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Your Thursday Update: Florida Adds 120 New Virus-Related Deaths, State Jobless Claims Drop With Fewer Layoffs, Tax-Free Weekend for Back-to-School Items Begins Friday

Photo: Tiffany Tertipes
Photo: Tiffany Tertipes

Florida adds 120 new virus-related deaths

Danielle Prieur, WMFE  Florida added 120 new coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, bringing the total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 7,747 residents. The state also reported 7,650 new coronavirus cases. More than 500,000 people have been infected with the virus since mid-March. Orange County continues to lead Central Florida with the most coronavirus cases. The county added 351 cases for a total of 30,776 positive test results over the past six months.

With fewer layoffs, Florida jobless claims dropped last week

The Associated News

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The number of Floridians filing new jobless claims dropped last week by more than 17,500 from the previous week.

New figures released Thursday show there were 73,955 new claims for unemployment benefits filed last week in Florida, a drop from the previous week’s 91,462 claims.

The report from the U.S. Department of Labor noted that last week there were fewer layoffs in the agriculture, construction, manufacturing, retail and service industries than the previous week.

Since the pandemic started in March, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has confirmed 3.2 million jobless claims and paid out $12.8 billion in benefits to Floridians.

Florida offers tax-free weekend for back-to-school items

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Need to stock up on school supplies and clothing? It's a good weekend for shoppers across Florida as the state holds its annual tax-free weekend for back-to-school bargains.

Technology may be the hot ticket items as many students across the state are returning to classes remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

State and local sales tax is exempt on the first $1,000 on computers and accessories.

For the smaller budgets, taxes are also exempt on school supplies that cost $15 or less. The deal is also extended to clothing items costing $60 or less. The tax-free holiday runs from Friday through Sunday.

America no longer world's favored travel destination

Tom Flanigan, WFSU Brand USA is a firm that markets America as a great tourist destination to the rest of the world. But its President and CEO Chris Thompson says that marketing has screeched to a halt. "Right now if we messaged, it would be tone deaf. We would be considered insincere and inappropriate because nobody's receptive to our message about traveling to the United States." Speaking to the Economic Club of Florida Wednesday, Thompson predicted it might be three or four years before America's international visitor market returns to pre-pandemic levels. Thompson used to live in Tallahassee when he headed Visit Florida.

COVID-19 leads to increased cyber attacks on businesses

Tom Urban, WLRN

Cyber attacks on businesses are on the rise, amid the coronavirus pandemic. With a significant number of people working from home across all business sectors, hackers are figuring out ways to breech security systems. Most internet security used at a firm’s physical office is often much more robust than when employees are home-based. Additionally, less face-to-face contact between employees makes it easier for scam artists to trick workers into clicking fraudulent links. Socius Insurance Services Southeast Regional President Eric Shapiro says while security hacks of large corporations usually get the headlines, the cost to smaller businesses dealing with hacks and security breaches is hundreds of millions of dollars per year. “Most small and mid-sized companies are easier targets for these hackers, because they have less IT department and less money to be able to spend on their IT. So, they are just easier targets.” Shapiro says cyber liability coverage is a growing insurance product being offered to Florida companies. Under this type of plan, businesses get monitoring for potential security breaches on the front end, along with insurance in case a hack does occur.

FDA adviser: Not realistic to expect a COVID-19 vaccine in 2020

Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR

In June, the Trump administration introduced Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to deliver 300 million doses of an effective COVID-19 vaccine by January 2021.

On Fox & Friends Wednesday morning, President Trump said the effort to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19 is making good progress.

"I've streamlined the process," the president said. "This would have taken three, four years to be where we are right now. And we're going to have one, I believe, long before the end of the year."

This comes with elections just months away and as the virus continues to spread across the United States. More than 4.7 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, more than in any other nation, and more than 157,000 people have died.

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who serves on a panel advising the Food and Drug Administration, tells All Things Considered that he's cautiously optimistic for the future of an effective COVID-19 vaccine but that he doesn't think one will be ready before the end of the year.

The patchwork pandemic continues as new states approach a 'danger point'

Consider This From NPR

First New York, then the Sun Belt. Now, new states like Illinois and Mississippi are urging residents to wear masks and take the virus more seriously.

Bars remain one of the most dangerous places to be during the pandemic. Reporter Will Stone explains why, from Seattle.

While Michigan and New York saw similar spikes in cases near the beginning of the pandemic, New York has flattened the curve. Michigan hasn't. Reporters Kate Wells and Fred Mogul discuss what lessons can be learned from the disparity.

Alberto Perlman on Zumba during COVID-19 with Guy Raz

How I Built This, NPR

How I Built This host Guy Raz was live with Zumba founder and CEO Alberto Perlman.

When gyms across the country were forced to shut their doors, Alberto Perlman and the Zumba team got to work.

They created tools to help instructors schedule, accept payment and livestream classes.

Guy asks Alberto how those pivots have paid off, and what else the fitness company is doing to stay resilient during this health and economic crisis.

No hoopla: Virus upends Trump, Biden convention plans

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic challenger Joe Biden joined President Donald Trump on Wednesday in scrapping plans to accept his party’s presidential nomination in a convention extravaganza.

Neither campaign has announced an alternative to the Democrats’ original plans for Milwaukee and the Republicans’ shifting plans spanning Charlotte, North Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida.

It’s yet another striking demonstration of how the COVID-19 pandemic has upended American life and the 2020 presidential campaign.

It's denying Trump and Biden coveted personal experiences with party faithful and leaving their campaigns looking for alternative ways to capitalize on a moment that still can reach millions of Americans via television and online.

In non-coronavirus news: Pence tours pregnancy center, fires up GOP base in Florida

The Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence visited the Tampa Bay area, firing up the Republican party's conservative base by touring a pregnancy center, speaking at a church and appearing before a packed hotel ballroom crowd.

Pence's visit on Wednesday highlighted his anti-abortion and conservative Christian stance.

He told about 150 people at the Hilton in Clearwater that if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected, he would “undo all the progress” that the anti-abortion movement has made in the U.S. since the 1973 passage of Roe vs. Wade, which established abortion rights nationwide.

Orlando City faces off against Minnesota United 

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

Orlando City Soccer club will face off against Minnesota United Thursday night in the semi-finals of the MLS is Back tournament.

The winner of tonight’s match will advance to the championship game on Aug. 11. The match will be held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. 

It starts at 8 p.m., and will be broadcast on ESPN-2.

Building rapport, ensuring privacy are challenges for school social workers offering remote therapy

Jessica Bakeman, WLRN

When Tierra Rushing arrived at school at about 7:30 a.m., some students were usually already waiting for her outside her office.

That was during a typical school year. Rushing is a social worker based at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, and she relished those moments when students would pop by just to chat about their days.

With school buildings closed since March to stop the spread of COVID-19, and the School District of Palm Beach County planning a virtual start to this school year, Rushing will have to go without those encounters for a while longer.

“I miss the face-to-face interactions,” Rushing said. “There's nothing that can compare to actually sitting in an office and having these hard conversations, these hard talks with the students. It's not the same virtually — whether you do FaceTime, phone call. It's not the same.”

Read the full article here.

Florida adds rapid testing to improve data collection, contact tracing efforts

Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN
Florida now has more than 500,000 cases of COVID-19, the most of any state after California. And it can still take as long as two weeks to get back test results. This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that tests with a 15-minute turnaround would be available at state-funded sites in Miami-Dade County, including at Marlins Park and Hard Rock Stadium. "Now, we're gonna get every day at these two sites a total of 1,250 tests. We're gonna be able to get real-time data about the percent testing positive, the number of people testing. And so I think it'll be really, really good." For now, the quicker ‘antigen’ tests are reserved for people with symptoms or those 65 and older. Testing sites will still have a lane for regular testing, for people who don’t have symptoms. The state announced the deaths of another 225 Florida residents on Wednesday; that brings the total to more than 7,600 COVID-19 deaths statewide.

School district outbreak plans are unclear

Daylina Miller, WUSF

Most Florida school districts will reopen with some students learning from home and others learning in person. But what happens when an outbreak of the coronavirus spreads through a school? When a student tests positive for COVID-19, plans call for each school district to oversee contact tracing with guidance from the Florida Department of Health. The student's classmates may have to quarantine at home. But the plans are unclear on what constitutes an outbreak. That's left to the health department, which released a statement saying a single case could be considered an outbreak - but didn't say how many cases might close a school. Stephen Hegarty is with Pasco County Schools. He says variables like close contact and masks will determine who quarantines. "We are not going to be in the habit of closing schools, but if certain variables go the wrong way, then if we're forced to close a school for whatever period of time, we might only close the school for a day or two, or maybe the weekend would suffice for us to clean the school. And then whoever was infected would remain home. Once we've cleaned the schools, we could bring the students back." He says a large outbreak could close a school for longer. Meanwhile, teachers unions across the state are still pushing for schools to start online. Rob Kriete is the president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. He says it's not a matter of if an outbreak happens, but when. "We're going to have a problem with getting substitute teachers and delivering instruction in an inconsistent format in terms of going from brick and mortar to e-learning is going to be much more difficult than say, starting the school year with all the learning until we know it's safe enough to go back." Kriete worries that social distancing will be impossible to practice and enforce in small classrooms and hallways.

Love letters to what we hold dear 

TED Radio Hour, NPR

In a series of visual, animated love letters, designer Debbie Millman reflects on the things she's grateful for by exploring the wonders of her garden, New York City, travel and storytelling. "As we navigate through this crisis, I'm hopeful we will find some solace together," she says.

Broward School District pauses meal distributions for three weeks, says nonprofits will fill the void

Jessica Bakeman, WLRN

South Florida school districts have been handing out millions of breakfasts, lunches and snacks to children since schools closed in March. But Broward County stopped last week. The district says nonprofits will meet the need until school starts. Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie touted the 2.5 million meals the district has distributed during the pandemic in his State of the District address this week. “Our schools became the lifeline for so many in our community. We continue to distribute food from our local school sites.” Runcie says “continue” here — but the district actually stopped those weekly meal distributions on July 28th. They start up again on the first day of virtual school: August 19th. That’s three weeks without those breakfast and lunch pickups for the two-thirds of Broward families who qualify for free or discounted meals. Michael Farver is president and CEO of the South Florida Hunger Coalition. “It creates a vacuum.” The district says that it partnered with other local organizations to create the website Together-4-Broward which has a map of locations where families can get free food in the meantime. Farver says it’s not enough. “There's going to be kids going hungry. There's just no doubt about it. It's regrettable, but it's going to happen.” The Summer Meal Service Program is funded by the federal government — and it’s up to school districts to decide whether they take a break between those meal distributions and the start of the regular ones during the school year. The Miami-Dade and Palm Beach districts are continuing with the summer program right up until the first day of school.

Bay District Schools hires COVID-19 nurse

Valerie Crowder, WFSU
Bay District Schools has hired an additional nurse to serve as the main contact for administrators’ questions about COVID-19. Superintendent Bill Husfelt says funding for the new position comes from federal coronavirus relief dollars. “Having someone on staff like this that is paid for by the federal government in that grant is going to allow those administrators and directors to have someone to reach out to when they have a question that needs an immediate answer - what to do, how to react, what to tell a parent, what to tell students.” Bay County’s average coronavirus transmission rate for the last seven days has been 21 percent. In that time, there have been almost 700 new local cases confirmed. Students and teachers will return to county schools in two weeks.

Integrity Florida releases report showing vote by mail is efficient

Blaise Gainey, WFSU Integrity Florida is hoping to debunk the myth that voting by mail is linked to voter fraud. The group published a report Wednesday titled, “Vote by Mail: A Safe Option for Florida Voters – The Implications in a Battleground State.” In it they point to an investigative reporting project that found only 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud since 2000 nationwide. That comes out to a very small percent of the total ballots cast in that time. Ben Wilcox a Research Director with Integrity Florida says if the vote-by-mail system proves itself during the upcoming elections, it could push some governments to lean more heavily on the system in the future.

“I think people are going to be more open to going to universal mail balloting once this election is over and we see how successful it has been. We just don’t know what’s going to happen with this pandemic.” Currently five states conduct their elections all by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. Those that have been doing it for multiple elections have seen an increase in voter participation.

Looking ahead to Broward County's virtual school year

Caitie Switalski, WLRN When Broward County students go back to school later this month, they will start online - and the school district is still finalizing exactly what that will look like. The South Florida Institute on Aging hosted a Zoom Q&A about back-to-school on Wednesday with Donna Korn. She chairs the Broward County School Board. Korn said the new school year will be more structured than when the pandemic arrived last Spring: "You will literally be going through your school day but on a virtual platform. We're also trying to roll out as much as we can together but we are not dictating what our schedule will be around the other counties." Once students can go back to school in person, there are concerns about keeping it safe. Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said the district has asked about the possibility of using federal CARES Act funds to get nurses to help out in classrooms. Holness said he will run the idea past city mayors. "I will have a discussion with them to see whether or not some portion of the CARES Act that they will receive can be utilized in their cities to provide the nursing assistants." School will start virtually in Broward on August 19th. The school board will further discuss reopening plans at a meeting next week.

Financially struggling zoos could be latest pandemic victims

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Zoos and aquariums from Florida to Alaska are struggling financially because of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet animals still need expensive care and food, meaning the closures that began in March — the start of the busiest season for most animal parks — have left many of the facilities in dire financial straits.

Even after many parks reopened, attendance has remained low as people choose to stay home and avoid crowds.  Zoo administrators say the strain on budgets has led to layoffs and pay cuts.

Now zoos are turning to the public for help.

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