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Governor DeSantis Says K-12 Schools Closed for the Year, Antibody Test Kits Will Arrive Next Week; Flagler Officials Talk Reopening Beaches; Your Coronavirus Update for 4/18

Photo: Max @iconquistador

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Florida case data is updated at approximately 11:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily.

6:30 p.m. update 

Evening update: More than 25,490 Floridians have coronavirus

Florida is reporting 25,492 coronavirus cases, 748 deaths and 3,745 people hospitalized with COVID-19 according to the latest numbers from the state department of health.

In Orange County there are now 1,180 cases, with 196 hospitalizations. Twenty three people have now died from COVID-19 in the county.

Osceola County has 403 cases and five deaths, while Polk County has 320 cases and twelve deaths.

In Sumter County, home of The Villages retirement community, there are 144 cases and 31 hospitalizations. Eleven people in the county have died.

Hover over the map for data from other counties.

5:30 p.m. update

Governor Ron DeSantis gives coronavirus update at the Florida Capitol

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

K-12 schools are closed for the rest of the year 

Governor Ron DeSantis announced K-12 schools will be closed through the rest of the school year. DeSantis said the decision was made after talking with teachers and parents across the state.

“There was some differing opinions. Some parents were not interested in their kids going back. Some others, it’s been tough around the house. They would have liked to have seen them go back,” he said.

DeSantis said classes will continue online which he called, “not the ideal situation.”

“But given where we are in the school year, we felt that that was the best decision to go forward,” he said.

Economic task force will meet for the first time Monday

DeSantis said a state economic task force will meet for the first time on Monday to discuss reopening businesses. He said the elected and industry leaders who make up the group will develop short, medium and long-term recovery strategies.

“We want to see people back to work for the long-haul and we want to continue with Florida’s economic development strategy,” he said.

DeSantis said the task force will meet every day this week and will present him with their short-term recommendations by Friday.

“We had a lot of great irons in the fire when this hit and we want to get that back going forward,” he said.

Names of nursing homes with coronavirus cases to be released

DeSantis said he ordered Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to release the names of nursing homes with coronavirus cases in residents and workers.

He said it was up to the nursing homes to release this information before.

“We know it was done most of the time. But at the same time, you have one incident and a week from now they don’t follow through with that. I don’t want to be in situation where the families don’t know,” he said.

DeSantis said Florida National Guard strike teams will continue spot testing at nursing homes along with hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic.

“We’re trying to if we identify an outbreak contain it, so it doesn’t spread like wildfire throughout the facility,” he said.

Antibody tests will arrive in the state next week 

DeSantis said antibody testing has already begun in Florida. He said the state has been working with blood donation companies to screen donors for the protein that points to exposure.

He says the Division of Emergency Management has also ordered antibody test kits.

“They’re supposed to come in this coming week, but I think as we’ve seen in this process you never really know how this is going to all work out,” he said.

DeSantis said being able to identify the spread of the virus throughout the community will inform policy-making going forward.

“It is important to know if in fact the number of people who have actually tested positive is just a really small fraction of whose actually had the virus and who currently has the antibodies,” he said.

Flagler County officials meet to discuss re-opening the beaches

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Flagler County officials met virtually Saturday to discuss reopening the beaches. A final decision is expected to be handed down Tuesday.

The beaches would only be open on a trial basis for a limited number of hours and could only be used for physical exercise like walking or running, not for socializing.

In a statement, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said they were taking things slow “to try to avoid the missteps of other jurisdictions.

“The goal is safety. We’ve been encouraged by and continue to monitor our park trails experiment – our residents are following extreme social distancing,” Cameron said.

Residents would still have to follow state and county stay-at-home-orders which require non-essential workers to remain inside unless they are getting groceries, picking up medicine or exercising.

The county recommends people continue to wear face coverings in public, practice aggressive social distancing, and wash their hands with soap and water for twenty seconds or use hand sanitizer.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced beaches and parks could be reopened on Friday. Duval County was the first to reopen its beaches.

3:30 p.m. update 

No wait time, hundreds of tests available at Orange County Convention Center coronavirus testing site

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

On Saturday afternoon, there was no wait time at the Orange County Convention coronavirus testing site and hundreds of tests were still available. Bad weather earlier in the day had kept people from coming to the site.

Procedures were modified so that people could continue to fill out registration forms under cover from the rain.

The site will remain open until 5 p.m. or as long as supplies last. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, a pre-existing health condition, or who has been exposed to someone with coronavirus can be tested.

Healthcare workers and first responders don’t need to have symptoms to be eligible for testing.

All adults must have a valid ID and children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. People must be prepared to stay in their cars throughout testing. No mopeds, scooters or motorcycles are allowed on site.

Florida National Guard have performed more than 7,500 coronavirus tests in Central Florida

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

The Florida National Guard has tested 7,513 people for coronavirus at a drive thru Orange County Convention Center testing site since it opened last month.

The site ranks third out of eight Guard-run testing sites throughout the state for the number of tests administered.

Only test sites at C.B. Smith Park in Broward County and the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami-Dade County have collected more swabs for processing.

Guardsmen continue to perform checks of passengers from coronavirus hot zones at the Orlando International Airport and Florida Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen manage the State Logistics Readiness Center in Central Florida.

More than two thousand Guardsmen have been called up for duty to help with Florida’s response to COVID-19. They have performed 54,254 tests since the pandemic began.

2:30 p.m. update 

Who’s Hit Hardest By COVID-19? Why Obesity, Stress And Race All Matter

Allison Aubrey, NPR News

As data emerges on the spectrum of symptoms caused by COVID-19, it’s clear that people with chronic health conditions are being hit harder.

While many people experience mild illness, 89% of people with COVID-19 who were sick enough to be hospitalized had at least one chronic condition. About half had high blood pressure and obesity, according to data from the CDC. And about a third had diabetes and a third had cardiovascular disease. So, what explains this?

“Obesity is a marker for a number of other problems,” explains Dr. Aaron Carroll, a public health researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine. It’s increasingly common for those who develop obesity to develop diabetes and other conditions, as well. So, one reason COVID-19 is taking its toll on people who have obesity is that their overall health is often compromised.

But does obesity specifically affect the immune system? Perhaps.

Prior research has shown that people with obesity are less protected by the flu vaccine. They tend to get sicker from the respiratory disease even if they’ve been immunized. In fact, researchers have found that as people gain excess weight, their metabolism changes and this shift can make the immune system less effective at fighting off viruses.

“What we see with obesity is that these [immune] cells don’t function as well,’ says Melinda Beck, a health researcher at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Basically, she explains, obesity throws off the fuel sources that immune cells need to function. “The [immune cells] are not using the right kinds of fuels,” Beck says. And, as a result, the condition of obesity seems to “impair that critical immune response [needed] to deal with either the virus infection or [the ability] to make a robust response to a vaccine.”

So this is one explanation as to why people with obesity seem more vulnerable to serious infection. But, there are many more questions about why some people are hit harder, including whether race is a factor.

Read the full story on NPR’s website.

2 p.m. update 

Publix workers required to wear face masks starting Monday

Workers at Publix stores will be required to wear face coverings staring Monday, and are encouraged to wear gloves if they can continue to safely perform their jobs.

In a statement posted to Publix’s website, the company says it made the decision based on updated guidance from the CDC.

“Their recommendations indicate wearing any type of face covering in public places can help slow the spread of the coronavirus,” the statement read.

The company will provide face coverings for all employees, but will only give customer service and pharmacy workers plastic gloves.

Once supplies run out, workers will be expected to provide their own protective gear.

The announcement comes after Publix workers at Orlando stores along with stores in Clearwater and South Florida tested positive for coronavirus.

Read the full statement here.

1:30 p.m. update 

Walmart, Sam’s Clubs workers required to wear masks starting Monday

Walmart and Sam’s Club employees will be required to wear a face mask or other face covering at stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers, and corporate offices starting Monday.

Workers can provide their own mask if they meet certain guidelines. Otherwise, masks will be provided by management after workers pass a temperature check and health screening.

Customers and members will be encouraged but not required to wear masks.

In a letter to associates, Walmart U.S. President and CEO John Furner and Sam’s Club President and CEO Kath McLay say the decision was made based on CDC recommendations to reduce asymptomatic transmission.

“The CDC now recommends wearing face coverings in public settings, including grocery stores, to help curb the spread of the virus,” the letter read.

“Although most state and local governments do not mandate the use of face coverings in public settings, the CDC has reported that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with the virus lack symptoms and can transmit the virus.”

The company acknowledged there may be exceptions to this policy based on state and local laws along with individual health concerns.

Workers are encouraged to continue to practice six feet of social distancing, wash their hands for twenty seconds with soap and water, and stay at home if they have a temperature of 100 degrees or higher. An emergency leave policy has been extended through May.

Read the full statement here.

12:30 p.m. update 

Orlando Magic will sell face masks to support Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Orlando Magic have joined other National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association teams around the country in selling face masks to support local food banks.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the masks with the white and blue Magic logo will support Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

The cloth face coverings are available in adult and child sizes on the Orlando Magic Shop website along with NBAStore.com and WNBAStore.com. 

Manufacturer Industry Rag will donate one face covering for every one purchased to staff and volunteers at Feeding America and Second Harvest in Canada.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida says the demand for food has more than doubled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

To find the food bank closest to you, click on the link. 

As Coronavirus Continues, Advocates Raise Concerns About Domestic Abuse

Regan McCarthy, WUSF

As Floridians stay home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus some worry about another potential threat—the increased risk of domestic violence.

For weeks, after the spread of the coronavirus began, Gov. Ron DeSantis resisted calls to implement a state-wide stay-at-home order. DeSantis worried about the impact the order would have on domestic violence and abuse across the state. He also worried about the mental health impact the stress related to coronavirus was having on all Floridians.

“I know a lot of people have been uneasy, have been very anxious. You’re in a situation where a lot of the things you used to do are no longer available to you,” DeSantis said. “You turn on the TV. There’s no sports to watch. There’s not a lot of live events. It’s kind of watch the news. A lot of people are watching this and it’s of course 24/7 about the coronavirus.”

DeSantis isn’t alone in his concerns.

Officials say it’s known that when people are at home, their risk of abuse increases. Sara Walsh is the director of the domestic abuse program at Alpert Jewish Family Services in West Palm Beach.

“When there’s times of stress, this adds much more pressure on a family unit. So, when you already have domestic abuse occurring at home—emotional, physical—all these pressures are going to add to the stress of the home. And it’s just going to add additional danger to the person who is being abused,” Walsh says.

Walsh says the closure of schools and businesses is adding to that danger. The state’s unemployment rate has jumped to 4.3% with more than 2-million layoffs in the past few weeks.

“One of the things that I know is that many children, women, and men who are being abused use work and school to escape their situations. It’s their safe haven. It’s not happening now,” Walsh says. “So, if you can only imagine how frightened some of these victims are, in the home, with their abuser, 24/7.”

It’s hard to get a clear understanding of the impact coronavirus has had on driving abuse.

In Palm Beach, domestic violence workers say calls to hotlines aren’t increasing, but they think that could be an indication people are too scared to call. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Children and Families says calls to the child abuse hotline are also not rising, but that’s common during emergencies since often people outside the home—like teachers—are the ones who call to report abuse. Florida law requires any person who thinks a child is being abused to report it to the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873

Alexcia Cox works with the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach. She says the impacts may still be coming.

“I have heard that there are some days that there are sharp spikes in calls and other days there are lulls. So, I can’t give you an exact number. But, I have heard that first hand from a law enforcement officer, that some days dispatch is flooded with domestic violence calls and some days it’s back to normal. I think it ebbs and flows. But I do believe everyone is feeling that there is a ripple coming through the stay-at-home order. There has been a ripple effect in domestic violence,” Cox says.

A delayed effect following a crisis is something Randy Nicklaus says he’s seen before. He’s President of 211 Big Bend, a call center that helps connect people with services ranging from food to getting mental health treatment.

“We see that all the time after events happen, the situations for a lot of people don’t improve right away. They get worse and they need more help and they have more anxiety, depression and they may act on that in not so positive ways. Right now, we’re getting a lot of those calls about anxiety, but I think that may change into something more serious as time goes on,” Nicklaus says

Nicklaus says calls to 211 Big Bend in March increased by about 70% over the number of calls the organization received at the same time last year.

We are constantly helping people with concerns about financial situations they’re struggling with. They may have lost their jobs. They may be worried about food. So, we’re trying to help them with information about what in the community is available,” Nicklaus says.

Nicklaus says there have also been a lot of calls from people experiencing anxiety and there has been an uptick in calls related to suicide. 211 Big Bend also operates as a suicide hotline. But there haven’t been a lot of domestic violence calls yet.

“So, we have seen the trend in that area and I suspect that other areas, like domestic violence, substance abuse, will increase as a result of what’s going on. Time will tell what we see on our hotline,” Nicklaus says.

Dialing 211 will connect callers to someone in their area who can direct them to any services they might need, or just provide a listening ear.

Victims of domestic violence can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to be connected with local domestic violence resources. If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911.

11:30 a.m. update 

Mid-day update: More than 25,260 Floridians have coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida is reporting 25,269 coronavirus cases, 740 deaths and 3,680 people hospitalized with COVID-19 according to the latest numbers from the state department of health.

In Orange County there are now 1,172 cases, with 195 hospitalizations. Twenty three people have now died from COVID-19 in the county.

Osceola County has 397 cases and five deaths, while Polk County has 320 cases and twelve deaths.

In Sumter County, home of The Villages retirement community, there are 124 cases and 31 hospitalizations. Eleven people in the county have died.

Hover over the map for data from other counties.

Furlough begins Sunday for 43,000 Disney workers

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Some 43,000 Disney parks employees will be furloughed without pay on Sunday. The workers will continue to receive health insurance and education benefits.

Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney announced these workers will be automatically enrolled in the state’s unemployment assistance program.


DeSantis said this will allow the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to process these claims without crashing the mobile CONNECT website.

In a statement UNITE HERE Central Florida, the union that represents the workers, called it a “much needed-improvement to a broken state run program.”

The union will hold a mock legislative session and roll call today with Sen. Randolph Bracy and Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith to call on Desantis to continue to reform the state assistance program.


As of Thursday, only four percent of 850,000 claims statewide had been processed. To participate in the mock committee hearing at noon, click on the link. 

10:30 a.m. update

City of Orlando will hold a virtual Sunday brunch

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Almost fifty downtown Orlando restaurants and bars will participate in a virtual brunch on Sunday that will continue the beloved tradition while maintaining social distancing.

Residents are encouraged to order carryout or delivery or make their favorite foods at home and then to use Zoom or FaceTime to share a meal online with family and friends.

The City of Orlando will feature photos tagged with #StayHomeORL on their social media pages.

The event follows #407Day in Orange County, where residents ordered lunch or dinner out at local eateries while observing a countywide stay-at-home order.

For a list of participating businesses, click on the link. 

9:30 a.m. update 

Orange County Public Schools will reduce free breakfast, lunch schedule beginning Monday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Grab-and-Go meal sites in the district will only give out free breakfasts and lunches on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays starting on Monday, April 20 to limit exposure to coronavirus.

Parents will be given two meals on Mondays and Wednesdays, and three meals on Fridays to ensure children have enough food throughout the week and the weekend.

Children no longer need to be present in the car during curbside pickup.  Students who usually bike or walk to school can pick up meals on site.

All food must be taken home to eat in order to maintain six feet of social distancing.

For a list of distribution sites, click on the link. 

En español: Familias de OCPS, tenemos información actualizada sobre el horario de la distribución de comidas para llevar Grab-and-Go.

Comenzando desde el lunes, 20 de abril, la distribución de las comidas será solamente los lunes, miércoles y viernes entre las 10:00 a.m. y la 1:00 p.m.

Los niños recibirán suficiente comida los lunes para cubrir los martes, y los miércoles para cubrir el jueves. Las comidas para el fin de semana se continuarán distribuyendo los viernes. Esto es un esfuerzo para mantener más personas en sus casas y reducir exponerse con otros.

El listado de las escuelas con el programa Grab-and-Go, se encuentra en la página principal del Sitio Web del distrito: ocps.net.

9 a.m. update

More than 24,750 people in Florida have tested positive for coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Florida now has more than 24,750 cases of coronavirus.

As of Saturday morning, The Florida Department of Health reported 24,753 cases, including 24,066 cases in Florida residents.

3,649 people have been hospitalized, and 726 people have died.

Miami Dade has 8,824 cases, the most of any Florida county.

Orange County has the most cases in Central Florida, with 1,158 cases in people between the ages of 0 and 101. One hundred and ninety four people have been hospitalized and 23 have died.

Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has 120 cases, and Lake County has 197 cases.

8:30 a.m. update 

Officials at Orange County Convention Center Say Hazardous Weather Could Close Testing Site

Florida Guardsmen will continue to test people for coronavirus at the Orange County Convention Center drive thru site today. But hazardous weather like lightening or a thunderstorm could close down the site.

Some procedures including where and how registration forms are signed have been modified to prepare for bad weather.

The site opens at 9 a.m. and anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, a pre-existing health condition, or who has been exposed to someone with coronavirus can be tested.

First responders and healthcare providers do not need to have symptoms to eligible for testing.

The site can test 750 people a day.

All adults must have a valid ID and children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. People must be prepared to stay in their cars throughout testing. No mopeds, scooters or motorcycles are allowed on site.

6 a.m. update

3 dead, dozens hospitalized after COVID-19 spreads through Seminole nursing home

Dylan Rudolph, WUSF

A Seminole nursing home is being evacuated after the Pinellas County medical examiner’s office reported three residents died there because of COVID-19.

The Tampa Bay Times reported the remaining 39 residents of Freedom Square of Seminole were being evacuated starting Friday. The facility will also be decontaminated.

Almost 40 nursing home patients were transferred to local hospitals earlier this week – some tested positive for coronavirus, while others showed symptoms.

The Florida Health Care Association reports that, as of Thursday, more than 1,400 nursing home residents and staff statewide have been confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Despite that high number – and the high risk for their residents – Kristen Knapp, the Association’s Director of Communications, said that nursing homes are not a priority in receiving supplies.

“And yes, we should be a priority. Our caregivers are on the front lines of trying to protect our most vulnerable citizens, and we need priority to supplies.”

Knapp adds that only forty 40 percent of her groups’ members have two weeks’ worth of supplies. While private vendors are trying to make up the gap, she says it still will take two to three weeks for deliveries.

Florida opening 2 walk-in test sites in underserved places

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will open two walk-in coronavirus testing sites in the Fort Lauderdale area to ensure people who can’t get to drive-up locations have a way to get checked.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday the two sites are in predominantly African American communities in Broward County, which has been one of the hardest-hit places by the virus.

Many people in such areas rely on public transportation or other means to get around and have difficulty getting to a drive-up testing site. State Department of Health statistics show that more than 225,000 people have been tested for the virus in Florida.

More than 24,000 people in Florida have tested positive, leading to more than 3,500 hospitalizations and 686 deaths.

Governor gives some Florida beaches green light to reopen

The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s governor has given the green light for some beaches and parks to reopen if it can be done safely after being closed because of the coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement on Friday came as north Florida beaches became among the first to allow beach-goers to return since the closures.

Mayor Lenny Curry says Duval County beaches were reopening Friday afternoon with restricted hours, and they can be used only for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming and surfing.

Florida officials were criticized for leaving beaches open during spring break. Most counties closed their beaches in response or kept them open under very restrictive conditions.

FDACS reports “Florida Farm To You” page is helping farmers sell their products

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Earlier this week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched a new webpage to connect farmers with potential buyers.

The Department is reporting about 212 different submissions of products have been made on its “Florida Farm To You” page. The agency’s Franco Ripple says some farmers that have uploaded their products are seeing a spike in sales.

“To our knowledge there’s not been you know at least in Florida a comprehensive kind of database where farmers can upload what they’ve got and people can find it and go buy it directly contacting farmers in their communities.”

The “Florida Farm To You” page lists several different farms in the Big Bend Area that are directly selling goods to consumers. Items listed include blueberries, oysters and pork.

Florida police union requests ‘pandemic pay’ for officers

The Associated Press

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — A Florida police union has requested its members be given extra “pandemic pay” for working during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Ledger reports the request was made in a letter Tuesday by the President of West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association, Nick Marolda, to Lakeland city officials.

City Manager Tony Delgado says officers were paid extra wages in prior times for putting in more work through emergency situations including tornadoes and hurricanes.

Delgado adds it’s not clear if the funds refunded by the federal government in those situations would apply to the virus. City officials have asked Marolda to come up with a proposal for the pandemic pay.

Florida man encases self in concrete at governor’s mansion

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man encased himself in concrete outside the Governor’s Mansion in the state capital apparently to protest prison conditions related to the coronavirus.

A Tallahassee police spokesman says 28-year-old Jordan Mazurek put PVC pipes horizontally into two 55-gallon plastic drums filled with concrete, with some sort of mechanism that locked his arms in place.

He was first spotted about 6 a.m. Friday outside the fence surrounding the mansion and was eventually freed about 10:30 a.m.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that one of Mazurek’s drums was painted with the words, “Stop the massacre.” The other read, “Free prisoners now.”

Click here for more of WMFE’s coronavirus coverage.


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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter

Danielle Prieur is a general reporter for 90.7 News. She studied journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and interned at 101.9 WDET. She is originally from the metro Detroit area.

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