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Your Friday Update: Positive Rate of COVID-19 Testing Drops in Florida, State Calls Witnesses in School Reopen Challenge, Miami Facility Feeds Muslim Inmates Pork

Photo: Marc-Olivier Jodoin
Photo: Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Furloughed Airport Restaurant Workers In Florida To Face Permanent Layoffs

The Associated Press

Almost 2,000 airport restaurant workers in Florida who were furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic have been told they likely face permanent layoffs. 

In letters sent by HMSHost, 782 Orlando International Airport workers were informed of pending layoffs.  

Another 1,119 airport restaurant workers in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami are slated for layoffs. 

They haven’t been paid since mid-March. Their benefits were suspended in June. 

HMSHost is one of the largest operators of airport concessions in the U.S.. 

The company says the “unfortunate reality is that it is going to take a significant period for our business to recover.”  

Florida's Carter dedicates season to virus victims, fighters

The Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida defensive end Zach Carter plans to play and will dedicate the season to those affected by COVID-19.

Carter missed the opening days of fall camp while he considered skipping the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Carter's father was hospitalized with COVID-19 over the summer and said earlier this week his son “just doesn’t feel safe right now.”

But Carter seemed to put questions about his Florida future to rest Thursday.

He posted on Twitter that he's “looking forward to ballin' out in honor of all COVID-19 fighters and victims.”

Positive rate of COVID-19 testing drops in Florida

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Florida is reporting for the first time in almost two months that fewer than 10% of the people testing for the coronavirus have positive results.

Figures released by the state health department on Thursday show the daily rate for people testing positive was slightly below that threshold after the state reached nearly 21% on July 8.

The figure used by state and local governments to weigh reopening decisions hadn't dipped this low since June 21.

Florida also reported 119 new deaths from the virus, bringing its total death toll to 10,186. Hospitalizations decreased only slightly.

Former deputy postmaster general: Changes are needed, but 'the time is not now'

Peter Granitz, NPR Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says any new controversial cost-cutting changes to the U.S Postal Service — such as slashing overtime, removing mailboxes from city streets and getting rid of mail-sorting machines —  won't happen until after the general election in November. A record number of voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail then. But many changes have already been made, including  removal of some mail-sorting machines. DeJoy says the proposed changes were  intended to cut costs and improve efficiency in the agency, which reported a loss of $9 billion last year. Meanwhile, President Trump has said he opposes increasing funding for the agency because he wants to make it more difficult to expand voting by mail —  before softening those statements. Until June, Ron Stroman was the deputy postmaster general, a job in which he oversaw, among other things, election mail. He resigned shortly before DeJoy started. The spotlight on the agency has highlighted the crucial role it plays, Stroman says. "In times of crisis, whether it's a tornado or a hurricane or a once-in-a-generation pandemic, the Postal Service goes beyond just delivering the mail," Stroman told NPR's Leila Fadel. "It's a lifeline to American citizens, and you can't just operate this as a business as usual." Read the full article here.

Airbnb bans all parties at its listings worldwide, citing public health mandates

Rachel Treisman, NPR Airbnb is banning all parties at its listings worldwide, further cracking down on unauthorized gatherings in the name of public health. The company on Thursday announced its " Global Party Ban," which includes an occupancy cap of 16 guests. The new policy applies to all future bookings and will remain in effect indefinitely. Airbnb said that "instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health." According to Airbnb, rental properties have been misused to host unsafe get-togethers as gatherings, bars, clubs and pubs remain restricted in most places. "Some have chosen to take bar and club behavior to homes, sometimes rented through our platform," it said in a statement. "We think such conduct is incredibly irresponsible – we do not want that type of business, and anyone engaged in or allowing that behavior does not belong on our platform." Unauthorized parties have long been prohibited at Airbnb rentals, and the company said 73% of its listings worldwide already explicitly ban parties in their house rules. Small events such as baby showers and birthday parties have historically been allowed at the discretion of the host. Read the full article here.

How the lack of fans is changing the psychology of sports

Short Wave, NPR Professional sports are back - but it's anything but normal. The most obvious difference is the glaring absence of fans in the stands. This has led to some creative experimentation with recordings of crowd noise being piped into venues. We talk to a sports psychology researcher about the effects that empty bleachers and the lack of real crowd noise are having on players, coaches, referees and fans.

Social distancing is key as college students move in

Kerry Sheridan, WUSF
Students are moving into their residence halls at local colleges. In the era of coronavirus, that means learning to follow a host of new protocols. University of South Florida freshman Matt Williams rolls a metal cart as he wraps up his move-in day. He says he’s glad to see some of the safety measures in effect. “I like how they are making some classes online, I think that is useful. Some classes need to be in person like my chem lab, so I’m fine with that and they are operating at like 50 percent capacity. I think they are handling it the best way they can.” At USF St. Petersburg, Dean of Students Jacob Diaz says about 400 students are moving in on a staggered schedule to maintain social distancing. “Students have been very compliant. They come to campus, they are wearing their masks inside our spaces and they are being thoughtful about distance between the next person.” Every resident had to receive a negative test result for COVID-19 before moving in. The university has set aside dorm rooms for students who may need to isolate if they get sick. But Diaz admits that seeing other universities, like Notre Dame and UNC Chapel Hill, halt in-person classes due to a surge in coronavirus cases is worrying, and students avoiding large gatherings may be the key to whether reopening here is a success or a failure. “Lesson learned for me has been I don’t think we can communicate enough daily about the importance of staying apart.” At USF St. Pete, about 60 percent of classes are virtual, about 20 percent in person, and the rest hybrid. The first day of class is Monday.

State calls parents, doctors as witnesses in school reopen challenge's second day of hearings

Ryan Dailey, WFSU The high-profile lawsuit was brought by statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association. It alleges state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order calling for brick-and-mortar campuses to operate in the fall violates the state constitution, which requires public schools be “safe.” Attorneys for the state called parents of Florida students as witnesses, who said continuing with distance learning will be harmful for a number of reasons. Also called as witnesses were two doctors, who spoke in favor of opening campuses. One of them is Stanford professor and researcher Dr. Jay Bhattacharya. Using his testimony, the state tried poking holes in the theory that child-to-adult COVID-19 transmission is a risk. "The main finding from that literature is that kids do not pass the disease onto adults at any appreciable rate. The risk that kids pose to adults is very, very small, even if they’re positive." There, Dr. Bhattacharya cited a study done in Iceland, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Jacob Stuart, an attorney representing the teachers union, called into question Bhattacharya’s credibility. "After medical school, did you ever complete an internship or residency?" "No, I do research full-time." "So, it’s fair to say then, part of your research, you’ve never treated any patient formally, your entire career. Is that right?" "In medical school I did, but no – I do research full-time." "Have you ever treated anyone with COVID-19?" "I don’t treat patients, I do research full-time." Leon County Judge Charles Dodson scheduled closing arguments in the case. He said he’s hoping to make a ruling in the case early next week.

PBC health director to school board: No set COVID-19 number for entering state's phase 2 reopening plan

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN Palm Beach County School District unanimously approved safety guidelines for when students and staff return to classrooms. The district is waiting for the county to enter phase 2 of the state's reopening plan. Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso made an appearance at the virtual school board meeting Wednesday. She says a 5% daily lab positivity rate is an ideal benchmark for entering phase 2, but is cautious about giving an exact number. "We are not going to take any number as the reason for going into phase 2 or not. We want to make sure that we feel comfortable that as a whole we’re looking at it and we don't make the mistake of just going into phase 2 too soon. We also want to see what the counties around us are doing." New school policy includes mandated face masks, physical distancing, and at-home self screening prior to going to school with a temperature lower than 100.4 degrees.

Cuba latest country to come forward with COVID-19 vaccine

Tim Padgett, WLRN A lot of countries of late claim they’ve developed COVID-19 vaccines. The latest is Cuba – which is set to begin testing its vaccine next week. Cuban scientists told President Miguel Díaz-Canel this week they’re set to start a phase-1 clinical trial of their COVID-19 vaccine, called Soberana 01. They said it’s shown promise creating antibodies against the new coronavirus similar to vaccines used previously against the SARS virus. The initial testing on humans will begin next Monday to confirm the drug’s safety. A phase-2 trial would then begin next month to determine its actual effectiveness. Cuban state media say the results probably won’t be ready until January. Soberana 01 was developed at Cuba’s biotech facility, the Finlay Institute, which is well regarded internationally for its vaccine production. Its name means “sovereign.” That’s meant to signal that amid its wrecked economy, Cuba needs to rely on a domestically produced vaccine. Cuba has seen a sharp jump in coronavirus cases this month and has had to pull back on re-opening the island to badly needed tourism.

Positive coronavirus tests come from Wakulla County Schools

Blaise Gainey, WFSU A week after Wakulla County Schools reopened, the local health department says positive coronavirus tests have been reported.

The district doesn’t disclose how many students and personnel were affected and at what schools, but the Wakulla News reports at least one kindergarten student tested positive. Wakulla Superintendent Robert Pearce says the teacher and students in the classroom where COVID-19 was present have been placed on a 14-day quarantine. The health department is currently conducting contact tracing to determine if exposure has been contained. The Florida Department of Education recently released guidance to schools on how to handle outbreaks. It suggests schools try to limit the impact to the smallest space possible and, instead of shutting a school down, to close the classroom where the outbreak was identified, instead.

The looming eviction crisis

The Indicator from Planet Money Millions of renters in the US are facing the prospect of eviction from their homes.

White House stokes hopes that key hospital data tracking will soon return to CDC

Pien Huang, NPR The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working "to build a revolutionary new data system" for COVID-19 hospital data collection that the CDC will run upon completion, according to Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Birx's comments this week come a month after the Trump administration mandated that hospitals sidestep the agency and send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CDC. The July decision was met with  an avalanche of criticism from medical institutions and public health groups. Weeks after the new reporting system was rolled out,  the data were shown to be rife with inconsistencies and updated erratically. The announcement sparked hope among some public health advocates that the current, controversial system of reporting hospital data around COVID-19 would soon be canceled and that data collection would be restored to the CDC. Birx made the  remarks Monday during a visit to the Arkansas governor's mansion, and did not provide a time frame for the change. Read the full article here.

Groups: Muslim detainees at Miami facility are served pork

The Associated Press MIAMI (AP) — Immigrant rights advocates say that Muslim detainees at a Florida facility are being served meals that include pork in violation of their religious beliefs. The human rights groups Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice sent a letter to federal agencies Wednesday demanding that they immediately stop feeding pork to detainees at the Miami detention center. Since the pandemic began, the facility switched from cafeteria dining to sending plates with food directly to the detainees’ units. The letter says the meals regularly include pork sausage and pork ribs. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman responded that the agency’s detention standards include “accommodation of religious dietary practices.”

Young children pose a dilemma for airlines with mask rules

The Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) — Airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks, but recent incidents involving young children have put the carriers on the spot for how they enforce rules on face coverings.

JetBlue booted a mother and her six children off a plane this week when a 2-year-old wouldn’t keep her mask on.

A few days later, it was Southwest Airlines that removed a woman and her children after her autistic son refused to keep his mask on. As the pandemic continues, airlines have tightened mask rules banning violators from future flights.

But they're finding it's tricky when the violators are young children.

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