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Your Friday Update: Pandemic Becomes Politically Fraught in Florida, Gov. DeSantis Announces 11 Million in Housing Assistance for Central Florida, Georgia Hospital Worker Sounds the Alarm

Pandemic becomes politically fraught for Florida governor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic is becoming politically fraught for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

One sign the governor is feeling the heat is the release of a two-minute video on social media that looks and sounds like a political campaign advertisement.

In recent weeks, the governor’s leadership has come under fire, not just by Democrats but by some members of his own party.

Floridians are growing frustrated over job losses, the debate over whether to reopen schools and the state’s spiking number of COVID-19 cases.

The video features snippets from area mayors uniformly lauding the governor’s handling of the outbreak.

Some of those same mayors also have expressed concern about the state’s response to the pandemic.

Governor Ron DeSantis announces Central Florida will get more than 11 million dollars in housing assistance 

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation Friday approved sending $75 million in rental and mortgage assistance money to county governments. 

The federal money will go to subsidize rent for July through December 2020, and may also be used to pay back rent. 

Governor Ron DeSantis said Central Florida counties will get more than $11 million dollars.  

“Orange County will receive $7.26 million, Seminole County will receive $1.1 million and Osceola will receive $2.5 million.”

The money is part of $250 million dollars in CARES Act funding for affordable housing projects in Florida. 

However, DeSantis vetoed some $225 million dollars from the Sadowski Trust for affordable housing in signing the pandemic-affected state budget last month.

Georgia hospital worker sounds alarm: ‘I have never ever seen anything like this’

Wayne Drash, NPR

The emergency room overflowed with patients. Then, the next wave arrived. This time on stretchers.

“They were lined up along the walls in the ER,” a health care worker inside a Navicent Health-owned hospital in middle Georgia told GPB News. “We never have had an influx like that. Since the Fourth of July, it has just exploded.”

Staff members did what they always do. They tended to patients as best they could. For the sickest patients, staff searched for available beds in nearby hospitals. In previous weeks, the health care worker said, COVID-19 patients typically got transported to medical centers about 70 miles north to Atlanta or 160 miles east to Savannah.

This week, there was no room. Desperate, the health care worker said, administrators began checking available hospitals in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

The distance stretched more than 850 miles north to south, from Louisville, Ky., down to Orlando, Fla.

“When you have to start shipping patients out of state, it’s bad,” the worker said. “When the hospitals are full, that’s when it becomes really dangerous for everybody.”

Read the full article here. 

A second detention deputy working at the Lake County Jail has died of COVID-19

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Master Deputy Richard Barry tested positive on June 16th. He died yesterday at AdventHealth Waterman Hospital.

He was 58 years old and a 24-year veteran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. He had worked in the extradition unit but, when transfers were halted earlier this year, he started supervising inmates at the jail.

Sheriff’s officials described him as a highly respected, hard-working deputy with a great sense of humor. His widow, Bria, is also a detention deputy.

Last month, the Sheriff’s Office lost 52-year-old Master Detention Deputy Lynn Jones to the coronavirus.

Since mid-June, the jail has been dealing with an outbreak. As of yesterday, 131 inmates had tested positive along with 28 jail employees and two nurses.

Florida’s unemployment rate improved in June

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Florida’s unemployment rate improved sharply in June, dropping about 3 percentage points to 10.7 percent.

Statewide, about 400,000 more people were working compared to May.

Central Florida’s jobless numbers improved, too, but they are still the worst in the state. Osceola County’s jobless rate was nearly 23 percent. Orange County’s was the second-worst at 17.2 percent.

A state expert says that is tied to the leisure and hospitality industry.

The June numbers don’t take into account the jobs returning as theme parks reopened.

Florida reports more than 11,000 new coronavirus cases

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Florida Department of Health says the state added 11,548 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

That brings the total number of cases in the state since mid-March to 327,241.

DOH also reported 128 new coronavirus-related deaths bringing the death toll to over 4,800 people.

More than 20,000 people have been hospitalized in the state with 8,886 people hospitalized on Friday morning at 11 AM alone.

In Central Florida, Orange County leads with more than 21,000 total cases, 618 hospitalizations and 103 deaths.

Exclusive: CDC won’t release school guidance this week as anticipated

Franco Ordonez, NPR

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not release a set of documents this week aimed at giving schools advice on how to reopen to students after coronavirus shutdowns, NPR has learned. Instead, the full set will be published before the end of the month, a CDC spokesperson says.

“These science and evidence-based resources and tools will provide additional information for administrators, teachers and staff, parents, caregivers and guardians, as together we work towards the public health-oriented goal of safely opening schools this fall,” the spokesperson said.

President Trump has emphasized that he wants to see schools reopen their classrooms in the fall, but many teachers and parents have balked, concerned that children would spread the virus and get sick themselves. Trump complained on Twitter that the CDC’s existing guidance was “too tough.”

Vice President Pence had said as recently as Tuesday he anticipated guidance would be released later this week to help parents and schools grapple with whether — and how — to open this fall. Pence had said the CDC would release five new documents, including recommendations on screening for COVID-19 symptoms. The guidance was aimed at augmenting advice the agency released in March about social distancing and preventive measures in schools.

But Pence, who heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield have also stressed they don’t want the guidance to be used as a reason for keeping schools closed.

“To be very clear,” Pence said Tuesday, “we don’t want CDC guidance to be a reason why people don’t reopen their schools. We’re going to respect whatever decisions are made.”

Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have sought to tie potential new funding for education in an upcoming coronavirus aid package to reopening schools, though the mechanics of such a move have not been made clear.

Target, CVS shoppers will be required to wear masks

Vanessa Romo, NPR

Target and CVS are the latest national retail chains requiring customers to wear masks as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to skyrocket.

The companies announced the new policies on Thursday following similar moves by a growing number of retailers acting to fill a void left by local, state and federal agencies that have so far refused to set mandatory face covering policies.

As of Thursday, only about half of the country’s states require masks in public places.

CVS Chief Operating Officer Jon Roberts explained the new shopping rules come after “encouraging” customers to cover up.

But he said the recent surge in cases demands more extreme measures.

“With the recent spike in COVID-19 infections, we’re joining others in taking the next step and requiring all customers to wear face coverings when entering any of our stores throughout the country effective Monday, July 20,” Roberts wrote in a statement.

“To be clear, we’re not asking our store employees to play the role of enforcer. What we are asking is that customers help protect themselves and those around them by listening to the experts and heeding the call to wear a face covering,” he said.

Read the full article here. 

Orange County ‘strike teams’ to take on businesses flouting pandemic directives

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says the county will send so-called “strike teams” to businesses that aren’t complying with the mask order and other measures to limit the spread of coronavirus. 

Demings says he wants to focus on “bad actors”. 

The strike teams will include members of the county’s code enforcement team and representatives from the health department. 

“The purpose is to gain compliance so I suspect that much of what initially may occur would be warnings, you know, we come in and we see you in violation and give you a warning, we’re gonna document that we warn you before we take further punitive action.”

Demings says a working group will decide on potential penalties next week. 

Florida hits new coronavirus death mark with 156 fatalities in one day

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida has reached another ominous mark with a record 156 deaths from the coronavirus reported in a single day as the state continues to experience a swift rise in cases.

The state Department of Health reported 13,965 new coronavirus cases in Florida, bringing the total throughout the pandemic in Florida to nearly 316,000.

The 156 deaths statewide eclipsed the previous record set Tuesday of 132 deaths.

The U.S. Department of Labor also reported a surge in first-time filings for unemployment benefits in Florida.

In the week ending July 11, there were 129,408 new unemployment filings, an increase of more than 62,000 from the week before.

Trump administration push to ‘consolidate’ CDC data worries public health experts

Consider This, NPR

Until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collected important information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment from around the country.

The Trump Administration now says hospitals must stop reporting that data to the CDC and instead send information to a different federal database.

Meanwhile, four states have agreed to share driver’s license records to help the Trump administration produce citizenship data. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reports this data could be used for redrawing voting districts.

And some imported surgical masks are turning out to be defective. Sellers of the masks are touting FDA certificates but those certificates are useless.

Small business help is on the way in Tampa Bay

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF

It hasn’t been “business as usual” for small businesses in the greater Tampa Bay region during the coronavirus pandemic.

Eileen Rodriguez is Regional Director of the Small Business Development Center at USF Muma College of Business.

She says virtually all small businesses have been negatively affected by the coronavirus. Their cash flow and profitability has gone down and they’ve had difficulty connecting with vendors.

“But the majority of the work we’re currently doing is just helping people get a grasp on where they’re currently at, looking at their cash flow, looking at their financial management, to make sure that they can stay alive, if you will, you know, keep the business going until they can go back to some sort of normalcy.”

She says she’s been connecting small business owners with information about loans and grants from local communities which are making federal coronavirus relief money available.

Local health officials say they don’t have authority to decide whether schools resume in-person classes

Lynn Hatter, WFSU

A directive from the Florida Department of Education says the state’s public schools have to reopen for in-person classes five days a week in August. The order also says the reopening should happen unless state or local health departments say otherwise.

Local health officials say they don’t have the authority to give that advice.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued his emergency order the same day President Donald Trump tweeted that all schools should reopen for in-person classes. But the order has been under fire from local school officials, teachers and workers concerned for their health amid rising cases of COVID-19 infections.

Governor Ron DeSantis appears to be distancing himself from the order, saying it’s up to local education officials to have the final say. Leon County School Board member Joy Bowen feels districts don’t have a choice:

“We’re doing this because we’ve been mandated to do it. We’re not doing this because we really want to.”

During a recent State Board of Education meeting, board member Michael Olenick called on State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to rescind the language mandating schools reopen in-person:

“What I am hearing today about flexibility, and all the things we’re doing to help them, are contrary to that mandate of 5-days a week. I heard from one school board member…she said she didn’t think her department of health would ever agree to a closure.”

Corcoran insists the order carries with it flexibility on decision-making. And he points to the language about local or state health officials having a say. Problem is, Dr. Raul Pino with the Orange County Health Department says he’s not sure that’s true:

“With a regard to making a decision for that …I don’t consider that I have that authority. I really don’t. But if I have it, if legal…tells me that I do, I will take the decision that needs to be taken. But what I [am] trying to avoid…is to make a decision in public, that is going to be override[n] by someone else.”

Pino says he’s gotten some 500 emails, some threatening, over the school reopening issue.

He says he can only supply data to the school district, not give an opinion. A few districts have already signaled they’re planning to stick with online-only classes for now as the coronavirus rages in Florida.

Democrats push “Step Back For Safety” plan

Regan McCarthy, WFSU

Florida Democrats say the state needs to take a “step back for safety.”

That’s the name of a plan Democrats say would include scaling back the state’s reopening phase, delaying the start of the school year and implementing a statewide mask requirement in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Miami Democratic Senator Oscar Braynon says stepping back now means less risk of backsliding in the future.

“What we’re saying is we have to take a step back now. If we don’t take a step back now, and look they won’t have very much control over whether this happens or not, is we will have to close this economy down again.”

Braynon says the governor and other Republican state officials have moved too quickly to open the state’s economy. Democrats say reverting to a phase one reopening could keep businesses operating and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

National Teachers Union urges Congress, Rubio to support more coronavirus money for schools

Caitie Switalski, WLRN

A national union for educators, school personnel and nurses is calling on members of Congress to get back to Washington and fund schools.

The ad from the American Federation of Teachers pressures Congress to support more money to help schools reopen safely.

“We can’t afford for our children’s education to be another victim of the coronavirus. Tell your senator to come back to Washington and support emergency education funding.”

In the video, the ad tailored for Floridians urges people to contact Senator Marco Rubio. His aides did not respond to requests for comment.

The AFT has calculated that schools across the country will need more than $116 billion dollars in addition to their regular funding, to keep up with safety guidelines for the virus – things like making more space for social distancing and buying enough personal protective equipment.

Randi Weingarten is the union president:

“We need to also make sure that we have a plan for reopening school safely, that prevents the virus spread, and we need the resources to do that.”

The ad is running on outlets like Fox, MSNBC and CNN. Congress reconvenes after its July 4th recess on Monday.

Why the pandemic is getting worse and how to think about the future

Short Wave, NPR

Rising cases, not enough testing and not enough people taking the virus seriously.

NPR science correspondent Richard Harris explains why the virus is surging again, what’s causing lower fatality rates and how to think about the future of the pandemic.

For more on death rates in the latest surge, read: “COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Flatlining?

Ballparks to use crowd noise from video game during season

Major League Baseball will pipe in crowd noise when the shortened season begins in ballparks with no fans.

The sound engineer at each ballpark will have access to around 75 different crowd effects and reactions that can be used during a game.

The crowd noise has been compiled at games over many seasons for MLB’s official video game, “MLB The Show.”

Clubs have started to test the various sounds during summer camp games. Teams will be able to test it further this weekend when exhibition games begin.

Doctors say Miami-Dade is failing to reach underserved communities battling COVID-19

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

Doctors and nurses told Miami-Dade County commissioners Thursday that the county is failing to get its message across about the danger of COVID-19 to underserved communities.

“We would like the public health message to be much more inclusive of clinicians who look like me, at targeting areas that we know are highly vulnerable: the 33161, 33168 zip codes in North Miami, all the zip codes in Liberty City and in Little Haiti. The messages will have to go beyond the mass media. But using trusted messengers, social media and physicians like us, which means changing how this information is out.”

Dr. Cheryl Holder is president of the Florida State Medical Association and a professor at Florida International University. She says the county also needs to find a way to provide testing and care to uninsured people.

“We have to reimagine how we address public health in this population to decrease the death and decrease the infection. And we can’t wait for the masks and we can’t wait for all the other ways that we’re doing it. But we need immediate action using different resources.”

Commissioner Barbara Jordan suggested finding local media and celebrities.

“We take advantage of every single local network, radio station and any underground radio stations that may also exist. We know that they are out there and we know that people know how to get to them.”

The county began sending surge teams into hard hit areas last month to issue protective gear and talk to residents but cases continue to rise in underserved neighborhoods.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the county has been offering free hotel rooms to households that need to isolate infected family members. But he says so far hardly anyone has used the program.

University of Miami Medical School will launch COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials

Amber Amortegui, WLRN

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine will launch Phase 3 clinical trials for potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis is the lead researcher for these trials. She says most vaccines take longer to develop, but the COVID-19 one has a greater sense of urgency.

“All the safety steps and the usual vaccine development steps are part of the process and remain part of the process. So I feel assured that it’s not that steps are being skipped, they’re just really being condensed and stacked up quickly.”

UM is looking for about 1,000 volunteers around South Florida. If you’d like to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, click on the link. 

Miami-Dade approves $30 million to help mom-and-pop restaurants

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

Miami-Dade County commissioners trying to help hard-hit restaurants approved a $30 million relief fund Thursday.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the aid is aimed at mom-and-pop restaurants.

“The whole gist of this program is to keep these restaurants viable, to come back and then hire their employees again. Some of the bigger chains got the money from the PPP and they were helped. Some of the smaller people didn’t have the wherewithal, didn’t get one dime.”

Eligible establishments can receive up to $25,000 dollars to pay for expenses including rent, utilities and protective equipment like masks.

Latin America is the new epicenter for COVID-19 and pandemic-related economic collapse

Tim Padgett, WLRN

Latin America is the new global epicenter for COVID-19. It may also be the new epicenter for pandemic-related economic collapse.

Nothing makes people in Latin America and the Caribbean more uncomfortable than the term “Lost Decade.” It refers mainly to the 1980s, when the region’s economies crashed under the weight of massive debt. The question now is whether the past decade has been lost, under the strain of COVID-19.

In a report this week, the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, or ECLAC, is raising that fear. Because of the economic shock from the pandemic, it says the region’s GDP is likely to shrink more than 9 percent this year.

Combined with dismal economic performance over the last few years, ECLAC fears that would set Latin America’s per capita GDP back to 2010 levels. The commission says that essentially represents another “lost decade” for the region.

Meanwhile, the PanAmerican Health Organization reports this week the number of COVID-19 deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean has passed the total in the U.S. and Canada.

Your grandparents want to see you. Is it worth the risk in a pandemic?

Life Kit, NPR

Thinking about making a trip to visit family?

In the age of the coronavirus, there are questions you need to answer before showing up at your relative’s house.

In this episode, we talk through best practices for if, or when, you decide to visit elderly relatives during this pandemic.

100-year-old Tom Moore, who raised millions by walking laps, to be knighted Friday

Rachel Treisman, NPR

This spring, 100-year-old Capt. Tom Moore became a national hero in Britain when he raised more than $40 million for health care workers by walking laps in his garden.

On Friday, he will become Capt. Sir Tom Moore when he is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Buckingham Palace said a private ceremony with Moore and members of his family will take place at Windsor Castle, where the monarch has been sheltering with her husband Prince Philip. Other investitures have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I could never have imagined this would happen to me,” Moore said. “It is such a huge honor and I am very much looking forward to meeting Her Majesty The Queen. It is going to be the most special of days for me.”

When the pandemic struck, Moore set a goal of raising £1,000 for National Health Service workers, to whom he said he was “eternally grateful” after having received treatment for a cancer scare and hip fracture in the past.

Moore originally set out to do 100 laps around an 82-foot loop in his garden, “at 50 meters a time,” before his birthday in late April. He reached his donation target in 24 hours. Support continued to pour in, with more than 1.5 million people ultimately contributing.

Read the full article here. 

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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 »