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Your Thursday Update: Orange County Approaches 2,000 Coronavirus Cases, Positive Tests At Villages-Area Nursing Home, Reopening Blueprint Approved for Florida Public Universities

Photo: Claudio Schwarz
Photo: Claudio Schwarz

Orange County approaches 2,000 coronavirus cases

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Nearly 2,000 people in Orange County have coronavirus, weeks after some restaurants and retail stores reopened at 50 percent capacity. 

Mayor Jerry Demings said that number might seem large but it’s low compared to other metropolitan areas in the country.

“But the positivity rate is still low 2.8 percent that is one of the reasons why I felt reasonably good about reopening Orange County to some extent.”

Demings said if the rate was higher, the curfew and other restrictions would still be in place.   

Forty people have died from the coronavirus in Orange County-the largest number in any county in Central Florida.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings approves Disney, SeaWorld reopening

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Mayor Jerry Demings says he’s sent a letter of endorsement to Gov. Ron DeSantis approving Disney and SeaWorld's plans to reopen. 

Demings says Gov. Ron DeSantis approved twelve smaller attractions in the area on Thursday including Fun Spot and Gatorland.

"They were officially given the nod by the governor to reopen. I suspect that we’ll get the confirmation from the governor soon regarding the larger theme parks.”

Both parks will require guests to submit to temperature checks and wear face masks. 

Disney plans on opening its parks on July 11, and SeaWorld will opens its properties on June 11.

Several residents at Villages-area nursing home test positive for coronavirus

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

A nursing home in Lady Lake just outside The Villages has several new cases of COVID-19.

The state reports that six residents at The Villages Rehabilitation and Nursing Center have the coronavirus. Another resident with the virus has been transferred.

One staff member also tested positive.

Overall, Lake County has had 280 cases and 15 deaths.

Sumter County, where most of The Villages lies, has had 253 cases and 17 deaths. But those numbers include more than a hundred positive tests at a prison in Bushnell and three deaths there.

The Villages itself has had at least 69 cases, though the state's tally has been inconsistent. Earlier this month, the total was 77, which is 12 percent more than it is now.

Reopening blueprint approved for Florida public universities

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Students could be returning to Florida’s 12 public universities this fall after campuses were shut down this past spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Florida Board of Governors unanimously approved a blueprint for reopening campuses for the fall semester Thursday.

The blueprint is meant to guide the state universities in developing individualized plans for reopening in light of the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Board Chairman Sydney Kitson says the blueprint was developed over the past month by a task force of university presidents, along with other school officials and emergency managers.

Each school must present its own specific plan to the Board of Governors next month.

Watch: Lil Nas X and Kacey Musgraves help Elmo debut a new talk show during the pandemic

Jon Lewis, NPR


Kimmel and Colbert, Bee and Fallon et al., pay attention: Elmo did not come to play. For the inaugural episode of The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo, made available Wednesday through HBO Max, Elmo brought some serious wattage, inviting both Lil Nas X and Kacey Musgraves to perform two signature songs from Sesame Street.

No artist finds more creative and consistent ways to remix, reconfigure and reimagine the same song over and over again than Lil Nas X, so the country-rap star was a perfect choice for helping to put a new spin on the well-tread "Elmo's Song."

In the clip, Elmo introduces Nas, who comes out in a typically bright outfit and launches into a hip-hop-infused remix of the beloved puppet's signature tune, supported by the show's house band (composed entirely of other Sesame Street puppets).

Elmo knows Lil Nas X is for the children — his Not-Too-Late Show appearance comes almost exactly a year after he transformed an elementary school gym into the world's rowdiest concert venue, with just the opening chorus of "Old Town Road."

Musgraves, meanwhile, took a more straightforward, but no less endearing, approach. For her appearance, she went to the microphone with just her acoustic guitar and performed a joyful rendition of "Rubber Ducky," with the same level of earnestness that she brought to her recent Christmas special.


Despite pandemic, Dance NOW! Miami's anniversary show goes on(line)

Christine DiMattei, WLRN
When the coronavirus pandemic started shutting down live performances throughout South Florida, it also put the kibosh on some shows meant to celebrate milestones.

Dance NOW! Miami was getting ready to go on stage with its 20th anniversary season finale when the pandemic struck.

The program had included Italy's  Opus ballet as the featured guest company. For a while, DNM's founders Diego Salterini and Hannah Baumgarten were trying to work out a way for their company to continue working with the Italian company via Zoom. "Soon, it became impossible," says Salterini, who comes from Rome. "But it kind of gave us a jolt to be ready for what was happening." The contemporary dance company, like so many others, decided to leap into the world of digital dance. DNM's virtual season finale is “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom: A Love Letter To Italy," a piece that celebrates the company's strong bond with the first Western country to suffer a major coronavirus emergency. The components of the final product, which goes online this weekend, were recorded remotely by all nine of DNM's dancers from their homes. Salterini leveraged his years of experience as a dancer and choreographer for Italian television variety shows to take on the role of video editor. The score uses Italian pop tunes from the 1960s and 70s. Salterini promises a fast-paced viewing experience that includes quick cuts, close-ups and what he calls "some levity." "We have created something knowing that it will be viewed on a computer screen," he says.

Absence of pandemic on Florida Cabinet agenda is hot topic

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida is accusing Gov. Ron DeSantis of keeping the state Cabinet “in the dark” by failing to earlier convene the panel to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried's calls to do so, the outbreak was not specifically on the agenda Thursday when the politically powerful Cabinet convened for the first time since February.

The meeting took place nearly three months after the governor authorized health officials to declare a public health emergency.

DeSantis did not immediately respond to Fried's criticism but a spokesperson previously accused Fried of politicizing the pandemic.

COVID-19 has killed close to 300 U.S. health care workers, new data from CDC shows

Carrie Feibel, NPR 

The coronavirus continues to batter the U.S. health care workforce.

More than 60,000 health care workers have been infected and close to 300 have died from COVID-19, according to new datafrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The numbers mark a staggering increase from six weeks ago when the CDC first released data on coronavirus infections and deaths among nurses, doctors, pharmacists, EMTs, technicians and other medical employees. On April 15, the agency reported 27 deaths, and more than 9,000 cases of infection in health care workers.

The latest tally doesn't provide a full picture of illness in this essential workforce, because only 21% of the case reports sent to the CDC included information that could help identify the patient as a health care worker. Among known health care workers, there was also missing information about how many of those people actually died.

Still, the growing number of health care workers infected by the coronavirus provides sobering evidence that many are still working in high-risk settings without reliable or adequate protection against the virus.

Pinellas arts industry projected to lose millions during pandemic

Jessica Meszaros, WUSF 
A recent survey shows that coronavirus restrictions have cost the Pinellas County arts community nearly five million dollars in lost revenue. A new questionnaire is designed to help.

Live performances, exhibitions, art classes and more have all been put on hold due to social distancing. So a nonprofit called Creative Pinellas asked artists and art businesses what they’ve been going through. Barbara St. Clair is with Creative Pinellas. She says based on responses, the Pinellas arts community will have lost between 4 and 5 million dollars by June. Her group estimates the community generates about 1.96 billion dollars a year for the area. “I think sometimes it's easy to lose track of how much of an economic engine the arts are in Pinellas County and how many thousands of people have jobs in the arts," St. Clair said. Now members of the arts community can fill out a new form that looks toward the future. “One of the things that we heard from a lot of the arts organizations and individual artists was they understood the need to move into a digital environment, but they didn't have the skill set. That becomes a need," St. Clair said. The goal with this second survey is to equip the creatives of Pinellas with what they need to adapt to this new pandemic way of life.

Rash of positive tests at juvenile detention center in Volusia County

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Ten positive tests for COVID-19 have prompted the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center to stop admitting new inmates.

A state update from earlier this week shows six inmates and four staff members had the coronavirus.

The facility near Daytona Beach had the second-highest number of infected inmates among Florida's juvenile jails. The Okeechobee Youth Development Center reported 15 kids with the virus. 

Statewide, 43 workers and 31 inmates tested positive.

Some Central Florida power companies will be turning off utilities after months of missed payments

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Most Central Florida power companies stopped disconnecting customers for nonpayment as COVID-19 caused so many to lose their jobs. But that's starting to change.

Florida Power & Light will end its no-cutoff policy after June, and the Ocala and Leesburg utilities will end theirs on June 15th.

The companies encourage struggling customers to contact them and develop a payment plan.

The Orlando Utility Commission, Kissimmee Utility Authority and Duke Energy have announced no change and are still giving customers a break. 

Meanwhile, the Heroes Act, which has so far passed the US House, could halt all utility cutoffs during the emergency. The bill is stalled in the Senate.

For launch spectators, storms more worrisome than virus

The Associated Press

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (AP) — For the spectators who gathered along Florida's Space Coast for an astronaut launch, the rumbling thunder, darkening clouds and a downpour were more worrisome than any pandemic.

But neither kept the crowds from jamming local parks and beaches until the launch was called off.

At a park in Titusville, about a third of the spectators wore masks as encouraged by health officials.

NASA and SpaceX had urged spectators to stay at home for safety reasons.

But local officials rolled out the welcome mat in an effort to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard by virus restrictions.

Lawsuit: Ultra refuses refunds for canceled music festival

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Two men are suing organizers of Ultra Music Festival, claiming they were denied refunds after the three-day electronic dance music festival in Miami was canceled in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Miami federal court also seeks class-action status to obtain full refunds with interest for thousands of ticket-holders from around the world.

Ultra had been scheduled for the weekend of March 20 at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami, but strict social distancing guidelines imposed earlier that month banned all large gatherings, including festivals and concerts.

Ultra organizers didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Bill Lickson named DOMI Station Director

Tom Flanigan, WFSU
A veteran Tallahassee entrepreneur and media maven has been named to head up the DOMI Station small business incubator. Executive Director Antonio Montoya will step down at the end of June. Taking over the job will be Bill Lickson. He sees DOMI and similar incubators helping to regrow the local economy by facilitating new firms and careers to replace those lost to the pandemic. "There's arguably never been a more important time for organizations like DOMI to help both startups and the businesses we all love in our community survive and then thrive as we emerge from this virus situation," Lickson said. Lickson's first day in his new job will be July 1st.

Lawsuit filed against Tallahassee Developmental Center

Tom Flanigan, WFSU
The Tallahassee Developmental Center was already reeling from a big outbreak of COVID-19 over the past month. Now, the Center is facing a lawsuit from one of its former residents who was among the infected.

Dillion Johnson is a profoundly disabled nineteen year old. Attorney Scott Gwartney says the young man had previously been brutalized by the center's residents and even a management-level staff person over the past few years. Things got even worse for Johnson. In mid-April, he along with more than thirty other residents and over forty center staff tested positive for the coronavirus. "And honestly, when I first heard he'd tested positive for COVID-19, I was fearful that would be the end of Dillion Johnson," Gwartney said. But Johnson survived. Now Gwartney has filed suit against the Developmental Center's owners and management firm alleging a pattern of negligence with the aim of forcing improvements. "What went wrong with the Dillion Johnson matter and how do we make sure it doesn't happen again? And I'm confident that kind of analysis will happen at TDC," Gwartney said. As well as other facilities where similar situations might also exist.

National Women's Soccer League to return in June to play tournament

Austin Horn, NPR The National Women's Soccer League announced Wednesday that it will return in June to play a 25-game tournament without fans. The league's nine teams are set to gather in Utah to play for 30 days, according to a  statement the league sent out Wednesday. All players, officials and staff members will be tested two days before their arrival in Utah and will be subject to consistent coronavirus testing and symptom review during the tournament, according to the statement. The matches will be played in stadiums in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. The teams will begin the tournament at the smaller Zions Bank Stadium and play the semifinals and finals in Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the Utah Royals FC. According to the  league's protocols, facilities will close immediately if a player or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus. Then contact tracing will take place for all individuals on the team of the infected person and the opposing team if a game took place within 48 hours of the positive test. The league hasn't played a game since October when the North Carolina Courage won the 2019 NWSL Championship. The upcoming tournament is set to start on June 27, with the championship match slated for July 26. "As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States," NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement. U.S. Soccer also released a statement in support of the NWSL tournament, noting that each player will have the option to participate in the event. "Everyone at the league and individual clubs have put in a tremendous amount of hard work to make sure the environment in Utah will be as safe as possible for all involved, and we are looking forward to the return of the NWSL as women's soccer continues to grow and prosper," U.S. Soccer said. The  New York Times reported Wednesday that it's unclear how many of the U.S. women's national team players,  who won the World Cup last summer, will choose to participate in the event. The  Times reported that some players have cited concerns about the coronavirus pandemic or the possibility of injuries due to the compressed schedule and games played on artificial turf. Television network CBS will broadcast the opener and final, and other games will be aired on CBS' streaming platform. Outside the U.S. and Canada, the games will be streamed on Twitch.

Pharmacy selling unapproved COVID-19 test kits to return more than $9,000 in refunds

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU
A clinic selling unapproved COVID-19 test kits will be giving more than 9,000 dollars back in refunds to consumers. Florida’s office of the attorney general investigated the clinic and had them agree to give full refunds and pay civil penalties.

PrecisionMed Pharmacy sent more than 1,000 text messages to people living in the Tampa Bay area. The company was offering to sell at-home COVID-19 test kits. But these kits were not approved for at-home use. They were priced at 85 dollars and more than 100 people bought them. Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody says her consumer protection team takes swift action to protect people from being misled or ripped off.

Broward County libraries offer walk-up and drive-thru services

Amber Amortegui, WLRN
Broward County Libraries now offer walk-up and drive-thru services. Library cardholders can reserve books and other materials online or over-the-phone. Once your order is ready, a library employee will give you a call.

Nina Fernandez is the librarian supervisor at North Regional Broward College Library. She says there are many options for customers to pick up their orders. “We also offer the option of curbside pickup, so if they prefer to stay in their car, they’re absolutely more than welcome they just let us know when they call us whether they’re going to come up to the table and we place the item on the table and we ask them that they stand at the blue line, or if they would just like us to put it in their trunk. So they have that option," Fernandez said. All customers must wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.

Federal government approves Methadone deliveries during pandemic

Olivia Reingold, NPR New York City  launched a methadone delivery program last month so that patients won't have to leave home during the pandemic to get their next dose. Methadone, a highly regulated medication for opioid addiction, has to be taken every day, otherwise patients risk a painful withdrawal. Normally, methadone  has to be picked up from a treatment center. But now, the federal government  says patients in quarantine can get their methadone delivered to them, if they follow security protocols. Earlier this month, Ana Pagan, 57, had her medication delivered to her house in East New York, Brooklyn for the first time. "I don't know how to say how I feel because it's too many emotions going through, but it's wonderful," she says. Pagan got on methadone eight years ago to fight a heroin addiction, and normally she has to trek to downtown Brooklyn every couple of days to get her supply.  Now, she says she's grateful that she won't have to make that trip during social distancing measures amid the pandemic. "I love that I don't have to go out, especially now because I'm scared. I really am." New York City has the capacity to make 1,300 of these deliveries every month. But since the program started in mid-April, only 70 deliveries have been made. That's according to Dr. Denise Paone, a research director at the health department who helped design the program. "There are also concerns like is the person stable enough? Do they have a safe place to store their medication?" Paone tells NPR. Paone says the city is trying to ramp up the number of referrals to the program by hosting webinars and daily calls with doctors to answer questions. Nick Langworthy, chairman of the New York State Republican Party, says he would rather see the health department hand out personal protective equipment to law enforcement officers than invest in this delivery program. "Methadone abuse is a very real problem and at its best it should only be administered under the care and direct supervision of a treatment facility," he says. New York City's Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot says she'll encourage the federal government to keep its new, more flexible regulations in place, if data show that the program is helping patients.

College towns could take census hit from the pandemic

Lynn Hatter, WFSU
The global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted almost everything—and that includes the US Census. College towns could face a surprising hit from the sudden loss of students who had to return home early. The Census Bureau’s Stephen Buckner says the bureau relies on colleges and universities to count students in on-campus housing but off-campus is another issue. "It’s critical that those living out-of-town get counted in Tallahassee that were living in off-campus apartments and so that might have an impact on some of the response rates right now. We’re trying to do everything we can to reach college students to let them know they should be counted where they’re attending college, not where they went back to as the semesters closed and the universities closed," Buckner said. Of the 190,000 people in Tallahassee, 60,000 are college students. The decennial count of every person living in the U.S. is used to determine state and local federal funding and representation in Congress. Buckner says the census is working with colleges and universities to get headcounts.

Trump's pandemic response has conservative high schooler turning towards Biden

Daniel Rivero, WLRN
This is the last week of high school for a lot of seniors in South Florida. For many of them, November will be the first time they can vote in an election. WLRN’s Danny Rivero has been following a high school senior in Homestead whose whole political world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.

I first met Jacob two months ago at a McDonald’s that his mom drove him to. We sat to chat on a curb in the parking lot. "My name is Jacob Russell Cuenca. And I am a Republican. And I'm going to be voting for the first time in the upcoming election." Jacob is a high school senior -- who’s starting to develop a political understanding of where he fits into the big picture. "I just believe in conservatism. I just believe in like, you know, like not really like like giving out like you. I know some people do need it. They really do. But like, I feel like you can achieve everything just by working hard enough. As long as you set your mind to it and you have a dream and that glare in your eyes, you can do whatever you want, honestly. You really can." That’s his vision of the American Dream. If you have a picture in your head about what a conservative Latino 18-year-old might look like, I'm gonna go ahead and say -- when it comes to Jacob, you’re probably way off. Jacob’s older brother Tristan kinda gets a kick out of that. "He kind of has that Kurt Cobain look to him, the blonde hair, listening to a lot of grunge music. A lot of alternative stuff. And it’s very funny. I wanna say he’s the embodiment of a rebellious teenager." Jacob really likes Nirvana. Like, really likes them. The first time I met him he had an "Incesticide" album cover t-shirt. His favorite song by them is Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, from the "In Utero" album. In it, Kurt Cobain interrogates himself, asking why he alternates between this and that -- hot and cold. Jacob doesn’t really like Trump -- but as of two months ago, he was planning to vote for him. Because for Jacob, Trump at least stands closer to the conservative ideals that he tries to follow. "Alright look. Trump, he says like some nonsense and like and honestly, I really don't agree with a lot of the things he does like, you know, like building the wall or like and how he thinks like climate change is fake and like and all this stuff. But you can't like let like one person ruin the whole entire party." Jacob’s mom is a Mexican-American Democrat. And his dad is a Cuban-American -- who voted for Trump and trends more conservative. In his house, Jacob says he grew up hearing stories about Cuba’s leftist government. His grandfather -- on his dad’s side -- was a political prisoner there. "He fled from Cuba. Like he like refused communism two times, right, and got thrown in jail. And they put him for like nine years to work in the sugar cane fields." But Jacob says he came to realize he is a Republican -- on his own. "I kind of like just reading a lot of articles. Reading it up on my own. I just felt like I fell more in line with conservative values than I do with liberal values. I do hold a lot of liberal values. But like. At the end of the day I think I'm more conservative than I am liberal." His brother Tristan says that's even as he supports things like abortion rights for women. "Especially when it comes to politics, recently when I’ve heard my brother speak about certain things I’m like -- Jacob has been doing his research into all this stuff, you know. He’s kind of going through that phase of not flip-flopping, but weighing the pros and cons of both sides." Everything you’ve heard from Jacob up to this point -- was from before the coronavirus pandemic hit. I recently caught up with him -- and some things -- were starting to change. "My dad’s hours have gotten cut. So that’s kind of like something that’s kind of scary." And with his dad’s hours cut, Jacob is having big doubts about the president. That idea of holding his nose and voting for Trump, despite his misgivings? He’s not so sure about that anymore because of coronavirus. "It kind of came out of nowhere and supposedly the administration knew about the coronavirus for a couple of months but didn’t warn like the population or something. And I don’t know, just the whole thing flip flopping back and forth and like, he just didn’t handle it right." So now, Jacob is facing a choice between what he calls two “incompetent” candidates. Remember -- Jacob is in high school. And he’s been reading a lot of American history in his courses. And in reading that history, the COVID crisis gives him vibes of the Great Depression -- and makes him think of President Roosevelt’s New Deal that helped pull the country out of it. "The Democrat is always needed after a time of financial catastrophe. The Democrat always helps the little people, the people who are like losing their jobs. So I think right now, I don’t know, I kind of think I’d rather vote for Biden than Trump at this point." Jacob says even though he still feels like a Republican, at this point -- he thinks he might vote for Democrat Joe Biden over President Trump. Because he says -- Biden might be more likely to pass social programs that would help families like his own.

Banned lawyer files lawsuit over Florida governor's lockdown

The Associated Press

A one-time busboy who is challenging the legal authority of Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue virus-related shutdown orders in Florida is a used-car salesman who worked for decades as a lawyer until he was banned from the courtroom last year in disputes over his behavior.

William Abramson of Lantana filed a longshot lawsuit over the governor’s authority to issue lockdown orders under Florida’s constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the matter, has designated the lawsuit one of its high-profile cases.

In their response, the governor’s lawyers urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case or rule quickly for DeSantis.

With NFL in limbo, Dolphins stadium unveils drive-in movies

The Associated Press FORT LAUDERDALE Fla. (AP) — It’s as close to the end zone as Miami Dolphins fans are going to get for now. Months after hosting the Super Bowl, Hard Rock Stadium is converting into both a drive-in and open-air move theater. The stadium’s new drive-in will accommodate up to 230 cars, while the open-air theater offers a more intimate viewing experience on the plaza. Guests can even order food and drinks online and have them delivered while enjoying the show. Stadium officials say they will show classic Miami Dolphins content and family-friendly movies while following social distancing guidelines. They did not say when tickets would go on sale. Like what you just read? Check out our other  coronavirus coverage.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.