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Your Friday Update: DeSantis Says Barber Shops, Hair and Nail Salons Will Open Monday, Tourism Industry Faces Biggest Impacts From Coronavirus, Mentorship Program Offers Grants to Struggling College Students

Photo: Jan Kopriva
Photo: Jan Kopriva

Governor Ron DeSantis will reopen barber shops, hair salons, and nail salons Monday as part of his phase one plan for recovery

Danielle Prieur, WMFE J. Henry owner of J. Henry’s Barber Shop in Orlando made the announcement for the governor on Twitter late Friday.  Henry said business owners would be required to operate with safety protocols in place. 

“Getting back to work we want to be safe and continue to wear our gloves, wear our masks, book by appointments and keep the community safe. I know everyone is happy to come out and support the barber shop, but we want to continue to keep one thing in mind. Safety is always first," Henry said. DeSantis visited J. Henry with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings last weekend to discuss reopening the establishments.  Restaurants and retail stores are currently operating in the state at 25 percent of their usual indoor capacity.

Tourism is one of Florida’s biggest industries. It’s also facing some of the biggest impacts from efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Regan McCarthy, WFSU

As the coronavirus spread throughout Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis raised concerns about the impact tourism—mainly from spring breakers—could have on efforts to “flatten the curve.” DeSantis said large groups on the beach, as well as crowded bars and restaurants, could put more people at risk of contracting the coronavirus. “Missing out on staying out and drinking at a bar—that is not the end of the world. You’re going to have time to do that for the rest of your life. What you don’t want is to be somebody who is helping to spread this illness—particularly if this virus ends up infecting people that are frail and that may not have immune systems that are capable of dealing with it. So all this spring break, as important as that is for a college kid, that is not as important as protecting the public here," DeSantis said. Although he’s faced criticism from some who say he didn’t move fast enough, DeSantis eventually ordered beaches, bars and even vacation rentals to close. He also put rules in place requiring people traveling into Florida from coronavirus hotspots like New York and New Orleans to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. Although he said, he’d rather they didn’t come at all. “All we’re trying to do is keep our residents here safe. If you’re coming from one of the epicenters, then we probably think you should follow the directions of your state and local officials and if they’re telling you to shelter in place then do that, but don’t come here because we’re trying to protect our folks," DeSantis said. Since then, some of those rules have begun to loosen. Jacksonville Beach, one of the first in the state to reopen, garnered national media attention when visitors flocked to the shore. But Staci Mellman, the Chief Marketing Officer for Florida’s tourism development arm, Visit Florida, says for the most part, families don’t feel ready yet to travel. “Right now, people are still in the mindset, look there are people who are willing to travel, but the majority of people are still in the mindset that safety is home," Mellman said. Mellman says she expects that sentiment to change over time and says data suggest as it does, people will be most interested in traveling to nearby places first. So, Mellman says Visit Florida is preparing to launch an unprecedented campaign. “Once we begin to see that people are open to travel and residents are open to visitors as well as there is a critical mass of Florida experiences available to travelers we’re going to move into phase two. Phase two is going to be an instate marketing effort that will promote travel within the state. That’s unique because we’ve never done something like that before, but this is a time that we’ve never seen before," Mellman said. During a presentation to Visit Florida’s executive board, Mellman said campaigns are still out there in an effort to keep Florida front of mind for out of state travelers, but they’re not advocating for travel right now. She says plans to pursue domestic and international travelers could be on hold for awhile. Visit Florida has faced pushback from members of the legislature in recent years as lawmakers considered fully cutting the organization’s funding. CEO Dana Young says Visit Florida’s efforts will prove essential to helping the industry recover. She says the coronavirus has devastated Florida tourism. “It is a pandemic that has decimated our travel industry and at this point Visit Florida’s mission has never been more important than it is now," Young said. Workers in the hospitality industry are struggling to get unemployment benefits while they wait for their jobs to open back up. Many hotels remain closed. Some restaurants and shops have opened in a limited capacity. So far more than a million people in Florida have filed unemployment claims.

Take Stock in Students mentorship program offers grants to struggling Central Florida college students

Lynn Hatter, WFSU

The interruption of the spring semester has caused disruption and uncertainty in the lives of college students. Some may not be able to return to school in the Summer and Fall.

Take Stock in Students, the state’s mentoring partnership program, is granting an average of $250 dollars to mitigate some of the day-to-day expenses students are struggling with, like transportation, books, and housing.

Take Stock President Jillian Hasner says the group reached out to its scholars and invited them to apply for the money:

“A lot of our students are homeless, foster care students. They come from low-income families. A lot of families that aren’t together or intact…and so our students are really struggling," Hasner said.

There are currently more than 6,000 Take Stock in College scholars across Florida. The group hopes to be able to do another round of awards.

Dental offices in Central Florida reopen as part of Governor Ron DeSantis’ phase one plan for recovery

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Dr. Brett Zak of Altamonte Springs Family Dentist says it could take them several months to catch up with the backlog of patients. 

Zak says they’ve put extra safeguards in place to protect patients and staff in case of a second wave of coronavirus cases. 

“For instance we’re spacing patients out. We’re allowing more time in between patients, we’ve created a work flow where the patients almost as if you were to go to a grocery store or a Publix. They’re kind of in one door and out the other. You know it’s kind of a work flow throughout the office," Zak said.

Zak says his office continued to see emergency patients during the state-wide stay-at-home order. 

He says people should reschedule their cleaning appointments to prevent tooth decay and gum loss and promote overall health. 

Disney Springs musician misses connecting with audiences in person, is ready for May 20 reopening

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

The phased reopening May 20 includes a number of retail and restaurants owned by third-parties. 

Disney says the reopening will feature enhanced safety measures, like increased cleaning, face coverings for staff and patrons along with limited contact with guests. 

Performers like musician Bryan Malpass played at Disney Springs before the closing. He’s stayed connected with fans through Facebook but misses seeing his fans live. 

“The actual interaction -- having lots of people having a good time -- not having to look down and see the messages to see what’s going on," Malpass said.

During the initial opening phase, Disney Springs will have limitations on capacity, parking and operating hours. It’s unclear when musicians will be allowed back. 

Disney’s parks and hotels shut down back in March, furloughing much of the company’s 77,000 Florida workers.

Coronavirus numbers update: More than 39,000 Floridians have coronavirus almost two months into the pandemic

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida’s coronavirus case tally has climbed to 39,199. Statewide, 6,929 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and 1,669 people have died.

Orange County has the most coronavirus cases in Central Florida, with 1,410 cases and 266 hospitalizations. Thirty-five people have died from COVID-19 in Orange County.

Osceola County has 530 cases, twelve deaths and 135 hospitalizations.

In Sumter County, home of the Villages retirement community, fourteen people have died. Sumter County has 235 cases and 41 hospitalizations.

Hover over the map for case numbers in other counties.

One for the history books: 14.7% unemployment, 20.5 million jobs wiped away

Scott Horsley, NPR

Updated at 11:43 a.m. ET

The Labor Department delivered a historically bad employment report Friday, showing 20.5 million jobs lost last month as the nation locked down against the coronavirus. The jobless rate soared to 14.7% — the highest level since the Great Depression.

The highest monthly job loss before this was 2 million in 1945, as the nation began to demobilize after World War II. The worst monthly job loss during the Great Recession was 800,000 in March 2009.

Unemployment was 4.4% in March as the coronavirus began to take hold in the U.S. It approached 25% during the Great Depression and remained elevated until World War II.
As painful as the April report is, it doesn't tell the full story of the economic wreckage left by the coronavirus and the government's drastic efforts to control it. The report is based on surveys conducted in the middle of April, and  claims for jobless benefits suggest that millions of additional jobs have been lost since then. What's more, the headline unemployment figure includes only people who are actively looking for work and those on temporary furlough, ignoring millions more who have been involuntarily idled by the pandemic. A broader government measure that includes people who've given up looking for work and those who are working less than they would like climbed to 22.8%. Even with those limitations, the April snapshot is staggering — a freeze-frame image of an economy that was abruptly and deliberately stopped in its tracks in a desperate bid to slow the spread of a deadly virus. "The whole world is kind of at a standstill now, so we're feeling the effects of that," said Carmine DiBiase, a longshoreman in Florida whose work loading cruise ships was suspended weeks ago. "All the plans for this year went out the window," said David Edwards, who expected to spend the summer guiding people around a zoo in Coal Valley, Ill., that's now shuttered, and working as a mascot for a minor league baseball team whose games have been suspended. "The two seasonal jobs that I had are both shut down for now," he said. "I feel very scared about my future." Even as businesses in some parts of the country cautiously begin to reopen, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett warns that the downturn has not hit bottom. "The next jobs report is going to look worse than this one," he said, predicting the official unemployment rate will climb to around 20%. "I think we're definitely going to be looking at one more month of catastrophically and tragically bad data." A somewhat positive feature in the jobs report is that most of the newly unemployed described their status as temporary. "Almost everyone who's unemployed expects to be reemployed in the next six months," Hassett noted. "That suggests that Americans are doing what Americans do, which is taking a tough hit but remaining optimistic and hopeful."

Lawmakers: Florida shouldn't reopen without more testing

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Democratic U.S. representatives from Florida are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis not to loosen restrictions meant to stop the spread of the new coronavirus until adequate testing, contact tracing and the ability to isolate sick residents are in place.

The U.S. lawmakers said Friday in a letter to the governor that Floridians would be at risk without those measures in place when businesses that have been closed because of the pandemic start to reopen.

DeSantis partially lifted his “safer at home” order Monday, allowing restaurants and retail shops to begin operating at 25% capacity.

Excluded from the reopening plan are three South Florida counties.

Sea World lost 56.5 million dollars in the first quarter of 2020

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

The Orlando-based theme park also saw one million fewer visitors. 

Sea World Interim CEO Marc Swanson said he expects to open in Texas first, and then Florida next:

“While we don't have any park opening dates to announce today, we are in regular contact with local, state and federal authorities. And we sincerely look forward to opening our parks and welcoming back our guests as soon as it is safe and permitted to do so," Swanson said.

Sea World shut down March 16 because of COVID-19.

In January and February, the park actually had increases in attendance and revenue compared to 2019.

The company told investors it expects to lose $20 to $25 million dollars per month, but it has enough money to last through all of next year. 

Woods, Mickelson, QBs to donate $10 million to virus relief

The Associated Press

HOBE SOUND, Fla. (AP) — The televised golf match involving Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and two of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks is raising $10 million for COVID-19 relief.

Turner Sports is producing the May 24 event that will be simulcast on its networks, including TNT and TBS. Woods and Peyton Manning will take on Mickelson and Tom Brady at Medalist Golf Club.

The match is the second time live golf will be on TV since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the PGA Tour and other tours around the world.

Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are part of a charity match May 17 at nearby Seminole.

NFL has plan for reopening, some NBA players can practice in team facilities this week

The Associated Press

The NFL has set protocols for reopening team facilities and has told the 32 teams to have them in place by May 15. Commissioner Roger Goodell mapped out several phases of protocols in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. The first phase to deal with the coronavirus pandemic would involve a limited number of non-player personnel. That number initially would be 50% of the non-player employees and up to a total of 75 on any single day being approved to be at the facility. But state or local regulations could require a lower number. The NBA says some players can voluntarily return to their team practice facilities beginning on Friday amid some very specific conditions. However, players can congregate only in places where local and state governments have signed off on such openings. It’s unclear how many players will be back on the floor when the league ban gets lifted. Positive tests during individual training or practices could delay or destroy plans for games.

First death of detainee in an ICE detention center from COVID-19

Max Rivlin-Nadler, NPR
A 57-year-old Salvadoran man who was held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California died from COVID-19 on Wednesday. It is the first confirmed death from the disease of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee in an ICE detention center. Carlos Escobar-Mejia had been in ICE custody since Jan. 10, when he was stopped in a car by the Border Patrol in Chula Vista. Before then, he had been living in the United States for 40 years. He was denied bond by an immigration court judge on April 15, because he was considered a "flight risk." By that time, several employees and detainees at Otay Mesa had already tested positive for COVID-19. Escobar-Mejia was on a list that a federal judge last week ordered ICE to compile of those considered medically vulnerable and eligible for immediate release. But by the time the list was compiled, Escobar-Mejia was already hospitalized. He died early Wednesday at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, Calif. "Despite what the government might say, and despite what the government did in this case, immigration detention is civil detention. It's not necessary, and it should have never been a death sentence for this person," said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Last month, the ACLU sued ICE in federal court for the release of medically vulnerable detainees at the detention center. The ACLU has been pushing ICE to expedite its release of detainees at Otay Mesa. But as of Monday, only two detainees deemed medically vulnerable had been released from the detention center. A status hearing in the case is set for Friday. In a statement on Escobar-Mejia's death, ICE wrote that the agency "is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases." As of Thursday morning, there are 140 confirmed cases at the facility, which is holding 629 ICE detainees. Otay Mesa has not accepted new ICE detainees since April 2. CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, has said it has followed CDC guidelines and protocols for containing the spread of the virus. But detainees there  have complained of not being given enough space to "socially distance" inside the facility or protective devices like clean masks to stop the spread of the disease. Several have launched hunger strikes to protest their conditions. CoreCivic initially asked detainees to  sign waivers in exchange for masks. The waivers freed the company from liability if they were to contract COVID-19 while wearing a mask. After several detainees refused to sign, CoreCivic stopped requiring detainees to sign the waiver. Last month, activists and advocates  delivered hundreds of masks to the detention center to help protect detainees. ICE didn't accept the donations.

CDC guidance for reopening schools, child care and summer camps is leaked

Anya Kamenetz, NPR

No field trips. No game rooms. No teddy bears. These are some of the CDC's guidelines for reopening schools, childcare centers and day camps safely in places where coronavirus cases are on the decline. The guidance, which also covers restaurants, churches and other public places, was obtained by The Associated Press, which reports that the White House tried to keep it from coming to light.  The New York Timesquoted Mark Meadows, the chief of staff, as being concerned that the guidelines were "overly prescriptive." The CDC does not have authority to enforce its guidance, which is intended for public information only; the actual policy decisions are up to state and local governments. Schools are closed through the end of the school year throughout much of the country, with the exception of  Montana,which welcomed a handful of students back this week. Child care protocols are different in different states. But millions of parents need child care so they can work, and socialization and stimulation for children who have been confined to home by lockdowns for weeks on end. This is the guidance that summer camps and day cares have been waiting for to make decisions about reopening safely. The guidance says that where coronavirus is spreading rapidly, child care should only serve the children of essential workers. This is the case today in much of the country, which the guidelines refer to as "Phase 1".

In Phase 2, programs can expand to serve all children with enhanced social distancing measures, and in Phase 3, with a lower risk, social distancing will continue. Recommended measures include: Handwashing; Cloth masks for staff; Regular disinfection of all surfaces; Six-foot distance "if possible," head-to-toe positioning with bedding; As much outdoor air as possible — open windows, fans; Restricting mixing of groups; Restricting visitors, and staggering dropoffs and pickups to reduce contact among parents; Limiting sharing of materials like art supplies or toys. Disinfecting them in between use.; Avoiding soft toys that can't be easily disinfected; Not using common areas like dining halls or playgrounds if possible. If it is necessary, stagger visits and disinfect in between; Adjust operations based on local health data; Monitor absenteeism. The guidelines also emphasize keeping attendance at such programs local, to limit children bringing the disease from high to low transmission areas.

Disney World restaurant, entertainment complex to reopen

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Walt Disney World plans to reopen its restaurant and entertainment area later this month, though the theme parks and hotels will remain closed.

Disney Springs vice president Matt Simon posted Thursday on the official Disney Parks Blog that the area will reopen May 20 with enhanced safety measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Those measures include increased cleaning procedures, the use of appropriate face coverings by both cast members and guests, limited-contact guest services and additional safety training for cast members.

The post didn’t say which businesses would open first. Walt Disney World closed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Via Facebook, Miami City Ballet salutes America's frontline COVID-19 workers

Christine DiMattei, WLRN

The rehearsals were a true illustration of the COVID-19-inspired motto "Alone Together."

Through Zoom videoconferencing, two Miami City Ballet dancers and two MCB student dancers — from their respective living rooms in South Florida — could follow the movements of choreographer Durante Verzola, who is sheltering in place at his Kansas City home.

With the coronavirus pandemic having banished them temporarily from the barres and mirrors of conventional studios, this mode of rehearsal took some getting used to.

"There were some funny moments with me and the dancers," says Verzola. "Because we would realize that, 'Oh, you're actually on the opposite leg than I'm on right now!'  So then we would have to flip the whole thing."

Miami City Ballet's Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez tapped 24-year-old Verzola to create a new ballet paying tribute to all the essential workers on the frontlines of the health crisis.

"We have watched in awe, as our first responders, nurses, doctors, fire rescue departments, mail carriers, grocery store clerks, janitors and countless essential workers perform incredible acts of courage," says Lopez. "They have shown us what grace, bravery and dedication truly look like. We want to honor them and to thank them for all they are doing."

MCB will present the world premiere of "A Dance for Heroes" on the company’s  Facebook page Friday, May 8 at 8:00pm EST.

After the rehearsals were done, the next step was to videotape the performers individually at Miami City Ballet's Studios, all the time observing social-distancing rules. The finished product was crafted to make it look like the performers — MCB principal dancers Jennifer Lauren and Renan Cerdeiro and MCB school pre-professional students Taylor Naturkas and Erick Rojas — are dancing together in the same space.

So how can a ballet capture what it's like to be an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic?

Verzola says he wanted the work to reflect the sacrifice and tireless energy of the frontline workers -- so he urged the dancers to take risks with their movements.  "I wanted the dancers to move as big as they possibly could to really demonstrate generosity," he says.

Researchers investigate flu versus coronavirus transmission

Gina Jordan, WFSU

Research shows Florida is different than the rest of the nation in terms of how our climate impacts flu transmission.

While influenza is not equivalent to COVID-19, it’s a good case study in how the coronavirus might progress.

So researchers, like FSU associate professor Chris Uejio, have been looking into it.

"We’ve found that the southeast has a different seasonality of flu than the rest of the U.S. So that might mean that the dynamics of how that may present risk to people may actually be spread out more over the year in the southeast and in Florida in particular," Uejio says. "Many people are talking about a second fall or winter wave of this epidemic. It’s quite possible that we’ll continue to see this existing wave carry on through the summer and then next spring and next summer.”

Uejio specializes in geography and public health. He says it’s possible that the virus could be spread out over a longer period of time here than in cold, dry climates.

He says one potential benefit of the current situation is a greater awareness of how diseases are spread.

“Maybe a month ago there was a stigma perhaps against wearing a mask in public, and you can see how rapidly things might evolve now where perhaps there is a stigma against NOT wearing a mask," Uejio says. "So having a better understanding of how some of these infectious diseases work could actually help prevent other infectious diseases going forward.”

Uejio sees another silver lining -- an increase in the resilience of our institutions to respond to surprises like environmental disasters or a pandemic.

"It never stopped ringing:" A library employee recalls answering calls for COVID-19 financial help

Kerry Sheridan, WUSF
Last week, Hillsborough County Social Services opened up a special call center. It was designed to help people who’ve lost their jobs due to coronavirus. Callers could get help paying two months mortgage or rent, plus utilities. The call center ran out of money -- 15 million in federal funds -- in four days. Calls were answered by public library employees like Taynisha Berenguer, who says she’s used to people asking all kinds of questions. This is her coronavirus story: "This famous person just passed away. Can you tell me everything about this person? To… you know, my phone stopped working. How do I make it work again? To…. there's this book with this red cover. Can you find it for me? So we've gotten any question that you can conceivably think of we have been asked to find an answer for that. So I got an email from my manager who informed me that social services is in need of some assistance, and that I was one of the people that they requested assistance from. This is something that wasn't, you know, completely foreign to me as part of our job duties with Hillsborough County, Library Services staff are expected to assist with emergencies if they arise. I have assisted in the call center with Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Dorian. So I was ready to go. We had a couple of days of training and then Monday, we were on the phones. When you first open up those phone lines, you have no idea what to expect. I would say day one when we answered the phone, what I could hear from citizens was relief. People were very relieved that they were finally able to get through to a live person. And they were relieved that we were offering assistance, a little bit of an undercurrent of fear. A lot of people were never ever in this situation and they just didn't even know how, like a lot of, ‘What do I do?’. Monday, I think I took about 50 some calls. It never stopped ringing. I know when we opened up on Tuesday, one of the IT people said there were 800 calls in queue. It was definitely an education for me as far as who needed the help. I got everybody from every conceivable field, from servers at restaurants that I frequented a lot. So that was like the personal connection of like, ‘Oh, where did you work?’ and they would mention a restaurant that I would go to all the time. And I'm like, ‘Oh my God, that person was probably my server at some point.’ From, you know, people with more white collar jobs, people, people in the healthcare field, which really shocked me, because I would just think that, you know, healthcare fields, everybody would be all hands on deck. A lot of people who said I have never had to ask for help in my life, a lot of people saying, I've never been late on my mortgage, I've never been late on my rent. I've never been late on my bills. It became a little bit more stressful when the money ran out. So I think it was Thursday morning when we had you know, we had a team meeting. And they informed us that you know, we have taken over 5,000 applications and unfortunately, we have to suspend taking new applications. So oh my goodness, now I am going to have to tell people who are hopeful that this help is no longer there. But people were just very gracious and very nice when we told them no and they're like, ‘You know, I completely understand, you know, thanks for offering this.’ It was for me just the reality that this is not something that's going to be able to be tied up with a neat bow like this is something that's going to have a lasting impact on every single person. Like, this has just thrown a lot of people into a tailspin."

NPR analysis: Florida COVID-19 tests per day fall short of Harvard estimated benchmark

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

COVID-19 testing in Florida continues to expand but it could be better.

The first set of numbers is average tests per day in each state as recorded by the nonprofit Covid Tracking Project.

Then those numbers were compared to estimated targets published by a Harvard research group.

According to this analysis, Florida is currently conducting an average of more than 15,000 tests per day. That's fewer that the projected target of nearly 24,000 tests per day needed by the middle of May to contain a state's outbreak.

Testing plays a key role in states' efforts to reopen the economy.

The good news for Florida -- 4 and a half percent of tests have come back positive in the last week. That meets the recommended rate of 10 percent or lower.

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

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.