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Your Tuesday Update: FPL Moratorium Extended, Teachers Protest Plans to Reopen Schools, Leesburg Considers City-Wide Mask Mandate

Photo: CDC @cdc

FPL to keep moratorium in place on cutting service for late bills

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

Florida Power & Light said Tuesday it will keep in place a moratorium on cutting service to South Florida customers with overdue bills.

Last week, Miami-Dade County Commissioners passed a resolution about the policy. They asked FPL to continue the moratorium after the utility said it planned on returning to normal business in July.

FPL spokesman Chris McGrath says the company has not made a final decision on when it will resume disconnecting customers. He says the utility is also waiving late fees and offering payment extensions.

Teachers are protesting Florida’s plan to reopen schools amid pandemic

Jessica Meszaros, WUSF

Protesters in Pinellas County rallied against Florida schools reopening next month amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jennifer Kious, who teaches English at Durant High School in Plant City, was watching the protest on social media.

“I was seeing some of the commenters who were saying some things that were like maybe teachers just don’t want to be at work, or they want an endless summer or something like that. And I, I cannot disagree with that more. When we were e-learning it was far more work than being in a regular classroom.”

Kious says she has been training for e-learning all summer.

She says she would love to get back to brick-and-mortar schools, but she thinks it’s just not practical or safe to do so as coronavirus cases continue to climb.

Hillsborough school teachers, staff and parents will protest at a state education meeting Wednesday morning in Dover.

Leesburg city commissioners will consider city-wide mask order later this month

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Commissioner John Christian suggested the city-wide order.

He’s a pastor and he says many people close to him have been affected by COVID-19.

“Whatever we can do as a city. Whether people do it or not, I think we should have that discussion and take a vote.”

It’s on the agenda for the next meeting.

Mayor Elise Dennison says Leesburg doesn’t want the reputation of not caring for residents. She says some people object to a mask requirement as violating their personal rights.

“Well, the people being infected by the people not wearing masks, also have personal rights. So I’m just asking that everybody inside Leesburg offices, please be respectful.”

The city’s cases have more than doubled in the past two weeks from 179 to 363.

Florida reports 132 new coronavirus deaths

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Florida Department of Health has reported 132 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, and an additional 9,194 new coronavirus cases.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, 4,409 people have died in the state from coronavirus, and 291,629 people have contracted the virus.

In Central Florida, here’s the rundown so far:

Orange County: 18,937 cases, 83 deaths

Osceola County: 4,442 cases, 31 deaths

Seminole County: 4,466 cases, 24 deaths

Volusia County: 3,972 cases, 78 deaths

Brevard County: 3,510 cases, 29 deaths

Lake County: 2,645 cases, 27 deaths

Sumter County: 679 cases, 18 deaths

Osceola County considers adding some teeth to its longstanding mask order

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Osceola County added 575 more COVID-19 infections over the weekend.

So Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez urged county commissioners to consider a curfew and a fine for people violating their longstanding mask order.

Commission Chair Viviana Janer pushed for immediate action because of the public health crisis and the threat of new economic closures. She wants to make businesses require patrons to wear masks.

“We’re in a state of emergency. I don’t think we have the time. Another week, who knows where we’ll be at? The damage could be irreversible.”

She hopes to bring the issue before the county’s Executive Policy Group on Wednesday. The group makes key decisions during a local state of emergency.

The other commissioners dismissed the idea of a curfew. And they agreed that public input was needed before imposing fines or business requirements.

Orange County Convention Center coronavirus testing site wait times continue to be short

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

The Orange County Convention Center reports the wait time for a standard coronavirus test is under two hours on Tuesday morning.

The wait time for antibody tests which require a blood draw are a little longer at up to four hours.

The best time to get tested at the site is in the early afternoon.

On Monday, 1,696 standard coronavirus tests were performed at the site marking a total of 70,829 tests performed since the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March.

New York to require contact info from air travelers from states that must quarantine

Hansi Lo Wang, NPR

Travelers flying into New York from certain states are now required to show proof that they’ve completed a form with their contact information and travel plans before they can leave airports across the state.

Starting Tuesday, teams that include police officers will meet passengers at arrival gates to check if the travel form has been completed on paper or online, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

The move is part of the state’s effort to try to enforce its 14-day quarantine requirements for travelers from 19 restricted states with rising numbers of people testing positive for the coronavirus.

“We can’t be in a situation where we have people coming from other states in the country bringing the virus again,” Cuomo said during a press conference. “It is that simple.”

Travelers who leave an airport in New York state without filling out a form could face a $2,000 fine and be required to attend a hearing and complete a mandatory quarantine.

It remains unclear, however, how the state will make sure that visitors from the restricted states who do fill out the form will follow the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement, which is part of an executive order the governor issued late last month.

Read the full article here.

Mexican man with coronavirus dies in ICE custody

The Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Officials say a Mexican man being held in U.S. immigration custody in Florida died shortly after testing positive for the coronavirus.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says 51-year-old Onoval Perez-Montufa died Sunday afternoon at a Palm Beach County hospital.

He had tested positive for COVID-19 on July 2 at the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, which is west of Lake Okeechobee.

Perez-Montufa initially entered ICE custody June 15 following his release from federal prison in Massachusetts, where he had served 12 years for cocaine distribution.

He was in ICE custody pending his removal to Mexico.

WNBA’s Candace Parker, daughter a ‘package deal’ in Florida

Los Angeles Sparks All-Star Candace Parker knows it’s a calculated risk to stay in a coronavirus hotspot in Bradenton, Florida, where all 12 teams will play games in the WNBA “bubble.”

But Parker says she and 11-year-old daughter Lailaa are a “package deal.” So far, seven of the 137 WNBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Parker calls the positive tests inevitable and says it’s about “making sure it doesn’t spread.”

The seven-week WNBA regular season begins July 25 with a focus on social justice.

Miami-Dade County PTA meeting about reopening schools

Amber Amortegui, WLRN

The Miami-Dade County Council of PTAs hosted an online Q & A Monday night. About 500 parents joined the webinar, and they asked about a survey regarding reopening schools.

Parents received a survey about reopening options for students – a hybrid model of in-person and online learning, fully remote learning or if the parent will make other plans.

Marie Izquierdo is the Chief Academic Officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She says it’s vital for families to submit the survey.

“We need you! We need parents to tell us what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, what’s their level of comfort around different models [is] so that we can then build the best in class for all kids regardless of what model they pick.”

Sandra West is president of the Miami-Dade County Council of PTAs. She says many parents asked how they can support their child’s learning.

“You need to stay in communication with your teachers so you can be a part of the solution. Make sure that you know how to get a hold of the teacher if you have a question, not just your student.”

The first day of school is August 24th.

U.S. military is sending medical staff to COVID-19 hotspots

Tom Bowman, NPR

With coronavirus cases on the rise in southern and western states, U.S. military medical personnel are once again being called upon to help.

Army officials have announced that some 740 military health professionals are being sent to Texas and California.

The new deployments come several months after thousands of military medical personnel, including two hospital ships, one on each coast, were sent to help governors and mayors in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

With some states opening up early and residents not abiding by CDC guidelines, cases have skyrocketed in states such as California, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

The bulk of the new medical personnel — doctors and nurses and support staff — are heading to Texas.

The first group is heading to hospitals in San Antonio and Houston, with four other locations in Texas still to be determined. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to put out a statement soon on the new deployments.

Meanwhile, more than 150 Air Force medical personnel will be dispatched to California. There is currently no word on exactly where those personnel will be sent.

Read the full article here. 

New York funeral director: pandemic has been a wave that ‘knocks you over’

Jessica Deahl, NPR

Fourth-generation funeral director Patrick Kearns has seen a lot in his 25 years working around death. But nothing, he says, compares with the intensity of what he’s experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patrick and his brother-in-law Paul Kearns-Stanley are partners in a family funeral business that has been operating in New York City since 1900.

“I do think of it like a wave that hit us,” says Paul. “You don’t see it coming. It knocks you over, you get tossed and you’re trying to figure out which way is up.”

At their funeral home in Queens, that wave first hit at the beginning of April. Patrick describes suddenly taking in 100 funerals during a stretch of time when 15 would have been normal, and it was months before that pace let up. The result was consecutive 14-hour work days and sleepless nights.

The phone rang continuously, they say, and despite their best efforts, it was impossible to return all the messages. But Patrick remembers the calls that were most jarring.

“The people that called saying, ‘Can you help me? I’ve called 30 funeral homes.’ And then I listened to the voices and could tell, this is a 25-year-old kid on the other end of the line. They have to make funeral arrangements for their parents because one is deceased and the other is on a respirator, and they’re lost,” says Patrick. “It weighs heavy on you.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how they should respond to the new reality of death during the pandemic. They had heard of other funeral homes not allowing families to see the bodies of their loved ones.

Read the full article here. 

Tatcha: Vicky Tsai

How I Built This, NPR

In 2008, Vicky Tsai walked away from a startup job and set out to rediscover herself on a trip to Japan.

In Kyoto, she had an unforgettable meeting with a geisha, and learned about the face creams and blotting papers that the traditional Japanese hostesses had used for centuries.

But as she contemplated selling those products in the U.S., experts on both sides of the Pacific told her it would never work.

Strapped for money and juggling multiple jobs, Vicky worked out of her parents’ garage, pitching her new brand—Tatcha—on QVC and steadily growing it.

Last year, Unilever acquired Tatcha for a reported $500 million, and Vicky remains confident the company will continue to thrive during the economic crisis.

Orange County leaders say they’re monitoring Disney in case of an outbreak

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Orange County leaders say they are keeping an eye on a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Central Florida and closely monitoring hospital capacity and staffing. 

The rise in cases comes as some Disney World theme parks began opening. Hong Kong Disneyland says it’s shutting down after the country reported 52 new cases. 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he’s keeping the theme parks open for now, and has been pleased with how they’ve been operating safely: 

“If we see where, again the indications would be that we are exceeding a hospital capacity. And if there are any outbreaks associated with Disney, we won’t hesitate to ask Disney to reevaluate the reopening.”

Disney is also hosting MLS and NBA games at its Wide World of Sports complex.

So far, two soccer teams have backed out of a tournament there after some players and staff tested positive.

CDC warns against reopening schools in the fall

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

A 69 page document from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opening schools for full-size, in-person classes creates the highest risk for spreading COVID-19.

The document, obtained by the New York Times over the weekend, says Florida has one of the most comprehensive plans to reopen. 

But it also says the state doesn’t have clear guidelines on what it will do if students and staff test positive for COVID-19.

The CDC also recommends that when there is substantial community spread of COVID-19, schools should have extended school dismissals.

The CDC document was leaked as President Donald Trump criticized the CDC’s guidelines and has called for schools to reopen.

Florida Education Secretary Richard Corcoran ordered all schools to have brick-and-mortar facilities open for students five days a week, starting in August, barring a local health order blocking it. 

Leaving prison in the COVID-19 economy

The Indicator from Planet Money, NPR

Leaving prison to reenter the workforce and society at large has never been an easy transition.

But the difficulties faced by people who have just been released from prison have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Social services are now overwhelmed by demand.

Mass unemployment and a slump in the economy have punched a hole in the labor force.

When it comes to accessing government support and applying for work, people who’ve been incarcerated in the past are finding themselves pushed way down the line.

Orlando City Soccer Club will play its second game in the MLS is Back Tournament on Tuesday

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Orlando City Soccer Club will play its second game in the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports on Tuesday -facing off against New York City FC. 

Orlando City defeated Miami FC last week, putting the Lions on top of Group A. The match will be televised on Univision in Spanish, with English commentary available live on Twitter. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 pm. 

The tournament is held exclusively at the Disney sports complex in front of empty stands. Competing teams are frequently tested for COVID-19 and travel is restricted. 

Nashville FC and FC Dallas both withdrew from the tournament due to concerns over positive COVID-19 tests. 

ESPN’s Wide World of Sports is also hosting the remaining NBA season, with similar COVID-19 prevention measures. 

Coronavirus surge prompts demand for convalescent plasma

Lisa Peakes, WUSF

Officials with Florida blood donation center, OneBlood, are calling for donations 0f convalescent plasma.

That’s the plasma of people who’ve recovered from the coronavirus. It contains antibodies that may help people recover from COVID-19 themselves.

OneBlood Senior Vice President Susan Forbes says her company has had a more than five hundred percent increase in hospital orders for the plasma:

“As quickly as donations come in they are being processed, tested, and rushed to hospitals. People’s lives are on the line and time is of the essence.”

Plasma can be donated every twenty-eight days.

What happens when Florida’s eviction moratorium ends?

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

With a few exceptions, renters in Florida still have some protections against eviction. But there are fears that the state’s landlords may move quickly to evict in-arrears tenants once those protections expire.

With just a few hours before its midnight expiration on the last day of June, Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the state’s eviction moratorium for another month. That will give renters continued relief until August 1st.

But even though the eviction ban has been in place since April 2nd, it doesn’t mean that some landlords haven’t tried to evict non-paying tenants, says Leslie Powell Boudreaux, executive director of Legal Services of North Florida.

“One thing that is true as much now as it was pre-COVID is that a landlord cannot simply throw someone out of a unit without a court order. That continues to be the case. We are getting some cases where landlords have attempted to change locks or turn off utilities or try to force someone to leave without a court order. And fortunately law enforcement, when they’ve been able to step in, have prevented that from happening in the cases we’ve heard about. The real challenge? Is there anyone who can go to court and actually get a court order?”

Mainly because the virus has nearly shut down the state’s civil courts, which issue eviction orders.

“What we’ve been telling people is, if you get court papers, find and talk to a lawyer because there may be something they can do to stop it. But it may be that’s a legitimate eviction that needs to be looked at and defended and that the courts may actually open to hear.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports about a third of Floridians who rent homes or apartments are now at least one month in arrears.

You might think that’s a catastrophe for landlords.

But Amanda Gill, government affairs director for the Florida Apartment Association says things really aren’t too bad for the state’s landlords.

“Overall, they’ve been pleasantly surprised industry-wide with (rent) collection rates during this time. And we think that’s a testament to the additional $600 of federal stimulus funds that folks are getting on a weekly basis for unemployment. In addition we’ve seen a lot of local governments across the state of Florida that have established rental relief funds and we believe those are playing an important role in addressing this need as well.”

But Legal Services of North Florida’s Boudreaux cautions no program intended to help tenants will last forever.

“Many (tenants) have rental assistance support, but they don’t have enough to meet the need that we’re anticipating coming this way. We see ourselves as a part of that solution. If rental assistance is not available to prevent someone’s eviction, is it possible to defend their eviction? How can we collectively work together to improve the results for everyone? In my mind, I look at this as homelessness prevention. How can we keep a family from becoming homeless by defending that eviction?”

And even after the current eviction moratorium expires, the Apartment Association’s Amanda Gill believes landlords will continue to be reluctant to toss in-arrears tenants into the street.

“Many of them (landlords) have given us success stories that they’ve been able to work with residents and establish payment plans or other arrangements to make it so that residents can stay in their apartment and find a way to pay their rent in a format that works for them. So we do not anticipate that there will be a tsunami of evictions simply because housing providers have done a great job in being proactive in working with their residents throughout the crisis.”

Still, no one can say for sure what might happen as the pandemic ramps up, the economic downturn deepens and both tenants and landlords find themselves coming up short every month.

Miami’s largest public hospital deals with coronavirus patient surge

Alex Gonzalez, WLRN

Miami’s Jackson Health System is dealing with an increase in COVID-19 patients.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya said the hospital system is seeing a certain kind of spread.

“The same number of younger patients are being admitted. But because the increase has happened, in that increase, we’re seeing older people come back in. That means that the younger people have been contaminating the older people and making it difficult for the older people.”

Migoya says limiting elective surgeries has prevented patients who don’t have COVID-19 from straining the system.

As of 4 pm Monday, Jackson is reporting more than 400 patients have tested positive for the coronavirus across its facilities.

Florida ICU could hit capacity ‘in days’ as health care workers face burnout

Consider This, NPR

Governors in Southern states like Louisiana are starting to come around to mask mandates, but not all residents are following suit.

On Sunday, Florida reported more than 15,000 positive coronavirus cases. At Jackson Memorial Hospital in South Florida, director of medical ICU Dr. David J. De La Zerda says beds are running low — and so are nurses to staff them.

And the NFL’s Washington, D.C.-based team is officially changing its name and logo. Activist Crystal Echo Hawk says she cried when she heard the news.

Despite heckler’s interruption, Gov. DeSantis gives positive message at conference

Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN

Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted a press conference Monday at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

It was his first time speaking on the pandemic since Florida announced a record high number of positive cases. More than 15,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday followed by more than 12,000 today.

Despite the huge numbers, the governor tried to keep the message positive.

“We’re gonna get through it. You’re a strong county. And you’re really a great engine for the state of Florida. So it’s not necessarily gonna be easy, but I’m 100 percent confident that we’re gonna get through this.”

He also talked about how most of the people testing positive now are younger and less likely to die from the disease.

A heckler interrupted the governor at the beginning, accusing him of not doing enough as numbers soar.

Doctors urge public to do their part to slow virus spread

Alex Gonzalez, WLRN

South Florida doctors are urging the public to play their role in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Lillian Abbo is an infectious disease specialist with the University of Miami Health System.

During a news conference on Monday, she said Miami has developed into a troubling hotspot.

“We really need your help. Miami is now the epicenter of the pandemic. What we were seeing in Wuhan six months, five months ago, now we are there.”

Dr. Abbo and other health experts stress that folks should wear masks and stay at home if they can.

Miami-Dade’s mayor said there are no plans so far to further curtail reopening efforts.

Physicians share concerns over reopening schools in the fall

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Physicians are raising concerns that the coronavirus will spread more when schools open in the fall.

Florida’s education commissioner ordered schools to open their doors five days a week.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Aileen Marty says asymptomatic children can spread the disease just as much if not more than as adults.

“So you put children from different households in a normal brick-and-mortar school in a zone that has 25% positivity, you’re going to have an increase transmission in the community. It is a risk.”

Marty is advising Miami-Dade Schools to do as much remote learning as possible and to not heavily rely on hybrid solutions.

She says only the students of parents that have no other options should physically go to school.

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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 »