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Your Monday Update: "Full Phase One" Begins in Florida, Economists Forecast Slump in Home Sales, NASCAR Returns But Without Fans in the Stands

Photo: Andrew Roberts
Photo: Andrew Roberts

DeSantis comments on Florida testing issues identified at AdventHealth, elsewhere

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state does not use the same lab that has produced tens of thousands of unreliable COVID-19 test results for AdventHealth.

Over the weekend, AdventHealth announced that the results of more than 35,000 COVID-19 tests performed by a third-party lab are unreliable. That includes 25,000 collected in Central Florida.

Speaking in Orlando Monday, DeSantis said the state of Florida considered using the same lab – but never did.

“The samples have to be refrigerated, properly cared for,” DeSantis said. “This is not just like sending a piece of paper. So apparently what happened was they figured out this lab, I think it was in Texas, just let the samples be spoiled. So they had thousands of samples. That was not from any of Florida’s test sites.”

In a statement released Saturday, AdventHealth didn’t name the third-party lab and said it will contact patients to be retested. The tests were a mixture of positive and negative results. Check here for more.

Florida's 'Full Phase 1' will see expanded restaurant and retail capacity, gyms open

Ryan Dailey, WFSU
After Florida’s initial step toward reopening weeks ago saw a more cautious approach than was allowed by the White House, Governor Ron DeSantis is rolling out what he calls “Full Phase 1.”

"We did not exhaust everything that we could have done in Phase 1," DeSantis said on Friday. The Governor’s “full Phase 1” looks a little bit more like the White House’s phase one guidelines – further opening up capacity in restaurants and retail businesses in the state, for starters. "We are now going, effective Monday, to be operating up to 50 percent capacity. And a lot of that is based on the spacing of the tables, or, if you have some type of partition. Because I’ve had some restaurateurs tell me ‘hey, I’ve got Plexiglas – my booths, I can’t move them, but I’ve got Plexiglas.’ That’s fine, that’s effective. All we’re trying to do is create a low-risk environment," DeSantis said. Retail businesses will also be permitted to go to 50 percent capacity. DeSantis says the Reopen Florida Task Force he convened to give recommendations initially suggested going immediately to 50 percent capacity, as other states like Texas did. "I think that that’s something a lot of people in the restaurant industry that a lot of the people in the restaurant industry have been hoping for. I think it can be done safely, a lot of other states already went to that right off the bat. My initial recommendation was to do 50 percent, from my task force. I wanted to ease into it, but I think they’ve really thought well about it," DeSantis said. Another significant development in reopening, gyms and fitness centers will be permitted to begin operating again on Monday. "Make sure that you respect the social distancing capacity. I would say, for some of these places like Crossfit that do outdoor training, that’s great. The outdoor stuff, again, that’s a lower risk environment outdoors than if you’re inside a stuffy room in a gym," DeSantis said. And, if you are going to work out at an indoor, gym, DeSantis says: "Sanitize machines and surfaces after use. I mean, that should be happening anyway. If you’re sweating on the dip bar, clean the dip bar when you’re done doing dips, I mean come on." Museums and libraries can also begin opening to the public at 50 percent capacity Monday. "That will be, local governments can make those calls in terms of the museums and libraries that they’re operating," DeSantis said. Though the governor has said he wants to “get to yes” on visitation at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the Phase 1 guidelines from the state and Washington both prohibit visits. DeSantis says in this expanded first phase, testing for nursing home staff will be the focus. "We want all staff to be tested, and that’s just very important. That’s going to be a multi-pronged approach. We do need long-term care facilities who have the ability to self-test to let us know. We can provide the lab capacity; we can provide the supplies," DeSantis said. DeSantis also announced Florida’s most-affected counties of Miami-Dade and Broward will join the rest of the state in Phase 1 on Monday.

Big Cat Rescue founder now selling coronavirus masks

The Associated Press

CITRUS PARK, Fla. (AP) — Are you a cool cat or kitten? There’s now a coronavirus mask out there for you.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, prominently featured in Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, started selling face masks with her oft-quoted catchphrase Saturday.

The dual-layered tie masks feature the words “Hey all you cool cats and kittens” above a whiskered feline smile.

Masks cost $11 each and come in black or leopard print.

The masks are being sold to raise money to help big cats. Portions of the proceeds also support first-responders.

Big Cat Rescue and its founder have been the subject of much attention since being featured on TV in Tiger King.

Tropical Storm Arthur crawls closer to North Carolina coast

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Arthur is crawling closer to the North Carolina coast, amid threats of some minor flooding and rough seas as the system moves off the Southeast seaboard.

Arthur formed Saturday off Florida, marking the sixth straight year a named storm has developed before the official June 1 start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a tropical storm warning for North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Sunday.

At 8 p.m. EDT, the storm’s center was located about 260 miles south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Arthur had top sustained winds of 45 mph as it moved north-northeast.

Bike sales gear up as the homebound try socially distant exercise

James Doubek, NPR

Sales are booming at many bike shops around the country, as people stuck at home try something new for exercise and essential workers adapt to scaled-down public transit.

It's an especially opportune time for those who might otherwise be nervous about sharing the streets with cars — mayors across the country have closed streets to encourage cyclists and joggers to exercise.

"Stores are doing really well, and store owners who I've spoken to over the past couple months are almost sheepish in admitting that because they understand it's a pandemic," says Morgan Lommele, director of state and local policy at the industry coalition group People for Bikes.

In the majority of states that issued stay-at-home orders, bike shops were deemed essential businesses that could stay open, according to tracking by the League of American Bicyclists.

Bike sales in March were up by 50% over last year, the market research firm The NPD Group found. Including stationary exercise bikes, sales grew by 31% in the first quarter of the year over the same time last year.

"We're seeing families, individuals riding bikes in droves, more than we've seen over the last 20 years," said Lommele in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered.

Many retailers are running low on bikes, which often have to be ordered from manufacturers far in advance. "There was no way to really predict this back in December and January," Lommele says.

The best-selling bikes have been in the $600 to $1,500 range, she says, which is the bulk of the market.

The pandemic has also forced new stresses onto bike shop employees, who must now contend with social distancing and cleanliness guidelines in a hands-on business.

And a large part of any bike shop's operations are not just sales, but service. When someone who hasn't ridden in years dusts off the old Schwinn for a socially distanced ride, it will need a tuneup.

But many shops have closed voluntarily or sent employees home. As of a month ago, an estimated 20-30% of shops were closed, according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

That means more demand for repairs at the shops that stayed open. Independent bike shops saw repairs go up by 20%, The NPD Group found.

"There's this environment where, sure, shops are seeing record-level sales, record-level demand for service, but their employees are either staying at home or on restricted schedules," Lommele says.

Retailers and manufacturers are talking about a "mini bike boom." It's a shift from the focus of the last couple years — tariffs.

The vast majority of bicycles and parts in the U.S. come from China. But the Trump administration, in various rounds of tariffs, put many bicycle parts under tariffs of 25% above normal rates.

Many bike products have since been granted exclusions to tariffs, but the exclusions are set to expire in August and September.

"The industry is generally worried that if those exclusions expire, those additional tariffs will be put back on those products," Lommele says. "And that will really harm our ability to provide a safe, low-cost product to Americans who want to ride bikes."

'A lot to be hopeful for': Crisis seen as historic, not another Great Depression

Scott Horsley, NPR

With the U.S. economy in free-fall, a lot of forecasters have been digging deep into the history books, looking for a guidepost of what to expect. Often, they've turned to the chapter on the 1930s.

"Clearly people have made comparisons to the Great Depression," said former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

"It's not a very good comparison," he cautioned.

Bernanke, who is a student of the Great Depression, says that crisis was triggered by a financial meltdown, and made worse by bad policy choices, including the decision by his Fed predecessors to raise interest rates.

Perhaps most importantly, the Depression dragged on for a dozen years. While Bernanke doesn't expect to rebound from the current crisis in the next six months or so, he doesn't see it stretching out indefinitely, either.

"If all goes well, in a year or two, we should be in a substantially better position," Bernanke told an audience at the Brookings Institution last month.

That optimistic view is supported by a different historical example from more than a decade before the Great Depression: the 1918 flu pandemic, after which the U.S. economy bounced back relatively quickly.

"I think there is quite a lot to be hopeful for," said Carola Frydman, an economic historian at the Kellogg School of Management.

The so-called "Spanish Flu" pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including hundreds of thousands in the U.S. It also prompted some of the same "social distancing" measures we've adopted against the coronavirus, with shuttered bars, schools and churches.

Still, the economic fallout was "mostly modest and temporary," Frydman wrote. And the U.S. enjoyed strong growth in the decade that followed.

She believes that could happen this time as well.

"As soon as people feel confident again interacting and being able to go about their business, I would not expect the economic fallout to last a lot longer than that," Frydman told NPR.

Of course, no one's certain how long it will take for people to feel comfortable shopping or traveling again — or how many businesses and families might go under in the meantime.

In 1918, government spending on World War I helped make up for some of the lost private demand, Frydman said. No one is advocating another world war. But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the federal government might have to spend more than the trillions it's already shelled out to keep businesses and families afloat.

"Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it, if it helps avoid long-term damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery," Powell said during an online forum sponsored by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Other government policies — including protectionism — could hamper the recovery. President Trump has long advocated higher trade barriers. He's getting less resistance, thanks to the pandemic.

"These stupid supply chains that are all over the world — we have a supply chain where they're made in all different parts of the world and one little piece of the world goes bad and the whole thing is messed up," Trump said during an interview with Fox Business this past week. "I said we shouldn't have supply chains. We should have them all in the United States."

Here the Great Depression does offer a useful lesson. In the 1930s, the U.S. and other countries turned their backs on trade, adopting steep tariffs in an effort to prop up their Depression-scarred economies. It backfired.

"And that, economists have come to believe, contributed to how long the Great Depression actually lasted," said Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "It made it very, very difficult for countries to grow their economies again and use trade to help them get there."

Bown acknowledges that protectionism is a natural reflex at a time like this, but he warns it's counterproductive. The coronavirus does not have to touch off another Great Depression, but with misguided policy, it could.

Kevin Harvick wins as NASCAR returns without fans

James Doubek, NPR

Kevin Harvick took his second career win at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, in the first NASCAR race to take place since early March — and now, without fans.

After pulling himself out of the car, Harvick admitted to thinking racing wouldn't be too different without cheering crowds in the stands.

But "it's dead silent out here," he said. "We miss the fans."

Drone cameras captured the South Carolina racetrack's 47,000 empty seats. Only essential staff — mainly from teams and broadcasters — were allowed inside Darlington's gates, reportedly numbering about 900 people.

NASCAR says it worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on putting in place new guidelines for those present at the track, including: limiting the number of staff for each of the 40 teams to 16 people; requiring everyone to have their temperatures checked as they enter the track; and mandating masks and social distancing.

NASCAR is unique among major sports as its competitors are already physically separated by their cars.

"Our competitors have a lot of PPE [personal protective equipment] to begin with," NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations John Bobo told NASCAR.com. "They're wearing firesuits, they're wearing fireproof everything when they're over the wall. ... [On the infield] we have this ability to space out our operations dramatically."

After 10 weeks on hiatus due to the coronavirus and eight missed races, NASCAR is pushing forward — and pushing teams — with a busy new schedule. Seven races are taking place over the next 11 days, four of them Cup series races. Through the end of May, races will be held either at Darlington, Charlotte, or in Bristol, Tenn.

Most race teams are based in the Charlotte area and would not need to fly to those events.

The remaining races that NASCAR has announced run through June 21 and are taking place in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia.

Broward teachers union wants temperature checks before employees can enter school buildings

Jessica Bakeman, WLRN

With campuses closed through the end of the school year, teachers in Broward County will be cleaning out their classrooms this week. The Broward teachers union is calling the school district’s plan unsafe.

The union representing public school teachers in Broward County wants employees to get their temperatures taken before they’re allowed to enter campus buildings this week.

It says employees can’t be forced to go to school if they feel it’s unsafe or if they have underlying conditions that put them at risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

Union president Anna Fusco said in a statement, quote: “Those who do come in should get in and get out as quickly as they can and not be asked to congregate with their colleagues.”

Temperature checks are being used all over Florida, from the state legislature to restaurants in Miami-Dade County. The hope is to identify people who have fevers and therefore might be infected with the coronavirus.

But there are major questions about the effectiveness of temperature checks, given that many people with the virus do not show symptoms.

Miami Beach outlaws panhandling near restaurants, businesses

The Associated Press

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (The Miami Herald) — The city of Miami Beach is making it against the law to panhandle near the entrance of a business.

City officials say the new rule is temporary and is being put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The ban starts on Sunday and lasts until at least Friday.

It prohibits panhandling 50 feet “from the entrance or service window of any essential retail and commercial business or restaurant or food service establishment.”

Economist's forecast: Slumping home sales but steady prices

The Associated Press

The coronavirus has depressed U.S. home sales, just as it has nearly every economic sector.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, prices have remained fairly sturdy. Still, prospects for the housing industry will remain bleak until the outbreak subsides.

The Associated Press spoke recently with Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Haus, which co-invests with buyers as an alternative to traditional mortgages who confirmed this forecast.

A COVID-19 survivor tells his tale

Tom Flanigan, WFSU Leon County has had relatively few COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started. The Florida Department of Health report as of Sunday, pegged that number at 280. There have been six Leon County fatalities and thirty-three local patients requiring hospitalization. Here's one Tallahassee man's story of recovery.

Gary Cottingham works for Publix as an information technology and marketing manager. He splits his work time between his Tallahassee home and his employer's corporate headquarters in Lakeland. Not long ago, his wife Sandy and their grown son went to Atlanta to tend to some family matters there. "While my wife was up there in early March, she and my son, somewhere when they were out together, picked it up. To this day, they don't know where they got it," Cottingham said. But one thing was sure. All three members of the Cottingham family were soon feeling the effects of what they suspected might be COVID-19. "And my wife had some of the symptoms but never got sick enough to be hospitalized. She was just very weak. And all three of us were so fatigued it was like we could be knocked over by a feather, that's how weak we were," Cottingham said. Gary's condition, however, kept getting worse. "I was delirious! I was seeing things in my sleep, night sweats, headache, slight fever. And I kind of knew what was coming," Cottingham said. What was coming, began with a phone call. "On the seventh day after I first had symptoms, I got ahold of a doctor on one of these telemed services. And she said, 'I can hear in your breathing you're straining. You really need to get to the ER'," Cottingham said. That trip confirmed what Cottingham already knew. "I got to Tallahassee Memorial and I was in the emergency bed when they did a mobile X-ray and came back and said I had 'double COVID pneumonia' they called it. And that's when I got scared and said, 'What?'"Cottingham said. Thus began more than a week of constant care and monitoring at TMH. Although Cottingham acknowledges his situation could have been much worse. "I never went to the ICU. I never had to have a ventilator. But they were watching me very closely. But I was sick. I was still very weak and they kept me in the TMH COVID area," Cottingham said. Cottingham says he has nothing but praise for the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who cared for him during his stay. "They did a great job and you see these people literally putting their lives on the line to help other people. It's really amazing," Cottingham said. By April 4, Cottingham was well enough to be released from the hospital. On April 18, he was declared essentially free from the virus, although most medical experts caution this virus is quite different from most others and remains very unpredictable. But one thing's for sure. Cottingham still feels the impact of his encounter with COVID-19. And he has no intention of repeating the experience. "After having that and going through it, I'm scared. I don't want to get it again. And until I get some sort of serious confirmation that I can't get it again anytime soon, I'm freaked out about going anywhere," Cottingham said. Cottingham also hopes that anyone who doubts the threat posed by the coronavirus will listen to stories like his.

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

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.