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Your Monday Update: Antibody Testing Offered At Orange County Convention Center, Crews Stuck on Cruise Ships Beg to Go Home, Rare Kawasaki Cases in Children Could be Linked to COVID-19; Survey Shows Impacts on Lake County Businesses

Spc. Joshua Meeker, from the 3rd Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, collects samples at the Orange County Convention Center Testing site. The drive through testing site is ramping up capacity this week. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Spencer Rhodes)
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Lake County survey shows impact on businesses

Joe Byrnes, 90.7 News

An online survey of Lake County businesses in late April found that 41% were shut down and 24 percent reported losses of more than $100,000.

The county surveyed 561 mostly small businesses. Thirty percent had laid off workers and many had trouble getting supplies.

Half of the companies estimated their losses at less than $100,000. Three percent expected to lose more than a million.

Photographers, dentists and barbers were idle. Real estate agents found few buyers. Restaurants were down to pickup and delivery, and many shops were closed. 

Most of the companies sought federal help. But 29 percent had problems with the application process.

Some business owners just wanted to get on with it. Some wanted to wait. But most appeared concerned with how they could operate or open safely, with the help of masks, sanitizer and social distancing.

Antibody testing for COVID-19 offered at Orange County Convention Center

Danielle Prieur, 90.7 News

The Orange County Convention Center coronavirus test site is offering antibody testing to healthcare providers and first responders.

Testing started over the weekend, and 150 people were tested for coronavirus antibodies on Saturday and Sunday. If antibodies are present, it likely means the person previously had COVID-19 and recovered. They would also be much less likely to catch it again.

Spokesperson Lauren Luna says the test itself takes about fifteen minutes-from blood draw to results.

“They’ll run that on site," Luna said. "So they’ll go ahead and have you parked so you’ll leave with an answer of whether you’ve come back positive or negative for antibodies.”

Check here to read more about the testing in Orange County, and check here for a backgrounder on the drawbacks and limitations to COVID-19 antibody tests.

Amid coronavirus news, many need to step away

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A steady diet of stressful news from the coronavirus pandemic is stressing many people out.

They're feeling upset, anxious and need to get away.

A poll shows that while nearly 9 in 10 Americans are following pandemic news either very or fairly closely, most people say they need to take breaks. Those breaks can mean an old sitcom, walking the dog or a boat ride.

Experts say prolonged exposure to stressful news can have deleterious impacts on mental health and even physical health in the long term. Some news organizations are recognizing the need to leaven the grim news with something positive.

Stuck on cruise ships during pandemic, crews beg to go home

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Tens of thousands of crew members are stuck aboard dozens of cruise ships around the world, weeks after passengers were allowed to disembark amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the ships, including 20 in U.S. waters, have seen infections and deaths among the crew.

But most ships have had no confirmed cases.

Even so, crew members have not been allowed to disembark because of rules put in place by countries and local governments trying to prevent more virus cases in their territories.

What is contact tracing and how does it stop the pandemic?

Jason Beaubien, NPR



You may have never heard the phrase "contact tracing" before.

Now it's a part of the daily conversation about the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said contact tracing is key to halting the spread of the disease.

It's not a new idea. In fact, contact tracing is used all over the world. It's based on the knowledge that someone with a contagious disease will infect a certain number of people. With coronavirus, it's likely two or three. So the goal is to track down anyone in recent contact with a newly diagnosed patient, then monitor the health of these contacts while they stay at home for the period of time when they might become infected – roughly two weeks – or are held in an isolation facility.

You can read our article on contact tracing or get the essential details from our video above.

As the U.S. hires potentially hundreds of thousands of contact tracers to contain the coronavirus, health departments could look to models from such regions as Africa, South Asia and Latin America on how these teams will do their work.

Partners in Health, which is known for its work in Haiti, Rwanda and Peru, is helping to set up a coronavirus contact tracing program in Massachusetts.

In West Africa contact tracing was crucial in bringing the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak to a close.

Raj Panjabi's organization Last Mile Health helped set up contact tracing teams in Liberia during that crisis.

"We couldn't break the chain of transmission and drive the epidemic down to zero cases in Liberia without contact tracing," says Panjabi, a physician at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

In the remote part of Liberia where Panjabi's group was working, contact tracers were hired to investigate each Ebola case and track down all the "contacts" of those diagnosed cases.

"The contact tracers got hired and chosen from within the community," says Panjabi — and that kind of community knowledge offers a tremendous advantage. "They'd locate the listed contact because they know the community. They have trust with the community," he says. "And they'd identify any additional contacts who were missed in the initial investigation."

Panjabi says having social connections and being good with people is more important in this job than a medical degree. Most of the people doing this work for Last Mile Health were not medical professionals, but the teams reported to nurses and public health officials.

As the U.S. looks to contain the coronavirus so that the economy can start to reopen, Raj Panjabi says contact tracing could be a win-win.

"Where are the hundreds of thousands of American [contact tracers] going to come from?" Panjabi asks. "One possible way is to actually hire Americans who've been unemployed by this pandemic and put them to work."

Unemployment numbers 'Will get worse before they get better' Mnuchin says

Hannah Hagemann, NPR

The worst of the nation's historic job losses are yet to come, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who told Fox News Sunday that "the reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better."

Mnuchin's comments followed Friday's report from the Labor Department showing the U.S. lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs in April, bringing the jobless rate to its highest level since the Great Depression — 14.7%.

But even that figure fails to account for the millions of workers who have stopped searching for jobs or those considered "underemployed."

Asked by host Chris Wallace whether the nation's true unemployment rate was close to 25%, Mnuchin responded, "we could be."

"This is no fault of American business, this is no fault of American workers, this is a result of a virus," he said before warning, "You're going to have a very, very bad second quarter."

Two weeks ago, Mnuchin's outlook was more optimistic — he told Wallace that the economy would reopen through June and "bounce back" over the summer. On Sunday, he said the economy would "have a better third quarter," followed by "a better fourth quarter, and next year is going to be a great year."

The Trump Administration is considering additional stimulus measures, including a payroll tax cut, according to Mnuchin, who also said on Sunday, "We're not gonna do things just to bail out states that were poorly managed." But he said the White House would wait a "few weeks" before considering another relief bill.

This weekend more than 7,000 University of South Florida students joined the ranks of the school's alumni. But they did it in a way that had not been done before.

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF

The ceremonies for USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee were all virtual, because of social distancing guidelines that remain in place due to the novel coronavirus.

USF System President Steven Currall praised the spring 2020 class for its perseverance.

"USF graduates aren't afraid to face the unknown, and that's exactly what you have done, with optimism and courage. Your entire university experience changed, moving from in-person to online, but you found ways to stay connected to your professors and classmates," Currall said.

USF St. Petersburg student body president Jadzia Duarte told her classmates they'd remember the fun times of their college days, adding that USFSP students knew how to evacuate for a hurricane and how to social distance. She encouraged them to forge their own futures and grab their careers "by the horns."

"Finally to our graduates, don't forget that you're the primary author of your place here. Without your determination, motivation and passion, you probably wouldn't have made it through these years of learning and growing and becoming the capable people you are now," she said.

Duarte was instrumental in helping to get the Sunshine Skyway Bridge's iconic cable cases to be lit up in green and gold, USF's colors, to help recognize the students' achievements.

Other landmarks, such as the Sun Trust Financial Centre in downtown Tampa and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg were to be illuminated in school colors as well. And the city of St. Petersburg donated digital billboards to help celebrate the occasion too.

One graduate, Lindsay Thompson used her class pictures to campaign for a job. It was posted on the USF Alumni Association Facebook page.

USF's spring class graduates are being encouraged to march in the August or December graduation ceremonies to get the authentic experience

AHCA orders nursing homes, assisted living facilities to allow health officials to test staff for COVID-19

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU
In an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in long term care facilities, the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration has issued an emergency order requiring all facilities open their doors to state health workers.

Under the order, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the state must allow workers from the department of health to test on and off-duty staff members for COVID-19. The order also gives department of health representatives the ability to perform “infection prevention and control” measures. If a facility violates this order, it could face fines and have its license suspended or revoked. Last month, Governor Ron DeSantis directed the Florida National Guard to create strike teams in an effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

National parks visitors should plan for 'new normal'

The Associated Press

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Utah (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the National Park Service is testing public access at several parks across the nation, including two in Utah, with limited offerings and services.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports visitor centers and campgrounds remain largely shuttered at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, but visitors are welcome at some sites.

Acting park service director David Vela says visitors should steel themselves for changes.

Other major parks throughout the country that have started reopening include Everglades National Park in Florida, Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Advocacy groups fear the park service is moving too fast and urge extreme caution.

Florida International University College of Medicine professor says Kawasaki cases could be linked to COVID-19

Tim Padgett, WLRN
Over the weekend, New York state announced the deaths of two more children from a rare condition that’s been linked to COVID-19. It’s not known for sure yet if the new coronavirus causes this mysterious syndrome in children – known as Kawasaki. But infectious disease experts believe the recent spike in Kawasaki cases in the U.S. and Europe is related to COVID-19. Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University’s college of medicine says it can be deadly if not treated quickly.

“It’s a weird immunologic response to having been infected by COVID that happens in some children. It’s a cellular immune abnormality that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and all kinds of issues because of that – including they can have a heart attack. So they need to get to a hospital immediately because we can treat that and nip it in the bud," Marty said. Marty says Kawasaki can also cause skin and joint problems in children, and can later lead to cardiovascular problems for adult women during pregnancy. So far no COVID-related Kawasaki cases have been reported in Florida.

Need extra money for college? Make a coronavirus PSA or write letters to elderly residents in nursing homes

Jessica Bakeman, WLRN

High school students and transfers planning to attend universities in South Florida are earning scholarship money by volunteering to help in the coronavirus response.

Before the state went on lockdown, Annika Aldana was at her boyfriend’s house — and she noticed his mom using a sewing machine to make masks.

“She was telling me about it, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool. Can I help?’ We worked for about like four and a half to five hours. And we made, I think, about 40 or 50 masks that day," Aldana said.

Annika is a high school junior in Fort Myers, and she’s hoping to study marine biology at one of South Florida’s public universities: Florida International in Miami or Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton.

She earned a little bit of money for her college education by sewing the masks and donating them to local hospitals.

“So it has little pleats so that it can open up, so that it can fit properly on your face and that you have room for air. We put paper clips so that it could mold around your nose," Aldana said.

On the website RaiseMe, colleges — including FIU and FAU — offer “micro-scholarships" small amounts of money, like 5, 10 or even hundreds of dollars, for things students are already doing: Getting an A. Taking a college-level course. Volunteering. More than 300,000 Floridians have earned money for college using the site.

Now schools are offering these “micro-scholarships” for helping in the response to COVID-19.

FIU offers $4 an hour for community service, up to $400. Jody Glassman is the director of admissions.

“It can be something like writing letters or cards or drawing pictures for the elderly in assisted living facilities, just to brighten their day," Glassman said.

Students are also making PSAs on TikTok and 3-D printing face shields. Overall, prospective FIU students can earn up to 2,500 dollars on RaiseMe.

“And the $2,500 is multiplied by four. There are renewal requirements, but it's good for four years. So really, it's a $10,000 scholarship," Glassman said.

She says, that could take care of costs not covered by other financial aid.

Sounds good to Annika.

“Whatever I can do to help out with the cost as much as I can. You know, my parents work really hard for everything that we have. And college is pretty pricey," Aldana said.

Florida city closes beaches after visitors sit too close

The Associated Press

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — A Florida city closed its beaches because officials said visitors were not practicing social distancing and could have contributed to the spread of the new coronavirus.

Naples closed its beaches Sunday, one week after they reopened. Officials in the southwest Florida city said that the crowds on Saturday were packed too tightly together, so they decided to close beaches until a city council meeting can be held Monday to discuss solutions.

Councilman Gary Price went to the beach Saturday after learning about the crowds and took photos of people not obeying rules that require groups to remain apart. The state says 40,000 cases have been confirmed and 1,721 people have died.

US census stirs uncertainty for those displaced by virus

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — It’s not meant to be a trick question, but many displaced by the pandemic aren’t sure how to fill out the 2020 U.S. census.

Typically it's easy to say how many people are staying at your home on April 1.

But many people living where coronavirus outbreaks hit hardest fled their homes or were hospitalized. Students living off-campus moved back in with their parents once universities closed.

Travelers got stuck far from home because of health concerns. The displacement is especially worrisome in the virus hot spot of New York City, where some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods have the lowest census response rates.

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

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.