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Task Force To Help Reopen Orange County; Animal Shelters Offer Virtual Adoptions; Two Orlando Area Publix Employees Test Positive: Your Coronavirus Update For 04/17

Jonathan Satter speaks to the media in Tallahassee Thursday. Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Satter to take over the state's troubled unemployment system. Image: The Florida Channel

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

5:40 p.m. update

Death toll climbs to 726

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Florida’s death toll has climbed to 726 according to the latest report from the state department of health. 24,753 people have tested positive for coronavirus, with 3,649 hospitalizations.

Statewide, 241,913 people have been tested for coronavirus.

In Orange County, 1,158 people have tested positive for coronavirus, 194 people have been hospitalized and 23 people have died.

Hover over the map for details about cases in other counties.

Reopening task force to be led by Visit Orlando, Economic Partnership presidents

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Orange County mayor Jerry Demings announced a task force to help restart the local economy after the coronavirus pandemic. 

The task force will be led by Visit Orlando president George Aguel and Orlando Economic Partnership president Tim Guiliani.

The group will include nearly fifty people, including representatives from hospitals, hotels, banks and small businesses. 

Demings said they will take a phased approach to reopening the county. The first meeting is set for next Wednesday. 

As Demings announced the task force this afternoon, protesters outside the council chambers called for a stay at home order to be lifted. 

Orange County’s order was superseded by a statewide “safer at home” order that lasts until the end of the month. 

Orlando launches COVID-19 tracker

Orlando has launched a COVID-19 data tracker that uses data from the Florida department of health to show cases specific to the city. The tracker can be accessed at orlando.gov/datatracker

The tracker includes a breakdown of cases by neighborhood and will be updated Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Mayor Buddy Dyer said the information helps first responders know if they are heading into an area with positive COVID-19 cases so they can take precautions.

Two Publix employees in Orlando test positive for coronavirus

12 pm update 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

One employee works at the Publix on Orange Avenue in SODO, just south of downtown Orlando. The other works at the Publix on Colonial in East Orlando near Bithlo. 

In a statement, spokesperson Maria Brous says as essential service providers, Publix workers and their families have been affected by coronavirus.

Brous says the chain expects to see an increase in cases among workers as the virus spreads throughout the community. 

Publix offers fourteen days of paid sick leave for associates who test positive for COVID-19 and any coworker who came in close contact with them.

Stores close early for cleaning and use plexiglass shields, tape on the floor, and one-directional shopping to maintain six feet of social distancing. 

Orange County animal shelters offer virtual adoptions

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Orange County Animal Services and Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando are offering virtual pet adoptions to help cats and dogs find new homes while social distancing.

People can make an online appointment to meet foster and shelter pets using Zoom or FaceTime. 

If it’s a good fit, all adoption paperwork is completed electronically and pets are picked up curbside.

For more information or to sign up for a virtual meeting with a pet and a volunteer, check out the shelters’ Facebook pages.

All adoption fees have been waived at Orange County Animal Services.

DeSantis Says Florida Needs Plan For Moving Forward Safely, But Soon

Regan McCarthy, WFSU

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he hopes to have a plan by next week to start what he calls “phase two” of the state’s coronavirus response.

He said it could include changes in rules about restaurants, large events and testing for the virus.

DeSantis said there are more options than just keeping everyone home or taking no action against the virus at all, including more testing and isolating people who’ve come in contact with a coronavirus patient.

“That’s really the bread and butter of public health and obviously you’re going to not go right into having mass gatherings, or some of those other things. but contact tracing is important. Where one of the wickets we have is just testing, I think that because you have some of these new rapid tests coming on the market, I think that’s going to allow us to leverage some of these private labs in a quicker fashion.”

DeSantis said he thinks Floridians want to have a clear path forward, but they want to be sure that path is safe.

Brevard Zoo struggles with lost revenue due to the pandemic

Talia Blake, WMFE

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting the Brevard Zoo hard. Executive Director Keith Winsten says like many Florida zoos, the Brevard Zoo is not-for-profit, and all of its income has been cut off except for philanthropy. 

“So we’ve had to respond in terms of cutting our expenses, essentially cutting our hours, making sure we’re being very careful with the cash that we have on hand,” he said.

Winsten said nearly 90% of the zoo’s annual income is earned, and most of that income is generated in the spring, particularly March and April.

Just Four Percent of Recent Jobless Claims Have Been Paid

Tom Urban, WLRN

Payments have been made to roughly 4% of the more than 800,000 people who have filed jobless claims since the coronavirus started closing businesses across the state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said checks have been sent to 33,623 people who have applied for benefits since the beginning of March through Florida’s troubled unemployment system.

With early qualifiers drawing multiple checks, about $50 million has gone out in state assistance — in checks of up to $275 per person per week.

Speaking to reporters at the capitol Thursday, DeSantis said he also signed an executive order to eliminate a requirement for people who qualify for jobless benefits to recertify their claim every two weeks.

“While we have made some progress in the recent days, it’s not nearly enough. We have an unprecedented amount of claims, and we have got to work through them.”

On Wednesday, DeSantis removed Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson from oversight of the CONNECT unemployment system. He put the system into the hands of Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter.

Click here for more of WMFE’s coronavirus coverage.

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Matthew Peddie

About Matthew Peddie

Host of WMFE's Intersection & Assistant News Director

A recent transplant to the Sunshine State, Matthew Peddie grew up in New Zealand and studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating with an MA in Journalism he returned to Christchurch, working as a reporter for Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. He’s reported live from the scene of ... Read Full Bio »