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Your Thursday Update: Jobless Claims Rise As Cutoff for Some Benefits Nears, Advocates Call for Release of Inmates at High-Risk for Coronavirus, Food Safety Concerns Rising as Cases Surge, Plasma Donations in High Demand During Pandemic

Photo: Jason Jarrach

Jobless claims rise as cutoff of extra $600 benefit nears

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The virus pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing.

The increase in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million served to underscore the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.

All told, the Labor Department said Thursday that the total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 1.1 million to 16.2 million.

Florida lawmaker tests positive amid 173 coronavirus deaths

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A second Florida lawmaker said Thursday he has tested positive for the coronavirus as the state reached a new milestone with 173 reported coronavirus deaths that pushed the total number of cases in the state past 389,000.

State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from the Melbourne area, said on Twitter that he and his family all tested positive for the virus.

The state health department reported Thursday that there were 10,249 new coronavirus cases.

More than 3.2 million people have been tested for coronavirus in Florida. The seven-day average for positive tests in Florida stood at more than 18% on Wednesday.

Groups call for release of inmates in response to COVID-19 outbreak in Leon County detention facility

Blaise Gainey, WFSU

Dream Defenders and other community activist organizations are calling on the Leon County Sheriff’s Office to do more to keep those in jail safe during the global coronavirus pandemic.

They want anyone who may be at a higher risk for negative effects from the virus to be sent home. Saskiya Fagan with the Dream Defenders says so far she thinks the response from officers has been careless.

“People inside reported that COs weren’t wearing masks until after the outbreak. Inmates themselves weren’t issued masks until after people began to test positive. And pods weren’t sanitized until after COVID was already inside of the jail.”

Fagan’s group sent a letter to the governor back in March requesting those behind bars be given necessary personal protection equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since then a total of 23 positive cases have been reported from the detention facility.

She says ankle monitors and “community control” can be used to keep track of any violent criminals who are released.

Food safety concerns rising as coronavirus cases surge

Tom Urban, WLRN

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, studies are showing more people are now concerned about food safety.

While the risk of contracting COVID-19 through food is very low, the Florida Department of Agriculture points to a recent survey that says 55 percent of consumers are worried about the safety of their food.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s agency oversees 40,000 food-related businesses across the state.

She says extra emphasis is being placed on making sure restaurants and other shops know proper protocols for food prep, hand washing and kitchen cleanliness.

“When we saw the outbreak of COVID in our state, we did send out letters to all of the businesses that we regulate just to remind them that these are these types of regulations. This is the law, and a lot of these things are actually in statute.”

Fried says anyone with concerns about a restaurant’s food safety practices should contact the Department of Ag’s food safety division.

Plasma donations in high demand amid COVID-19 pandemic

Caitie Switalski, WLRN

Doctors and hospitals are continuing to use convalescent plasma to treat people with COVID-19. That’s plasma from people who have recovered from the virus to give antibodies to people currently fighting it.

The treatment is still being investigated, but the FDA says results have been promising.

According to the blood center OneBlood, orders from hospitals for these transfusions are up more than 500 percent in Florida and the southeast.

Susan Forbes handles communications for OneBlood.

“Hospitals and doctors, they have limited options of what can be used to treat these patients. It has really moved to the forefront of being a treatment option and they’re using it earlier to help these patients. It’s important that people step forward to be this convalescent plasma donor.”

Donors for convalescent plasma have to prove they had COVID-19 or that they have the antibodies. They also have to have been recovered for at least two weeks before donating.

Forbes would not disclose how much hospitals pay OneBlood in service fees for units of convalescent plasma.

She emphasized there’s still a need for regular blood donors to continue to give blood.

“As businesses and schools and colleges and universities and movie theaters and all these places where you would traditionally see the big red bus for a blood drive – those places started to close. People started doing remote work. Well, that’s where we go to have blood drives.”

OneBlood is taking blood and plasma donations by appointment during the pandemic.

More than 50 TSA officers at Orlando International Airport have tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Federal Security Director Pete Garcia says another TSA officer has tested positive for coronavirus.

In a message sent to staff, Garcia says the officer’s last day at the security checkpoint was July 7th.

Garcia says the officer will not return to work until they are cleared by a doctor.

This latest case, brings the total number of positive COVID-19 tests among TSA officers at the airport to 56 since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March.

Florida reports highest single day death toll, more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida is reporting 173 new coronavirus-related deaths Thursday – the highest single day death toll for the state.

The state also reported 10,249 new coronavirus cases. That brings the total number of coronavirus cases in Florida since the start of the pandemic to 389,868 and the death toll to 5,632 people. 

In Central Florida, Orange County leads with the highest number of COVID-19 cases with 25,254 cases. 

More than 670 people have been hospitalized in the county, and 156 people have died there since mid-March.

The gig economy in Florida has contracted and other listener questions

The Indicator from Planet Money

Listener Mikala in West Virginia wrote and asked, with everyone staying and working at home, what’s been the effect on the distribution of waste, and how are waste management companies handling it?

Listener Rob in Brooklyn asked about investing in Black-owned businesses, and inquired about the mechanics of an exchange-traded fund that seeks to invest in companies with “strong racial and ethnic diversity policies in place”.

And listener Cathy in Florida asked if there is any way to measure how much the gig economy has contracted.

How I Built Resilience: Songe LaRon of Squire

How I Built This, NPR

When Songe LaRon founded Squire in 2016, his mission was to use modern technology to help run barbershops, which are using his app in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

With a recent funding round of $34 million, Songe is hopeful about expanding Squire’s reach, but first, he wants to help barbershops survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

These conversations are excerpts from our How I Built Resilience series, where Guy talks online with founders and entrepreneurs about how they’re navigating turbulent times.

In breaking non-coronavirus news: Tropical Depression 8 forms, Gonzalo strengthens

Ray Hawthorne, WUFT 

The season’s eighth tropical depression formed in the central Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday evening.

The National Hurricane Center says the depression is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm later Thursday. Meteorologist Ray Hawthorne says it will produce heavy rain as it heads toward the western gulf.

“I expect landfall some time Saturday between Houston and Brownsville. There are likely to be tropical storm force winds near the Texas Gulf coast, but the greater concern is the flash flood potential from Louisiana into Texas this weekend into early next week.”

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Gonzalo continues to strengthen about 970 miles east of the Windward Islands. It has top sustained winds of 65 mph as of the 5 a.m. advisory and the Hurricane Center says Gonzalo is forecast to become a hurricane later Thursday.

A hurricane watch is posted for Barbados in anticipation of its likely arrival this weekend.

One-third of U.S. museums may not survive the year, survey finds

Neda Ulaby, NPR

Museums seem like immortal places, with their august countenances and treasured holdings. Even in our TikTok era of diminishing attention spans, they draw more than 850 million visitors a year in the U.S., according to the American Alliance of Museums.

But the coronavirus was not impressed, and the effects of the pandemic-related shutdown on the country’s museums have been dire, says AAM President and CEO Laura Lott.

In a survey released Wednesday of 760 museum directors, 33% of them said there was either a “significant risk” of closing permanently by next fall or that they didn’t know if their institutions would survive.

“There’s a large public perception that museums rely on government support, when the reality is they get only a quarter of their funding from the government,” Lott tells NPR.

Ticket and gift shop sales, school trips and museum events are primary sources of funding, she says, “most of which went to zero overnight when they were all shuttered.”

The institutions surveyed ranged from aquariums to botanical gardens to science centers. More than 40% of them were history museums, historic houses and historical societies, while art museums represented less than 25%.

Read the full article here.

U.S. to get 100 million doses of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in $1.95 billion deal

Sydney Lupkin, NPR

The federal government has reached a $1.95 billion deal with Pfizer to acquire 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate against the coronavirus if the Food and Drug Administration OKs it. The vaccine would be free to Americans, according to the deal, though health care providers could charge to administer it.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense announced the deal Wednesday as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s push to have a coronavirus vaccine widely available by January.

Pfizer is working on the vaccine with BioNTech, a German company. Clinical trials began in April, and Pfizer announced positive early results this week, though it has yet to announce that the data have been vetted and published in a medical journal. Larger safety and efficacy studies could begin later this month.

“If the ongoing studies are successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be ready to seek Emergency Use Authorization or some form of regulatory approval as early as October 2020,” the company said in a statement.

AstraZenecaJohnson & Johnson, Moderna and Novavax have already received large contracts as part of Operation Warp Speed.

Read the full article here.

More than 100 Florida breweries could shut down permanently due to state restrictions on businesses 

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

The Florida Brewers Guild reports around 90 percent of Florida breweries have been closed for more days than they have been opened this year. 

After initially shutting down in March, bars reopened – then were shut down again in June after state leaders linked a spike in cases to the reopening and establishments not following guidelines. 

That shutdown included breweries. Since then, some have been able to reopen if they have a kitchen or other food license. Others opened under an exemption that has since been rescinded. 

Guild member and Ivanhoe Park Brewing owner Glenn Closson says the shutdowns are costing his brewery hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s a similar story for others statewide: 

“This is their livelihood, and it’s going to be devastating. I mean, you know, all the staff that they hire and their own personal finances, I mean, it’s gonna take a while to recover.” 

The Guild says around 10,000 jobs are linked to Florida’s breweries. According to data from the Brewers Association, Florida breweries poured 3.6 billion dollars into the state economy in 2018. 

Friday is the deadline for parents in Orange and Seminole County school districts to choose how they would like their children to be educated this fall

Nicole Darden Creston, WMFE

Both counties, like others across Central Florida, have options including face-to-face instruction, in-person, virtual school or an at-home program that mirrors the school day.

Seminole County’s first day of school is set for August 17th, and Orange County’s has been pushed back to August 21st. 

Brevard and Volusia County School Boards both met earlier this week to finalize their reopening plans. 

Volusia opted to push the student start date to August 31st, the latest date allowed under the Florida Department of Education’s reopening mandate. Parents have until July 28th to choose between in-person or virtual options for their students.

Brevard County voted to start school on August 24th, but there will be one more meeting next week to make sure board members feel schools are meeting benchmarks to reopen safely. 

Osceola County will also start school on August 24th, delaying opening by two weeks. The district is offering an extended learning summer camp to cover those two weeks for parents who were depending on the child care for that time.

Pandemic basketball begins, with some comforts of home

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Michael Baiamonte was not at Walt Disney World on Wednesday.

The public address announcer for the Miami Heat wasn’t in the building for the team’s season-restart scrimmage debut. His voice was.

The sound of him bellowing one of his signature phrases — “stand up and make some noise” — bounced through the arena Wednesday night during a third-quarter stoppage in play, a bit of a peculiar thing because there were no fans there to actually coax into rising from their chairs.

Welcome to pandemic basketball.

The NBA rolled out what game operations in “the bubble” will look like Wednesday, with the first four of 33 scrimmages getting played.

Palm Beach County School Board approves Aug. 31 start date

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN

The Palm Beach County School Board unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to start the academic year on Monday, August 31st.

Chairman Frank Barbieri says this benefits students, parents and employees.

“The templates of the plan need to be submitted to the Florida Department of Education by July 31st.”

In a marathon meeting last week, Superintendent Donald Fennoy’s plan also called for the district’s 174,000 students to start the academic year with distance learning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says parents should decide whether to send kids to school

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

Gov. Ron DeSantis says parents should decide whether to send their kids back to school.

“No parent should be required to send their child to in-person instruction if they don’t want to. I also believe that special accommodations must be made for students with significant health issues who may be more at-risk from the virus.”

DeSantis gave this address in Tallahassee on Wednesday as the debate over schools reopening intensifies and coronavirus cases in Florida surge.

Florida school districts are considering their options. They include whether to delay the start of the school year as well as being fully online.

Census bureau officials are hoping Liberty County residents begin filling out the 2020 census

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Only about 30 percent of Liberty County’s residents have completed their census so far, and that’s causing concern for Census Bureau officials. The national average is 62 percent.

Before the pandemic, civic organizations and churches helped Census Bureau officials get the word out in Liberty County—often going door-to-door. Now, Greg Engle with the Census Bureau says because of the coronavirus, that approach has changed.

“So we’re doing a lot of online town hall meetings for example.”

Engle says officials had to scale back efforts of going out into rural communities to hand out census information.

“As some of the communities open up and as we start to get back to a little bit of safety and being safe in our communities, you’re going to start seeing us more and more. We’re going to remind you. We’re going to help you. We’re going to give you the tools you need to get yourself counted.”

Engle says census data is used to determine how much funding public services get. That includes healthcare, emergency disaster responding, schools and more. To fill out the census go to 2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020.

Broward County superintendent says special needs students could have in-person classes

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

The Broward County School District is planning to start the school year fully online — for most students.

On CNN on Wednesday, Superintendent Robert Runcie said in-person classes might be allowed in certain cases.

“That even though we’re gonna open our schools, we’re gonna open online e-learning, we’ve identified some populations that are extremely vulnerable and those are our special needs students who are in self-contained classrooms in separate day schools.”

Runcie said these students would be in school three days a week.

The Broward school year is scheduled to start August 19th online for now— as coronavirus cases surge in South Florida.

Miami Beach mayor wants to rebrand South Beach during the pandemic

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

Miami Beach’s mayor is proposing a rebrand of South Beach.

In a video statement Wednesday, Dan Gelber said previous measures weren’t able to tone down nightlife activities.

“It’s time to take a more drastic action that addresses the underlying issues. The current entertainment district has become too difficult and costly to police. And it’s just inconsistent with our brand. So, we will no longer have an entertainment district.”

Mayor Gelber wants to highlight South Beach as a hub for arts and culture. He cited recent reports of folks partying in the entertainment area during the pandemic.

As part of that proposal, there would be a midnight last call everywhere. Establishments that want to stay open later would have to apply for a permit.

Leon County parents want district to control when kids return to campus

Blaise Gainey, WFSU

Isabel Ruano has a five-year-old son and is a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee. She joined a digital rally with the group Wednesday to push the state to give school districts more options.

She says she doesn’t want to send her son back to school because she doesn’t think enough has been done to ensure kids will be safe.

“I don’t see how elementary school children can keep social distancing in a school setting the way they are planning to. You can’t have 18 to 20 children in a classroom and expect them to use their masks properly for 7 to 8 hours a day. That is just not realistic.”

Ruano wants the Leon County School Board to have the option to not follow an order from the Department of Education requiring schools to offer in-person classes starting in August. She thinks more flexibility will let county officials come up with the best plan for Leon.

School Board member Rosanne Wood wants the district to ask for a waiver that would allow it to make its own decisions about when it’s safe to return to in-person learning. Ruano says she supports the move.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter & Fill-in Host

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter at WMFE. You can hear her reporting on a daily basis on the station. She also fills-in as a host during the morning and afternoon drive times. Her reporting has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and Vox. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, ... Read Full Bio »