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Your Tuesday Update: Gas Prices on the Rise, League of Women Voters Register Ex-Felons, Virus Hunters Try to Find the Source of the Pandemic, How Identify Affects COVID-19 Outcomes

Photo: Aditya Romansa

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Gas prices continue to rise in Central Florida as restrictions are lifted

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

While the price of gas is starting to rise, drivers will likely find the cheapest summer gas in 15 years.

AAA reports that the state’s average price per gallon – which is a $1.88 – is the lowest around Memorial Day since 2003.

Nationwide, people stayed home due to COVID-19. That suppressed demand and caused the price to plummet.

In Florida, it hit the bottom at $1.76 on May 6th.  Now it’s climbing again as Florida’s economy begins to reopen.

Around the state, West Palm Beach has the highest prices and the Panhandle the lowest.

Central Florida is right in the middle with an average of $1.86 in Orlando and $1.87 in The Villages.

Florida League of Women Voters looks to register hundreds of thousands of ex-felons before November election

Blaise Gainey, WFSU

The Florida League of Women Voters is pushing to get an estimated 700,000 felons registered to vote before the November election.

The effort follows a weekend ruling that cleared many felons to register before paying back fines and restitution. Florida League President Patricia Brigham says outreach has changed due to the coronavirus, but will still move forward.

“Once it was clear that COVID-19 was a clear and present danger and we all went to a shelter in place which many Floridians are continuing to do, we knew that we could no longer do person-to-person registration so we suspended it as long as we have to. And we are doing voter registration by pointing Floridians to Vote411.org,” Brigham said.

The group is also urging registered voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot so they won’t have to leave their home to vote during the global pandemic.

She says while some election supervisors are not in favor of  a vote-by-mail only election, more people doing so will help keep the number of those going into polling sites low.

Six Flags will reopen its first park on June 5, requiring masks and a health check

Bill Chappell, NPR

People visiting Six Flags theme parks and water parks this summer will be required to wear a face mask at all times, the company says, as it prepares to reopen its first park to visitors since the coronavirus forced mass closures. Six Flags says it also will use thermal imaging to screen temperatures of guests and employees before they can enter.

Frontier City in Oklahoma City will be the first Six Flags park to reopen, on June 5. But before visiting, customers will need to make a reservation and bring a mask; anyone who doesn’t have a face covering will need to buy one at the gate, the company says.

“All guests over the age of two and all team members will be required to wear face masks covering the nose and mouth throughout their visit/work day,” the company announced Tuesday. Special accommodations can be made for people with “disabilities, health concerns, religious restrictions, or other circumstances” that would prevent them from wearing a mask, Six Flags said.

Capacity will also be restricted, and people will be required to maintain physical distance as they stand in line for rides, food and other attractions. The safety protocols will apply across all of Six Flags’ 26 locations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

“Frontier City, like all Six Flags parks, is an outdoor attraction that poses a significantly lower risk of exposure than indoor venues,” Six Flags President and CEO Mike Spanos said in a statement about the plans. He added, “Because our parks cover dozens or even hundreds of acres, we can easily manage guest throughput to achieve proper social distancing.”

Every U.S. state is now in the process of relaxing at least some of the restrictions that were put in place in the weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Many Americans and public officials alike are now weighing how to curb the coronavirus while also restarting normal activities and planning for the summer.

Oklahoma began allowing a broad range of businesses to reopen on May 1, from restaurant dining rooms to movie theaters and gyms. The state further relaxed restrictions when it entered the second phase of its reopening plan on May 15. It’s poised to begin the third phase on June 1.

Oklahoma was reporting more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 315 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to the state Department of Health. More than 2,800 cases – roughly 46% of the current total — have been reported in the past 30 days. The state says more than 4,800 people have recovered from the respiratory disease.

WATCH: Virus hunters seek to solve the mystery of coronavirus origins

Emily Kwong, NPR

Scientists have learned a great deal about how the novel coronavirus spreads. But one of the mysteries they’re still trying to untangle is where the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, came from in the first place. Scientific evidence points overwhelmingly to wildlife — and to bats as the most likely origin point.

Bats are critically important for pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds. They catch bugs, the same ones that bite us and eat some of our crops. But bats also harbor some of the toughest known zoonotic diseases — those caused by germs that spread between animals and people.

The rabies virus, the Marburg virus, the Hendra and Nipah viruses all find a natural reservoir in bats, meaning those viruses can live in bats without harming them. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was traced to a bat colony. The SARS virus originates in bats, along with other coronaviruses. And now, SARS-CoV-2 is linked to bats too. The virus has a 96% genetic similarity to coronavirus samples previously found in bats.

Globally, zoonotic diseases have been on the rise for decades. The CDC estimates that six out of ten infectious diseases in people come from animals. Increased human interactions with animals through land development that destroys habitat, agricultural practices and livestock and wildlife trade have created a perfect storm for emerging diseases to appear throughout the world, pathogens both previously known and completely novel.

There is not enough genetic evidence to know how precisely this particular coronavirus transmitted from animals (likely bats) to humans, and whether an intermediate animal was involved in the chain of transmission. Further genetic testing and evidence is needed to fully know where this coronavirus came from. The work of virus hunting — of tracking an outbreak to its origin point — can take years. The 2003 outbreak of SARS, for instance, took a decade of detective work, sampling the feces, urine, or blood of thousands of horseshoe bats across China until a match was found.

Hurricane prep tax holiday begins Friday

Tom Urban, WLRN 

Starting Friday, shoppers in Florida emerging from coronavirus stay-at-home orders can avoid paying sales taxes while putting together disaster-preparation stockpiles for the 2020 hurricane season.

Florida lawmakers included the disaster-preparation tax holiday in a 47.7-million-dollar tax package approved in March.

During the period lasting through June 4th, shoppers will be able to avoid paying sales taxes on items such as reusable ice packs, flashlights, fuel containers, coolers, batteries, radios and tarps.

The biggest-ticket items included in the holiday are portable generators that cost 750 dollars or less.

In addition to helping consumers, Florida Retail Federation CEO Scott Shalley hopes the seven-day tax holiday can provide a boost for businesses suffering from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You’re going to see, again, additional incentives from the retailers to encourage sales for disaster preparation. You’ll continue to see, of course, all of the safe and smart shopping measures in terms of social distancing and sanitizing,” Shalley said.

Federal officials have expressed concern about people being prepared for disasters this year. Hurricane season will start Monday and continue through November 30th.

How the crisis is making racial inequality worse

Greg Rosalsky, NPR

COVID-19 is killing African Americans at a rate three times higher than white people. You can see the disparity on the map with places like the Bronx, the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and the South Side of Chicago grappling with thousands of deaths from the disease. The health crisis, however, is also an economic crisis, and the virus is clobbering these communities on this front, too.

Job losses are “dramatically concentrated in the low end of the wage distribution,” says Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He is the co-author of a new study, “The U.S. Labor Market during the Beginning of the Pandemic Recession,” which analyzes payroll data from millions of American workers between early March and mid-April.

If you look at the top fifth of income earners as of February, he says, about 9% of them lost their jobs. That’s catastrophically bad. But if you look at the bottom fifth of earners, who are more likely to be black and Latino, about 35% of them lost their jobs.

The International Monetary Fund, which historically has not been a bleeding heart institution when it comes to issues of inequality, is now warning that the COVID-19 crisis will increase economic disparities. In another new study, it looks at the effects of pandemics — like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola— over the last few decades. “And what we found in the aftermath of these events, inequality was higher on a whole host of measures,” says Jonathan Ostry, an IMF official who co-authored the study. Workers at the top are more likely to have the luxury of working remotely and the skills, education, and wealth to help them weather the economic downturns that follow pandemics. Meanwhile, workers at the bottom get squeezed.

In the United States, these disparities are inextricably linked to race. It’s undeniable when you look at death rates. However, if you were looking simply at unemployment numbers, you might at first get misled. In good times and bad, the black unemployment rate is typically double the white unemployment rate, says the economist Valerie Wilson, who directs the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. But, if you look at the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the black unemployment is 16.7%, which is higher than the white unemployment rate of 14.2%, but not close to double.

The closer parity between black and white unemployment numbers, Wilson says, reflects how widespread the shutdown has been. It also, however, reflects “the disproportionate representation of African Americans in what have been deemed to be essential jobs.” Think grocery cashiers, mail carriers, security guards, health aides, gas-station attendants, and fast-food cooks.

Wilson says having an essential job is a “double-edged sword.” On the one hand, essential workers have greater job security, which might come in handy if unemployment benefits expire. But, on the other hand, these workers are on the frontlines, risking their health. “People are having to choose between their economic security and their health security,” she says. Adding insult to injury, had they been laid off, these workers would have been able to stay home and collect relatively generous unemployment benefits. Instead, they have to work, and they’re often not compensated for lost hours.

Meanwhile, government rescue efforts are failing minority-owned businesses. The new Payroll Protection Program is designed to save small businesses from the crisis, and it has the generous feature of offering forgivable loans to those who keep their employees on the payroll. However, around 96% of black-owned businesses, Wilson says, are sole proprietorships, meaning they don’t have employees, which makes it harder for them to get their loans forgiven. The loans are also distributed through private banks, which may lack pre-existing relationships with minority business owners and may discriminate when giving out loans. Surveys show that around 38% of all small business applicants report getting the loans they requested — but just 12% of minority applicants report getting them.

The cruel irony of the COVID-19 pandemic is that — after a decade of wage stagnation following the financial crisis, which hit them especially hard — African Americans were finally beginning to see wage growth just as the virus began hitting our shores. Many African Americans lack the wealth needed to help them float through another period of economic turbulence. “The median black family has only about 10 percent of the wealth of the median white family,” Wilson says. “They don’t have any backup available in terms of wealth or other kinds of financial resources that they can pull from when they lose a job or when their pay gets cut.”

“Black Americans are approximately 13% of the nation’s population, but hold closer to 2.6% of the nation’s wealth,” says William Darity Jr., the Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University.

Darity and his wife, the scholar Kirsten Mullen, recently wrote op-eds in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Newsweek arguing that the COVID-19 crisis in black communities is integrally related to their deficit of wealth. Darity says that, like the higher rate of preexisting conditions such as diabetesasthma, and obesity seen in black communities — which is itself linked to poverty — “we argue that you should think about the wealth gap as a preexisting condition that leads to greater susceptibility to the harms of the disease.” Darity and Mullen, who are authors of a new book called From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century, argue that the COVID-19 death rate in black communities further strengthens the case for addressing the racial wealth gap through a reparations program.

Mexico Beach busy over Memorial Day weekend

Valerie Crowder, WFSU

The pandemic didn’t stop visitors from traveling to Mexico Beach over Memorial Day weekend. Mayor Al Cathey described the town’s white sandy shoreline as packed.

He says he’s worried about the coronavirus reaching the small coastal town, which has so far had zero cases.

“I hope that we haven’t reacted to the ‘We have to open’ pressure too quickly. When I look at the news and I look at other places, and when I drive our beach here, I don’t know how much gathering we can do on the beach and not have a problem,” Cathey said.

Bay County has reported new coronavirus cases every day for nearly the last two weeks. Visitors began arriving there from other states after the beaches reopened almost a month ago.

Pandemic puts a crimp on voter registration, potentially altering electorate

Pam Fessler, NPR

No door to door canvassing. Public gatherings are canceled. Motor vehicle offices are closed. Naturalization ceremonies are on hiatus.

Almost every place where Americans usually register to vote has been out of reach since March and it’s led to a big drop in new registrations right before a presidential election that was expected to see record turnout.

The consequences of that decline could reshape the electorate ahead of the November election, although it’s not yet clear how.

Four years ago, organizers for the progressive group New Virginia Majority were able to register 120,000 new voters, who contributed to Hillary Clinton’s victory in the state and Democrats’ subsequent takeover of the state legislature.

But this year, in the middle of a pandemic?

“The rules of engagement have been completely upended,” said Tram Nguyen, New Virginia Majority’s co-executive director.

“We’re not able to walk the neighborhood streets. We’re not able to set up tables at community centers and places where it’s easy to reach people in community. So organizers have still continued to do the work around engaging folks. It looks a lot different,” she said.

The group is now reaching people online, mostly over social media and video chats, but Nguyen doubts that they’ll be able to register as many new voters this year as they did in 2016.

Across the country, other interest groups, political parties and election officials are running into similar hurdles.

Until the pandemic struck, the 2020 presidential election had been on track to see a huge surge in new voters. According to data from the Democratic voter targeting firm TargetSmart, voter registrations in January and February of this year far outpaced those in 2016.

But since the virus hit, new registrations are falling around the country. After a record increase in January, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams was disappointed that registrations in his state almost flat-lined.

“February we had a net 7,000 new registrations. And in March we had a net 500 new registrations,” said Adams, a Republican. In April, the state’s voter rolls shrank by more than 1,000.

Like voters in many states, Kentuckians can register online. But Adams said it’s not the same as, say, going to a booth at the state fair.

“People can still register, the government’s not closed, but without that personal contact, with people encouraging their friends to register, that’s why we’ve seen such a big drop-off,” he said.

Kentucky is hardly alone. Virginia saw 73% fewer registrations last month than it did four years ago. Officials said one reason is the shutdown of Department of Motor Vehicle offices, where voters routinely register. North Carolina had a similar decline and has expanded online registration to pick up some of the slack.

Political parties, which often take an outsize role in registering new voters, have also adjusted.

In Texas, where online registration is not allowed, the state’s Democrats launched a website last month that provides a registration form with a postage-paid envelope to send it in as part of their goal of registering a million new voters.

Texas Republicans are doing the same, although party chair James Dickey says they started before the pandemic.

“In fact, we have seen our voter registration counts continue to increase and our volunteer count continue to increase,” said Dickey, who added that the Texas GOP is well on its way to reaching its goal of registering at least 100,000 new voters.

Dickey thinks the pandemic has probably had more impact on some of the party’s other activities. “It was our plan to be doing all of our voter persuasion and voter turnout efforts in person,” he said. They’re now doing it over the phone.

Organizers of both parties say they always try to meet voters where they are but now that means reaching them at home and online.

One group that’s benefiting is the nonprofit Vote.org, which uses technology to register and mobilize voters.

“We’re having an avalanche of people come to us,” as a result of groups ditching their in-person campaigns, said Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey.

The group has helped register more than a half million people so far this year, with a focus on young voters and people of color.

One hurdle, Hailey says, are requirements in some states that voters register by mail and provide photocopies of their ID.

“We used to point people to a library if you didn’t have a printer, and say go to your nearest library, get them to print it out, but you know libraries are closed right now,” she said.

The big question is how all this will affect the November election. Most people can still register until shortly before Election Day and it’s unclear whether the losses so far this year can be made up in the fall.

The general belief is that Democrats benefit the most by signing up new voters, but that’s not necessarily true. What matters most is who ends up casting ballots.

Tram Nguyen of New Virginia Majority says one thing that’s been lost in the pandemic is the bond her organizers have with the people they register in person, a relationship that helps them make sure these new voters actually show up and vote.

LISTEN: Answering your coronavirus questions about death toll, immigration and acts of kindness

NPR

On this broadcast of The National Conversation, an infectious disease doctor answers your questions about the COVID-19 death toll as the number nears 100,000 in the United States.

We’ll also answer your questions about immigration and how to deal with tough scenarios, and author Cheryl Strayed joins us to talk about kindness and neighborliness during the pandemic.

Biden commemorates Memorial Day in first outing amid coronavirus pandemic

Vanessa Romo, NPR

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, made an unannounced visit to the Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Del., on Monday.

It’s the first time Biden has left the area around his home in Wilmington, since mid-March when he began self-isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

He and his wife Jill Biden, both wearing black masks, placed a wreath before a memorial wall commemorating war veterans from Delaware and New Jersey.

“Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made. Never, ever, forget,” Biden said before leaving the wall.

President Trump also honored service members at two events Monday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Trump has been critical of Biden’s decision to remain in self-isolation at his home in Wilmington. Biden canceled in-person campaign events. Over the last two months, Biden has held events virtually with supporters, including fundraisers, and has done a number of television interviews from his home.

In response to a question about being out in public on Memorial Day, Biden said, “It feels good to be out of my house.”

Congressman Al Lawson hopeful Senate will pass second relief round

Tom Flanigan, WFSU 

Congress has sent another round of stimulus spending to the Senate. North Florida Congressman Al Lawson thinks it’s an improvement over the first round.

“You know we made a couple of mistakes on the PPP, but now we’re going to make sure we lower it so it’s even for those businesses under $50,000. And I’ve been checking with a lot of financial institutions to give me a record of how many small businesses they were able to help. So that’s coming up next week,” Lawson said.

Still, passage in the Senate seems anything but certain as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the package “dead on arrival.”

Still, Lawson hopes increasing public pressure will carry the day.

The U.S. unemployment rate is now approaching fifteen percent and thousands of businesses may not survive.

Trump praises fallen soldiers in Memorial Day ceremonies

Matthew S. Schwartz, NPR

As Americans observe a subdued Memorial Day, President Trump visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore to remember those soldiers who have fallen in service to the country.

“I stand before you at this noble fortress of American liberty to pay tribute to the immortal souls who fought and died to keep us free,” Trump told the crowd, which included several members of his Cabinet. “We pledge in their cherished memories that this majestic flag will proudly fly forever.”

Trump’s comments came as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 stood higher than 97,000, approaching the number of American soldiers lost in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. In his remarks Monday, Trump began by invoking the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

“In recent months our nation and the world have been engaged in a new form of battle against an invisible enemy,” Trump said. “Once more the men and women of the United States military have answered the call to duty and raced into danger. Tens of thousands of service members and National Guardsmen are on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus, caring for patients, delivering critical supplies, and working night and day to safeguard our citizens.

“As one nation, we mourn alongside every single family that has lost loved ones, including the families of our great veterans. Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights.”

Fort McHenry is best known for its role in the War of 1812. American soldiers there repelled a British attack on the Baltimore Harbor in 1814. The attack inspired Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the battle, to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which provided the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“Every time we sing our anthem, every time its rousing chorus swells our hearts with pride, we renew the eternal bonds of loyalty to our fallen heroes,” Trump said Monday.

The president’s visit to Baltimore was not without controversy. Last week Mayor Jack Young said Trump might be violating the city’s stay-at-home order, which limits nonessential trips. Young worried that a presidential visit could divert police resources that were needed elsewhere. Baltimore Council President Brandon Scott also asked the president to stay home and “set the right example.”

Just before speaking in Baltimore, Trump paid his respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony. Trump briefly placed his hand on the wreath, before standing at attention and saluting as a military bugler played taps.

LISTEN: People like us, how our identities shape health and educational success

Shankar Vedantam, NPR

Far from being “the great equalizer,” COVID-19 has disproportionately sickened and killed African Americans and Latinos in the U.S. Many of the reasons for these inequalities reach back to before the pandemic began. This week, we return to a 2019 episode that investigates a specific source of racial disparities in medicine and beyond—and considers an uncomfortable solution:

A visit to a new doctor can be a stressful experience. You know the feeling. Sitting in a cold exam room, naked save for a flimsy gown, waiting for a stranger to poke and prod you. When the doctor finally enters, most of us are looking for signs that we can trust this person, that they are going to help rather than harm us.

So what is it that makes us trust doctors enough to allow them to stick needles in our skin or put us on a diet? That’s what Owen Garrick wanted to know. He’s a doctor and researcher in Oakland, California, and has been trying to improve health outcomes for black men. Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any major demographic group. Owen says they are dying of preventable or chronic diseases like prostate cancer.

“It’s not just prostate cancer; it is cardiovascular disease, it is stroke, it is diabetes.”

Owen and his colleagues wondered what it would take to get black men to go to the doctor for preventative care. They had a hunch that race might be a factor. So they ran a field study to try to answer one simple question:

Will black men take more preventative care services if they are randomly assigned to a black doctor?

They recruited men from barbershops and flea markets around Oakland. About 600 agreed to go to a clinic for a checkup.

The study found that black men assigned to a black doctor did accept more preventative services. And not by a little — by a lot.

The black doctors were about 50 percent more successful than non-black doctors at getting their patients to agree to invasive tests for diabetes and the flu shot. When it came to cholesterol screening, they were 72 percent more effective.

The real-life implications could be huge. If people in the real world responded as they did in Owen’s study, the gap between blacks and whites in cardiovascular disease outcomes might shrink by nearly 20 percent.

“That could be 20 percent of people living to see their grandkids graduate from college and high school,” Owen says. “That’s how I think about it.”

This week on Hidden Brain, we travel from medical clinics to school classrooms for a look at how shared identity creates understanding and trust.

The show must go on: Annual Booker High School Senior Showcase goes virtual

Cathy Carter, WUSF

The coronavirus pandemic forced Florida schools to shut down in mid-March. For seniors, that meant no prom, no spring musical, and socially distanced graduation ceremonies.

Some local students have found ways to keep certain traditions going.

In early February, students in the Visual and Performing Arts program at Sarasota’s Booker High School had just begun rehearsals for their annual spring musical.

Launching the show “Seussical” was an especially exciting time for the seniors. Emma Johnson of Sarasota says the close-knit class has performed dozens of shows together over the past four years.

“My first musical here was ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and I was the Ladybug and that was one of my favorites cause it was the first time I got to be in a musical here and it was such a special experience,” she said. “I also did ‘Cinderella’ last year and I was the Fairy Godmother and that was really fun.”

But just one month later, Booker, like all schools across Florida, closed because of coronavirus. There would be no final live performance, no last dance, and no annual VPA senior showcase on the Booker High School stage. But if performers know anything, it’s this: The show must go on.

On Saturday, the Booker High School Visual & Performing Arts Theatre Department hosted “Blink,” a live stream performance to commemorate its senior class.

Johnson – who was voted as this year’s Best Vocalist at Booker High – sang a tune from her home. It was her final virtual bow before heading to Otterbein University in Ohio next school year to study Musical Theater.

“Seeing someone perform in their home adds a very personal touch that couldn’t be achieved on a stage,” she said.

Her good friend Emma Katz performed a song from her family’s patio in Sarasota. Katz, who will pursue a BFA in Musical Theatre at Florida State University, got her first starring role playing the title role in “Hello Dolly” during her sophomore year.

“I really think that I grew a lot because I took more risks,” she said. “I learned how to go out of my comfort zone and be someone completely different, yet I learned that I could still relate to her. I think that is important for an actor to learn.”

The title, “Blink,” represents the change from childhood to adulthood that the students feel happened “in the blink of an eye.” While it also has new significance in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had decided on the title and theme prior to spring break.

Typically an event held live in Booker’s VPA Theatre, the Class of 2020 senior showcase is an entire original show with full artistic and directorial freedom. This year’s virtual showcase featured performances of song and dance, along with some Zoom comedy sketches.

Senior Timarus Foulks, who will be pursuing Musical Theatre at Florida Atlantic University next school year, says he still remembers the thrill of being cast in his first show at Booker High School.

“Ever since then I would just work on myself and try to do the best that I can so that I could keep showing them that I was trying to learn as much as I could so that I could continue to be a presence in the shows and do my own thing, instead of playing sports like my brothers did,” he said.

This year, Covid-19 has moved all VPA senior showcases online, and all will be housed at the bookerVPA.com website; the Theatre Department is the only group premiering the work in a live stream setting, with the hopes of creating “unity at home” as families and fans watch these students in their final VPA performance.

The Class of 2020 from all Visual and Performing Arts Departments comprises 46 of Booker High School’s 250 graduates; 96% have committed to college for next year.

On Friday, Booker High School hosted a celebration to honor these seniors outside of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. Students were able to collect a graduation gift and a ceremonial silver cord, a component of the graduation regalia that symbolizes their completion of the VPA program.

Florida Health Department follows up with positive COVID-19 cases

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

Floridians who test positive for COVID-19 are likely to receive a call from the state Department of Health.

Caitlin Wolfe does that work called contact tracing for the health department in Polk County. She says she checks patients’ names and dates of birth to start the process.

“If we do have the right person, we do need them to verify some of their personal health information first before we move on to the rest of the conversation to make sure “A” that we are talking to the right person and, you know, not sharing information that we shouldn’t be with anybody else,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe says it’s important to build trust.

Contact tracers are required to ask people detailed questions. The goal is to figure out if an infected person has spread the virus to family members and other close contacts.

The CDC recommends that communities use this method to contain outbreaks and in turn keep local economies open.

Tallahassee VFW holds Memorial Day service despite pandemic

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Tallahassee’s Veterans of Foreign Wars held a Memorial Day service despite concerns around spreading the coronavirus.

Families and retired service members gathered inside the gates of the VFW Cemetery to hold a ceremony to honor soldiers who lost their lives.

They saluted a flag at half-staff and placed flowers and wreaths near the flag. Afterward, attendees placed small flags on the graves of soldiers. Debora Jones Mann is a VFW member who took part in the ceremony.

“I don’t want the pandemic to mean these veterans won’t be honored. It’s really important that they get remembered and they get honored because they have served the ultimate sacrifice and if it was not for them we would all not have our freedoms that we—that we don’t even think about. We kind of take them for granted,” Jones Mann said.

Jones Mann says the pandemic isn’t stopping those in the military from serving their country.

Like what you just read? Check out our other coronavirus coverage. 


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Danielle Prieur

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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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