Your Monday Update: Ocala Mayor Vetoes Mask Ordinance, DeSantis and Corcoran Respond to District Allegations, Coronavirus Cases Continue to Drop in Florida, Pandemic Has Impact on Early Voting
Ocala mayor vetoes mask ordinance
Joe Byrnes, WMFE
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn has vetoed a mask ordinance passed by the City Council on Aug. 4.
The council approved it 4 to 1 as a measure to combat the coronavirus. The same four votes would be needed to override the veto on Aug. 18.
In a letter, Guinn says the ordinance violates religious freedom and puts an unfair burden on business owners. He says the government cannot mandate that medical devices be worn.
The ordinance applied to businesses, churches and government offices. It required workers to wear face coverings indoors. And business owners had to post signs, make announcements and make reasonable requests to visitors who were not wearing a mask.
Business owners could be fined $25 per violation after a couple of warnings.
City Councilman Matt Wardell had offered the ordinance as a compromise after a broader mandate failed to get four votes.
More than 500 medical professionals had signed a petition asking the council for a mask mandate.
DeSantis, Corcoran respond to allegations from Hillsborough County Schools
Jessica Meszaros, WUSF
At an education round table in Riverview on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said “some of this stuff is just not debatable anymore,” continuing to say that kids are at lower risk for contracting the coronavirus.
“Beyond that is really a policy decision about how important is it to get students back in the classroom and how you balance that with not zero risk but I would say low risk.”
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran gave a seemingly mixed message: saying it’s up to the discretion of local school districts on how they reopen but adding that his emergency order says they need to offer in-person classes to get fully funded.
“Hillsborough themselves two weeks ago was in complete agreement. Every other district is doing what exactly what the emergency order gave them flexibility to do and they’re doing it with great fanfare.”
Hillsborough County’s school board voted last week to go fully online for the first month of classes starting August 24th.
The next day, Corcoran sent a letter to Hillsborough officials saying that violated the original plan which had already been approved.
Coronavirus cases continue to drop in Florida
Danielle Prieur, WMFE
Coronavirus cases continued to drop in Florida for the second day in a row.
The Florida Health Department reported 4,155 new coronavirus cases and 91 new coronavirus-related deaths on Monday.
In total, more than 536,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state and 8,277 residents have died since the beginning of the pandemic.
Orange County continues to lead Central Florida with the most coronavirus cases. More than 31,000 residents have gotten ill and 298 people in the county have died since mid-March.
Put me in coach, I’m ready to play: college football players want to return to the field
The Power Five conference commissioners met to discuss the growing concern over whether the coming college football season will be played.
And players took to social media to urge leaders to let them play. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby says no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded that the outlook has not improved in recent weeks.
The Big Ten university presidents and chancellors were also having a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press.
All this activity comes a day after the Mid-American Conference became the latest league to cancel fall sports.
MLS navigates resuming the season in local markets
In light of the troubles that Major League Baseball has had in restarting its season, Major League Soccer’s plan to resume play in its local markets is under understandable scrutiny.
The league has been buoyed by the success of its MLS is Back tournament in Florida, which concludes on Tuesday with the title game between the Portland Timbers and Orlando City.
With teams headed home, the plan is for an abbreviated season.
COVID-19 pandemic has impact on early voting in South Florida
Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN
Early voting continues in South Florida for the final week before the August 18th primary election.
But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is having an effect on how people vote.
Vote-by-mail ballot requests have soared across the region. Take Broward County: more than 400,000 people requested vote-by-mail ballots and more than 100,000 have returned those ballots through the middle of last week.
That’s compared to the 2018 primary election, when about 91,000 vote-by-mail ballots were cast in Broward.
The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot has passed.
If you vote-by-mail, you must sign the envelope and the ballot can be dropped off at an early voting site or at a polling station on Election Day.
Positivity rates should help Florida school districts decide whether to reopen, experts say
Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN
The COVID-19 positivity rate is one of the measurements school districts are watching to gauge when to return students to classrooms.
In South Florida, some county rates have been dropping over the last couple of weeks.
Experts say numbers here are still too high for students to go back inside school buildings.
Theresa Axford says in Monroe County, students will start off learning online for the first four weeks. She’s the county’s school superintendent.
“The county health department advised us that it’s just not a good time for children to be back in a public school setting.
Over the weekend, the seven-day average positivity rate was above 10 percent. In Miami-Dade, that rate is above 13 percent.”
Dr. Cyrus Shahpar used to work with the CDC, and is now with The Resolve to Save Lives initiative. He says states looking into reopening schools should have rates between 1 and 5 percent positivity. But much of Florida’s rates are too high, he adds.
“With this amount of virus in the community, it will make it into schools even if a local school district doesn’t decide to close. I mean, I think parents, if they see a lot of infections in a school, will be reluctant to send their children.”
According to reporting by the Palm Beach Post, health directors across Florida have been suggesting how to reopen schools safely, but they’ve been avoiding giving an opinion on the risk of reopening campuses.
Free back-to-school events continue ahead of new school year
Tom Flanigan, WFSU
More than 150 familes were loading up on free back-to-school clothing and other supplies at the Buck Lake Walmart Sunday.
The event was the 24th annual Kids’ Boutique hosted by the Junior League of Tallahassee. Samantha Sexton is the organization’s president.
“This year we not only had to step up our game with personal protective equipment, but figure out how we could execute – or could we even execute – a safe and socially-distanced event for our children and families that really needed us during this critical time and we were able to do just that.”
Instead of coming in one big group, the families came in small clusters throughout the day. Sexton says Walmart donated 6,000 dollars to help with the project.
University of Central Florida parent hotline opens Monday
Danielle Prieur, WMFE
The University of Central Florida has opened up a Parents as Teachers hotline for families experiencing challenges transitioning to virtual learning this fall.
College of Community Innovation and Education Dean Pamela Sissi Caroll says parents can call or email the service with K-12 subject area-related questions.
“So, if I’m a parent and if I have a question about an algebra problem for instance. I can call in and I may speak with someone who says, ‘well I’m not an algebra expert, but I’ll send it to someone who is’. And she’ll call you back within 24 hours.”
Carroll says parents can also ask to be connected with a specialist in special education and behavioral health.
The service is free and a response is usually on the way within 24 hours of the request unless it’s made after 5 p.m. on a Friday.
Meet the medical professionals playing classical music together online
Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR
When cases of the coronavirus spiked in March, doctors and nurses across the country found themselves overwhelmed with work.
The shutdown also took away an important creative outlet for a special breed of medical professional: classical musicians. That’s why John Masko, a symphony conductor in Boston, founded the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, giving those in the medical field a chance to perform and connect with each other.
“I kept hearing from musician after musician from our ensemble [about] how much they wish they were playing,” Masko says.
Medical orchestras are not a new phenomenon.
Masko says that the concept has exploded over the last couple decades, but that the sphere’s fast growth had led to fragmentation and that few ensembles knew about each other or were in close contact. That’s changed now with everyone forced online.
“Medical musicians around the country are discovering each other and many are reconnecting with old friends,” Masko says. “We’ve had that happen through our ensemble already.”
Dr. Erica Hardy — an infectious disease specialist in Providence, R.I. — plays violin in the orchestra. She says that health care workers turning to music-making shouldn’t be an incongruous idea.
Read the full article here.
Orange County Commission will vote on an eviction diversion program Monday
Abe Aboraya, WMFE
The Orange County Commission will vote on an eviction diversion program today.
The program looks to spend $20 million dollars in CARES Act funding with the Orange County Bar Association to help residents facing evictions.
Gov. Ron DeSantis continued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in Florida through September 1.
However, the ban only applies to Florida residents facing eviction because of hardships from COVID-19.
Thousands of Florida inmates, staff members test positive for coronavirus
Joe Byrnes, WMFE
In Florida prisons, more than 12,000 inmates and 2,000 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus.
At least 59 inmates and two staff members have died.
Jimmy Baiardi, a leader with the Florida Police Benevolent Association, says that state prisons have become a very difficult workplace for corrections officers.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of officers from across the state. And the best way to express their current situation is a living hell.”
Baiardi says they’re short-staffed, working for longer hours and on days off, and living with the fear of catching the virus or bringing it home.
The Florida Department of Corrections has announced special measures at prisons with outbreaks. They include mask wearing, isolation, cleaning and broad-based testing.
But Baiardi says the officers – just like the inmates’ families – don’t think the department has a handle on it.
Statewide early voting begins as Florida grapples with coronavirus
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Statewide in-person early voting is underway in Florida as the state grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
While some counties already opened early voting sites, by law Saturday was the day all 67 counties had to begin in-person voting ahead of the Aug. 18 primary.
There are no statewide races on the ballot, but voters are picking nominees for Congress and the Legislature as well as local offices.
In-person turnout appears to be light, but vote-by-mail ballots have become popular as COVID-19 continues to plague the state.
Vote-by-mail ballots cast have already exceeded the 2016 primary with another 10 days for people to return them.
Planet Money, NPR
Getting people to wear a mask during the pandemic is the group project of our lives — one that we pass or fail based on participation.
But not everyone wants to wear one.
Why is that? And is there anything we can do to convince them? We turn to behavioral economics for some tips.
It turns out getting someone to wear a mask has a lot to do with how you ask, and when, and who does the asking.
Without federal protections, farm workers risk coronavirus infection to harvest crops
Victoria Knight, NPR
It’s a busy time for the tomato-producing farms in eastern Tennessee. Farms have staffed up with hundreds of workers, most of whom are Latino. Some live locally. Others are migrant workers who travel from farm to farm, chasing the summer growing seasons. Still others come from Mexico or Central America on temporary agricultural visas to work at certain farms.
But, this year, the season is taking place under a cloud of coronavirus worries that, for these agricultural workers, hit close to home.
“Almost every part of the process for picking tomatoes needs to be considered in light of COVID-19,” says Ken Silver, an associate professor of environmental health at East Tennessee State University, who studies migrant worker health on Tennessee tomato farms.
After all, the workers live in close quarters, sleeping in bunk beds, and sharing bathrooms and kitchens. They ride crowded buses to fields and often work in groups. And even though farm employees are deemed essential workers, they often don’t have health insurance or paid sick leave.
And yet, the federal government has not established any enforceable rules either to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus or to instruct employers what to do when their workers get sick. While migrant worker advocacy groups say this allows farms to take advantage of their workers and increase their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, farms say they’re doing what they can to protect workers with the limited resources they have, while also getting their crops harvested.
Read the full article here.
Florida’s coronvirus stats dip: 77 deaths, 6,229 new cases
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida is seeing a decline in reported coronavirus deaths and new cases. The state reported Sunday that there were 77 fatalities and 6,229 new cases.
That compares to 187 new deaths and 8,502 confirmed cases reported Saturday. Still, the average number of deaths reported over the last seven days is 158.
The number of hospitalizations due to the virus crept up slightly. The state reported 6,857 patients were being treated in hospitals because of the virus, compared to 6,836 the day before.
As the state grappled with the pandemic, hundreds of early voting sites were open across the state. On Saturday, more than 40,000 people cast ballots in person ahead of the Sept. 18 primary.
Florida Rep. Shevrin Jones denied ability to donate plasma at his own event, due to FDA policy
Jessica Bakeman, WLRN
Rep. Shevrin Jones is the first — and only — out, gay, Black member of the Legislature.
He’s also a survivor of COVID-19.
He, his brother and his parents — his dad is West Park Mayor Eric Jones — all recovered from the coronavirus and planned to donate their plasma.
But the FDA’s long-standing and controversial policy banning most gay men from giving blood stopped Jones from making the donation.
The rule dates back to 1983 and is rooted in fears over the AIDS crisis. It’s been revised over the years — at this point, men who have had sex with men in the last three months are banned.
In a text, Jones called his deferral an “obvious discriminatory act” and said of the experience: “Painful is an understatement.”
His family members and 20 others donated plasma during the event in Hollywood.
A parade and provisions for early learning providers
Tom Flanigan, WFSU
Staff at the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend’s Tallahassee headquarters were busy on Saturday.
They gave out classroom supplies and other provisions to the region’s 250 early learning providers. The event mood was upbeat. But Association of Early Leaning Coalition’s Executive Director Erin Smeltzer said these are uncertain times.
“There are a multitude of issues: low enrollment, low supplies, families and teachers not feeling safe. Trying to balance out between making sure families have what they need, but also how we keep everyone safe. Providers are really living that dilemma right now.”
There are thirty regional Early Learning Coalitions throughout Florida.
They provide educational services to families of young children while supporting families’ ability to work.
DeSantis encourages parental choice for school sports
Regan McCarthy, WFSU
This week the Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors is expected to consider pushing the start date for fall sports back to the end of November.
Meanwhile Gov. Ron DeSantis says whether kids participate in athletic activities this year should be up to their parents.
“As we look to what’s coming up in this school year, I think it’s critical that we have boys and girls sports available for our students and if a parent chooses to not have their kids play, that is totally fine and that is a parental choice.”
DeSantis says sports help students build valuable skills and believes they can be played safely despite concerns about the coronavirus.
Census Bureau drop-outs complicate door-knocking efforts
The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Census Bureau has another challenge as widespread door-knocking for the 2020 survey begins next week.
Previously-committed census takers are dropping out because of pandemic fears.
The loss of these so-called door-knockers – formally known as enumerators – is happening just when the agency faces newly tightened deadlines to reach the hardest to count communities, including minorities and immigrants.
Door-knockers started going out last month in a test run.
Next week, the full army of 500,000 census-takers will be out in the field for the first time, knocking on the doors of households that haven’t yet responded to the census.
Children can get severe COVID-19, CDC says — especially Black and Hispanic children
Matthew S. Schwartz, NPR
While most children who catch the coronavirus have either no symptoms or mild ones, they are still at risk of developing “severe” symptoms requiring admission to an intensive care unit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report released Friday.
Hispanic and Black children in particular were much more likely to require hospitalization for COVID-19, with Hispanic children about eight times as likely as white children to be hospitalized, while Black children were five times as likely.
Despite persistent rumors that children are “almost immune” from the virus, the analysis of 576 children hospitalized for the virus across 14 states found that one out of three was admitted to the ICU — similar to the rate among adults. Almost 1 in 5 of those were infants younger than 3 months. The most common symptoms included fever and chills, inability to eat, nausea and vomiting.
The findings come as school districts across the country are figuring out how to educate the nation’s children while still protecting kids, teachers and family members from the ravages of the virus. The American Federation of Teachers has said it considers in-person schooling to be safe only when fewer than 5% of coronavirus tests in an area are positive.
Read the full article here.
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