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Orange County Economic Task Force Outlines Seven Recommendations for Reopening; Customers Will Be Able to Report Businesses that Don’t Comply; Places of Worship Should Still Limit Public Gatherings; Your Coronavirus Update for 5/1

Photo: Richard Balog @ricsard
Photo: Richard Balog @ricsard

Monday Begins Phase One of Recovery in Orange County and Throughout the State

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Orange County Economic Task Force Outlines Seven Recommendations for Reopening

The task force presented the guidelines at the Orange County coronavirus update on Friday afternoon. 

Task force chair Tim Giuliani, President and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership said there was robust discussion and debate before deciding on the seven recommendations. 

He said they represent a balance between the need to ensure the protection of employees and the public while preserving the economic livelihood of the community. 

"As the number one tourist destination in the country, we need to go a step further to welcome guests back," said Giuliani. 

The seven guidelines are as follows: 

  1. Practice social distancing
  2. Stay home when feeling sick 
  3. Wear protective face covering
  4. Conduct health screenings
  5. Sanitize and wash hands frequently 
  6. High risk individuals should shelter and work from home when possible 
  7. Temperature checks for staff. If there's a temperature of 100 degrees or higher they must go home.

Giuliani encouraged employers to use the guidelines responsibly and in a way that could support the local economy. He said the county would create a FAQ sheet to answer questions that came up during phase one.

"We'll continue to work on ways to further support businesses and additional recommendations will come as we move into phase one of the reopening," he said. 

Customers Will Be Able to Report Businesses that Don’t Comply

Task force member Evelyn Cardenas, CEO of Central Florida Auto Dealers Association said the task force wanted to build a framework to help businesses comply with these guidelines.

She said she didn't expect there would be problems.

"We believe that businesses are going to raise their hand and they're going to say, 'I commit to comply with the recommendations of the CDC and the recommendations that the Orange County task force has put forward'," she said. 

Cardenas said the task force proposed an educational and marketing campaign that would empower businesses to understand the compliance measures.

She said they also want the county to build a website where businesses could register and publicly commit to following these guidelines. 

"It becomes sort of a hall of fame or a wall of fame if you will. Where businesses register and consumers can come and see if their favorite business is there and once the business is there they can be confident that they can go and patronize that business and their family is going to be safe and they're going to be safe." 

She said a state website will give customers a space to report establishments that are not in compliance. The county will be alerted and will issue a warning.

"We know that the past seven weeks we've experienced some supply chain issues, some economic constraints and so a business may want to comply but may have some constraints or maybe it's an educational component that we need to work with." 

Places of Worship Should Still Limit Public Gatherings 

Task force member Pastor Roderick Zak of Rejoice in the Lord Ministries said the group recommends places of worship avoid holding large services and other events.

Zak said that means gatherings should be limited to ten people or less as recommended by the CDC to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. 

"I know many churches’ governing bodies are already working on approaches and guidelines and best practices to phase in assemblies, but again we're recommending that the churches, the synagogues, the mosques, the houses of worship still stay in this phase," he said. 

He said he was thankful for the sacrifices that religious institutions had already made during holy months and days where they remained closed.

"This is a vital service. We're the ones who are providing hope and much direction and guidance and perseverance and endurance in this process. And I know that the houses of faith will continue to do that." 

Mayor Jerry Demings Asks Governor Ron DeSantis to Open Hair Salons, Barbershops

Mayor Jerry Demings said a county-wide curfew will continue through the end of next week at which time it will be reevaluated.  

Demings said he will issue an executive order within the next 24 hours to incorporate the task force’s recommendations into public law.

He said the group will continue to meet on Wednesday, but he said it was important to give specific guidance to the residents of Orange County before Monday. 

He said similar executive orders have already been put in place in Seminole and Lake counties. 

"Again we have endeavored to try to have consistency to the extent we can within the region, although each county is unique unto itself and those county officials and leaders there have to make decisions on behalf of their county."

Demings said he wrote a letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to do whatever is necessary to re-open hair salons, nail salons and barbershops. 

"There are several other counties in Florida who are making a similar request. And to me that bodes a bit of good news that we're not alone and so hopefully the governor will listen to the requests that we have made at this point."

Key West to skip Hemingway Look-Alike Contest this year

The Associated Press

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Organizers say the coronavirus has forced the cancellation of the 40th annual Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West.

The three-night competition was scheduled for July 23-25.

It typically attracts more than 100 burly, bearded contestants from U.S. and international locales to Sloppy Joe’s Bar, but organizers were concerned about staging the contest amid packed crowds.

The next Hemingway Look-Alike Contest is scheduled July 22-24, 2021.

The contest is traditionally the highlight of the Hemingway Days festival, held around the author’s July 21 birthday each year to salute his literary prowess and Key West lifestyle.

Volusia County beaches to reopen this weekend

By Abe Aboraya, WMFE

Volusia County is opening its beaches this weekend - but vehicles will not be allowed.

The county, home to Daytona Beach, will open a small amount of parking spaces. Roadside parking will be allowed on the right-of-way.

Groups are limited to a maximum of six people and must stay 10 feet apart. Previously, Volusia County beaches were open for physical activity. Now, activities like sunbathing will be allowed.

Some beaches in Brevard County, Indian River County and Flagler County are open.

Check here for more details on Volusia County's details. Additionally, the Volusia County library will be open for computer access by appointment.

Some restaurants in Central Florida won't reopen on Monday

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Restaurants will be allowed to open at 25 percent of their occupancy starting on Monday under Governor Ron DeSantis’ phase one recovery plan. 

But not all Central Florida restaurants will open their doors to the public that day. 

Alexandria Restaurant Partners Dave Nicholas says they won’t open until May 8 and even then it will just be for pickup at their Tu Tu Tango location on I-Drive.

He says if they reopened their dining room they’d only be allowed to serve 50 customers at a time anyway.

“We’re not in a rush. We’re in a rush to get back to normal but we’re not in a rush to do it halfway and jeopardize going backwards.”

Nicholas says he’s already ordered thousands of face masks, gloves and hand sanitizers and enforced an hourly hand washing rule for when they resume normal operations.  

Retail stores can also reopen on Monday at 25 percent occupancy but bars, gyms, and hair salons will remain closed.

Central Florida hospitals prepare to restart elective surgeries

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

Central Florida hospitals are detailing new safety measures put in place as elective surgeries restart next week. AdventHealth will have universal masking of all patients and hospital staff, as well as temperature checks. 

CEO Darryl Tol says all AdventHealth employees will be tested for COVID-19.

“Hospital patients will be tested for COVID-19 as well. We want people coming into the hospital, whether it’s through the emergency room or through a scheduled surgery, we want to do a test, we want to understand if that individual has any kind of positive result," Tol said.

Tol says AdventHealth has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue since March 1. AdventHealth patients will now be allowed to have one visitor, who will also have to wear a mask and have their temperatures checked. 

Officials at both AdventHealth and Orlando Health warn that a recent spike in death rates can not be explained by COVID-19 alone - and worry that people are delaying care for serious illnesses.

Pass the plate? Not yet, as churches rethink their routines

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — As states begin to end lockdowns, churches are figuring out what that means for them.

Hundreds of pastors joined a video conference call organized by the Florida Family Policy Council on Thursday to discuss how to reopen services to potentially thousands of people.

That includes asking people to cover their faces for a baptism or limiting the number of people at a funeral.

It also means setting up new ways of donating to the church, instead of passing a tray from person to person for the offering.

They also talked about different ways to reach people, such as social media, the internet or even “snail mail.”

As Florida tourism falters, public employees fret about jobs

The Associated Press 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Even as Florida begins easing restrictions on business closures, public sector workers are fretting over job losses that could arrive in the weeks and months to come because of the economic downturn.

Already, hundreds of Floridians who worked at schools and in other public jobs have lost their paychecks because of cutbacks.

In Duvall County, about 700 school custodians found out late last week that their services were no longer needed because of school closures.

Earlier this month, the city of Miami Beach announced that it would furlough scores of employees to offset the loss of tourism tax revenues.

Seeing wildlife? Keep socially distant

Cary Barbor, WGCU The widespread quarantine brought on by COVID-19 is affecting how we interact with nearly everyone. Even wildlife.

With many of us humans not being out and about as usual, and fewer cars on the road, some wildlife may be feeling more comfortable roaming into residential areas. On the one hand, it’s a great opportunity to see some animals you may not normally get to see. But the Director of Public Programs at the Audubon Corkscrew Sanctuary Swamp in Naples, Sally Stein, says it’s also important to stay safe. "Things like bobcats, panthers, coyotes even, those are very active during the dawn and the dusk part of the days. So anytime you’re going out early in the morning or late in the evening, it’s good to bring a flashlight, so you can keep aware of what’s out there. If you are walking a dog, you want to keep them on a short leash," Stein says. Stein adds that large mammals just want to go about their business. And they are as wary of us as we are of them. "If you do encounter something at a close proximity, something like a bobcat or a panther, or a bear, you never want to run away. You want to always maintain eye contact and kind of back away and make yourself appear bigger, like pick your arms up really tall," Stein says. In short, Stein says to enjoy getting rare peeks at local wildlife. But do be sure keep up your best social distancing.

When jobless claims are denied

Michelle Corum, WJCT  Millions more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, as the coronavirus weighs on the U.S. economy. This week, a huge number of Floridians needing financial assistance were dismayed to have their claims denied.

Jacksonville resident Alex Praksti, who lost his job at Cowford Chophouse, had technical troubles applying for state unemployment assistance. After finally getting into the “Connect” system, he was told his claim was eligible and would be processed. Monday, Alex was among 40 percent of applicants considered “ineligible” to collect benefits. “I’m hoping there was a system error, or something but I know that there’s a lot of very angry people right now about this," Praksti said. He’s in a Facebook group of others struggling with the same filing problems. "Just major glitches on the site preventing them from reapplying or applying for the federal aid," Praksti said. Even with restaurants allowed to open dining rooms at 25 percent capacity, he’s not holding out hope of returning as a server assistant. “So really until restaurants fully open back up, that job ain’t gonna be there unfortunately," Praksti said. Alex is getting by on family loans and looking at other assistance or extensions on his mounting bills.

Some Tallahassee businesses don't feel safe reopening Monday

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU Monday Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Phase One” for reopening Florida’s economy goes in place. It lets some businesses, such as restaurants and retail, open in a limited capacity. In Tallahassee, not all small businesses agree on whether opening their doors is safe.

Carla Reid, owner of Black Dog Café, says even though she’s had to take out loans to keep her employees paid, her indoor and outdoor spaces will remain closed. “I do not feel that we have enough available testing in our area or in the state of Florida to make reopening businesses a fully safe enterprise and so I’m choosing not to," Reid said. But other businesses, including Andrew’s Downtown say they are planning to reopen. In a Facebook post, Andrew's says its team is working out the specifics of how its reopening will look, but it “can’t wait” to serve customers in what it says will be a “safe and clean” environment.”

Hospitals ready for possible patient surge - Capital Regional Medical Center

Tom Flanigan, WFSU Capital Regional Medical Center is gearing up in case there's a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Like Tallahassee Memorial across town, Capital Regional Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Ann Smith says there have been relatively few coronavirus cases so far. "We have not seen a surge yet. We still anticipate there possibly could be one, but nothing like the magnitude we discussed five weeks ago,"Smith said. Smith says that's when the hospital's preparations really got underway. "We actually started five, nearly six weeks ago, seven days a week preparing for this. Some of it is in regards to equipment and some is in regards to staffing," Smith said. Capital Regional's Associate Chief Nursing Officer Laurie Sumner was part of the team working on the equipment side of the ledger. "The number of ventilators that we had, the cardiac monitoring capability that we had. We really had to look at all kinds of equipment, particularly if we were going to go into those non-traditional areas to ensure that we had what we'd normally have in our critical care area," Sumner said. But Smith emphasizes that having plenty of equipment doesn't mean much if sufficient numbers of hospital staff aren't trained and ready to use it. "We have taken staff from other areas, like the emergency department and surgical services, which is not seeing elective surgeries, and really started cross-training all of that staff to do a type of team nursing that would allow us to actually quadruple our ICU capacity. Right now we have 20 critical care beds and we were anticipating going close to 80 critical care patients if we needed to," Smith said. Of course, more critical care patients means more stress on staff. And Associate Chief Nursing Officer Laurie Sumner says Capital Regional is also beefing up its ability to care for the caregivers. "We have our Employee Assistance Program that's available to all of our employees. We also have a specific Nurse Care Program available 24/7 for our nursing staff," Sumner said. Although the consensus at both of Tallahassee's large full-service hospitals is that all of the preparations they've been making to handle a sudden surge of coronavirus patients won't be needed at all.

More than 432,000 jobless claims filed in Florida last week

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Labor officials say more than 432,000 Floridians filed for unemployment benefits last week.

It was the most of any U.S. state.

It's the latest wave of jobless claims that have swamped the state’s beleaguered unemployment system since coronavirus-caused lockdowns closed theme parks, shuttered restaurants and halted travel.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that 432,465 initial claims for jobless benefits were filed in Florida last week. That's down slightly from the previous week’s more than half-million claims.

More than 2 million jobless claims have been filed in Florida since mid-March, and more than 835,000 claims have been verified by state workers.

Virus-related delays for Universal parks in Florida, Japan

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The company that owns Universal theme parks around the world says it’s delaying construction on a fourth theme park in Florida.

Comcast officials also said Thursday that the opening of a Nintendo-themed park in Japan will be pushed back by a few months.

The announcement on an earnings call came as the company's U.S. theme parks have been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus crisis.

Company officials gave no indication when they would reopen. Comcast's CEO says the company’s theme parks team is focused on putting in the right protocols, infrastructure and technology to ensure safety once they reopen.

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

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.