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Inspector General To Investigate Uemployment System; Carnival To Resume Cruises August; Elective Surgeries Resume: Your Coronavirus Update For 05/04


Gov. DeSantis pledges investigation into broken unemployment system

Matthew Peddie, WMFE Governor Ron DeSantis is ordering the Inspector General to look into the state’s flawed unemployment system.  More than one million unemployment claims have been filed, and about 44% have been paid according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.  At a press conference Monday evening, DeSantis said it was clear by the end of March that the unemployment system “wasn’t going to cut it.”  He wants to know why the state paid $77.9 million dollars for the system.  “It's one thing to not have a good system if you go on the cheap or whatever, but to pay that much money, and then all the problems we've had to deal with, you know, it's a big problem," said DeSantis. "And so I am going to be directing the Inspector General, to do an investigation into how the Connect system was paid for.” DeSantis said trying to fix the unemployment system was “probably the number one thing” he had been working on through the pandemic other than health.

Processing claims 'cumbersome'- Satter

Jonathan Satter, who was put in charge of the Department of Economic Opportunity just over two weeks ago, said processing the claims is time consuming. He said claims that are incomplete have to be processed manually.  “We can do about 10,000 a day, manually, but is a cumbersome effort when you have that many in the queue. So we think there are a large number of duplicates, and that is the confirmed, unique claims submitted, which is just over 1,050,00."

Carnival plans to resume cruises in August

Matthew Peddie, WMFE Carnival Cruise Line said it will resume cruises out of Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston on August 1st.  That’s one week after a CDC no-sail order is set to expire.  In a statement, Carnival Cruise Line said it will phase in a resumption of North American service with eight ships sailing out of the three ports. 

Cycle power: Bikes emerge as a post-lockdown commuter option

The Associated Press

As countries across the world seek to get their economies back on track after coronavirus lockdowns are over, bicycles are being seen as a way for some commuters to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses.

Cycling activists from Germany to Peru are trying to use the moment to get more bike lanes, or widen existing ones, even if it's just a temporary measure to make space for commuters on two wheels.

The standouts are Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where half of the daily commuters are cyclists, and the Netherlands, with its vast network of bike lanes. But countries elsewhere are catching up at different speeds.

How coronavirus is impacting one Florida woman's lupus treatment

Cathy Carter, WUSF From job loss, to balancing work from home to the isolation of following stay-at-home orders, coronavirus has changed our everyday lives. Today, we meet Debi Butler of Pinellas County. Butler works part-time as a brand ambassador, helping promote products in Tampa Bay. Like many in the gig economy, her work has stopped for now. But losing income wasn't her biggest worry. In her own words, Butler shares how COVID-19's demand on a drug is hurting her ability to treat her own illness:

“Thirty years ago, I was forced into retirement due to systemic lupus. I returned to work though because disability income doesn't cover the bills anymore. When COVID-19 turned into a pandemic, I had one contract to fulfill, but all other gigs were canceled at that time. But what scared me most was catching the virus. Lupus had left me with half a lung on one side and hearing that this virus attacked the lungs, it was difficult for me to get past the fear of what catching it might meant to me personally. Then, during one of the president's press briefings, the word hydroxychloroquine came out of his mouth. No one knows that word, and even fewer can pronounce it correctly, except for one exclusive part of the population. That's those of us with an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and a few other sister diseases. Hydroxychloroquine is one of the only medications that can actually treat lupus, which is amazing because there is no cure right now. I only have four pills left. That's two days of treatment for me. My pharmacy and I are currently playing Wheel of Fortune to see how long it takes to hit the jackpot and find more hydroxychloroquine for me. It may get here tomorrow, next week, maybe a month. Who knows? So what really happens if I go without it? Why is this such a big deal? I share this not to gain sympathy, but so that the facts are understood. Hydroxychloroquine is used in autoimmune diseases because it may actually lessen the cause of the disease or even arrest it for rheumatoid arthritis. It helps keep down the swelling and disfigurement that can happen for lupus patients. It helps in the same way because arthritis frequently accompanies it as well. But mostly, if you're lucky, it relieves a tremendous amount of pain that goes along with both diseases. I'm assuming that that's why it's being sought after by those with COVID-19. We in the RA and lupus communities live with that pain daily, so we understand why it might be desired, but until it's proven that the use outweighs the dangers, not only are you putting yourself at risk, you are putting countless others at risk of becoming sicker than they are now. My hope is that by understanding how important this medication is to so many others, people will stop hoarding it and wait for official approval for use in COVID-19."

Birx on 'stay-at-home' protests: 'devastatingly worrisome'

Jason Slotkin, NPR The coordinator for White House coronavirus response efforts says it is "devastatingly worrisome" to see crowds of demonstrators protesting stay-at-home orders while also refusing to follow social distancing guidelines or wear masks. Asked about  demonstrations last week where crowds swarmed Michigan's capitol building — some, brandishing firearms — Dr. Deborah Birx told  Fox News Sunday  host Chris Wallace that protesters may inadvertently jeopardize the health and lives of their family members. "It's devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very — or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives," said Birx. Thursday's protests in Michigan followed the decision by the state's governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, to extend stay-at-home orders, even as some states have begun the process of re-opening their economies. Birx said regardless of where states are in their response to the virus, Americans should continue observing the recommendations of public health officials. "We also made it very clear to the American people, this is what you need to continue to do to protect yourself. You need to continue to social distance. You need to continue to practice scrupulous handwashing," Birx said. In Florida,  Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican,  issued an executive order to allow restaurants and retail shops in most of the state to re-open Monday — albeit at limited capacity and with social distancing measures. In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has allowed  stores, restaurants and movie theatersto re-open, though in the six days since that order was announced Dallas County  has twice seen its daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a new high. Georgia has allowed tattoo parlors, gyms and barber shops to reopen. On barber shops in particular, Birx said that even with masks, it was still not advisable to get a professional trim. "It's safer but we've made it clear that that is not a good phase 1 activity," Birx said referring to the  phased re-openingguidance by the White House for states. Other states which have been slower to re-open have seen protests, with recent demonstrations in several states including Oregon, Wisconsin and California, where hundreds amassed in  Huntington Beach on Friday to protest state-mandated beach closures. Wallace also asked Birx about statements by President Trump that projections for how many Americans would die from the coronavirus have dropped drastically. Early projections put the expected number of deaths between 100,000 and 240,000, but late last month the president put the number lower,  saying, "we're going toward 50- or 60,000 people." Birx maintained that original projections "have always been between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost, and that's with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance." As of Sunday,  more than 67,000 deaths have been recorded in the U.S.

DeSantis: Florida gets 200,000 antibody blood tests

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF After weeks of shutdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus, Governor Ron DeSantis says elective surgeries are ready to begin again on Monday. He discussed ‘phase one' of reopening the state during a visit to Halifax Health in Daytona Beach Sunday. He pointed to the hospital's protocol - and its supply of personal protective equipment - as why this hospital and others can resume non-emergency surgeries. “The hospitals when they’re doing it, they’re certifying effectively, that they do have space in the hospital, that if you did have increase in COVID patients they can handle it and they have adequate PPE, they’re not going to run to the state for PPE,” DeSantis said. DeSantis said Halifax Health is doing it right, protecting those most vulnerable to coronavirus. Halifax officials said other steps they've taken include making sure COVID-19 patients from long-term care facilities test negative twice before being released. And it created a separate wing of the hospital to isolate COVID-19 patients and the staff treating them. In mid-March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended a delay of elective procedures across the country to preserve protective equipment for hospital workers, and to make sure healthcare workers were available to care for an expected onslaught of novel coronavirus patients. DeSantis also announced Sunday that Florida has received 200,000 antibody blood tests to determine whether people have been exposed to the novel coronavirus without knowing it. He said he would start distributing the tests, first to healthcare workers, and then perhaps make an antibody test lane at drive-through testing sites across the state. He expects them to be distributed in the next few days. “It'll probably be a combination of providing some to hospitals so that the healthcare workers can get tested, doing a lane in our drive-thru test sites so that if people do want to get the antibodies, they can come and get the antibody testing,” he said. He said the information from those tests is key to helping researchers determine just how widespread COVID-19 has been in the state. And he noted that Florida may team up with universities to conduct further research. Antibody tests in other cities and states have helped reveal a much higher number of people have been exposed to coronavirus without knowing they were infected.

DeSantis wants to reopen salons, barber shops

Julio Ochoa, WUSF Governor Ron DeSantis pledged to work to reopen hair and nail salons and barber shops during a roundtable in Orlando this weekend. The personal grooming industries were left out of the first phase of the governor's plan to reopen the state. While meeting with several business owners in a barber shop, DeSantis acknowledged how essential personal grooming services are. "I mean I haven't had a haircut in like two months, not like that's the important thing, but I mean I'm coming on like a mullet almost with how much my hair has grown." The salon owners pledged to require masks for employees and customers and that they would practice social distancing as much as possible. Customers would be required to wait in their cars until called for an appointment. DeSantis said those recommendations could help develop a set of best practices before reopening personal grooming shops.

Medical students take Hippocratic Oath online

Daniel Rivero, WLRN Medical students at Barry University took the Hippocratic Oath during a virtual ceremony last Friday. It’s not a requirement to practice medicine, but the oath is a custom that’s recited before students become doctors. Dr. Bryan Caldwell is the dean of the school of pediatric medicine, and he delivered the oath.

The 45 students will officially become doctors during another virtual graduation ceremony to take place on May 9.

Antsy businesses, residents prep for Florida reopening

The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Businesses across much of Florida are busy preparing to reopen under new restrictions.

Restaurants spaced out tables and salon owners begged to be considered in Monday’s cautious phase-one.

At Buya Ramen restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg, beverage director Ryan Pines hopes the measures will boost the bottom line. Buya Ramen and other restaurants will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity Monday, and allow seating outside.

Floridians are antsy to work, to live, to get back to normal — whatever that will look like. But Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s deliberately taking things slowly. The state had just over 36,000 cases, including some 600 new cases Sunday.

Battered global tourism industry makes reopening plans

The Associated Press

The battered global tourism industry is facing unprecedented uncertainty in the wake of the new coronavirus. Many believe it will take years for the industry to get back to the strong demand it was seeing just six months ago.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts global tourist arrivals will fall 30% this year from the record 1.5 billion in 2019.

Cruise ships are docked and airlines have grounded nearly two-thirds of their planes.

Tourism officials say hotels, theme parks and other destinations are using this time to figure out what reopening will look like. Hilton, Marriott and Airbnb just released new cleaning guidelines, while casinos say they may sanitize dice between rolls in Las Vegas.

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