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Your Monday Update: Congress Investigates Florida Nursing Home Owner, Orlando Fire Department Tests All Firefighters, Lawsuit Against Orange County Mask Mandate

Photo: Matt Chesin

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Pride withdraws from NWSL tourney after COVID-19 positives

The Orlando Pride have withdrawn from the upcoming National Women’s Soccer League tournament after six players and four staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

The league says another round of testing will take place to confirm the results.

Because of the number of positive results and the short time before the start of the tournament, the Pride withdrew.

The month-long Challenge Cup tournament is set to start Saturday in Utah. Orlando was supposed to play its first match Saturday night against the Chicago Red Stars.

Congress investigates owner of 69 long-term care facilities in Florida after coronavirus deaths

Daylina Miller, WUSF

More than a third of COVID-19 deaths in the United States so far happened at nursing homes. Now, Congress is demanding answers from five of the companies that run them.

One of the nursing home operators had three outbreaks at facilities in the Tampa Bay region.

Consulate Health Care is one of the largest for-profit nursing home chains in the United States. And one of the five companies that received a letter from House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, demanding documents on infection control and virus preparedness.

Among Consulate Health Care’s 69 locations in Florida, there have been at least 61 deaths and 246 cases among residents.

Another 101 employees from Consulate have tested positive for the virus.

Nearly half of the deaths happened at facilities in Brandon, Lakeland and Bradenton.

Clyburn’s letter outlined what he called the long-term care industry’s “widespread and persistent” pattern of deficiencies, that include chronic understaffing, low wages, improper hand hygiene and poor disease prevention practices.

Planning for summer beach days? Docs share virus safety tips

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Americans have never been more ready to get out of the house and bask in the sun.

Warm weather beach destinations are the most popular vacation searches, with Florida, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and San Diego among the top considerations.

Tripadvisor says 50% of travelers are looking to book a one- to five-day trip this month, suggesting massive pent-up demand for sand and surf.

But the craving for a beach getaway coincides with recent spikes in coronavirus cases in beach havens like Florida, Texas and the Carolinas. Experts say a beach trip is low-risk as long as you follow some basic precautions.

Hispanic leaders call out DeSantis for blaming COVID-19 spike on farmworkers

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

Some Hispanic leaders are asking Florida’s governor to apologize for blaming COVID-19 spikes on agriculture workers.
During a news conference last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis said farmworker conditions increase coronavirus spread.

“They go to work in a school bus and they’re all just packed there like sardines,” DeSantis said.

Cramer Verde is political director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. During a call hosted by the Florida Democratic Party Monday, Verde said it’s unfair to blame farmworkers who already have limited health care access.

“He’s not providing the help that these communities need. And this is unacceptable. We should not be treated this way.
Some Florida Democrats want the state to supply more personal protective equipment to prevent spreading the virus in agriculture communities,” Verde said.

New study says most seniors coping well with pandemic isolation

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

A new nationwide survey by Florida State University shows older folks are using online tools better than anyone expected to deal with the social isolation caused by the pandemic.

The school’s Institute for Successful Longevity, headed by Dr. Neil Charness was a principal player in the research.

“We’re helping the research project even as we speak and we hope to continue to provide opportunities for seniors to take advantage of the new tools and new opportunities that technology is making available,” Charness said.

The survey, which actually began in February before COVID-19 became widespread, involved 2,000 people between the ages of eighteen and ninety-eight.

Orlando Fire Department is testing all firefighters and staff for COVID-19

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

The Orlando Fire Department is testing all firefighters and staff for COVID-19 over the next three days.

The move comes after 57 firefighters tested positive. 

Everyone who tests positive is in 14-day quarantine. 

The fire department is working with a local hospital and the health department to do contact tracing of everyone exposed. 

The OFD’s union is offering free testing to family members of firefighters at the union hall Tuesday from 9 am to noon.

OFD says that if fire stations don’t meet minimum staffing levels, open positions will be filled with overtime positions.

There were two events that preceded the spread among firefighters – a picnic for new hires, and a pickleball tournament.

Conservative radio host sues to block Orange County mask order

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

A conservative radio host in Orlando has filed suit against Orange County over an emergency COVID-19 order requiring people to wear masks in public.

Radio host Carl Jackson is asking a judge to block enforcement of the order.

He claims it violates his rights to privacy, due process, equal protection and religious freedom under the Florida Constitution.

Jackson’s lawyers include Republican lawmaker Anthony Sabatini of Clermont.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced the mask requirement last week.

It seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 as the county sees increasing infections and hospitalizations. In each of the past six days, more than 10% of new tests have come back positive.

The order requires wearing a mask while in public and encourages businesses to prohibit entry to people not wearing one.

It makes exceptions for kids under two, people with certain health conditions and workers in a wide range of jobs.

In Orange County, positivity rate surges as median age gets younger

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Florida COVID-19 cases have passed the 100,000 mark. Meanwhile, Orange County continues to see an increase in cases and health officials say the median age of positive patients is falling.

Orange County continues to track a record number of increasing coronavirus cases as testing continues throughout the region.

Along with triple-digit numbers of positive cases each day, the county’s positivity rate — the proportion of all tests that are positive — has skyrocketed, hitting more than 16 percent on Saturday.

The age of positive cases is getting younger. “In the last 14 day, our median age is 29 and 43 percent of all cases in the last two weeks are in people between 20 and 29 years old,” said Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino.

Pino said an outbreak at a bar near UCF has been linked to 152 positive cases.

“The most important change in different dynamics has been that is going younger. That’s the change for us here in Orange. It’s happening all over the place. But for us, it has gotten dramatically younger,” said Dr. Pino.

Leaders continue to urge residents to follow CDC guidelines to protect against the spread of the virus. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings signed an executive order requiring most residents to wear a face covering in public.

Surging US virus cases raise fear that progress is slipping

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Coronavirus cases in Florida surpassed 100,000 on Monday, part of an alarming surge across the U.S. West and South as states reopen for business and many Americans resist wearing masks or keeping their distance.

Some public health officials are warning that progress won after months of lockdowns could be slipping.

And hospitals in areas seeing an uptick in cases are warning that intensive care beds were filling again, and urging communities to do what it takes to control any new outbreaks.

An Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University finds that new daily confirmed coronavirus cases across the country are up to more than 26,000 a day, up from about 21,000 a day two weeks ago.

Florida attorney general warns of COVID-19 contact tracing call scams

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians of scammers trying to impersonate health officials. Moody says the calls are going out from people pretending to be contact tracers in an attempt to get personal details from victims.

“Know that a legitimate contact tracer will never ask for your birthdate. They already have this information and will simply ask for confirmation. Contact tracers will never ask for your social security number or banking information,” Moody said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports contact tracing is a key strategy in stopping COVID-19 from spreading.

But Moody says if a contact tracing call seems suspicious, she advises Floridians to hang up and call their local health department to see if workers are trying to reach out.

Get a comfortable chair: permanent work from home is coming

Uri Berliner, NPR

Indefinite. Or even permanent. These are words companies are using about their employees working from home.

It’s three months into a huge, unplanned social experiment that suddenly transported the white-collar workplace from cubicles and offices to kitchens and spare bedrooms. And many employers now say the benefits of remote work outweigh the drawbacks.

Tech companies Twitter and Facebook captured headlines with announcements about permanent work from home. But the news from a 94-year-old company based in the heartland — Columbus, Ohio — may have been even more significant. Nationwide Insurance is shutting five regional offices since remote work has gone off so smoothly during the pandemic. And thousands of employees will permanently ditch their commutes for home offices.

Nationwide CEO Kirt Walker says it’s been a popular decision at the company. “Overwhelming. Hundreds of emails and cards and letters and phone calls. ‘Thank you for doing this.’ So I think we got it right,” he says.

It’s all about the money

Saving money is always an attractive proposition for businesses, especially these days. And that’s likely to drive the shift to remote work, according to Kate Lister, who consults with companies on the future of work as president of Global Workplace Analytics.

“Going into a recession, an economic downturn, those CEOs are laying awake at night thinking of all those buildings that they’re heating … productivity is continuing without being at the office. And saying, ‘Wow, I think we could use for a change here.’ ”

One potential change: Demand for commercial real estate falls due to the growth of remote work and the realities of a painful economic downturn. For example, 90% of the 60,000 employees at investment bank Morgan Stanley have been working remotely during the pandemic. Lesson learned, according to Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman.

“I think, yes, we will have less footprint,” Gorman told Bloomberg Television, referring to office space. “I think that’s highly likely. We’ve proven we can operate with effectively no footprint.”

Read the full article here.

White House cools off on temperature screenings

Barbara Sprunt, NPR

The White House is scaling back temperature checks for those entering the complex, as tents stationed along the north entrance to the building for conducting screenings were removed Monday morning.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said the move follows Washington, D.C.’s entry into phase two of reopening.

“In addition to social distancing, hand sanitizer, regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, and voluntary facial coverings, every staff member and guest in close proximity to the president and vice president is still being temperature checked, asked symptom histories, and tested for COVID-19,” Deere’s statement reads.

For months, visitors were required to answer questions about their health and undergo a temperature check prior to entering the White House.

The shift comes two days after six campaign staffers tested positive for coronavirus ahead of President Trump’s Saturday rally in Tulsa, Okla.

The rally, Trump’s first big campaign event since the outbreak of the pandemic, took place despite public health concerns over the potential mass spreading of the virus. While the campaign provided masks to attendees, many did not wear them.

Florida exceeds 100,000 coronavirus cases

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Florida has exceeded 100,000 coronavirus cases-100,217 people have contracted the virus in the state since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March.

More than 13,000 people have been hospitalized with severe symptoms of COVID-19 and 3,173 people have died.

Daily case numbers dropped to 2,926 on Monday, compared to the more than 4,000 new cases earlier last week.

Here’s the rundown so far in Central Florida:

Orange County: 5,035 cases, 408 hospitalizations, 49 deaths

Osceola County: 1,031 cases, 170 hospitalizations, 23 deaths

Seminole County: 1,351 cases, 143 hospitalizations, 16 deaths

Volusia County: 1,248 cases, 190 hospitalizations, 53 deaths

Brevard County: 866 cases, 92 hospitalizations, 16 deaths

Lake County: 747 cases, 95 hospitalizations, 20 deaths

Sumter County: 284 cases, 46 hospitalizations, 17 deaths

Villagers show support for police

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Hundreds of golf cart drivers paraded through The Villages on Saturday to show support for law enforcement.

The Villages-News.com reported nearly 900 golf carts took part in the parade.

Organizers asked participants to avoid political signs and display strictly messages of support for police.

Nationwide, large protests have continued since the death on May 25th of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

And just up the road in Ocala Saturday, the Star-Banner estimated 500 people took part in a rally and march for Black lives and social justice.

How Germany staffed up contact tracing teams to contain its coronavirus outbreak

Rob Schmitz, NPR

Germany, a country of over 83 million people, has flattened its coronavirus curve, dropping from a peak of more than 6,000 new cases a day to just around 600 now. One tool the country has relied on: contact tracing by telephone.

“Public Health Authority, Pankow,” says an operator, answering her phone before the first ring is over and identifying the Berlin district where she works. “So,” she confirms with the caller, “you’ve had contact with someone who’s tested positive.”

She asks for the name of the infected person, types it into her computer, and the caller’s name appears on her screen as someone the contact tracers were about to call.

“Did you spend more than 15 minutes at close contact with this person?” the operator asks. The caller tells her they went for a walk.

Across Germany, there are around 400 call centers like this one, each filled with dozens of operators fielding calls from worried citizens, taking first steps at contact tracing and referring callers to medical personnel.

Along with other European leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has prioritized tracking infection chains as the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Germany has confirmed more than 190,000 cases and nearly 9,000 deaths, but the spread of the virus has slowed toaround 600 new cases a day, prompting the government to reopen most businesses while issuing social distancing rules in public.

Read the full article here.

There is no ‘second wave’

Short Wave, NPR

America is still stuck in the first one. Maddie and Emily examine how the idea of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus might have taken hold.

NPR science correspondent Nurith Aizenman’s report on why the first wave isn’t over.

Life just got a little more magical: reservation system opens for Disney theme parks

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Monday is the first day that families and individuals can make online reservations to visit Disney theme parks and select hotels in Orlando.

Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will reopen July 11 while Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will open their doors July 15. 

Anyone with a valid park admission can make a reservation today on the new Disney Park Pass website. Reservations can be made as far in advance as September 26, 2021.

The process consists of linking an admission to a valid Disney account, filling out information about members of a party, and selecting a park and date.

Guests can only request tickets for one park per day. Separate reservations must be made for each day of a multi-day visit.

Starting this Friday, annual passholders without a resort booking can make reservations.  

PHOTOS: The masks of Congo are worn to protect, to protest — and to strike a pose

Marc Silver, NPR

Masks make a statement. About who you are — and your views of the pandemic.

That’s true in countries from the United States to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The government of Congo requires all Congolese to wear masks when going out in public to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But many people resent this rule — and the fact that police can arrest you as if you’ve committed a crime and fine you 5,000 Congolese francs — the equivalent of $2.50 to $3 — for not obeying. That’s a steep fine: The average per person income in the Congo is less than $2 a day.

The role of the police in mask enforcement makes people uneasy in a country with a history of police brutality.

What’s more, some in Congo don’t believe the novel coronavirus is a major threat. One reason is that the conflict-ridden country is dealing with other major health challenges. The annual count of malaria cases is over 800,000. There have been Ebola outbreaks in parts of the country, claiming over 2,000 lives since 2014. Since the start of 2019, nearly 7,000 have died of measles.

Check out the full article including photos of masks here.

Kids know how to occupy themselves. We need to let them do it

Corey Turner, NPR

If you’re a parent working from home with minimal or no help in the childcare department, this summer is likely going to be tough. Even getting an hour or two to focus on your work can seem like a dream when your kid is stuck inside and clamoring for attention.

Michaeleen Doucleff is a reporter on NPR’s Science Desk, and she’s been feeling this stress big time.

Up against a publishing deadline for a book she’s writing called Hunt, Gather, Parent about child-rearing traditions from other cultures, Doucleff was also fielding requests from her 4-year-old daughter, Rosy: “Draw me a narwhal!” “Read me a book!” “Bring me some milk!”

Frustrated by Rosy’s interruptions, Doucleff decided she would retrain her daughter to occupy herself and demand less attention. She got the idea from a scene she read about in an anthropology book by Jean Briggs who wrote about Inuit traditions in the 1960s and 1970s.

“In the winter, they built igloos to stay warm. This mother had two young children in one of the coldest parts of the world. There were many days where the little girls couldn’t go outside. They had nothing to do. No videos, no LEGOs, no children’s books,” says Doucleff. “And there are these scenes in the book where the children spend an hour or two in the morning under a blanket playing without bothering anyone.”

Doucleff realized that in the Inuit tradition, children’s time is treated differently. Instead of parents constantly feeling the need to entertain, educate, or stimulate their children, the kids are left to their own devices to fill their time the way they see fit.

Read the full article here.

The worrisome link between deforestation and disease

Nathan Rott, NPR

In 2013, an 18-month old boy got sick after playing near a hollow tree in his backyard, in a remote West African village. He developed a fever and started vomiting. His stool turned black. Two days later, he died.

Two years and more than 11,000 deaths later, the World Health Organization put out a report saying the Ebola outbreak that likely emanated from that hollow tree may have been caused in part by deforestation, led by “foreign mining and timber operations.”

The tree the boy played near was infested with fruit bats — bats that may have been pushed into the boy’s village because upwards of 80 percent of their natural habitat had been destroyed.

“When you disturb a forest, it actually upsets, if you want, the balance of nature, the balance between pathogens and people,” says John E. Fa, a professor of biodiversity and human development at Manchester Metropolitan University, who was part of a team of researchers that linked recent forest loss to 25 Ebola outbreaks that have occurred since 1976.

A finding, he says, that showed a strong correlation between recent deforestation and disease outbreaks.

Scientists have long warned that the reshaping of Earth’s landscapes will have broad ramifications for the climate and biodiversity. A growing body of evidence shows that forest loss and fragmentation can also increase the risk of animal-borne infectious disease, similar to the type that’s currently upending the world.

Read the full article here.

Remembering front-line workers lost to COVID-19

NPR Staff

It has been five months since the novel coronavirus started infecting Americans. Since then, the U.S. has lost more than 119,000 people to the sickness it causes — COVID-19.

So many have been touched by the deaths of family and friends. Here we remember just a few of those who continued working during the pandemic because their jobs called for it and who, ultimately, lost their lives.

Yves-Emmanuel Segui, 60

Pharmacist in Yonkers, N.Y.

“I think that he just thought: ‘Work as usual. There are a lot of sick people and that’s even more of a reason for me to work,’ ” his daughter Morit Segui, a resident physician and OB-GYN in the Bronx, says of her father.

Yves-Emmanuel Segui had been a pharmacist on the Ivory Coast for more than 10 years when political unrest forced the family to leave in 2004. The family immigrated to the U.S. for what he said were “better opportunities.”

But Segui had a hard time getting his pharmacy license in the United States. There was a language barrier — he spoke French — and the skills for pharmacists in the Ivory Coast are different, more like being a nurse.

Morit says her father took the pharmacy licensing test eight times. He never gave up — and finally passed.

Segui got a job at a community pharmacy on the border of Yonkers and the Bronx about two years ago, but he continued to make ends meet as a parking garage attendant in Newark, N.J. He died on April 6 of COVID-19.

“I have so many good memories of growing up in the Ivory Coast with my dad. Going to get ice cream was one of the happiest things. Taking trips through the country with him. I love driving because of that — he taught me how to drive,” Morit says.

And she fondly recalls him staying up late with her at night after they moved to the U.S., helping her translate her homework (the main language in Ivory Coast is French) so she could get through it. “When I was going through his things, I found the same dictionary we used to translate every word,” she says.

Morit’s last memory of her dad is meeting him at the halfway point on his two-hour commute.

“Finally, it was time for his dream to be realized. No one expected him to die so soon after working so hard,” she says.

Read their stories here.

Trump wants to move on, but the coronavirus is surging in parts of red America

Domenico Montanaro, NPR

About 120,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus.

While the national number of daily deaths has declined in recent weeks, new confirmed cases are on the rise in almost half the country, including spikes in FloridaTexas and Arizona, where the president is headed Tuesday.

“We saved millions of lives, and now it’s time to open up,” President Trump said definitively Saturday night during his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.

Trump’s referring to an earlier estimate that found there could be up to 2.2 million deaths if the country did nothing to contain the outbreak. But he spent months downplaying the virus when health experts were imploring more action sooner. And those experts are now warning it’s not time to act as if the pandemic is over.

“[T]hat’s why I think you’re seeing right now increases in a number of states, because everybody’s back to a pre-pandemic mindset,” Michael Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and author of Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. He warned that the coronavirus is like a “forest fire” that is showing no signs of slowing down.

Early on, the pandemic was largely affecting “blue,” or Democratic-leaning areas, especially New York, but now most new cases are in the South and redder parts of the country. The Trump administration and some Republican governors have been blaming increased testing for the rise in cases, but in many places cases are increasing more than testing — and that certainly doesn’t explain away rising hospitalizations in places like Texas.

Read the full article here.

Florida governor says younger people drive COVID-19 surge

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is downplaying a continued rise in confirmed coronavirus cases after the state reopened by saying more younger people with no symptoms are being tested.

He also hinted Friday that recent protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota might drive up positive tests, and said some people have started to disregard advice to wear masks, social distance and avoid large crowds.

Florida has had nearly 90,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, resulting in more than 3,100 deaths. The state has allowed bars, restaurants and some theme parks to reopen, and since then cases have spiked.

Cities brace for ‘collision course’ of summer heat waves and COVID-19

Brett Dahlberg, NPR

Aaron McCullough brought his 3-year-old daughter, Ariana, to a playground in a leafy, residential suburb of Rochester, New York, on a day in mid-June when temperatures topped out at 94 degrees.

The playground is one of seven spray parks in the city that offer cooling water to area residents whenever temperatures exceed 85 degrees.

Except during a pandemic.

“I was hoping that one of these water parks could open up and at least spray a little bit of water on us,” McCullough said.

Instead, he said, sweat dripping off his face, “There’s no water around at all.”

All of the city’s spray parks and air-conditioned cooling centers were shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Gathering in close proximity and engaging in physically strenuous behavior like running around the spray park appears to be a likely possibility for transmission,” says city spokesperson Justin Roj.

McCullough had bought Ariana a milkshake before they came to the park. It melted in his hand as she played on the slide.

“We’re not staying much longer,” he said. “If there were water, we’d be here till sundown.”

Rochester announced it plans to soon reopen spray parks with restrictions on the number of people who can use them at one time.

Across the country, authorities are finding that their usual strategies for protecting people against heat-related health problems are in direct conflict with their strategies for containing the virus — and with record-breaking high temperatures already recorded in some places before summer even began, those conflicts are likely to become more frequent.

“COVID-19 and climate change are on a collision course,” says New York City emergency management department spokesperson Omar Bourne.

“There is no question that the challenges we face this summer are unprecedented.”

Read the full article here.

The City of Orlando is opening up more mobile testing sites this week

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

The city is opening up free COVID-19 drive through and pedestrian accessible testing sites, at locations in zip codes with a higher number of positive cases. 

This Wednesday a drive through testing site will be open at the Northwest Community Center. Next Wednesday testing will be available at the Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center. 

The tests will be administered by Orlando Fire Department staff. They’re free, but you need to get an appointment here.

Testing is also available at 13 other sites throughout Orange County. On Sunday the Orange County Convention Center drive through testing site ran out of antibody tests after a couple hours.

People who wanted to get a test were being told to make sure they had a full tank of gas and working AC, as wait times stretched to three hours. 

China suspends poultry imports from Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas

Jason Slotkin, NPR

China is halting the import of poultry from a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas following an outbreak of coronavirus cases at the facility.

The nation’s General Administration of Customs office made the announcement on Sunday, saying shipments from the plant would be temporarily suspended, while products that have already arrived will be seized.

Tyson Foods confirmed to NPR that the announcement pertains to its Berry Street facility in Springdale, Ark., where 227 workers tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. All but four of them were asymptomatic, according to Tyson.

The company said that tests of its facilities in northwest Arkansas showed that 481 employees, or 13% of 3,748 employees, had tested positive. The company said 455 of those employees (95%) were asymptomatic.

In a statement, Tyson Foods said it was investigating reports of the suspension.

“At Tyson, our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, and we work closely with the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that we produce all of our food in full compliance with government safety requirements,” the company said.

Health experts have said the coronavirus is mostly spread through respiratory droplets, not food. In recent days, however, China has amped up testing of food products after a spate of coronavirus cases was traced to a major food market in Beijing.

The positive results at the Arkansas facilities aren’t the first for the company. In May, the company announced that some 570 workers tested positive at a processing facility in Wilkes County, N.C. In April, the company halted operations at a Columbus Junction, Iowa pork plant after more than two dozen workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

The latest pandemic shortage: Coins are the new toilet paper

Scott Horsley, NPR

Just as supplies of toilet paper are finally getting back to normal, the coronavirus has triggered another shortage of something we typically take for granted: pocket change.

Banks around the U.S. are running low on nickels, dimes, quarters and even pennies. And the Federal Reserve, which supplies banks, has been forced to ration scarce supplies.

“It was just a surprise,” said Gay Dempsey, who runs the Bank of Lincoln County in Tennessee, when she learned of the rationing order. “Nobody was expecting it.”

Dempsey’s bank typically dispenses 400 to 500 rolls of pennies each week. Under the rationing order, her allotment was cut down to just 100 rolls, with similar cutbacks in nickels, dimes and quarters.

That spells trouble for Dempsey’s business customers, who need the coins to stock cash registers all around Lincoln County, Tenn.

“You think about all your grocery stores and convenience stores and a lot of people that still operate with cash,” Dempsey said. “They have to have that just to make change.”

Rural banks in particular seem to be getting shortchanged, according to Colin Barrett, CEO of the Tennessee Bankers Association.

Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn., sounded the alarm last week during a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee.

“My fear is that customers who use these banks will react very poorly,” Rose said. “And I know that we all don’t want to wake up to headlines in the near future such as ‘Banks Out of Money.’ ”

The congressman warned that if businesses are unable to make exact change, they’ll be forced to round up or round down, “in a time when pennies are the difference between profitability and loss.”

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell assured Rose that the central bank is monitoring the situation closely.

“We’re working with the mint to increase supply, and we’re working with the reserve banks to get that supply where it needs to be,” Powell said. “So we think it’s a temporary situation.”

The U.S. Mint produced fewer coins than usual this spring in an effort to protect employees from infection. But the larger problem — as with many other pandemic shortages — is distribution.

During the lockdown, many automatic coin-sorting machines that people typically use to cash in loose change were off-limits. And with many businesses closed, unused coins piled up in darkened cash drawers, in pants pockets and on nightstands, even as banks went begging.

“The flow of coins through the economy … kind of stopped,” Powell said.

The Fed chairman stressed that this clog in the financial plumbing should clear quickly, now that businesses are reopening, and that supplies of coins should soon be back to normal.

In the meantime, Dempsey, the banker, has secured an emergency stash of coins from some of her business customers who run vending machines and laundromats.

While a growing number of people rely on credit cards or smartphone apps for many transactions today, the coin crunch is a reminder that sometimes you just need change.

“Cash is still king, I guess,” Dempsey mused.

Florida sees rise in background checks for gun purchases

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida is seeing a dramatic rise in the number of background checks for gun purchases.

That comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and a coronavirus pandemic.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Florida has processed 30,657 background checks in the week after Floyd’s May 25 death, after a police officer pressed his knee against the black man’s neck.

The number of background checks was twice the number for the same period last year. To purchase a gun in Florida, buyers must usually undergo a background check.

MLB spring training sites close amid virus worry

The Associated Press

A person familiar with the decision says Major League Baseball is closing all of its spring training sites over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The person spoke Friday night on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement.

Earlier in the day, the Philadelphia Phillies said five players tested positive for COVID-19 this week at the team’s spring complex.

At least four teams in Florida and Arizona had already closed their camps.

The move came while MLB owners and players try to negotiate a deal to start the season. They had hoped to begin a second round of spring training by next weekend.

Nursing homes struggle as staff choose unemployment checks over paychecks

Gabrielle Emanuel, NPR

Shanna LaFountain has been a nursing assistant in New England for 20 years. About two months ago, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, she stopped working.

“It was an extremely hard decision,” she said.

LaFountain has three children and made the decision once their schools closed and their learning went online.

“My son was not answering teachers, not doing assignments,” she said. “I had to be home with my children.”

Instead of working, she gets state unemployment benefits, and receives another $600 each week from the federal government. She is making more money now than when she works.

LaFountain is not alone. As part of the CARES Act, the federal government added an extra $600 per week to individuals’ unemployment checks. Such benefits may be available not only to those who were let go but also to those who quit their jobs due to the virus.

While a Federal Reserve report said the expanded benefits provide a critical lifeline to many individuals, there is concern that the additional money is leading crucial workers to stay home. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities, hard hit by the pandemic, have been struggling with understaffing.

The nurse staffing agency LaFountain used to work for, called IntelyCare, reports that about 30 percent of its certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, are choosing to take unemployment during the pandemic.

“Without them, you’ve got administrators, cafeteria workers, you’ve got all sorts of nurses performing the CNA duties. And then you just have people that aren’t getting attention because there’s just not enough people working,” said David Coppins, CEO of IntelyCare, which operates in 14 states and helps long-term care facilities fill their empty shifts.

In a typical nursing home, about two-thirds of the workforce are CNAs, Coppins said. They often have the closest relationships with the patients and spot early signs of health problems.

Before the pandemic, IntelyCare found workers for about 80 percent of the shifts that long-term care facilities asked help in filling. Now, Coppins said, it’s lucky to fill 50 percent.

“I’ve been talking with administrators day and night and they’re all crying about this,” said Micha Shalev, who co-owns Dodge Park and Oasis at Dodge Park, two facilities in Worcester, Massachusetts, that specialize in dementia care.

So far, none of Shalev’s residents have tested positive for the virus. His facilities and others have been taking extra precautions, he said, but are doing so with far less staff than they need – in large part because of the unemployment checks.

“I’m not against paying people for their unemployment,” he said. “But in order to do justice, they should be paying all the frontline workers in health care at least the same, if not even more.”

Shalev has resorted to offering his staff bonuses during the pandemic, but said that’s not realistic for all facilities. He said the government should supplement the wages of nurses and CNAs.

Congress is debating whether to extend the extra $600 a week unemployment benefit beyond the end of July.

“Without that 600, I would have to go back,” said LaFountain. While she misses her patients, she added, the pay rates don’t match the risks.

How to avoid spreading COVID-19 at public events, even without symptoms

Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN

Cases of COVID-19 in Florida keep going up. The state now has more than 97,000 cases, according to Florida’s Department of Health.

Dr. Aileen Marty is an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.

At a press conference with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, she said she knows people are going to demonstrations and marches right now and suggests ways to stay safe and protect other people too.

“Protest silently if you can. Use a megaphone, don’t shout. Use poster signs and just do it peacefully so that you get your message across without increasing your risk and that of others,” Marty said.

She also cited a new study that suggests even if you’ve already had the virus, that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

“Which means these people most likely can be re-infected multiple times which means as they get older and get reinfected if we don’t get this thing out of our community, eventually these people, too, may end up in the hospital. So we have to be very careful,” Marty said.

Marty wanted to make it clear — even younger people without symptoms can spread viral particles from their nose and mouth to somebody else. That could cause serious consequences, especially in someone older, like a parent or grandparent.

Experts urge people to use masks properly — covering their mouth and nose, wash their hands and stay at least six feet apart.

Trump expected to suspend H-1B, other visas until end of year

Franco Ordonez, NPR

President Trump is expected to sign an order to suspend H-1B, L-1 and other temporary work visas through the end of the year, according to the multiple sources familiar with the plan.

The new order — which is expected to come with broad exceptions — comes as the administration continues to wrestle with high unemployment among American workers because of the coronavirus pandemic and tries to kick-start the economic recovery.

The order would target H-1B visas, which are designed for certain skilled workers such as those employed in the tech industry, as well as L-1 visas, which are meant for executives who work for large corporations.

The executive action is also expected to suspend H-2B visas for seasonal workers such as hotel and construction staff, and J-1 visas, which are meant for research scholars and professors and other cultural and work-exchange programs. Trump could renew the suspensions when they lapse. The order is not expected to immediately affect anyone already in the United States.

“No matter how you slice it, this is shaping up to be a big win for American workers at a critical time,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for lower levels of immigration. FAIR had called on Trump to suspend guest worker visas.

“We have some concern over potential abuse of broadly written exceptions, but there is still time for that to be addressed, both now and during implementation,” Hauman said.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the plans.

If signed, it would be the latest restriction on immigration imposed by the Trump administration since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year.

In May, Trump issued a temporary halt on new green cards but stopped short of suspending guest worker programs amid concerns from the business community.

Negotiations are ongoing in the latest order over various exceptions, including whether au pairs should be included, and changes could still occur before Trump signs the measure, which could happen imminently. But plans for the order have already raised significant concerns among business and industry groups, as well as universities who depend on foreign workers and scholars.

“The ban on H-1B visas, which are often used to fill very niche positions that are not easily found in the American workforce, will ultimately prove to be counterproductive and is an example of using a nuclear bomb to address a bar fight,” said Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration who now represents H-1B workers.

The order does include many exceptions.

It does not apply to H-2A agriculture workers who Trump says are necessary to ensure grocery store shelves remain stocked with fruits and vegetables. Health care workers involved in treating coronavirus patients would also be exempt.

The order would make broad exceptions for travel in the national interest, including in the areas of economics, public health and national security. The U.S. State Department will review and approve these applications on a case-by-case basis.

In 2018, the Trump administration first tightened rules for companies that contract out high-skilled workers who are in this country on H-1B visas. The visas themselves have become controversial. U.S. companies use them to hire highly skilled foreign workers in situations in which they say there is a shortage of U.S.-born talent.

The visas are good for three years and renewable for another three-year term. Critics of the visas — 85,000 of which are issued every year — say American workers are aced out of competition with workers who can be paid less.

Coronavirus mystery: Are kids less likely to catch it than adults are?

Jason Beaubien, NPR

Why the coronavirus appears to affect children differently than it affects adults is one of the great mysteries of the current pandemic.

And it’s a question that Rosalind Eggo, an assistant professor of mathematical modeling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and her colleagues have tried to answer.

“What we found was that people under 20 were about half as susceptible to infection as people over 20,” Eggo says.

So kids and teens appear far less likely than adults to actually get infected with the virus.

“And then we also found that the probability of showing clinical symptoms … so getting ill enough that you report the infection… that rose from around 20% in 10- to 19-year-olds, up to around 70% in those over 70,” she says.

Eggo’s research was published this week in the journal Nature. It uses mathematical models to examine coronavirus data from six countries — China, South Korea, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Canada. The results are similar to an April study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that while kids under age 18 make up 22% of the U.S. population, they’ve accounted for fewer than 2% of reported cases.


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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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