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Your Thursday Update: Publix Requires Face Masks, Florida Reports Almost 14,000 New Cases, Number of Jobless Workers Stuck at 1.3 Million, HCA Hospitals Stop Elective Surgeries

Photo from Publix Facebook page.

Publix will require face masks in stores starting next week

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Publix has announced it will require customers to wear facial coverings in stores starting July 21. 

The masks must fully cover a person’s nose and mouth. 

Signs around the store and announcements over the speakers will remind shoppers of the new policy.

Young children and people with certain medical conditions will be exempt.

Publix joins other national chains like Walmart, Sam’s Club and Kroger who put in place similar health and safety precautions on Wednesday.

Florida reports almost 14,000 new coronavirus cases

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

The Florida Department of Health reported 13,965 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the state since mid-March to 315,775.

More than 19,800 people have been hospitalized and with the addition of 156 new coronavirus-related deaths, 4,782 people have died.

In Central Florida, Orange County reported 1,379 new cases, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 21,298. More than 600 people have been hospitalized in the county and 102 people have died.

Staff at Florida’s Emergency Operations Center test positive for COVID-19

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

The Florida Division of Emergency Management says some of its staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

In a tweet, the division said it conducts biweekly testing at the Emergency Operations Center which uncovered “several positives throughout that period.”

The individuals have been isolated and the division continues to test staff and mandate masks.

As a precaution, the EOC has instituted teleworking. The EOC hosted earlier media briefings with Governor Ron DeSantis and other top Florida officials.

Baseball-starved fans turn out to watch middle-aged men play

Melanie Peeples, NPR

Walking into Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons, Michael Whitten stops to gaze out on the lush green grass, and sees two baseball teams warming up.

Neither is the Barons. Its Minor League Baseball season had been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

Instead, the teams on the field are part of a local amateur league for men age 35 and over. Which doesn’t matter to Whitten and his family.

“We haven’t been able to go to any sporting events in a long time,” he says. “So we wanted to get out and do something fun and be outside.”

Major League Baseball fans have something to look forward to, now that games are scheduled to begin July 23. Even so, because of COVID-19, the games can only be watched on TV, which for a lot of people isn’t nearly as good as catching a game in person.

This is the widely-held belief of many Minor League Baseball Fans in 160 cities across the country, who go for the entire experience of the game, if not with a burning, diehard allegiance to their team. The tickets are cheaper, and the stadiums are just small enough that no matter where fans sit, they can see all the plays — without a pair of binoculars.

Read the full article here. 

Number of laid-off workers seeking jobless aid stuck at 1.3M

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits remained stuck at 1.3 million last week, an historically high level that indicates many companies are still cutting jobs as the viral outbreak intensifies.

The elevated level of applications for jobless aid is occurring as new confirmed cases of coronavirus are spiking across much of the Sunbelt, threatening to weaken the economic recovery.

Case counts are rising in 40 states and 22 states have either paused or reversed their efforts to reopen their economies, according to Bank of America.

GOP restricts convention attendance over coronavirus fears

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican National Committee is sharply restricting attendance on three of the four nights of its convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month as coronavirus cases are spiking in the state.

RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said Thursday only the roughly 2,500 regular delegates to the convention will be permitted to attend the opening three nights.

Delegates, their guests and alternate delegates will be permitted to attend the final night, Aug. 27, when President Donald Trump is set to deliver his acceptance speech.

The GOP was forced to move the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, after local officials ruled out a full-capacity crowd because of the pandemic.

White House strips CDC of data collection role for COVID-19 hospitalizations

Pien Huang, NPR

The Trump Administration has mandated that hospitals sidestep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send critical information about COVID-19 hospitalizations and equipment to a different federal database.

From the start of the pandemic, the CDC has collected data on COVID-19 hospitalizations, availability of intensive care beds and personal protective equipment. But hospitals must now report that information to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC.

The change sparked concerns among infectious disease and health care experts that the administration was hobbling the ability of the nation’s public health agency to gather and analyze crucial data in the midst of a pandemic.

Michael Caputo, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, defended the administration’s decision and said that the CDC’s system was too slow.

“The CDC’s old data gathering operation once worked well monitoring hospital information across the country, but it’s an inadequate system today,” Caputo said in a statement shared with reporters. “The President’s Coronavirus Task Force has urged improvements for months, but they just cannot keep up with this pandemic.”

Read the full article here.

‘He shouldn’t be doing that’: Trump weighs in on Navarro op-ed attacking Fauci

Tamara Keith, NPR

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said recent White House attacks on his record are backfiring, calling the episode “bizarre” in interviews with The Atlantic.

The magazine published Fauci’s comments after one of President Trump’s senior advisers on trade and China, Peter Navarro, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he argued that Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

It was one of a series of salvos against the immunologist by the White House, which has struggled to explain why top aides appear to be at open war with a widely respected scientist whom an overwhelming majority of Americans say they trust more on the coronavirus than the president, or almost anyone else.

“I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that. I think they realize now that that was not a prudent thing to do, because it’s only reflecting negatively on them,” Fauci told The Atlantic. “I can’t explain Peter Navarro. He’s in a world by himself.”

Read the full article here.

HCA Hospitals in Central Florida are stopping elective medical procedures starting Thursday

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

In a statement, HCA says the move is meant to free up hospital bed capacity.

HCA is the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, and operates four hospitals in Central Florida: Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee, Poinciana Medical Center, Oviedo Medical Center and Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford.

Seminole County only has two adult ICU beds available, according to state figures. 

AdventHealth and Orlando Health – the region’s two largest hospital systems – both say they are continuing elective procedures. 

According to state figures, there are 952 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties – and 117 ICU beds available.

An 85-year-old inmate at a federal prison complex west of The Villages has died of COVID-19

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Malcolm Scarbrough was an inmate at the Coleman medium security prison. The Bureau of Prisons website lists 95 confirmed cases among inmates at various Coleman facilities and 31 among staff.

It does not break out cases at the women’s camp there. But on Facebook family members say the cases are rampant.

Miami attorney Miguel Inda-Romero – whose mother is an inmate at the camp – says there are scores of cases. He’s planning a rally on Saturday in Leesburg.

“We hope this rally sets up other rallies in different parts of the country to let our families know, yes, they made a mistake, but that mistake should not end up in death. These are not death sentences these people have.”

Inda-Romero wants the bureau to release non-violent prisoners who are elderly or vulnerable. He also wants to see improved medical care and better food.

Inside the bubble, NBA players have plenty of options

The Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Every team in the NBA bubble has played golf. Most have fished. Some have taken boats out. Bowling is available for a few hours most nights. And the walking trail is pretty much always occupied by coaches or players.

Walt Disney World is the NBA’s home away from home for the considerable future, and efforts are being made to make the time there fun.

The so-called bubble in Central Florida is where 22 teams have settled for about a week now. They’ll all remain for another month, and teams that make the playoffs will stay for considerably longer.

Florida breaks 300K mark for coronavirus; another 112 die

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Democrats are criticizing Gov. Ron DeSantis for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid another new high in confirmed cases.

Florida passed the 300,000 mark Wednesday, and officials reported more than 100 daily deaths for the third time in a week.

State Senate Democrats accuse the Republican governor of “failed leadership” and are calling on him not to reopen schools next month. DeSantis has defended his coronavirus response.

He frequently cites his decision in early March to ban nursing home visitations, saying it saved lives. The state recorded 112 deaths Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 4,600.

There’s no untangling the pandemic from the economy

Consider This, NPR

A lot of Americans are having trouble getting a coronavirus test. If they do get one, they may have to wait more than a week for results.

On Tuesday, some of the country’s biggest banks announced their second quarter results. The bottom line? The pandemic and the economy can’t be separated.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, announced they will require customers to wear masks beginning next week. Small businesses around the country are already dealing with fallout when customers refuse.

And in a surprise move, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced they will rescind regulations barring international students from staying in the U.S. if their colleges don’t offer in-person classes this fall.

MDCPS reopening plan still in progress

Natalia Clement, WLRN

The Miami-Dade County Public School Board is still weighing its options for reopening schools in the fall.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the start of the school year is still more than a month away.

“We are in the position to continue to analyze the local health data, continue to observe the trends, and then at the appropriate time, with sufficient time to inform parents, announce to the community the way forward.”

Carvalho also presented preliminary data from a parent survey on the preferred learning model.

He says about 50 percent of the responses so far favor in-person learning if the county’s health guidelines are met. Those include reductions in hospitalizations, ICU admissions and the positivity rate for COVID-19.

Parents should expect an announcement by the end of the month.

Carvalho says schooling will begin at the end of August, regardless of the format.

DOE official: Implementing Common Core replacement standards a ‘multi-year process’

Ryan Dailey, WFSU

A top Florida Department of Education official says incorporating new math and reading standards is “a multi-year, phased process.”
Chancellor Jacob Oliva addressed the board during its meeting in Hillsborough County Wednesday.

“When we go through the process of writing and developing new standards, and getting aligned materials and aligned assessments, that doesn’t happen overnight.”

The new standards replace Common Core standards Florida used for a decade.

Oliva says the process of adopting the new standards starts with getting new materials that align with the lessons. Board member Marva Johnson asked Oliva if COVID-19 disruptions are posing a challenge to that process:

“As it relates to potential delays due to having to shift how you roll this out, because you won’t have all of the opportunities for physical engagement, and face-to-face training for the teachers.”

Oliva says DOE has contracted with outside companies to work on professional development, and some of the trainings that were planned to happen face-to-face will move forward online.

DeSantis wants quicker COVID-19 test results

Tom Urban, WLRN

Coronavirus testing labs that are not able to quickly get results back may soon lose business from the state of Florida.

During a news conference at the state capitol Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said labs contracting with state drive through testing sites are supposed to be turning around results within 48 to 72 hours.

However, many people are not finding out whether they are positive or negative for COVID-19 for seven to ten days.

DeSantis says the extended wait time for results is ineffective and makes it hard for people to know whether to self-quarantine.

“The Department of Emergency Management is going to shift business away from labs who have failed to produce results in a timely fashion. If you have somebody go through one of the sites, and then they get a result back ten days later, that is not really going to be very helpful.”

DeSantis also said that, starting Friday, select drive up testing sites in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Duval counties will set up lanes specifically for residents who are symptomatic.

When SNAP gets squeezed

Planet Money, NPR

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to throttle the U.S. economy, millions of Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves.

One in five U.S. households now doesn’t have enough food to eat, and the number of mothers with children under 12 who say their kids aren’t eating enough because they simply can’t afford food, has increased by 460 percent since the end of 2018.

One of the most effective government programs designed to combat hunger is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which used to be referred to as food stamps.

Back in March, Congress passed the Families First Act, which temporarily expanded SNAP benefits by an estimated 40 percent.

Still, even with that expansion, the SNAP program hasn’t managed to meet America’s food security needs, and the expansion is set to expire soon.

Today on The Indicator, we look at what might happen if the SNAP program shrinks suddenly, and what Congress could do to help hungry families.

PBC health director silenced by state officials, says school board chair

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN

Before the Palm Beach County School Board can decide how to re-open schools, the board has to consider advice from public health officials.

County health director Dr. Alina Alonso is on the superintendent’s health task force.

She recently stated her support for starting the school year via distance learning. Alonso was in the process of writing a recommendation letter to the county saying school campuses should remain closed amid the spike in cases of COVID-19.

Then, School Board Chair Frank Barbieri said Alonso was silenced by state health officials in Tallahassee.

“She got a call from the Surgeon General for the state of Florida telling her to keep her mouth shut.”

The Palm Beach County School Board is currently hearing public comment in a marathon meeting expected to bring a decision on the district’s reopening plans.

Wilton Manors bar owner sues to open during pandemic

Caitie Switalski, WLRN

A bar owner in Wilton Manors is suing the city, Broward County and Gov. Ron DeSantis over not being allowed to open during the pandemic.

Brian Abraham opened LIT just three days before the shutdown happened in March.

His attorneys filed a lawsuit earlier this week, alleging the restrictions on bars violate Abraham’s rights under the Florida Constitution.

He says bars are being kept closed arbitrarily while restaurants and other businesses remain open.

“I can go to Disney World, drink alcohol, order food, run around, that’s perfectly fine – but you as a bar owner aren’t a responsible enough human being to put a plan together to keep away the coronavirus. I think it’s the most ridiculous thing ever.”

Counties in South Florida have been trying to crack down on businesses that draw crowds as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

Right now in Broward County, bars and night clubs are ordered to remain closed. Restaurants cannot serve food or alcohol on the property after 10 pm but they are allowed to do take out.

In the lawsuit, Abraham seeks $5 million dollars in damages and the ability for bars – specifically LIT – to reopen with guidelines.

With the focus on COVID-19, Miami pediatrician urges parents to vaccinate children against other diseases

Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN

With everybody focused on COVID-19, pediatricians worry parents may be losing sight of the risks posed by other infectious diseases – like measles, mumps and rubella.

Childhood vaccinations in Miami-Dade County were down by almost half in March, April and May, compared with the same period last year.

Schools require vaccines. Summer camps do, too. But even if school remains online, pediatrician Dr. Judy Schaechter says:

“I also don’t want them to infect their little siblings or their cousins, or their grandparents that then go to the cousin’s house. So this is a community issue, regardless of whether they’re in school or not.”

Schaechter teaches at the University of Miami and also works with the Jackson Health System.

She says parents who worry about costs should ask their doctors about the Florida Vaccines for Children program. The program uses federal dollars to cover vaccination fees for low-income families.

Keys officials concerned over increasing hospitalizations

Nancy Klingener, WLRN

The number of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County is still low compared with mainland South Florida.

But the Keys are expecting a big influx of visitors for lobster mini-season at the end of the month. And officials on the island chain are increasingly concerned about the number of people in the hospital – 19 as of Wednesday.

“That’s double what it was last week. If we double again the following week and go into mini-season with 40, 42 people in the hospital, I think a lot of us on this call are going to lose a lot of sleep.”

County Administrator Roman Gastesi told the county commission he spoke this week with the governor’s office and the Florida Department of Transportation about reinstating the checkpoint at the county line.

From late March through May, only people who live, work or own property in the Keys were allowed to drive in.

“Of course they’re not thrilled about it. But if we’re totally compromised and have no medical capabilities, or getting to that point, I think that’s the time to have the checkpoint discussion.”

Gastesi says the hospitals are still in “green” mode, meaning they have enough supplies and staff for the next seven days. There are three small hospitals in the Keys and one is a temporary facility with four beds.

Leon County Schools teachers push negotiations on safety

Lynn Hatter, WFSU

Schools can’t reopen if there are no teachers to teach students.

A Leon County Classroom Teachers Association survey shows worries about how the district will ensure teacher safety.

The district has unveiled its reopening plans, with social distancing and face mask requirements.

But local union president Scott Mazur says issues around safety and the working conditions of teachers are subject to negotiation.

And Mazur says, teachers have families, too.

“The concern from the teachers has come from the spike in cases, the closing of sports due to the increase in cases in Leon County summer activities. Their minds are ‘are we going back to school until we’re shut down? What’s the plan, how do we deal with this?’ That’s why we want to sit down at the table and iron out the details of that.”

The state has ordered districts to open for in-person classes unless local health officials say otherwise. Leon is slated to open on August 19.

Some teachers are considering early retirements and leaves of absence if they have to return to a physical classroom. The district is planning on polling all teachers.

Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the union’s reaction has taken him by surprise.

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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. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan and is a graduate of both the ... Read Full Bio »