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Your Friday Update: Three More MCO TSA Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus, Halloween Horror Nights At Universal Is Canceled, Florida Delays High School Football, Rising Cases Worry Nursing Homes

Photo: Laura Dewilde

Three more TSA workers at Orlando International Airport test positive for coronavirus on Friday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Federal Security Director Pete Garcia announced Friday, three more TSA workers at Orlando International Airport have tested positive for coronavirus.

In a message sent to staff, Garcia said the officers’ last day at the security checkpoint was July 23rd.

Garcia said the officers will not return to work until they are cleared by a doctor.

With these latest positive test results, almost 60 officers have gotten sick with COVID-19 at the airport since the start of the pandemic in mid-March.

Halloween Horror Nights is canceled this year at Universal Orlando Resort

Amy Green, WMFE

The theme park says it is focusing instead on implementing health and safety protocols for daytime guests in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Halloween Horror Nights also is canceled at Universal Studios Hollywood. 

The California theme park says it continues to face ongoing business restrictions and uncertainty about when it will reopen. 

Florida delays high school football amid coronavirus surge

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s burgeoning coronavirus crisis has forced its high schools to reverse course and delay the start of their football and other fall sports seasons.

The Florida High School Athletic Association’s board voted 11-4 Thursday night to push the first day of practices from Monday to Aug. 24 with games starting no earlier than mid-September instead of mid-August.

This was a reversal from earlier in the week when the same board voted to start the season on time.

That decision had angered administrators and coaches in hard-hit urban counties as they could not safely start on time and their teams would likely have not been eligible to compete for state titles.

Mounting virus cases spark concern in Florida nursing homes

MIAMI (AP) — Florida’s nursing homes have been on lockdown since mid-March, with the state banning family visits and barring the return of infected residents unless the homes have separate COVID-19 wings.

Florida also set up isolation centers statewide for infected residents, and required nursing home staff to be tested every two weeks.

But the current explosion of infections statewide is proving that these facilities aren’t completely shielded, and deaths are going up.

In the past three weeks, cases have gone from about 2,000 to some 4,800 at Florida nursing homes. Roughly 2,550 long-term care residents and staff have died overall, accounting for about 45% of all virus deaths in Florida.

Florida reports more than 12,000 new coronavirus cases 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida reported 12,444 new coronavirus cases and 135 new coronavirus-related deaths on Friday. 

That brings the total number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic to 402,312 cases and the death toll to 5,768 people. 

In Central Florida, Orange County leads with the most COVID-19 cases at 25,952 positive tests. 

690 people have been hospitalized and 164 people have died in the county since mid-March.

Trump announces new guidelines for reopening schools

Anya Kamenetz, NPR

Public schools should delay reopening in coronavirus hotspots, but should open fully if they want to receive tens of billions of dollars in new federal aid, President Trump said in a White House briefing.

At the news conference on Thursday, Trump talked in more detail than he has in the past about school reopening. He also announced new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening schools.

He had previously called the existing guidance “very tough & expensive,” while Vice President Mike Pence said “we don’t want the guidance from the CDC to be a reason why schools don’t open.”

The new guidance emphasizes the “critical” importance of opening schools in-person. For example, it removes a statement from the previous document that “virtual-only classes, activities, and events,” are “lowest risk.”

It also provides an update on emerging evidence that children are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus: “As of July 21, 2020, 6.6% of reported COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths are among children and adolescents less than 18 years of age in the United States,” the new guidance says.

Read the full article here.

Blocked busters: Disney pushes 17 movie release dates

Bob Mondello, NPR

When Warner Brothers pulled Christopher Nolan’s $200-million thriller, Tenet, from its release schedule earlier this week, industry analysts expected a domino effect, and Disney announced this afternoon that the first 17 dominos have fallen.

The Mouse House’s live-action remake of Mulan, the last big-budget Hollywood blockbuster scheduled for August, is now “unset,” on the company’s release schedule.

And the studio has pushed back or cancelled the release of another 16 Disney and Fox films, in a ripple-effect that will affect movie releases for years.

One Searchlight film, The Personal History of David Copperfield, is still scheduled for summer, though pushed back two weeks to August 28. But such other Fox films as Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie remake Death on the Nile, and the supernatural thriller film The Empty Man have been delayed to later in the fall, while Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which was to have opened in October, has been postponed indefinitely.

Other films, including Ridley Scott’s historical thriller The Last Duel, and the supernatural horror film Antlers have been moved to 2021.

And in perhaps the most telling shift, three Star Wars pictures and four Avatar sequels, originally scheduled to alternate as Christmas releases starting next year, have all been moved back a full year, meaning the pandemic will affect film releases through Christmas of 2028.

All the major theater chains have been closed since March, and were counting on must-see movies to jump-start their reopenings this summer. That no longer seems likely, though a few smaller independent features still list openings in coming weeks.

Lives of the Great Depression

Throughline, NPR

The Great Depression was a revolutionary spark for all kinds of things — health insurance, social safety nets, big government — all of which were in response to a national crisis.

Through the personal accounts of four people who lived during the Great Depression, we look back at what life was like back then and what those stories can teach us about the last time the U.S. went through a national economic cataclysm.

On the day Florida reported a record 173 deaths from COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis stressed what he called “positive” trends

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

At a press conference in Melbourne Thursday, DeSantis touted lower fatality rates in Central Florida, along with improved treatments, fewer emergency room visits and a slower increase in hospitalizations.

“There’s a whole bunch of different data points, but we’re trending much better today than we were two weeks ago. Over that period, Florida has added more than 9,000 new coronavirus cases each day, including 10,239 today.”

Many states with fewer cases require mask-wearing in public. But DeSantis is sticking with his, “recommendations” for social distancing and face coverings.

“You know, those are advisory. Those are not punitive. We’re going to continue to advise but we’re not going to impose any type of criminal penalties. It’s just not – I don’t think that would be effective.”

The governor also reiterated his argument that parents should have the choice to send their children to school during the pandemic.

Strike teams have begun visiting businesses in Orange County to ensure compliance with coronavirus safety protocols

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

So far the strike teams have visited 75 businesses. 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says the majority of businesses are following the rules. 

“Of the businesses that were not in compliance, it was because they fail to meet one of the following safety protocols: practicing social distancing, following the mandatory facial covering executive order, maintaining checkpoints and floor markings to assist patrons and staying six feet apart.”

The teams are made up of staff from county code enforcement, the fire marshal’s office and the department of health. 

Trump calls off Florida segment of GOP National Convention

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has scrapped plans for a four-night Republican National Convention scheduled for Florida next month, citing a “flare-up” of the coronavirus.

Trump’s formal renomination will still go forward in North Carolina. Trump made the announcement Thursday at the White House.

He had moved parts of the GOP convention to Florida last month amid a dispute with North Carolina’s Democratic leaders over holding an indoor gathering with mask-less supporters.

But those plans were steadily scaled back as virus cases spiked in Florida and much of the country over the last month.

If college football is played, will bowls be salvaged, too?

College football leaders are in the process of piecing together plans to attempt to play a regular season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If it is possible to play, everyone anticipates there will be disruptions, added expenses and loads of stress just to get through it.

So how motivated will schools be to tack on a postseason game after all of that? Especially one that doesn’t determine a national title?

There are more bowl games scheduled for the coming season than ever before in major college football: 42, not including the College Football Playoff championship.

Less than five months away from bowl season, most of them don’t even have a date locked in yet.

If the regular season can be saved, can the postseason be salvaged, too?

Sarasota needs poll workers for upcoming elections

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF

Sarasota County’s elections supervisor says the ongoing threat of the coronavirus is leading to a shortage of poll workers for the general election.

Supervisor Ron Turner says it takes about 1,300 people to handle voting on Election Day, which could last 14 hours or more.

“Back in March for the March presidential preference primary, about 30% of our poll worker positions were unfilled or poll workers dropped and decided not to work because of the virus.”

Turner says most of his poll workers are among those most vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age.

But the county can also employ teenagers for the job. Turner says they must be at least 16 and pre-registered to vote in Sarasota County in order to apply.

You can find out how to apply to be a poll worker in Sarasota or any of the elections offices in the greater Tampa Bay region at wusfnews.org.

Feds sending nursing homes rapid testing machines, but questions remain

Stephanie Colombini, WUSF

Florida nursing homes are expected to receive rapid coronavirus testing machines from the federal government.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week it will send the machines to every skilled nursing facility in the country.

“The federal government says the first wave of shipments will go to 2,000 facilities in coronavirus hotspots. Long-term care providers in Florida assume the state falls into that category, but it’s still unclear what facilitates would get the machines first or when they’ll arrive.”

Jay Solomon, CEO of Aviva, a senior living campus in Sarasota says there’s still a lot of confusion.

“The question is how fast will that be rolled out. The other side is after we get those, how are we going to purchase the test kits for rapid testing?”

The move is a good first step, says Brian Lee, director of the nonprofit Families For Better Care. But he says the state shouldn’t wait for the federal government to act.

“Until we have a vaccine and until the testing happens on a frequent basis, then people are going to die. It’s a total guessing game who has the virus in these facilities.”

Lee says what facilities are doing in the state now – testing staff every 2 weeks – isn’t enough. He’s calling on the state and long-term care providers to put rapid molecular testing machines in every home.

Those are more accurate than the antigen tests the federal government is sending.

The FDA says antigen tests are more likely to miss active coronavirus infections. Providers have voiced concerns about the cost of frequent testing, but Lee says funding this should be a priority.

U.S. Surgeon General urges mask-wearing during Miami visit

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

The U.S. Surgeon General visited Miami as coronavirus cases surge.

Vice Admiral Jerome Adams spoke at a Sergio’s restaurant in Doral Thursday afternoon. He said masks are critical to get more businesses running again.

“This face covering is a really small gesture. It may seem like an inconvenience to you, but you know what a much bigger inconvenience is, if it’s Sergio’s has to close. If someone goes out to a restaurant and gets infected when they didn’t have to … because we weren’t doing our part.”

The U.S. Surgeon General announced a new effort. Federal and state officials are handing out one millions masks to hotel and restaurant workers in Florida.

Indoor dining rooms remain closed in Miami-Dade County.

Leon County Schools Superintendent willing to shut down schools if coronavirus conditions get worse

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

If the Re-Open Leon Schools task force determines in-person classes are no longer safe, Superintendent Rocky Hanna says he will shutter schools even if that means losing funding.

Hanna says he’s been getting mixed messages from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and state health officials.

“The state department of health—of education is saying, if they say it’s recommended, it’s not safe. Then it’s not safe. And then I’m hearing from the health officials, ‘we don’t give recommendations’.”

Hanna is talking about an order from the State Department of Education requiring schools to offer in-person classes this fall.

It says schools should follow guidance from local health officials, but those officials are demurring. Hanna says if contact tracing and quarantine measures for staff fall behind, he’s willing to close schools even if that means losing federal dollars for things like free and reduced lunch programs.

“We’ll take them to court. I mean we’ll fight tooth and nail and go to court and say, ‘no, I’m sorry we tried and we couldn’t. You know, it went south’.”

Hanna says officials won’t know what the situation is like until schools reopen.

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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 »