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Disney Furloughing Employees; Florida Case Count Hits 9,000; DeSantis Pledges More Resources To State Unemployment Assistance Program: Your Coronavirus Update 4/2

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

Updated 7:19 p.m.

Disney to furlough employees

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

The Walt Disney Company says it will begin furloughing employees on April 19th. Disney employees have been paid through the theme park closures and will continue to receive pay and benefits up until April 18th.

“However, with no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time,” the company said in a statement.

Disney said affected workers would receive full healthcare benefits, and the company would pay the cost of employee and company premiums.

Updated 6:53 p.m.

Florida cases hit 9,000

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Florida now has 9,008 coronavirus cases, with the death toll climbing to 144, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health.

1,167 people have been hospitalized.

Orange County has 541 cases, the most in Central Florida, and 77 people have been hospitalized. Five people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County.

Osceola County has 170 cases and 53 hospitalizations. Four people have died in Osceola County from COVID-19.

Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has 66 confirmed cases and 21 hospitalizations. Lake County has 82 cases and 14 hospitalizations. Two people have died in each county from COVID-19.

Other Central Florida counties:

  • Seminole- 145 cases, 30 hospitalizations
  • Volusia- 131 cases, 31 hospitalizations, 2 deaths
  • Brevard- 49 cases, 15 hospitalizations
  • Polk- 103 cases, 43 hospitalizations, 2 deaths
  • Marion- 33 cases, 4 hospitalizations

Marion County has 30 confirmed cases.

 

Updated 5:20 p.m.

Gov. DeSantis: “we’re going to beef up the call centers” to help with re-employment assistance

Matthew Peddie

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s moving to get Florida’s unemployment assistance program working more effectively. More people have applied for unemployment in the last two weeks than all of 2019, DeSantis said in a press conference this afternoon.

“As many people know this was a major jolt to the economy of the state of Florida,” said DeSantis.

“Just thinking about the scale of this in 2019, Florida had a total of 307,701 claims for reemployment assistance.  In the last two weeks, we’ve received 348,511 claims.”

DeSantis said in an executive order on re-employment assistance, he’s asking agency heads to re-deploy some state employees to help process the massive numbers of calls and claims.

And he said there should be a way for people to file claims even if they can’t do it online.

“Because this whole web platform is overloaded, people should be able to fill out a paper application if that’s an option for them. We shouldn’t limit how they’re able to apply. And so we’re going to beef up the call centers. I’ve ordered them to beef up or create an alternative for online submissions.”

DeSantis said he is also ordering the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity to buy software to ensure the website can handle the increased volume of inquiries.

Evictions and foreclosures suspended for 45 days.

Another executive order signed by the governor suspends evictions and foreclosures for 45 days.

“I’m not sure that you’re going to run out a lot of new places right now,” said DeSantis.

“Nevertheless you just never know how people act, so given the circumstances, I think that those suspensions are warranted.”

Outdoor activities ok- if they fall within social distancing guidelines

DeSantis said there had been questions about the statewide ‘stay at home’ order signed yesterday and the definition of essential activity.

He said it depends more on how those activities are carried out than what they are.

“For example, if you want to go for a 10 mile run by yourself and come back, more power to you, but you wouldn’t be able to do a 20 person road race in the neighborhood with 19 of your friends.”

Places of worship exempt from stay at home order

Asked about places of worship being exempt from the stay at home order, DeSantis said he didn’t think the government has the authority to shut down a church.

“I’m certainly not going to do that,” said DeSantis.

He said places of worship have an important role to play during the pandemic.

“There’s no reason why you couldn’t do a church service with people 10 feet apart. So we definitely asked them to absolutely abide by, you know, the social distancing guidelines,” said DeSantis.

“I think the service that they’re performing is going to be very important for people, especially when you have difficult circumstances.

Clarifying state v. local executive orders

An amendment to the statewide stay at home order signed by the governor yesterday makes it clear that the statewide order over-rides local orders:

“This Order shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.”

But DeSantis said today that the statewide order simply “sets a floor”.

He said local governments would be allowed to do more “in certain situations,” and that the state was willing to work with local authorities on that.

“You know I think each region in Florida is very distinct and some of these things may need to be approached a little bit differently, and I’m happy to happy to work with them about [that] and we’ve we’ve let everyone know that from the beginning.”

Updated at 1:20 p.m.

Two die from COVID-19 in Lake County

Lake County has recorded its first deaths from COVID-19.

A 74-year-old woman and an 86-year-old man have died from the coronavirus. Her case was related to travel in Europe. The man’s case is new and health officials do not know how he got sick.

Florida reported 27 new COVID-19 deaths as of 11 a.m. Thursday. So far at least 128 people have died in the state, including five in Orange County, two in Osceola and one in Volusia.

Meanwhile, the total number of cases in Florida has risen past eight-thousand.

Updated 11:33

Orange County Crosses Passes 500 COVID-19 Cases

By Abe Aboraya

Florida has crossed a new threshold in the COVID-19 pandemic: The state has confirmed more than 8,000 cases and more than 1,000 hospitalizations.

Statewide, 8,010 people now have the virus, with 128 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health. There are 1,058 hospital admissions as well.

Orange County has 502 cases, the most in Central Florida. Orange County has recorded a fifth death as well, and 72 people remain hospitalized.

Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has 63 confirmed cases, while Marion County has 33 confirmed cases.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has released a dashboard showing hospital bed capacity, by county and by hospital. Statewide, hospitals beds are about 60 percent full, with about 24,000 open beds. Intensive care unit beds are about 62 percent full, with 2,271 ICU beds open across Florida.

Updated 11:20 a.m.

Ninth TSA Worker Tests Positive At Orlando International Airport

By Danielle Prieur

A ninth TSA worker at Orlando International Airport has tested positive for coronavirus.

In an email to staff Wednesday night, Federal Security Director Pete Garcia said the officer’s last day at the checkpoint was March 16. The officer is at home and will not return to work until they are cleared by a doctor.

Check here to read more, and to revisit WMFE’s interview with TSO Andrea Silas, who was the first TSA officer to test positive for the virus at the airport.

Updated 12:15 p.m.

HCA Responds to Nurses Protesting Over Lack of Gear

HCA Healthcare, the company’s largest for-profit hospital system, is responding to protests from nurses who say they don’t have enough protective equipment.

National Nurses United, a union for registered nurses, is organizing protests at 15 hospitals nationwide owned by HCA, the country’s largest for-profit hospital chain.

The union said HCA nurses report having less access to personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and respirator helmets, than nurses at other hospitals. Additionally, the union said nurses at Central Florida Regional Hospital were told not to wear masks because it would frighten patients.

“The hospital and the CDC is saying it’s good enough to wear a surgical mask to be protected,” said Marissa Lee, a registered nurse at a Central Florida HCA hospital. “We nurses are saying that isn’t good enough. It doesn’t protect us from COVID-19 at all.”

In a statement, HCA said the nurse’s union is using the coronavirus pandemic to increase its membership.

“HCA Healthcare’s hospitals in Central Florida are doing everything they can to equip their patient care teams to provide safe, effective care to the people we serve, unwavering in our dedication despite the unique challenges presented by COVID-19,” the statement said. “The National Nurses Union is trying to use this crisis to advance its own interest — organizing more members.”

The hospital chain acknowledged that the pandemic has strained the worldwide supply of personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields and gowns. HCA said it’s working to get more equipment, but in the meantime, “we are following CDC protocols for using and conserving PPE, the worldwide shortage is a reality that we are addressing with realistic, workable solutions.”

HCA said it has done the following steps to conserve protective equipment:

• Enacting universal masking for all of our employees
• Appointing a PPE Steward to oversee priority deployment of PPE effective for COVID-19 where and when it is needed most
• Creating strategically located PPE distribution centers across our campus to quickly deliver equipment

Lee, who works as a registered nurse in labor and delivery, said nurses aren’t able to get an N95 mask until a patient tests positive for COVID-19.

“Now the ER nurses, if the patient comes in and has symptoms, yes, they’re given a mask,” Lee said. “But on the floor, until we have a positive result, they will say a surgical mask is sufficient. And a surgical mask isn’t sufficient.”

HCA owns Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford and Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee.

HCA said that it’s also redeploying nurses who are losing hours because of COVID-19, and that those who can’t will continue to receive 70 percent of base pay for up to seven weeks. Workers who are quarantined per CDC guidelines will get 100 percent of base pay for scheduled hours, “regardless of where the exposure took place.”

“In addition, we are working with major hotel chains to provide housing for caregivers who provide care to COVID-19 patients and prefer not to go home to their loved ones after their shift,” HCA said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is unique, and our colleagues’ concerns are real. In this unparalleled crisis, everyone should stand together to support our nurses, and not spread misinformation and fear to advance other agendas.”

Updated 10:53 a.m.

Florida unemployment claims spike despite crippled website

By Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Unemployment claims in Florida jumped to more than 227,000 new applicants, according to the latest numbers released by the Department of Labor (PDF). That’s up from 74,313 thousand the week before.

Applicants are having a hard time applying for benefits as the website run by Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity is strained from the increased applications. DEO is hiring additional phone support staff to help people apply.

Nationwide, unemployment claims hit 6.6 million applications last week — double the week before and shattering previous records.

More than 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Florida

More than 100 Floridians have died from COVID-19, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health.

Florida has a total of 7,773 positive cases. So far, 990 people have been admitted to hospital, and 101 have died.

Orange County has 458 cases, the most in Central Florida. Orange County has 65 hospitalizations from COVID-19, and four people have died.

Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has 52 confirmed cases. Marion County has 30 confirmed cases.

Orange County rental assistance program receives 30,000 applications

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

More than 30,000 people applied for Orange County’s emergency rental assistance program.

The program, which launched just under two weeks ago, was set up to help 1,500 families pay one month’s rent.

Mayor Jerry Demings said the program will exceed its one point eight million dollar ($1.8 m) budget.

“Over thirty thousand applications,” said Demings.

“That just speaks to really the gravity of the need in this community for financial assistance related to this pandemic.”

Demings said the program was designed to be a stop gap for Orange County residents until federal and state funds are available.

Orange County gets 14% of the personal protective equipment it requested from the state

Orange County has received just 14% of the personal protective equipment it requested from the state.

The County has requested 700,000 pieces of PPE.

Yolanda Martinez, director of the County’s Health Services Department, says about one third of that request is for N-95 masks.

“We do not have to stress the value of the N-95 masks” said Martinez during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“The people on the front lines of this pandemic know the value of this resource to protect their lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of everyone, or maybe- and hopefully not- somebody in this room who might need their help.”

Martinez said the governor’s executive order last month for hospitals and other medical providers to discontinue non emergency procedures was aimed at helping conserve protective equipment, especially masks.

Nearly 7,000 could die in Florida from COVID-19, according to NIHME model

Florida could see as many as 179 people per day dying from COVID-19 when the pandemic reaches its peak.

Modeling from the National Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation show the peak of the pandemic hitting in early May.

“If these models are accurate, which I believe they are, we will have nearly seven thousand deaths in the state of Florida in this time frame,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in a media briefing Wednesday.

“We have data analytics from local, state and national sources that validates that our stay at home order is an appropriate strategy to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus here in our community.”

Demings said 38 out of 53 zipcodes in Orange County have at least one case of coronavirus.

“There are several zipcodes that stand out as our hot spots,” said Demings.

Those zipcodes are:

  • 32801
  • 32822
  • 32839
  • 32837
  • 32824
  • 32828

Demings said he’ll meet with Central Florida hospital executives Friday to talk about how to further slow the spread of coronavirus by focusing on those hot spots.

“We are planning for what I would call a surgical like strike to stop the spread of COVID-19 here in this community,” said Demings.

Demings said he is pleased with Governor Ron DeSantis’s statewide stay at home order although he says it should have come earlier.

Coronavirus case map for Orange County.


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Abe Aboraya

About Abe Aboraya

Health Reporter

Abe Aboraya started writing for newspapers in High School. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe ... Read Full Bio »

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