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Your Tuesday Update: Astronauts Arrive at KSC to Quarantine Before Launch, Disney Springs Reopens Wednesday, Marion County Businesses Think Adverse Effects Are Temporary

Photo: Brian McGowan

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As the Florida Keys get ready to welcome visitors on June first, officials on the island chain are asking those visitors to follow safety procedures

Nancy Klingener, WLRN

As the Florida Keys get ready to welcome visitors on June 1, officials on the island chain are asking those visitors to keep practicing safety measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel Powell represents the area and she was in Islamorada on Tuesday.

“Monroe County is a piece of paradise. People love to drive down to the Keys. And we welcome you to come and visit us because our livelihood depends on tourism. But we also ask you to keep in mind that we’re a vulnerable community, that we don’t have the capacity in our hospitals to see an uptick in COVID,” Powell said.

Islamorada Mayor Mike Forster says the checkpoint wasn’t intended to keep people out – it was to keep the coronavirus from overwhelming the local hospitals.

“All I ask you is that when the checkpoint comes down, come down and enjoy yourself, practice the social distancing and wear your buffs and just do the right thing and we’ll get through this together. We’re a water-based economy with a water-based lifestyle and we depend on you to come here. And we want you here,” Forster said.

Dr. Jack Norris is chief of staff at Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West. He says the checkpoint in the Keys gave the local health system time to get enough personal protective equipment. But he says locals and visitors still need to be careful so the virus doesn’t spread.

“Our doctors aren’t measured by the thousands or by the hundreds. We’re measured by the dozens,” Norris said.

The checkpoint now only allows people who live, work or own property in the Keys to drive in. Hotels will be allowed to open June 1, but at 50 percent occupancy.

Epidemiologist gives vacation rental safety advice

Valerie Crowder, WFSU

Condo and town home bookings are now allowed across Northwest Florida after seven coastal counties in the region got an exemption to the state’s ban on short-term vacation rentals.

Condo and town home owners who lease their units to beach goers in Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties are back in business. Still, University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins says visitors should stay vigilant.

“You still have to be aware of doing good hand hygiene, of maintaining social distancing from folks and also making sure that you’re cleaning sufficiently. So, if you’re going to go have a rental, you want to make sure that you are also cleaning the high-touch surfaces in that rental, and not just trusting that it’s been cleaned before you get there,” Prins said.

Prins says it’s not a good idea to travel anywhere for a vacation during the pandemic.

But instead of turning visitors away, local governments are working to educate them on staying safe.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation approved the counties’ requests for the rental ban exemptions and safety plans.

Food bank sees big drop in supermarket donations

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

Second Harvest of the Big Bend CEO Monique Ellsworth says the need for food is growing in North Florida, while the supply to her food bank is shrinking.

“Prior to COVID, 2nd Harvest received about 250,000 pounds every month from our retail partners who donated product to us,” Ellsworth said.

But now, Ellsworth says, those partners, which include big supermarkets like Publix and Winn-Dixie, are having trouble getting enough supplies for their own shelves.

Ellsworth says the shortfall is having to be made up by government and private contributions.

Moody warns of stimulus seizures

Tom Urban, WLRN

Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians that some nursing homes and assisted living facilities may be seizing the federal stimulus payments of residents on Medicaid.

Moody’s office currently has an active investigation into several facilities in the state, for taking CARES Act stimulus payments intended for residents and keeping the money for the business.

According to Moody, this is not allowed, as the stimulus funds are allocated as a tax credit, rather than a federal benefit.

Moody wants Floridians to ask eligible loved ones if they’ve received the benefits.

If not, she says check with the facility’s management if they are holding the money and to contact her office if they are.

“We do know of instances here in Florida, where facilities are keeping these stimulus payments that are meant for seniors within their residences, and not giving it to them. That is unacceptable. It won’t be tolerated,” Moody said.

Anyone who feels an assisted living facility may be stealing a loved one’s money can contact the attorney general’s office at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Floridia companies prepare to protect workers from COVID-19 during hurricanes

Blaise Gainey, WFSU

Florida Power and Light officials say the utility is prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.

Tom Gwaltney is FPL’s Senior Director of Emergency Preparedness. He says the company has been focusing on how to protect workers from COVID-19 during emergency responses.

“We are reducing our staging site personnel and increasing the number of microsites so there’ll be a lot more sites to say grace over. And with that it’s going to increase our logistical support that’ll be necessary. A site at one time used to be 1,500 to 2,000 workers, we will not have any site with more than 500 workers on it,” Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney says FPL will also provide coronavirus testing at command centers and will check the temperature of all workers at all sites.

Two NASA astronauts arrive at Kennedy Space Center Wednesday ahead of a launch to the space station next week

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

It will be the first human launch from the U.S. since the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. 

NASA’s Bob Behnkin and Doug Hurley will spend a week in quarantine at KSC before launching on a Falcon 9 rocket next week. 

The agency is working with private companies like SpaceX to launch humans to the station, ending a nearly decade-long reliance on the Russian space agency for rides. 

KSC Director Bob Cabana says the two Shuttle-veteran astronauts will spend the next week in a familiar facility. 

“And they’ll go into quarantine in crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Center just as they did as they flew aboard the Shuttle,” Cabana said.

NASA and SpaceX will conduct a Flight Readiness Review this week, ahead of the planned launch next Wednesday. 

Disney Springs will partially reopen Wednesday after Universal CityWalk opened last week

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Forty-four retail stores and restaurants will be back in business at Disney Springs starting Wednesday.

Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business’s Mark Johnston says the entertainment venue is being used as a testing ground before the theme parks reopen.

“There are many organizations, many companies that are watching what Disney does what Universal has done and will seek to emulate at least some of those policies after there’s some data that suggests how well they’re working,” Johnston said.

In a statement on the Disney Springs website, guests are warned of the inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place where people are present. 

Disney opened Shanghai Disney in mainland China last week. Like Disney Springs, guests were required to wear face masks and submit to temperature checks. 

Most businesses surveyed in Marion County believe COVID-19 will have only temporary adverse effects on them

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

The head of the Chamber and Economic Partnership thinks the county has prepared itself to rebound.

Kevin Sheilley presented the County Commission with an April survey by the CEP, the College of Central Florida and the local tourism council.

Half the businesses say sales declined by over 50 percent. But only 19 percent foresee permanent damage.

Sheilley says Marion County’s focus on distribution centers and manufacturing is paying off. Among 230 of those companies, he says, only one has laid off workers while 40 are actively hiring.

“There was a very intentional desire to recruit what we believed were anti-cyclical or recession-proof industries. And those are the companies right who are doing so very well. That is a strategy that is paying off so very well for our community,” Sheilley said.

The new Dollar Tree Distribution Center hopes to have 220 workers in place by August 1.

A controversy is growing over the removal of a key architect behind Florida’s online COVID-19 data dashboard

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

As first reported by Florida Today, Rebekah Jones wrote an email May 5 saying her office was no longer involved in publishing COVID-19 data. 

Jones wrote that her commitment to accessibility and transparency was, quote, “largely – arguably entirely – the reason I am no longer managing it.”

The dashboard has been touted by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force as a model of transparency. 

In recent weeks, though, the dashboard has crashed and underlying data was hidden.

In a later email to CBS News 12, Jones said her removal was not voluntary. 

She says she was removed because she refused to manually change data to, quote, “drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

The Florida Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Orange County Schools ask parents: How do you think schools should reopen in the fall?

By Amy Green, WMFE 

Orange County Public Schools is asking parents how they want schools to reopen in the fall. 

The school district is surveying parents by phone. The survey contains four questions: 

  • Whether parents want children to resume distance learning in the fall, 
  • Whether parents want children to return to classrooms, with health and safety rules in place,
  • Whether parents want a blended approach,
  • Whether parents don’t know.

Schools have been closed since March, with children learning from home. Schools break for the summer next Wednesday. 

Orange County Public Schools is Florida’s fourth-largest school district, serving more than 215-thousand students. 

Testing issue larger than previously thought

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

The issue with AdventHealth’s third-party testing is not the only one in the state. 

Multiple officials across the state said there appeared to be a data dump of test results over the weekend.

Dr. Raul Pino, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said Orange County got 6,000 results back on Saturday.

“We have never tested 6,000 people in a day. We have never tested 6,000 people in two days. We probably test 6,000 people a week in the county, about. So something happened there. And we’re concerned how much that is skewing our data,” Pino said.

Separately, more than 500 positive results were confirmed over the weekend in Miami. 

DeSantis said more than 400 test results were backlogged cases going back three weeks.

Florida has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, and officials are trying to identify if it’s a blip in the data or a result of Florida’s reopening.

Orlando area attractions Gatorland and Funspot say they’re ready to re-open by the end of the week-if they are allowed to do so

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Representatives from both of the attractions spoke to the Orange County Economic Task Force Monday. 

Gatorland CEO Mark McHugh says his park has implemented social distancing and other policies like temperature checks and mandatory face masks for staff. 

“But our goal is to seek approval from the task force and from Mayor Demings to open our park this Saturday, May 23rd. We’re ready to safely open our park, we’re ready to go. Our social distancing skunk ape is getting a little wound up, he’s kind of antsy and ready to go, but we’ll get him under control,” McHugh said.

Phase two of Governor Ron DeSantis’ plan allows theme parks to reopen with limited capacity. 

No more watercooler talk and other ways offices will adapt to the pandemic

Maureen Pao, NPR

As stay-at-home orders across the U.S. begin to loosen, companies are planning for their employees’ return to the office. For months, millions worked from home, raising the question of whether physical offices are even necessary.

Nabil Sabet thinks so. The group director at M Moser Associates, a firm that specializes in workplace design, says there is more to the office than just cubicles and conference rooms.

“There’s a human and intrinsic need for us to connect. In the last eight weeks, we’ve all felt it. We all miss our friends,” he tells NPR’s Ailsa Chang on All Things Considered. “This is the human need that’s part of us. We need to bring that, obviously, back in some form in the near future.”

But going forward, offices will look and feel different, Sabet says, transformed by the coronavirus health emergency.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

As people go back into the office, tell us what you think is going to be different?

In the short term, there’ll be several measures that are taken to include everyone’s safety — things like physical distancing still being maintained in the office, shifting from having everyone there at once to possibly having shifts or teams coming one at a time. And then even looking at adjustments to the physical space — air conditioning, the way we come in, the flow through the space — all these measures that can be taken very quickly to make the space safe.

What about common areas in the office, like meeting rooms or kitchenettes? How are offices going to manage those areas?

Those areas in the interim are going to be largely decommissioned or used at their lowest possible functional abilities. So things like meeting rooms, really limiting the number of people in those rooms, adding things like purification and sterilization in the space to make sure that people in the space are safe and able to do their job properly. … Things like pantries and kitchenettes that, at one point, had lots of food coming in, heating up and eating in the open — these functions will likely be stopped for the interim and then slowly be added on.

Are there any bigger-picture, long-term changes employers might make?

I definitely think the open-plan workspace needs to be reconsidered. It’s a conversation that actually started before COVID-19 and looking at how effective are those spaces for the different behaviors and needs of people in the office space. … There are some conversations about, will the future be full of cubicles or in closed rooms? But I think it’s important to remember that the purpose of the office is very clear now. The purpose of us getting out of our house, taking public transit, taking that risk really needs to be that the office space is going to provide something that will enhance my work life.

Governor Ron DeSantis is calling on theme parks to submit plans for reopening

Amy Green, WMFE

Speaking in Orlando on Monday, the governor said if the theme parks can get an endorsement from local officials his administration would consider reopening the parks.   

“When you open a theme park it’s not just like you can flip a switch, and three days later do it. They’re going to need a lot of runway to be able to know a date’s certain. So I’m not saying this is going to happen tomorrow, but I think it is prudent to solicit these plans so that we know the direction that we’re going,” DeSantis said.

Already, Universal Orlando’s CityWalk and Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs, both retail and dining districts, have reopened on a limited basis.  

NBC says 2.35 million viewers tuned in for live golf’s return to TV

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The return of live golf to television had a total audience delivery of 2.35 million viewers.

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson defeated Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in the TaylorMade Driving Relief.

The exhibition has raised at least $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief funds.

NBC Sports says the total audience delivery was 16% higher than the final of the Dell Match Play last year in Texas. It used that as a comparison because only four players were on the course. It was roughly the same as network coverage of PGA Tour events from the second quarter of 2019.

Disney Springs reopening comes with a warning about risk

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — As Walt Disney World prepares to allow some third-party shops and restaurants to open at its entertainment complex later this week, it’s posting a warning.

The warning posted Monday on the website for Disney Springs says while enhanced safety measures are being taken, there’s “an inherent risk” of exposure to COVID-19 in any public place where people are present.

The opening of some shops and restaurants at Disney Springs on Wednesday marks the latest baby steps Orlando’s theme park resorts are taking toward reopening.

They have been shuttered since mid-March when the spread of the new coronavirus forced them to close their gates.

Does getting infected with Covid-19 make you immune? Doctors say answer is still months away

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

Gov. Ron DeSantis has regularly said COVID-19 antibodies provide immunity – and antibody tests could help determine who can return to work.

“If you’re a healthcare worker and you have the antibodies, then obviously you have immunity,” DeSantis said.

That’s Gov. DeSantis at a press conference in Sarasota May 5. Here he is the next day at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

“The good thing about it is once the antibodies develop, if you test positive for the antibodies, it’s not like you’re going to lose the antibodies the next day. So this is very important, particularly for our first responders and our healthcare workers to know who has the antibodies,” DeSantis said.

And in Palm Beach County two days later.

“The antibodies, most people believe, confer immunity, at least we don’t know how long. But, but they’re certain of some level of immunity,” DeSantis said.

“We don’t know at this point if those antibodies mean you are immune to getting the infection again. Sorry. I can’t emphasize that enough,” Harris said.

Dr. Patrice Harris is president of the American Medical Association.

“If this virus acts like other viruses, we may have immunity. But at this point, we just don’t know. So if anybody has any questions or has received an antibody test thus far, we urge them to talk to their physician,” Harris said.

In fact, Harris says the association is not recommending people get antibody tests unless they’re part of a study.

“They should not be used by anyone as a determination of whether they are immune or not or whether or not they can return to work,” Harris said.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to repeated requests for clarification. The Florida Department of Health said it would consider an interview with Surgeon General Scott Rivkees. Ultimately, the department did not make him available.

So why is there so much confusion and why are antibodies suddenly at the center of the debate about how we reopen?

“I think it’s in the semantics of how this is expressed,” Fauci said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci provided this answer in his sworn testimony before the U.S. Senate last week.

“When you say has it been formally proven by long-term natural history studies, which is the only way that you can prove one, is it protective?” Fauci said.

He says it could be, but you need to figure out how long immunity lasts. How durable it is.

And Fauci says before doctors make recommendations based on antibodies, they want to be sure. Here’s what he told the Associated Press last month.

“The worst possibility is if we’re actually wrong about that and we say, ‘OK, you’re protected,’ people go back to work thinking that they’re protected, do not really adhere as closely to the kinds of things that would prevent you from getting infected. And they wound up getting infected,” Fauci said.

For now, Harris says everyone should assume they’re infected. And no one – has immunity.

“We should be wearing those face coverings and we should see wearing face coverings not as infringement on someone’s right, but as a bold action we can take to protect others around us…and just think if we would all take that bold action, it would certainly and could go a long way in reducing the spread. And we should at this point be mindful of large gatherings. OK, to be outside, yes. But stay six feet apart when you are outside. And you may be able to, you know, open sooner or loosen restrictions sooner,” Harris said.

She says those guidelines could change, depending on how widespread COVID-19 is where you live and the amount of testing.

“And so it’s important that whatever jurisdiction is making decisions, that they make decisions based on the science and the evidence and data and not politics,” Harris said.

So how did antibody tests get mixed up in reopening plans?

First let’s look at why we’re even talking about the tests. Antibody testing became an important tool because diagnostic tests were in short supply and we needed to do some kind of surveillance on a disease that was moving silently through the population. Not every infected person shows symptoms.

“We’ve been trying to wrap our heads around what’s happening and who’s infected and to come up with ways to bridge gaps in the availability of widespread testing,” Kobetz said.

Erin Kobetz is the cancer researcher overseeing the University of Miami’s antibody study for Miami-Dade County.

“And the antibody tests emerged as sort of this stopgap measure that could give us some indication of whether people were infected or not,” Kobetz said.

But it doesn’t necessarily tell us when they were infected or if that infection confers long-term immunity.

After you’re infected, like with any virus, your body starts making antibodies to fight it. The first to appear are called Immunoglobulin M. Another antibody, Immunoglobulin G, takes longer to form and represents the later stages of an infection.

“If they have those antibodies plus seven days of no symptoms, they theoretically could return to the frontline safely or more safely than somebody who’s yet not producing those antibodies,” Kobetz said.

But it doesn’t mean you’re immune to COVID-19. To figure out immunity, Kobetz says you need to follow people as the disease runs its course.

“You follow people in the community who are unexposed to the point that they are exposed. And then you continue to follow them over their illness course and to the dissolution of antibodies,” Kobetz said.

Kobetz says the UM study doesn’t have the resources to do that. Dr. Harris, the president of the American Medical Association, says other researchers are racing to conduct those studies. They just take time.

“We have some data from China because they were hit early on. And so the scientific community across the world, across the globe, are looking at this data. But, of course, you know, the longitudinal study is necessary, right, because we won’t be able to say if you have immunity for a year until a year has passed,” Harris said.

Until we can figure out immunity, we’re left with diagnostic testing for sick people and doing contact tracing – to find who sick people had contact with.

And there are questions about how much is needed to prevent a second wave of infections, as we reopen.

This month, the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute helped build a model to predict that. It says we need to be able to identify about half of infected people with symptoms.

Tom Hladish is a researcher at the Institute.

“The amount of testing you need to do scales with the number of people who are infected,” Hladish said.

Over the last two weeks, Florida says it’s averaging close to 19,000 diagnostic tests a day.

“If this blows up and we get a large second wave, then it’s going to rapidly become inadequate,” Hladish said.

There’s also a problem with antibody test accuracy.

In March, the Food and Drug Administration relaxed its rules to make more antibody tests available. Then, inaccurate tests started flooding the market. The FDA now wants proof of the tests’ accuracy. UM said Friday it’s suspending its antibodies study until it can obtain tests that meet the new rules.

Even when antibodies are reliable, there’s another issue. They only work if you still have antibodies.

“Because the window in which you were sick and when you received antibody testing could potentially be too long to pick up a prior infection because the antibodies we know don’t stick around indefinitely,” Kobetz said.

Kobetz says we tend to think testing should give us all the answers. You’re positive or you’re negative. You’re immune or you’re not.

“In medicine we want absolutes because often really critical decisions are based on those absolutes. But like anything, there is an art and a science,” Kobetz said.

And with this pandemic, she says, doctors need to rely on both.

Free Uber rides for vets to and from medical appointments

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

Veterans all over Florida are now able to access a safe and affordable ride service for their medical appointments. It’s a cooperative arrangement between the Florida Veterans Foundation, US Veterans Administration and Uber.

Florida Vets Foundation President Lew Wilson says for too many vets, simply getting around is a real issue.

“They’re transportation-disadvantaged and they need help getting to and from medical appointments. Or if they get discharged from the hospital, they have no way to get home,” Wilson said.

So Wilson’s foundation and the VA have arranged for vets to get free Uber rides up to a $25 value. Vets have a special number to call.

“It’s 1-833-USE-UBER, a toll-free number and they’ll be paired with a live team member who will take down their information and set up the ride and will give them a code at that time,” Wilson said.

There’s more information at the HelpFLvets.org website.

Businesses are reopening, but customers may not be ready to go back

Jim Zarroli, NPR

Marshall Gilmore finally got what he’d been waiting for this month when the state of Mississippi allowed him to offer table service again at his restaurant, the Harvest Grill in Meridian.

Still, many of his tables sit empty, even at limited capacity, and he makes most of his money offering curbside food pickup.

“People are just a little apprehensive about getting out in public. This was a once-in-a-lifetime scare that we all just went through. So everyone’s a little scared,” Gilmore says.

States are slowly beginning to take steps to restart their economies, allowing retail stores, parks and even hair salons to reopen, usually under tightly controlled conditions. But analysts say that businesses and their customers, through their actions, will decide when the economy opens up again.

In an April news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged to get his state “back on its feet by using an approach that is safe, smart and step by step.”

But officials still need to convince people it’s safe to go out again.

“If they don’t feel safe, they’re not going to go to a restaurant, they’re not going to go out, they’re not going to go to retail,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told MSNBC on May 11.

The U.S. economy has undergone a massive slowdown over the past two months, with businesses closing their doors and laying off some 36 million workers. Schools, churches and theaters have shut down en masse.

Much of this began to happen in late February, well before most governors had issued lockdown orders, because people became afraid to go out.

“The fear itself might prevent them from actually going to work, or they might be forced either to stay at home because they are sick or because they have to attend [to] someone in their families or households who is sick,” says Felipe Lozano Rojas, an instructor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Lozano Rojas has studied the relationship between a state’s lockdown orders and how well its economy has fared. In a recent paper, he said there’s little evidence that states with more aggressive social distancing guidelines have seen more layoffs.

“It suggests that maybe reducing these social distancing requirements and reopening schools and allowing businesses to go back may not have as big of an effect in restarting the economies at an individual state as you might have otherwise thought,” adds his co-author, Bruce Weinberg, an economics professor at Ohio State University.

In other words, governors didn’t shut down their states’ economies all by themselves, and they can’t reopen them alone either.

That’s been borne out in states that have begun easing social distancing guidelines. News reports have shown pictures of crowded bars in Wisconsin and busy beaches in Florida, but businesses that have reopened say customers have been slow to return, at least so far.

For example, some states have begun allowing shopping malls and retail stores to reopen this month; traffic so far has been light, says Neil Saunders, who follows the retail industry for the firm GlobalData.

“I think some mall owners and retailers have been taken by surprise as to how slow this build is,” Saunders says. “Consumers are very concerned about coming out. And some are just not confident to go out to locations and shop like they used to.”

Gibson counters governor’s statement that reporters need to vet unemployment applications

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing back on members of the media—saying it’s up to them to vet anecdotal cases of people still waiting for unemployment benefits.

His comments came after a reporter said he delivered 5,000 unanswered claims Monday to the governor’s office. DeSantis maintains there’s usually a reason for delayed benefits—ranging from missing information to applicants being ineligible.

But Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson says it’s the Department of Economic Opportunity’s job to vet applications.

She says not receiving benefits is detrimental to families.

“They’re desperate. People are crying when they get spoken to. They’re sending capital HELP ME. Worried about their home and their rent,” Gibson said.

Gibson says more than 1,000 people have come to Democratic lawmakers asking for help with unanswered unemployment claims. She says some people can’t get past a certain point in the system. Others have gotten past it, but their application is still pending.

DeSantis: Miami-Dade’s case surge does not reflect reality

Daniel Rivero, WLRN

Over the weekend state numbers showed a sharp spike in positive cases of COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County. That was just before the county started to open up retail and other businesses on Monday.

In a press conference, Governor Ron DeSantis said those new numbers don’t reflect the real story.

“It turns out, of the 500 cases reported yesterday from Miami, 400 of them were backlogged cases from three weeks ago from April 24. There is this test center not affiliated with the state who had been running tests, and they just now reported it,” DeSantis said.

The state publishes test results on the day they are retrieved and not on the day the tests were conducted. That means anyone looking at Florida’s so-called curve might be seeing statistical anomalies.

“It’s usually a data dump with backlogged tests, a prison outbreak, nursing home, or sometimes we’ll have new test sites that pop up and you see a surge and then it dies down,” DeSantis said.

Governor DeSantis said despite these bumps, the signs for slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Florida are positive.

State universities ‘Preparing to re-open in the fall’

Jessica Bakeman, WLRN

State higher education officials are working on a plan to reopen campuses in the fall.

Florida’s dozen public universities closed their campuses in mid-March and shifted classes online in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

That includes Florida International in Miami and Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. But come August, their tens of thousands of students could be back on campus.

Leaders of the State University System say they’re preparing to reopen in the fall. The system’s chancellor will provide guidelines during a meeting later this month. And then, in June, leaders of the individual universities will present their own specific reopening plans.

Syd Kitson — chair of the board that oversees the university system — said in a statement, “Our measured and thoughtful approach will be informed by science and medical professionals.”

OneBlood testing all donations for COVID-19 antibodies

Stephanie Colombini, WUSF

OneBlood is now testing all blood donations for coronavirus antibodies.

Spokeswoman Susan Forbes says the group wants to increase its supply of convalescent plasma. That comes from the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients and is showing promising results as an experimental treatment for the disease.

“It’s something that hospitals are using and they want to continue to use with their critically ill coronavirus patients and we have been able to create an inventory of that now and that inventory continues to grow every day,” Forbes said.

If the donor has COVID-19 antibodies, it means they have been exposed to the virus. But scientists say its not clear whether having the antibodies can protect someone from getting the disease again.

Health officials warn about Legionnaire’s Disease as state reopens

Daylina Miller, WUSF

Several types of businesses were permitted to open Monday at 50 percent capacity as part of the next step in Florida’s re-opening plans.

But the Florida Department of Health is warning that buildings that have sat empty for weeks or months need to thoroughly flush out their water systems.

Brian Miller is with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County. He says when water is stagnant for an extended time, there can be a build-up of hazardous metals and bacteria such as Legionella:

“We’ve tried so hard for everybody to stay well during this time; reopening would be a bad place to mess that all up at,” Miller said.

The bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease – a severe form of pneumonia.

The water droplets can be transmitted through shower heads, hot tubs, sink faucets, centralized air-cooling systems, and large plumbing systems.

Thomasville, Georgia forges commercial, community partnerships

Tom Flanigan, WFSU

Businesses in Thomasville have formed a regional network to help first responders and each other as the coronavirus pandemic continues. April Norton is the City of Thomasville’s director of economic and community development.

“We’ve had several of our maker industries that have taken on the role of either donating extra fabric for masks or even doing the sewing themselves of masks for our local healthcare workers. It’s been a transition into what our community needs and also what our customers have been asking for,” Norton said.

Norton says many of Thomasville’s businesses and non-profits posted their needs on social media, attracting other local partners to meet those needs.

To avoid ‘major crowds,’ Miami Beach, restaurants, entertainment options to remain closed until after Memorial Day weekend

Ryan Dailey, WFSU

Miami-Dade and Broward counties are the last two in Florida to join the rest of the state in Governor Ron DeSantis’ phase one of re-opening on Monday.

But with Memorial Day weekend fast approaching, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez says re-opening won’t include beaches and other entertainment options until after the holiday. That’s in an effort to avoid an influx of vacationers.

“Miami Beach has decided to open the beaches after Memorial Day weekend. I think some of the restaurants and things of that nature, the entertainment stuff, is going to open after Memorial Day weekend. I think part of the reason why they’re doing that is, they want to avoid major crowds,” Suarez said.

Miami-Dade has the highest number of COVID-19 cases recorded of any county in Florida at nearly 16,000, and more than 560 deaths. Suarez says the City of Miami is taking a slightly more cautious approach than the rest of Dade County, and most businesses in his city and others like Miami Beach and Hialeah won’t open until Wednesday.

Suarez told Democratic State Representative Shevrin Jones on a conference call the delay is in place so bigger cities can “see how it goes” for the rest of the county.

Florida Keys will reopen to visitors June 1 amid pandemic

The Associated Press

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Keys will reopen to tourists on June 1, more than two months after the island chain closed to visitors to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

The Monroe County Emergency Management said Sunday that checkpoints that barred visitors from coming into the Florida Keys will be removed next month.

The statement says hotels and other lodging establishments will also be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy.

Businesses must implement sanitation stations and follow the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s cleaning guidelines for COVID-19. The Florida Keys have been closed to visitors since March 22.

Florida’s 2 biggest counties hesitantly start to reopen

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Florida’s two biggest counties have joined the rest of the state in reopening nonessential businesses and restaurants after widespread coronavirus closures.

Areas popular among visitors maintained restrictions put in place because of the pandemic.

Miami Beach and the city of Miami were delaying opening retail, hair salons and barbershops until later this week and restaurants, later this month.

In the rest of the state, Florida allowed restaurants and shops to expand capacity from 25% to 50% capacity. The state also allowed gyms, libraries and museums to reopen at limited capacity.

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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