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Your Saturday Update: Unemployment Numbers Update, Free PPE for Orange County Small Businesses, Virtual Date Nights with #407Dates, Soccer Begins Again in Germany

Photo: Mika Baumeister

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Daily dose of happy: Watch Missouri penguins enjoy ‘Morning of Fine Art’ at local museum

Jason Slotkin, NPR

What a time to be a penguin.

First, a group of the flightless birds were recently allowed to roam the halls of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium — a through-the-looking-glass moment if there ever was one.

Now, penguins visited a museum for a “morning of fine art and culture.”

The outing was arranged by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., and the Kansas City Zoo. Both institutions are closed to the public because of the pandemic.

“Quarantine has caused everyone to go a little stir-crazy, even the residents of the Kansas City Zoo. So several of the penguins decided to go on a field trip to the Nelson-Atkins, which is still closed, to get a little culture,” said a caption accompanying the video.

The zoo’s executive director, Randy Wisthoff, said in the video that their Humboldt penguins have missed their regular interactions with zoo visitors.

“We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and stimulate their days and during this shutdown period, our animals really miss visitors coming up to see them,” Wisthoff said.

The zoo also has a camera to watch the penguins when at home.

This type of penguin is native to Peru and Chile, and the museum’s director, Julián Zugazagoitia, mused that the penguins seemed to “really appreciate” when he spoke Spanish.

And if you’re wondering what sort of art penguins might like, this outing provides some (very) modest anecdotal evidence that they may be drawn to Italian Baroque techniques. “They seemed, definitely, to react much better to Caravaggio than to Monet,” Zugazagoitia quipped.

Guess the Renaissance master is really for the birds, especially the flightless ones.

Evening coronavirus update: More than 8,000 people hospitalized with coronavirus in Florida

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Florida has had 44,811 positive coronavirus cases, with 8,146 hospitalizations according to the latest numbers from the department of health.

1,964 people have died from COVID-19 in Florida.

Orange County has 1,557 cases, the most in Central Florida. The county has had 289 hospitalizations and 38 deaths. Marion County has had the fewest cases at 215, 31 hospitalizations and five deaths. Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has had 248 cases, 44 hospitalizations and sixteen deaths.

Nationwide, there are 1,463,350 confirmed cases and 88,447 deaths. Across the globe, there are 4,614,135 cases and 310,520 deaths.

5 pm update

GOP officials say they’re expecting 50,000 in Charlotte for Republican Convention

Sarah McCammon, NPR

Republicans say they’re moving ahead with plans to gather tens of thousands of people at their presidential nominating convention in North Carolina this summer – even as Democrats weigh their options for convening during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Saturday marking 100 days to go before the 2020 Republican National Convention, the Republican National Committee said it is expecting nearly 50,000 attendees, including delegates and members of the media, at the convention scheduled for the week of Aug. 24 in Charlotte.

And in an op-ed published Friday for Fox Business, convention President and CEO Marcia Lee Kelly said Republicans are preparing to gather “thousands” to mark the formal nomination of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to lead the party’s 2020 ticket. She said organizers are working on details including the carpet and lighting at the convention.

Kelly said convention planners have “recognized that large-scale events would need to look different in light of COVID-19.”

Kelly did not specify how the convention would be different because of the virus, though she told Fox that organizers would follow guidelines from federal, state, and local authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She noted that the RNC has hired Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, a physician, former medical director for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former chairman of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to oversee health and safety planning for the convention.

In an interview with NPR member station WFAE on Thursday, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the RNC is committed to holding the convention in Charlotte, while adding that it’s possible attendees may wear masks or hold some events in smaller venues or outside.

City leaders in Charlotte have been divided over how to move forward with convention planning given the public health threat. Some city council members in the heavily Democratic community have expressed fears that gathering thousands of people in a relatively small area could prompt a surge in COVID-19 cases. The city remains under a stay-at-home order and has limited mass gatherings to no more than 10 people.

And some Republicans, including North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, have cast doubt on the feasibility of moving ahead as planned. Tillis has said that hosting the party’s convention could be “very difficult” under these circumstances.

In an interview this week with the Washington Examiner, Trump reiterated his determination to hold the convention, saying, “I think we’ll be in good shape by that time.” However, the president said he was concerned about the possibility of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, “playing politics” with the convention. Cooper is running for re-election this year and, like every governor, is charged with making decisions about how quickly to re-open the state during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Democrats have delayed the Democratic National Convention, originally planned for the week of July 13 in Milwaukee, pushing it back to the week of Aug. 17 — one week prior to the RNC. Party leaders have been exploring options for safely holding an event where former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to be officially named the party’s nominee amidst the pandemic.

Democrats have already taken steps to allow delegates to participate remotely and are exploring other contingency plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has tossed out suggestions that include shortening the convention or spacing out attendees in a “gigantic stadium.”

In an interview with NPR, the Democratic convention’s chief executive, Joe Solmonese, said it’s too soon for organizers to know exactly how plans will need to be adjusted because of the virus.

“How many people we do that in front of, how many hotel rooms we occupy in the city of Milwaukee, how many buses and what sort of security infrastructure we end up having in terms of the uncertainty of the public health environment remains to be seen,” Solmonese said.

Return to play or not? A thorny question for youth sports

Youth sports organizers are faced with the question of when to return to play as parts of the country begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Volleyball club directors were mixed on whether to go ahead with a national tournament in Florida that was eventually postponed. They’ll face a similar decision for a big event in Dallas.

A youth baseball official generated debate by holding a tournament in the St. Louis area after the Missouri governor lifted restrictions. Health experts warn of the potential spread of the virus while ethical questions turn to levels of risk for children.

This school resource officer learned to speak a Mayan dialect to help children of migrant farmworkers. Now, he delivers them meals.

Kerry Sheridan, WUSF

From job loss, to balancing work from home to the isolation of following stay-at-home orders, coronavirus has changed our everyday lives.

Today, we meet Pedro Arroyo, a resource officer who works at an elementary school near Plant City, where most of the children come from migrant farmworker families. His work has changed since the pandemic shut down school.

Every morning at Dover Elementary, they used to play music to start the day.

“Ah there she is. This is my dancer right here,” Arroyo said.

I first met Officer Arroyo there one day in January. Outside the front gate, he greeted children as they came in, and told me a little bit about each of them.

Some kids stopped to give him a handshake, a fist bump, or a hug. One little girl in a ponytail handed him her water bottle and gestured for him to put it in her backpack. So he did. Then, she started to dance with some of the other staff.

“Every morning, every day she comes in and dances. Every morning, every day. Come on Lupita! Come on! Hola Lupita!” Arroyo said.

Seeing kids happy to come to school brings a smile to Arroyo’s face. He is a 37-year-old father of five, born in Puerto Rico. He was assigned to this school about a year ago, and realized quickly that many of these little kids faced big challenges.

“When I arrived at this school, I didn’t know what I was walking into,” Arroyo said.

Many children here are born to parents from places like Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Cuba. Some are undocumented, many are poor, and as migrant farmworkers, they move around, a lot.

Arroyo noticed some of the children struggled with school work, or showed behavioral problems.

“The first thing I wanted to see was whose working with these kids, how can I get in with them, how do we help them?” Arroyo said.

Many parents were suspicious of him, an officer in uniform.

“I’ve had a parent come to me and said, ‘Hey, are you here to deport people?’ I was like, ‘I’m not ICE. That’s not my job,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo had an idea for a way in. He speaks fluent Spanish, as do most of the children. But the native language for most of those arriving from Guatemala is a Mayan dialect called Q’eqchi.

So he signed up for a 12-week course and learned to speak a few phrases.

“I can say stuff like what is your name. I can say thank you. I can say ‘my name is Officer Arroyo, welcome to the world’s best school’,” Arroyo said.

And, he says, it helped.

“Whenever I come across people that don’t speak English or Spanish, they only speak Q’eqchi, they’re always coming up to me hesitant and with their walls up. And whenever they understand what’s coming out of my mouth, it sounds familiar. It gives them a sense of familiarity and comfort. And the wall starts coming down and they start getting comfortable and they talk to me,” Arroyo said.

This story was scheduled to air in March, but it turned out, that’s just when schools were closing due to coronavirus.

This is how Officer Arroyo’s life has changed.

He says he’s found a new role in the same community.

“Although there is no school right now I am still currently working with the Hillsborough County schools system. Certain days Monday and Wednesday to be exact we go out on school buses and deliver meals to the students in the community,” Arroyo said.

“It definitely does feel refreshing to be out in the community and be able to reach out to the same students that I serve at Dover Elementary. It does feel nice to get that wave although I can’t do hugs and dance but it is all in the name of safety and following protocols in order to maintain that social distancing. But it has changed a lot in the sense that I am not able to mentor those kids that I would do on a daily basis. But I do get to see some of them and encourage them to keep doing their homework online and connecting so that way they can go on to their next grade,” Arroyo said.

“I like to stay active in the community. It is what I have in my veins. I like to help. I love to be able to assist people,” Arroyo said.

Officer Arroyo says he’s also involved in a new program helping kids learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on Zoom, to encourage them to stay active and healthy while school’s out of session.

2 pm update

Unemployment numbers update: More than 779,000 claims processed by Florida DEO

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

As of Friday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it’s processed 779,404 claims totaling more than 1.9 billion dollars in assistance.

Since March 15, the office has received 2,044,645 unemployment claims. It says it’s processed 1,215,535 of these claims, only slightly more than half.

The office also handles the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) which provides benefits to people who do not qualify for state assistance. It’s received 89,260 PUA claims and paid 48,879.

Click here for the DEO dashboard. 

Small businesses in Orange County can pick up free PPE kits on Tuesday, Wednesday 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

The PPE for Small Biz in Orange County Initiative will be passing out the kits with 2 oz. hand sanitizer bottles and face masks on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

Businesses must register to pick up the kits at one of the following distribution sites: Three Points Elementary or Orange Technical College. Supplies are limited.


Businesses must bring their printed registration confirmation with them to the site in order to receive the kits.

More than 11,000 small businesses have picked up free PPE for their employees through the initiative-that’s a little more than half of the businesses that can be served.

Orlando physician has tips for avoiding eye-strain during Zoom meetings

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Dr. Chirag J. Patel of Lake Nona Ophthalmology says Zoom meetings and extra hours on phones and computers while working from home can cause eye strain.

In a statement, Patel said, “Social distancing is causing millions of people to work, and now teach, from home on their computers. These maxed out screen times can put added strain on our eyes, as people spend so many hours looking at mobile and computer screens.”

Patel says symptoms of eye strain can include dry or watery eyes, blurry vision, and headaches along with neck and shoulder pain.

He recommends using a screen filter or app on phones to filter out blue light, taking frequent screen breaks throughout the day, maintaining a good distance from screens, using glasses with anti-reflective lenses or coatings and not canceling annual eye exams during the pandemic.

If symptoms persist, people should seek medical attention.

#407Dates continue in Orange County Saturday with virtual performance by SAK Comedy Lab

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Following the popular #407Day, Orange County is encouraging couples to support local restaurants while practicing social distancing with #407Dates.

Residents can order takeout or delivery from one of hundreds of restaurants on the Visit Orlando directory while enjoying free online entertainment every Friday and Saturday night.

Past entertainment has included a jazz performance by the Timucua Arts Foundation and an Orlando-themed trivia night.

Tonight, the SAK Comedy Lab will be performing live at 7 pm on the Visit Orlando blog and Facebook pages.

Lovebirds are encouraged to take a picture of their virtual date night and share it online with the hashtag #407Dates and #OrlandoToGo on the @VisitOrlando and @OrangeCoFL Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando partners with Google to offer job skills training

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando has partnered with Grow with Google to provide digital job skills training.

The first webinar in the series, “Power Your Job Search with Google Tools,” will be available online this Wednesday at 11 am.

Participants in this virtual workshop will learn how to plan their job search using G Suite tools, find new career opportunities using Job Search on Google, create a resume and set up an interview using Google Docs, and track their application progress using Google Sheets.

HCCMO members and nonmembers can register for the workshop by clicking on the link.

The workshop is $15 dollars for nonmembers.

Eurovision Song Contest to ‘Shine A Light’ with pandemic special

Joanna Kakissis, NPR 

Each year, the Eurovision Song Contest unites 180 million viewers in more than 40 countries for an electric-falsetto night of glitterglam and hard-rock hallelujah.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the contest for the first time in its 64-year history. But instead of leaving so many super fans dance-crying to the 1974 winner Waterloo (ABBA), the song contest has instead decided to air a live two-hour special, Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, Saturday on public broadcasting channels in more than 40 countries. (The U.S. is not one of them, so anyone living in that country will have to watch on Eurovision’s YouTube channel, where the show will be live-streamed.)

The show, hosted in the Netherlands, where the contest was supposed to be held this year, will feature remote performances by all 41 contestants. This year, fans won’t be able to phone in their votes for the winner.

The pre-pandemic 2020 favorites included the nerd-disco gem Think About Things by Iceland’s Dadi og Gagnamagnid; the bodice-ripper Cleopatra by Azerbaijan’s Efendi; and the auto-tuned hallucination jig that is Uno by Russia’s Little Big.

In the weeks leading up to the show, several Eurovision performers past and present participated in sweet, low-key home concerts. Fans who missed the signature pyrotechnic drama also turned to Eurovision.TV to look up the vampire-opera “It’s My Life” by Romania’s super-soprano Cesar (2013) or the Hellenic solid-gold dancing in My Number One by Greece’s Helena Paparizou, the 2005 winner.

The Eurovision song contest began in 1956 to bring together a continent shattered by World War II. Seven countries competed that first year, and the winner, Refrain by Switzerland’s Lys Assia, is about lost love and innocence. The contest grew to include more countries, including those not in Europe, like Israel.

In the early years, performers were often backed by live orchestras. They sang in their native language: Vivo Cantando (1969), Hallelujah (1979), Ein bisschen Frieden (1982). As newlyweds in Athens in the 1970s, my parents lived next-door to the 1976 contestant from Greece, folk singer Mariza Koch, who sang this beautiful song in Greek. When I moved to Greece more than a decade ago, I befriended the 1995 contestant from Cyprus, who sang this Eurovision cult classic, also in Greek.

These days, it’s mainly the French and Italians crooning in their native tongues, with these award-winning exceptions.

The Eurovision Song Contest has also expanded far beyond Europe and now includes Australia, though it did lose Hungary this year.

Hungary’s national public broadcasting association said it wanted to focus its resources on “Hungarian pop singers” though one report said pro government media called the contest a “homosexual flotilla.” Hungary has never won the contest but came in fourth in 1994 with this ballad sung by Friderika Bayer.

Many fans observing social distancing cannot hold Eurovision parties at home this year. Some made up for it with online watch parties, which involved tuning in remotely to watch reruns of previous contests. At Saturday night’s Eurovision alternative, a featured performance will be the unity anthem Love Shine a Light by Katrina and the Waves, the 1997 winner. The super fans might sing along and also hope that ABBA will too.

Quiet game day for Dortmund as Bundesliga soccer resumes

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — Game day in the Bundesliga is a lot quieter than it used to be.

Instead of thousands of fans chatting and drinking beer outside the stadium, there are only a few locals out for a weekend bike ride as Borussia Dortmund hosted Schalke in a normally fierce local rivalry.

The German soccer league has resumed after a two-month break due to the coronavirus but with no fans in the stadiums.

Local authorities have pleaded with supporters not to gather outside to show their support.

Publix grocery stores expand hours in Central Florida on Saturday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Publix stores are open from 7 am to 9 pm starting today, since reducing their hours during the coronavirus pandemic.

In-store pharmacies have resumed their normal hours from 9 am to 9 pm on weekdays, 9 am to 7 pm on Saturdays, and 11 am to 6 pm on Sundays.

In a statement, Publix thanked customers for their, “patience over the past several weeks while we’ve operated under reduced hours.”

The company says it has suspended special shopping times for seniors and first responders and health care workers.

People who like to shop in the store when it is less crowded are encouraged to arrive during the first hour.

Orange County adds new test sites including one in coronavirus hot zone

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Orange County has opened a new COVID-19 test site at Riverside Elementary School. The site is located in the 32810 zip code which has been identified as a coronavirus hot zone.

People must have an appointment to be tested at the site which is open from May 19 to May 21. Service at the site is available in Spanish and English.

The Orange County Department of Health has also announced the following test sites available to residents eighteen years and older with a valid ID:

  • Monday, May 18, 2020 Barnett Park, 4801 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL
  • Tuesday, May 19, 2020 – Ocoee High School, 1925 Ocoee Crown Point Parkway, Ocoee, FL
  • Wednesday, May 20, 2020 – Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando, FL
  • Thursday, May 21, 2020 – Cypress Creek High School, 1101 Bear Crossing Drive, Orlando, FL

Free face masks distributed Saturday at Englewood Neighborhood Center

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Mask the People will give out free face masks at Englewood Neighborhood Center today from 11 am to 1 pm. Residents can walk up or drive thru the site to pick up the masks.

More than 4,000 of the hand sewn masks will be available on a first-come first-served basis. People must be present to receive a mask.

Last Thursday, the City of Orlando opened a mobile test site at the Center. The site is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am to 1 pm with service available in English and Spanish.

Only people eighteen years and older with a valid Orlando ID can get tested.

9 a.m. update

Weekend coronavirus numbers update: Florida cases surpass 44,000

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Florida’s coronavirus case tally has climbed to 44,138 cases. Statewide, 7,959 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and 1,917 people have died.

Orange County has the most coronavirus cases in Central Florida, with 1,543 cases and 289 hospitalizations. Thirty-six people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County.

Osceola County has 565 cases, sixteen deaths and 142 hospitalizations.

In Sumter County, home of the Villages retirement community, sixteen people have died. Sumter County has 247 cases and 42 hospitalizations.

Hover over the map for case numbers in other counties.

System off Florida’s coast could become season’s first named storm

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The National Hurricane Center in Miami says a trough of low pressure moving through the Florida Straits could organize over the northwestern Bahamas and become the first named storm of the 2020 hurricane season.

Forecasters say tropical storm force gusts are possible in the Florida Keys, southeastern Florida and the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday as the system moves through.

If it develops, it would be named Arthur. The system forced state emergency management officials to close 14 COVID-19 testing sites for the weekend. The sites in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Brevard counties will reopen Monday.

Trump eyes older voters in Florida for any sign of faltering

SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s path to reelection runs through places like Sun City Center in Florida that’s now home to a booming retirement community, but some residents are growing restless.

One 72-year-old retiree who voted for Trump in 2016 says his support for the president collapsed entirely amid the coronavirus pandemic, which he blames Trump for mishandling.

Trump’s advisers have grown increasingly worried about a drop in support among seniors, a group vital to his hopes of winning a second term this November.

Especially those in Florida, which is not only Trump’s new home state but also a key battleground swing state in the race.

‘Us Vs. Them’ in a pandemic: Researchers warn divisions could get dangerous

Hannah Allam, NPR

As the pandemic moves from public health crisis to partisan flashpoint, the debate over the coronavirus response in the U.S. is becoming increasingly nasty – and, in some cases, violent.

It’s not just the clusters of gun-toting protesters at state capitols. In sporadic incidents across the country, disputes over emergency measures have turned into shootings, fistfights and beatings. Stories abound of intimidation over masking. And armed right-wing groups have threatened contract tracers and people who “snitch” on neighbors and businesses violating health orders.

Researchers who study the links between polarization and violence stress that these incidents are still rare and extreme reactions; polls show that the majority of Americans support and are abiding by distancing measures. But there are fears that the pandemic — especially landing in an election year — has the potential to inflame divisions to dangerous levels if left unchecked.

“If we don’t intervene as a nation, as citizens, to begin to correct this identity-based polarization, then the erosion of democratic norms will go even further. And that’s the threat of potential social unrest,” said Tim Phillips, head of the Boston-based nonprofit Beyond Conflict, which tracks polarization and supports peace efforts around the world.

Researchers cite leadership as a key factor in the struggle against polarization. But President Trump draws support through identity politics and has signaled repeatedly that he’ll play to his base even in a national health emergency. Take, for example, Trump’s refusal to wear a mask despite the advice of his own health authorities and recent coronavirus infections among White House staffers.

Trump has said, with little elaboration, that donning a mask would “send the wrong message.” Rachel Kleinfeld, who studies polarization and violence at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the president’s decision not to mask is calculated.

“Trump recognizes that by talking about masking in a certain way, he can play on an identity,” Kleinfeld said. “And it’s an identity of virility versus fear, an identity of urban versus rural, an identity of race, even, given who’s being hit by the virus, and he can do all those things by triggering something that was not polarizing before, which is whether or not you wear a mask in public.”

Polling shows that masking brings the starkest partisan breakdown of any protective measure: 76% of Democrats say they wear a mask when leaving home, compared to 59% of Republicans, according to a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Phillips said Beyond Conflict, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, will soon release findings that show Americans are indeed polarized, just not as badly as they think. He said news coverage and social media have led to both sides imagining deeper divisions than actually exist — a point to remember, he said, when looking at scenes of pandemic-related violence.

“When we see the armed militia in Michigan, when we see people sort of defying the police – not just mayors and governors – to open up their stores or open up other locations, we tend to think that that’s representative of the other side, that they must all think that way,” Phillips said.

“And yet there’s polling in the last two weeks, last week, in the United States that across the Republican-Democratic divide, the majority of Americans recognize that there’s a public health crisis and we have to do something about it.”

Palm Beach County reopens public beaches to everyone

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN

Palm Beach County commissioners voted to reopen public beaches on Monday.

Everyone can enter Palm Beach County beaches.

Some initial concerns centered on the possibility of people from Broward and Miami-Dade inundating these beaches.

Here’s County Attorney Denise Nieman.

“We did find a legal basis to make it residents only. The hiccup that we ran into is that we have a number of grant agreements that do restrict it to – has to be everybody. The beach has to be open to everybody. And there wasn’t a willingness to waive in all situations with the grants that we have from the federal and the state,” Nieman said.

Commissioners are allowing concessions to be sold at public beaches.

And beachgoers are encouraged to adhere to CDC guidelines, keeping at least six feet apart from each person and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.

As DeSantis increases restaurant capacity, some are weary of health risks

Blaise Gainey, WFSU

Governor Ron DeSantis has given the go-ahead for restaurants to serve customers indoors at up to 50% of the dining room’s capacity. The increase goes into effect Monday.

But in Tallahassee some owners have decided to keep their doors closed. Keith Baxter, owner of Kool Beanz Café, says he plans to stick with carryout orders using any staff who feel it’s safe to work.

“There’s going to be folks both front of the house and back of the house those who have said they want to work and some of them are not wanting to work. We gave them a choice they could come back or they didn’t have to,” Baxter said.

Shops, museums and libraries are also allowed to increase the number of people they allow in from 25 percent of their capacity to 50 percent. And gyms have been added to the businesses allowed to reopen.

Miami-Dade readies to partially reopen Monday

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

We’ll get our first glimpse of the new normal in Miami-Dade County when some malls, restaurants, barbershops, and other businesses reopen Monday.

During a virtual town hall Friday, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said social distancing, wearing masks and other protective measures still need to be practiced.

“Those rules are not changing. They are, in fact, the rules that are allowing us to open because they help prevent the spread of the virus. So remember our motto, ‘I keep you safe, you keep me safe’,” Gimenez said.

He says some businesses will look different. Restaurant tables will be spaced far apart. Customers at salons must wait in their cars. And no more valet service.

He says cities may have different rules from the county, so people will need to check depending on the city.

He says it’s not clear how shutting back down would occur if COVID-19 numbers start to rise.

“We’ll try to pinpoint the reason why we’re seeing that and then take whatever action we need to take in order to knock the virus down again. So I can’t answer the question of what will happen until I know if it happens and then why it’s happening,” Gimenez said.

Beaches, gyms and pools will remain closed.

To get more information, you can call 311 or go to Miami-Dade County’s coronavirus home page.

For this Walmart employee, an angry customer was the last straw

Alina Selyukh, NPR

Cynthia Murray has worked at a Walmart store in Maryland for nearly 20 years, most of them as a fitting room associate.

Her 64th birthday was fast approaching when the coronavirus pandemic hit and Walmart workers were suddenly “essential.” Murray started worrying about her health and wondered if she should keep working every time she looked at customers who came into the store.

“You could see it in customers’ faces — the panic,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, some of our customers are awesome, … they appreciated us being there. … But you could see the panic, and it’s really eerie.”

Murray’s daughter too worried about her mother getting sick from being around so many customers and advised her to stay home. But Murray kept telling herself she had bills and rent coming due. The store had cut back her hours in recent years, making it harder to accumulate enough paid time off – she says it takes her more than a week of work to earn one hour of sick time.

But one angry customer put her over the edge. She says the man shouted and demanded access to the fitting rooms, which have been shut as Walmart tries to limit the spread of the virus. The next day, Murray went on unpaid leave.

“I just really felt uncomfortable,” she says. “Whether I get paid or not, I’ll just have to suffer whatever consequences.”

Southern Poverty Law Center sues Florida Department Of Corrections over public records requests

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

The Florida Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit for failing to release information on how it’s handling the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons. More than 1,000 Florida inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, 7 have died.

The Southern Poverty Law Center wants to know how the Florida Department of Corrections prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak, and what it’s doing now to prevent the virus from spreading.

While some data on that has been released, the Center says it’s too vague.

In late March, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent out two public records requests seeking information about “plans, policies and procedures” related to the virus.

That includes how DOC is screening people, how it’s educating inmates and staff about the coronavirus and how it’s caring for those who have been exposed or infected by it.

After almost two months of not getting that data, The Southern Poverty Law Center argues the Florida Department of Corrections is violating the state’s open-public records law by not replying in a timely way.

Memorial Healthcare to start testing children for COVID-19

Caitie Switalski, WLRN

Memorial Healthcare System plans to begin testing children for the coronavirus.

People under the age of 18 who have symptoms, or have been exposed to someone whose COVID-19 positive — can start scheduling appointments next Thursday.

Dr. Stanley Marks is Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer.

“As we move forward and think about sending our kids to camp or sending kids back to school, it’s important from a public health standpoint to understand what is the prevalence of this disease in our county and in our community,” Marks said.

South Florida starts to open up on Monday. Dr. Marks says testing is still important.

“I think the fact that things are opening up – potentially can give people a false sense of security. This disease has not gone anywhere, it’s still here,” Marks said.

The testing for children starts next Saturday May 23rd at C.B. Smith Park. Appointments will be available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

All testing at C.B Smith Park and several other sites is closed through this weekend, due to weather.

State health officials will look at quality of care when doing COVID-19 checks at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

During COVID-19 checks at assisted living facilities, state health officials will also be keeping an eye on how residents are treated.

Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew says officials aren’t letting their guard down when it comes to the quality of care residents receive.

“When we are in a facility, we are not looking just at infection control we are looking broadly at quality of care. Concerns around pressure ulcers, concerns around falls, appropriate nutrition, all of that is front and center in our review of these facilities,” Mayhew said.

AHCA has done more than 1,400 onsite visits to help with testing and prevention since the pandemic began. A ban on visitors means families and other officials that typically check up on patients aren’t allowed in.

New evidence suggests COVID-19 patients on ventilators usually survive

Jon Hamilton, NPR

COVID-19 has given ventilators an undeservedly bad reputation, says Dr. Colin Cooke, an associate professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Michigan.

“It’s always disheartening to know that some people are out there saying if you end up on a ventilator it’s a death sentence, which is not what we are experiencing — and I don’t think it’s what the data are showing,” Cooke says.

Early reports from China, the United Kingdom and Seattle found mortality rates as high as 90% among patients on ventilators. And more recently, a study of some New York hospitals seemed to show a mortality rate of 88%.

But Cooke and others say the New York figure was misleading because the analysis included only patients who had either died or been discharged. “So folks who were actually in the midst of fighting their illness were not being included in the statistic of patients who were still alive,” he says.

Those patients made up more than half of all the people in the study.

And Cooke suspects that many of them will survive.

“We think that mortality for folks that end up on the ventilator with [COVID-19] is going to end up being somewhere between probably 25% up to maybe 50%,” Cooke says.

Scary, but hardly a death sentence.

There’s also some encouraging news from a New York health system that cares for people with risk factors that make them much more likely to die from COVID-19

Montefiore Health System in the Bronx serves a low-income population with high rates of diabetes, obesity and other health problems. And in April, it faced an onslaught of sick people with COVID-19.

“The number of patients with critical care needs was more than triple the normal levels,” says Dr. Michelle Ng Gong, chief of critical care medicine at Montefiore and a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

To cope, regular hospital wards became intensive care units, critical care teams worked extra shifts, and heart doctors found themselves caring for lung patients.

Weeks later, it’s still too soon to calculate mortality rates precisely, Gong says. “We still have a large number of patients on mechanical ventilation in our intensive care unit,” she says. “So the outcomes of those patients is still uncertain.”

But Gong adds that when it comes to COVID-19 patients on ventilators, “We win more than we lose.”

That’s especially good news coming from a city where hospitals faced so many challenges, says Dr. Todd Rice, who directs the medical intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

“They were having to care for patients in makeshift ICUs [with] doctors who weren’t their normal ICU doctors,” Rice says. “That probably results in some worse outcomes.”

So far, Vanderbilt has been able to keep COVID-19 patients on ventilators in existing ICUs with experienced intensive care teams, Rice says. And the mortality rate “is in the mid-to-high 20% range,” he says.

That’s only a bit higher than the death rate for patients placed on ventilators with severe lung infections unrelated to the coronavirus.

And, like many other intensive care specialists, Rice says he thinks COVID-19 will turn out to be less deadly than the early numbers suggested.

“I think overall these mortality rates are going to be higher than we’re used to seeing but not dramatically higher,” he says.

Preliminary data from Emory University in Atlanta support that prediction.

The mortality rate among 165 COVID-19 patients placed on a ventilator at Emory was just under 30%. And unlike the New York study, only a few patients were still on a ventilator when the data were collected.

Factors that may have kept death rates low include careful planning and no shortages of equipment or personnel, says Dr. Craig Coopersmith, who directs the critical care center at Emory. But the care largely followed existing protocols for patients with life-threatening lung infections, he says.

“There is no secret magic that can’t be replicated in other places,” Coopersmith says. “And I do believe that we will see a global trend toward better outcomes on the ventilator and in the intensive care unit.”

Also, intensive care doctors say ICU teams are becoming more skilled at treating COVID-19 patients as they gain experience with the disease. For example, they are doing more to prevent dangerous blood clots from forming.

That means COVID-19 mortality rates in ICUs are likely to decrease over time, Coopersmith says.

“It’s still going to be a devastating disease,” he says, “but a more manageable devastating disease.”

Charges dropped against Tampa pastor arrested for violating safer-at-home orders in March

Daylina Miller, WUSF

Charges have been dropped against a pastor who was arrested after holding a church service in late March that violated Hillsborough County’s safer-at-home order.

Local authorities stand behind the arrest.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister says compliance – not punishment – is the focus of emergency health laws. But he also says arrest is a necessary tool in certain cases to protect public health and safety.

But Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren says since the arrest – Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne has maintained responsible social distancing on his church campus.

Liberty Counsel – which represents the pastor – claims the arrest was politically motivated and applauded Gov. Ron DeSantis for declaring attendance at churches, synagogues and houses of worship to be an essential activity.

Age and pandemic: Time lost, plans canceled, dreams deferred

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Older Americans are more susceptible to dying from coronavirus.

But millions more elders are healthy and cautious, and are wondering: when can we live what’s left of our lives?

Folks over the age of 60 are realistic enough to know their existence could be measured in years, not decades.

The global pandemic has left them wondering about the time they have left, and how to spend those moments when movement is limited at best.

Instead of taking in the seven wonders of the world or making family memories, many are worried about whether it’s safe to grocery shop or even go outdoors.

MacDill Air Force Base honors health care workers in flyover

TAMPA, Fla. (Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)) — A KC-135 Stratotanker from MacDill Air Force Base flew over the 12 major hospitals in the Tampa Bay area to honor health care workers in the coronavirus pandemic.

Air Force Col. Stephen Snelson said Friday’s flyover was a way to honor health care workers who are trying to protect the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAA determined the flight plan over 12 hospitals in the Tampa Bay region.

Similar flyovers have occurred around the state. Last Friday, the Blue Angels flew over South Florida and Jacksonville and this week the Florida National Guard did a flyover of Orlando.

Click here to read more of WMFE’s reporting on the coronavirus pandemic.


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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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