’t know what is.”

The board heard public comment from landlords saying a rent freeze would make them sell, which would eventually shrink the supply of rental houses and apartments and drive up rent. 

For Portland, Ore., woman, home these days is where she parks her minivan

Nellie Gilles, NPR

The coronavirus pandemic has left tens of millions of people without a safety net. Naida Lavon is one of them.

Lavon is 67 years old, a retired school bus driver, and she was recently furloughed from her part-time job at Avis Rent-a-Car. In March, she also found herself without a home so she started living in her minivan on the streets of Portland, Ore. For the past few months, Lavon has been keeping an audio diary of her experience being newly homeless.

Her first night living in her car, Lavon didn't know where to park and feel safe. She drove around and found a road in an industrial area on the west side of Portland's airport. The road is lined on both sides with people living in their cars, RVs and trailers. Many look as if they have been parked there a long time: They have awnings and furniture set up. Lavon parks alongside them each night, and although she doesn't interact with her neighbors much, she says she feels there's safety in numbers.

For privacy, Lavon has blacked out most of the minivan's windows with insulating material. Her bed takes up half the back of her car. Her mattress is made out of seat cushions, camping pads and a duvet cover. She has an old sleeping bag for warmth. She stores her belongings in plastic drawers and a rooftop carrier.

One of the biggest hurdles for Lavon is staying clean. Because of the pandemic, many public restrooms are closed. She often goes to the grocery store during the day to use the bathroom and wash up. Occasionally, she stops by a friend's apartment to take a shower. Lavon says she tries not to panic about the possibility of getting the virus but takes as many precautions as she can.

Lavon considers herself fortunate compared with others living on the streets. She has a nice car, which runs well. She's usually clean and well-dressed. She has Social Security and a small pension, even if it's not enough to afford housing in Portland.

Read the full article here.

'Next couple weeks are going to be critical', Fauci warns as new cases rise

Coronavirus Daily, NPR

Wearing a face mask, with hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes close at hand, Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before the House Tuesday, to explain why the U.S. still struggles to get a handle on the coronavirus.

On Saturday, the U.S. reported 32,411 new cases in just that one day.

Fauci also countered President Trump's claim that more testing is "a double-edged sword" to blame for the rise in coronavirus cases across the country. Instead, Fauci says testing is essential if we want to get control of the virus.

And NPR's Lauren Frayer takes us to India, where the health care system is collapsing under the heavy demand caused by COVID-19.

Plus — for the past three months, just about everyone who can work from home has. And for the most part, things seem to be working. So, as NPR's Uri Berliner reports, more and more employers are looking to make the move permanent.

Congresswoman Frankel says the coronavirus is here to stay for 2020

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU
U.S. Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel says there won’t be a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus this year. She sits on the House’s Labor, Health and Education Sub-Committee. Frankel says she’s spent hours in committee meetings with the nation’s top health officials. “I can just discern from what I have heard this virus is going to be with us for many many months. Whether there is a vaccine or a cure—it’s not going to—if it’s going to happen it’s not going to happen this year. That’s all there is to it," Frankel said. Frankel explains testing, contact tracing, and self-isolation will be vital in tamping down on the recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Just as cases began climbing, Florida shut down its COVID business complaint portal

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN
With COVID-19 cases soaring amid Florida’s reopening, government officials have been scrambling to ensure the public and businesses follow social distancing rules. One avenue for the public to report complaints has been shut down. In mid March, just before the state began shutting down, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation opened a web portal to make it easier to report businesses that failed to heed new COVID-19 guidelines. As new rules for restaurants and other businesses took effect about a week later, the online form was supposed to make it easy for people to report violations. But the state shut it down just as cases started to climb. On May 29, the day the portal was closed, the number of new cases doubled, after hitting a plateau for about a month. Since then, the outbreak has continued to accelerate. Spokeswoman Karen Smith said the agency made the decision because complaints had fallen off. But reports to the portal actually doubled from April to May. Smith said in an interview Monday many of the reports were questions or comments and not complaints. She said the department was tracking complaints in other ways and would provide details. But by deadline Tuesday, she had not responded to either an email or a text.

Florida doctor urges young residents not to assume COVID-19 is 'benign'

David Greene, NPR

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a dramatic decline in the state's median age for coronavirus patients: from 65 years old in March to 37.

Dr. Cheryl Holder, an associate professor at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, says that's likely due to older people heeding warnings about how to stay healthy.

"It's really basically who gets exposed," Holder tells NPR. "If you look who is staying in and following the guidelines, [it's] older people who are at risk. The older folks got [the message]; the young people, not so much."

On Monday, Florida hit the grim milestone of more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, shortly after it reported a day of record-breaking new cases.

The records come after life in the state has resumed post-lockdown. Most of Florida is now in phase 2 of reopening; bars, movie theaters and tattoo parlors opened, with restrictions, earlier this month.

Holder is seeing the state's rise in coronavirus cases up close. She's treating coronavirus patients in Miami, one of the areas hardest hit by the spike in cases.

Read the full article here.

The economics of vaccine pricing

The Indicator, NPR

We all agree that we need a vaccine for COVID-19 — for public health, and to stop its devastating effects.

And also because without one, it's going to be difficult for our economy to reopen fully.

But developing a vaccine isn't as easy as it might sound. For one thing, you have to think about who actually develops the vaccine.

In the U.S., it's not some government agency; it's pharmaceutical companies. And pharma companies work for a profit. They're going to want to price that vaccine as high as they can.

The government, on the other hand, wants to keep the price of a vaccine as low as possible, to make sure everyone gets vaccinated.

Aligning the incentives of pharma companies with the needs of the public and the government is complicated. And finding a sweet spot for pricing a vaccine is vital.

South Florida pediatrics leader on school reopening plans

Alex Gonzalez, WLRN
South Florida school districts are considering what measures they’ll need to put in place so kids can return to the classroom later this summer.

Dr. Barry Gelman is Chief Medical Officer at Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami. He says kids aren’t typically getting very sick, but they can spread COVID-19. "The virus is gonna keep circulating, and when kids go to school, they will spread it to each other. The important thing is to monitor them for symptoms if they’re getting sicker. And also to keep adults who are at risk safe," Gelman said. According to the Florida Department of Health, only one minor in the state has died from COVID-19 so far — a 17-year-old in Pasco County. The Miami-Dade school district is expected to release its reopening plans next week. Palm Beach County is set to announce similar plans on July 15th. Broward County presented a preliminary plan on June 16th.

5,489 new COVID-19 cases: Texas reports all-time daily high

Bill Chappell, NPR

"Today, Texas will report an all-time high in the number of cases of people testing positive" for the coronavirus, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, adding that for the first time, his state would surpass 5,000 new cases in a single day.

Hours later, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 5,489 new cases.

Abbott initially revealed the daunting new record during an interview with TV station KBTX in which he urged people to take the deadly disease seriously, telling them to wear a mask in public, stay home when possible and take other precautions.

"The hospitalization rate is at an all-time high," he said. "The coronavirus is serious. It's spreading in Brazos County, across the entire state of Texas."

Texas is seeing a sharp rise in cases; it was just days ago that the state crossed the 4,000-case mark for the first time in its daily tally.

Read the full article here.

Bleak UNICEF report on kids and COVID-19 ... but there is hope

Fran Kritz, NPR

A pandemic is hard on everyone.

And even though older people face greater risks from the novel coronavirus, a UNICEF report released on Tuesday points to another particularly vulnerable population: youth.

The report is titled Lives Upended: How COVID-19 threatens the futures of 600 million South Asian children.

According to the report, the pandemic is "unraveling decades of health, education and other advances for children across South Asia."

Because of the lockdowns, children are out of school (and cut off from the toilets and water they may have there but not at home). They're at risk of hunger when family incomes shrink — and of domestic abuse as well in close quarters. They're isolated from friends.

Especially concerning, say UNICEF and regional mental health experts, are anecdotal and statistical reports that show suicides and suicidal thoughts are going up, in particular among adolescents.

Statistics reported by Bharat Gautam, clinical psychologist for the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, document 134 reports of suicide among adolescents from March 24 to April 23 — and 127 the prior month.

The UNICEF report notes that, since the pandemic's start, a Bangladesh hotline for children "intervened in six cases of potential suicide" in a single week and that two adolescent suicide cases in Bhutan were linked to "family tension and domestic violence."

Read the full article here.

Orange County mayor is defending a decision to mandate wearing masks in public

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

At a briefing Tuesday, officials reported that Orange County has had more than 300 people test positive for COVID-19 three of the last four days this week. 

The number of people hospitalized in Orange County is also rising. 

Mayor Jerry Demings says he is within his legal authority to mandate wearing masks. 

“If we wait to the point where we have exceeded the capacity of our local hospitals, then we have a significant challenge. No one wants to go back to the days when we had to shelter in place at home," Demings said.

The mask mandate does not have any criminal or civil fines if people don’t wear a mask.

The percent of people tested who are coming back positive has been above 10 percent for a week - peaking at almost 19 percent over the weekend.

Epidemiologists warn that having test results above 10 percent indicates that there is community spread that isn’t controlled. 

Rapinoe, Press among players opting out of NWSL tournament

The Associated Press

U.S. national team players Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press have opted out of the National Women’s Soccer League tournament opening this weekend in Utah.

Heath and Press played with Rapinoe on the champion World Cup team last summer in France.

The two cited concerns about the coronavirus for their decisions not to play. Rapinoe didn't publicly give a reason.

The monthlong Challenge Cup opens Saturday with a nationally televised game between the Portland Thorns and the defending champion North Carolina Courage.

Troopers writing more speeding tickets amid pandemic

Tom Urban, WLRN
With fewer cars on Florida roads over the past few months due to the coronavirus pandemic, those who are driving appear to be going a lot faster. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the overall number of traffic crashes is down substantially this year compared to last, as many people have been working from home and students attended school remotely. However, among those who are driving on open roads, there have been more speeding tickets written in 2020, compared to 2019. FHP Captain Peter Bergstresser says the highway patrol will continue to focus on slowing drivers down this summer. “Our troopers have been out on the roadways enforcing speed and doing campaigns to stop aggressive driving and so on. So, we have seen an uptick," Bergstresser said. Bergstresser says overall traffic is starting to get back to normal, as Florida slowly reopens amid the continued COVID-19 pandemic. Troopers say drivers need to be especially careful to look for bicyclists and pedestrians during the summer months.

Miami Democrats reluctant to host presidential debate amid pandemic

Danny Rivero, WLRN
Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center is set to host an October debate between President Donald Trump and presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden. What’s still up in the air is how South Florida will be doing with coronavirus cases, which have spiked over the last few weeks. And that has some groups nervous about hosting the event. Steve Simeonidis is the chairman for the Democratic Party of Miami-Dade County.

"I would be far more excited to welcome the spotlight on issues impacting Miami had our governor and our county mayor not put profits over people and allowed COVID-19 to spread pervasively throughout our community," Simeonidis said. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Politico it’s possible the event will have to be held without anyone in the audience. The Republican Party of Miami-Dade County did not respond to calls about the announcement.

Florida colleges' plans to reopen campuses approved

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s 12 public universities were given the green light to welcome students and faculty back to campus in the fall.

College officials outlined measures and restrictions to prevent the further spread of the new coronavirus at a Tuesday meeting with the state's Board of Governors in Orlando.

The plans to resume in-person classes were approved by the governing body one by one.

Most of them rely on self-reporting assessments by students.

Florida's Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said universities will need to implement best practices as a spike in cases is reported in the state with more young people testing

Like what you just read? Check out our other coronavirus coverage. 

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.