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Your Tuesday Update: DeSantis Says Alcohol Delivery Might Stick Around, Virus Sidelines Jury Trials Until July, More than 37,000 Floridians Have Coronavirus

The Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
The Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Children of all ages are having a hard time processing how coronavirus has changed their lives

Mary Shedden, WUSF

According to psychologist Kimberly Renk, parents can help kids organize those feelings.

But the University of Central Florida professor says parents first need to ask a few questions about how the pandemic is affecting them.

"Am I having a struggle? Do I need to do anything for me to be more effective with my children? And then take care of themselves first, and that then puts them in a safe place where they can then help their children manage whatever feelings they are having," Renk said.

She adds there's no playbook for parents dealing with the unprecedented situations brought on by coronavirus. Parents should trust themselves, she says, as they know their children best.

Renk shared her advice earlier today on The State We're In - a Facebook Live show from WUSF and WMFE in Orlando.

To see the full conversation and more of her advice, visit The State We're In Facebook page.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations continue in Central Florida, despite coronavirus

Talia Blake, WMFE

As many businesses reopen under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ phase one plan, some restaurants are looking to keep their Cinco de Mayo traditions going. 

Cilantro’s Taqueria in Orlando normally throws a big party, but with restrictions on capacity, they’re changing how they do it.

Manager Francisco Almanzar says they’ve been getting calls to see what they are planning. 

"Because last year, things got a little crazy here. So, we have around five or six tables inside. Then, if it gets really busy, we might just put tables in the parking lot. And people could just do whatever they want in the parking lot, separate. We're gonna spread them apart," Almanzar said.

Almanzar says the tables inside will be set six feet apart. 

He says when they opened on Monday, they had customers all day almost as if they’ve been waiting for the reopen. 

Numbers update: More than 37,000 Floridians have coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida now has 37,439 coronavirus cases, with the death toll climbing to 1,471, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health.

6,330 people have been hospitalized.

Orange County has 1,380 cases, the most in Central Florida, and 257 people have been hospitalized. Thirty-five people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County.

Osceola County has 504 cases and 128 hospitalizations. Nine people have died in Osceola County from COVID-19.

Sumter County, home to the sprawling retirement community of The Villages, has 232 confirmed cases and 41 hospitalizations. Lake County has 223 cases and 59 hospitalizations. Fourteen people have died in each county from COVID-19.

Other Central Florida counties:

  • Seminole- 397 cases, 85 hospitalizations, 8 deaths
  • Volusia- 509 cases, 88 hospitalizations, 27 deaths
  • Brevard- 310 cases, 48 hospitalizations, 8 deaths
  • Polk- 540 cases, 175 hospitalizations, 28 deaths
  • Marion- 189 cases, 28 hospitalizations, 5 deaths

Crowds return to beaches with social distancing warnings

The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Officials in Volusia County issued some 900 social distancing warnings to beachgoers who returned to the coastline over the weekend.

Beach safety director Ray Manchester says for the most part beachgoers spaced out and kept in small groups during the first weekend the beaches opened for almost all activities.

He says the warnings aren't citations or fines, but rather verbal warnings issued via megaphones.

In addition, lifeguards made about 100 water rescues over the weekend. So far, officials are keeping the beaches open only for people. But a plan is in the works to allow vehicles back on the beaches.

Virus outbreak sidelines Florida jury trials till July

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak has sidelined Florida jury trials until at least early July and pushed back several other court deadlines.

Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady also said in an order Monday that more types of hearings and other court business would be conducted remotely.

This includes non-jury trials if all parties agree, some arraignments, status and motion hearings, and pretrial conferences.

The Supreme Court issued a statement saying the virus outbreak has made jury trials unsafe at the moment. No jury trials will be held until at least July 2.  Some remote hearings may continue after the pandemic is over.

Watchdog concerned over Census Bureau's vetting of workers

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A new watchdog report says almost 300 people working for the U.S. Census Bureau last year had “major” issues with their background checks.

The Office of Inspector General report released last week says a lack of vetting oversight could pose risk to the public and the agency as it hires and deploys hundreds of thousands of census takers for the 2020 census.

About 70 of those workers were in the field last fall verifying addresses ahead of the once-a-decade count.

More than a dozen other workers with some kind of derogatory information in their background checks had access to Census Bureau facilities and information systems.

Governor DeSantis hints alcohol delivery from restaurants may stick around

Ryan Dailey, WFSU
One added permission for Florida restaurants brought on by COVID-19’s disruption, might be sticking around: alcohol delivery. In his March 20 executive order closing restaurants’ dining rooms, Governor Ron DeSantis permitted delivery of adult beverages. He says it’s something he wouldn’t mind making permanent, even as the state enters its phased reopening of the economy: "I allowed them to deliver alcohol, I think that’s been pretty popular – I think we’re going to keep that going, maybe we’ll have the legislature change the law on that," DeSantis said. Speaking in Sarasota today DeSantis was flanked by area lawmakers, Republican Senate President Bill Galvano and Senator Joe Gruters, as well as Democratic Representative Wengay Newton. Since the beginning of this week, restaurants in the state have been permitted to open at 25 percent indoor capacity and provide outside seating, except in three South Florida counties.

Farmers now eligible for SBA loan program

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Farmers impacted by the coronavirus can now apply for the federal economic injury disaster loan. Historically, they weren’t considered eligible, but new legislation from Congress has changed that.

The U.S Small Business Administration—or SBA—will be accepting new applications for the economic injury disaster loan program.

This will be on a limited basis and available only to agriculture businesses. That includes businesses producing food or fiber, as well as ranching and raising livestock. Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried, is encouraging farmers to apply immediately.

Another federal program, the Paycheck Protection Program, ran out of funds in less than 14 days during its first round.

Price gouging refunds continue coming in

Tom Urban, WLRN

New numbers show Floridians have now received nearly $350,000 dollars in refunds from businesses, related to products that had seen their prices inflated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida’s price gouging hotline has been contacted 4,200 times since a state of emergency was declared in mid-March, due to the coronavirus.

The attorney general's office has now issued 70 subpoenas as part of investigations into price gouging on high-demand goods.

Items covered by Florida’s price-gouging law include protective masks, sanitizing and disinfecting supplies, commercial cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits.

Attorney General Ashley Moody says her office will continue to go after those looking to take advantage of the current situation.

“People that are going to use this crisis to profit while other people are just trying to protect themselves and their families, they need to be put on notice that we haven’t stopped working. We’ll come for them," Moody said.

Those who violate Florida’s price gouging law face penalties of $1,000 dollars per violation.

FDA cracks down on antibody tests for coronavirus

Richard Harris, NPR

The Food and Drug Administration is stiffening its rules to counteract what some have called a Wild West of antibody testing for the coronavirus.

These tests are designed to identify people who have been previously exposed to the virus. The FDA said more than 250 developers have been bringing products to the market in the past few weeks.

In a rush to make antibody tests available as quickly as possible, the FDA had set a low standard for these tests. Manufacturers were supposed to submit their own information about the accuracy of their wares, but the agency had no standards for what would be acceptable. Companies weren't allowed to claim the tests were authorized by the FDA, under initial guidance issued in mid-March.

Now the FDA is telling manufacturers that if they want their tests to remain on the market, they must meet minimum quality standards and submit a request for emergency use authorization, a temporary route to market for unapproved products when others aren't available. The EUA involves a lower standard than the usual FDA clearance or approval.

The FDA said 12 manufacturers have already opted to request EUA's for their products. More than 100 other producers have been talking to the agency about using this process, said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. He spoke on a press call Monday. Companies have 10 days to submit that request.

"Our expectation is that those who can't [meet the new standard] will withdraw their products from the market and we will be working with them to help them do that," he said.

These tests are now so widespread that people can order them from lab giants Quest or LabCorp. The tests can cost more than $100. Though the FDA's original guidance calls for these tests to be run by a certified lab, the kits themselves are simple to use and have been readily available.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding these tests, they have substantial limitations. Though people who test positive for antibodies have in most cases been exposed to the coronavirus, scientists don't know whether that means those people are actually immune from the coronavirus, and if so for how long.

"Whether this is the ticket for someone to go back to work [based solely on an antibody test result], my opinion on that would be no," Hahn said.

The tests may be more useful when combined with information from a standard coronavirus diagnostic test, or in someone who has symptoms, or if the results have been confirmed with a different antibody test. That "would dramatically increase the accuracy of those tests," said Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Antibodies are a potentially valuable research tool, and can be used to determine the prevalence of a disease in a population. In that circumstance, individual false results are less important. New York State used antibody tests to determine that about 20 percent of people in New York City have already been exposed to the coronavirus.

In California, researchers have attempted to measure the prevalence of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County in the Bay Area. Those unpublished results have garnered criticism because even a test that's more than 99 percent accurate can produce many false positive results when used to survey hundreds or thousands of people.

In the face of this criticism, the authors of the Santa Clara study have posted revised results acknowledging the high degree of uncertainty in their findings. Those findings haven't been peer-reviewed.

The emergency use authorization is only valid during the time of the national emergency. "Once the national emergency ends, the EUA authorizations end as well," Shuren said. Companies that want to keep marketing these tests will need to get them approved through the regular, more stringent FDA process.

FDA officials say they will continue to crack down on companies that falsely claim their tests are approved by the FDA, or that market them for home use, which isn't currently allowed.

25,000 Orange County Schools staff will return to work this week to close out the school year

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Orange County Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says 20 percent of the 25,000 county school staff will return to work this week to help close out the school year. 

“Overdue work orders in excess of 400 needs to be done. Buses need to be serviced for our eventual return to servicing, and we have to continue our grab-and-go program which is currently being staffed largely by a temp service helping us keep those meals going to our young people."

She says the district continues to distribute meals to students. So far, over 2 million meals have been delivered. She says high school graduations will be held online the first week of June. 

The county is holding some dates in July in case there’s a chance students can participate in a face-to-face ceremony. 

AdventHealth restarts elective surgeries

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

AdventHealth began elective procedures yesterday as hospitals throughout the state opened their doors to these patients as part of Governor Ron DeSantis’ phase one reopening plan.

CEO Darryl Tol says patients can expect safety procedures in place to stop infection. That includes temperature checks as they enter the hospital and virtual check-ins.

“Quite a number of things will feel different. Some we think people will like better like the virtual check-in and check-out process.”

Tol says the AdventHealth hospital system across seven counties has 64 COVID-19 patients and they continue to see that number decrease.

He says they’re prepared in the event of a second wave of cases with more PPE and a surge plan that will allow them to double the number of available ICU beds. 

Some 2020 grads will take victory lap at Daytona speedway

The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — School officials say graduates at two Florida high schools won't be taking the traditional walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

They'll drive across the finish line at the Daytona Beach International Speedway on May 31.

The Flagler County School District announced Matanzas High will graduate at 11 a.m., followed by Flagler-Palm Coast High at 4.

Each graduate will be allowed one car. The ceremony will be simulcast via radio inside the speedway and will be live-streamed on the district's website.

The schools were originally scheduled to graduate on May 28.

Census field operations restart this week on limited basis

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Census Bureau is restarting some work in the field for the 2020 census on a limited basis after field operations were shut down for a month and a half because of the pandemic.

The Census Bureau said Monday that starting this week workers in a small number of cities will begin dropping off 2020 census packets at the front doors of homes that don’t receive their mail there.

About 5% of households are counted this way. Field operations for the 2020 census were halted in mid-March as governors and mayors issued stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

DeSantis defends efforts to fix unemployment problems

Tom Urban, WLRN
Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday defended his administration’s efforts to get the state’s much-maligned unemployment system to handle the unprecedented surge in applications caused by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Democrats blasted the management of the system, which has had nearly 40 percent of applicants rejected and more than 200,000 claims unprocessed. With more than one million unique jobless claims filed since mid-March and Monday marking the start of a soft economic reopening of the state, DeSantis said the claims numbers are starting to look better, and he hopes many people can soon return to work. Speaking to reporters at the capitol, DeSantis again promised to require a review of the history of the $77.9-million-dollar CONNECT online unemployment system, which went live in 2013 under then-Governor Rick Scott. “This is unprecedented. Any system was going to have some problems, but if we had anything other than three or four percent unemployment, this system was going to be a problem. Even in a mild recession, this would have been a problem. So, that’s not a good use of taxpayer money," DeSantis said. Complaints continue to come in, with many people being deemed ineligible for benefits. Overwhelmed by claims starting in mid-March, the Department of Economic Opportunity opened a backup online site for new claims and allowed people to fill out paper applications. Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who was put in charge of the system a few weeks ago, says that presents other challenges. “Sometimes, people don’t give us an email address, or perhaps we have a wrong phone number. With the volume of applications that we have received, we are going to have a few errors. And, it’s not just a few, it’s thousands of errors where we’ve got to go back and do some cleanup," Satter said. DeSantis also says he will consider a request to bar from future contracts with the state Deloitte Consulting, which had the largest portion of the contract in setting up the CONNECT system. Democrats said after DeSantis’ press conference they would welcome legislative hearings on CONNECT, before adding that first the governor should concentrate on the current demands on the system.

Sarasota theater troupe adapts show to virtual stage

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota is trying to let its audience know what it's doing, both online and through newsletters, while the COVID-19 pandemic prevents the show from going on. Sara Brunow, the Muriel O’Neil education and engagement director for the company, said one way they’re reaching out is with videos created at home by Nia Sciaretta, Asolo Rep’s production stage manager. In Nia Explains It All, Sciaretta quickly provides context and information about terms like “doofer.” She said it’s a portmanteau word, which essentially describes a rehearsal prop that will “do for now." "It's really kind of interesting is that we have educators who are using the Nia Explains It All videos as part of their curriculum. And there's some really interesting conversations coming out of that, you know, how you have your students do a doofer challenge, where they have to, you know, using the materials in their home, create a pocket watch or something along those lines,” Brunow said. Brunow said #AsoloRepEngage is making special opportunities available to the audience. “People can listen to it and they can hear interviews with directors for the upcoming shows, and they can share tidbits about theater in a way that you wouldn't get by just coming to a performance,” Brunow said. The company is also making “nuggets” from past musical performances available to the audience on Mondays and asking for input from whomever is tuning in, so Asolo Rep can find out what the audience wants to see and hear until they can make their way to the theater once again.

'Hospitals are safe’ Memorial Healthcare System says as it reopens for elective procedures

Caitie Switalski, WLRN Memorial Healthcare System is preparing its six hospitals in southern Broward County to reopen for elective procedures and outpatient medical care starting next week. Dr. Stanley Marks is Memorial's Chief Medical Officer. He spoke at a news conference yesterday. "Our COVID-19 patients, and we’ve had a fair number… are separated from the general patient population that are in our healthcare system. And they will remain separated.” Doctors are concerned for people with heart disease and stroke symptoms who are staying away because of fear of the virus. Dr. Randy Katz is the Medical Director of Emergency Services at Memorial Regional Hospital. "The number of strokes and heart attacks we are treating has decreased, but we know that these things don’t go on a vacation during a pandemic. And it’s heartbreaking to see patients arriving in the emergency department seeking care too late for us to help them," Katz said. Memorial Healthcare System has a center set up outside each hospital for pre-procedural and preoperative testing.

Pinellas County beaches reopen

Julio Ochoa, WUSF Pinellas County's beaches were busy yesterday, the first day that people were allowed back on the sand since the coronavirus pandemic shut them down in March. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says beaches in Madeira, Pass-a-Grille and Bellair had reached capacity early on. Others, like Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, limited access to 50 percent capacity and had to turn people away. Gualtieri says the restrictions likely led to bigger crowds on the Dunedin Causeway. He says once the beaches reach capacity, deputies in parking lots direct people to move on. "This is how we're going to manage this, is when we see areas that are full, the deputies are going to shut it down and tell people to move to another area so we don't have too many people on the beach where they can't do anything other than be on top of each other," Gualtieri said. Pinellas has 300 law enforcement officers patrolling beaches, with every beach access point and parking lot staffed. Overall, Gualtieri says, people are being compliant and following social distancing rules.

Florida takes hesitant step toward reopening amid outbreak

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida has partially reopened, allowing restaurants and shops in most of the state to open at 25% capacity in hopes of kick-starting the ailing economy after weeks of coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The state implemented Phase One of the reopening on Monday, allowing museums and libraries to open at limited capacity and elective surgeries to resume.

Sports teams were also allowed to resume play, but without spectators. The loosened restrictions at restaurants and stores don't apply to Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach counties, because the outbreak has been worse there and officials want more time to ensure it is under control.

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

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.