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Your coronavirus update for Thursday: Convention Center portal opens 9 a.m. Friday; threat rising from variants; most cases in Florida since March 1

A vaccine is administered at the Lake Square Mall in Leesburg. Photo: Lake County
A vaccine is administered at the Lake Square Mall in Leesburg. Photo: Lake County


COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Florida.

The state reports 6,895 new cases among Floridians on Thursday the highest daily number since March 1.

The seven-day average has risen by 11% compared to the previous week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and analyzed by NPR.

Florida also reports 71 new deaths from COVID-19.

Hospitalizations continue to decline. And nearly 6 million Florida residents have been vaccinated, including 3.4 million who are fully vaccinated.

In Orange County, 313,114 residents -- or about 22 percent -- have received at least one shot.


Convention Center portal opens 9 a.m. Friday

The Orange County Convention Center portal will open at 9 a.m. Friday for vaccine appointments next week.

The county will be offering about 8,000 appointments. You can find out more at ocfl.net/vaccine.

Orange County Health Director Doctor Raul Pino expects to see an overwhelming demand as eligibility extends to all residents 16 and older on Monday.

"I think we are going to, at least the first three or four weeks," he said at a press conference Thursday, "and we hope so because that will indicate an appetite for the vaccine in the younger segment of the population."

Those under 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

FEMA sites at the Valencia College West Campus and the South Trail Branch library are open seven days a week. And they'll be open on Easter, too.

The federal walk-in sites will be offering the Pfizer vaccine, which is authorized for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Threat from variants rising in Orange County

Orange County reports an additional 23 cases of coronavirus variants, bringing the total to 105.

Pino says most of those people did not report recent travel. So the variants are spreading locally, especially among younger groups.

They include the Brazil and California mutations.

But the prominent one is the UK variant, which spreads much more easily and is believed to cause more hospitalization and death.

Pino says the numbers are less significant than the presence of it.

"So it's happening," he said. "We should be very careful about this. We should increase our vaccination rates to try to get to the younger segment of the population as quicker as we can so that we can prevent this."

As more vaccine becomes available, Pino hopes to get the shots to younger residents wherever they are, including recreational facilities and schools.


Orange County Health Department planning bring vaccinations to major employers

The Orange County Health Department has requested the vaccines it will need to begin offering vaccinations at some of the county's major employers.

Pino says he is prepared to move on it. The department already has agreements with some of those companies.

"So it comes to mind, you know, the big ones, the Disney, the Universal, the Sea World, UCF, Lockheed-Martin, and all the companies that have a large number of employees located in one location," he said.

Health officials will have the option to vaccinate all the employees because eligibility is expanding to everyone 16 and older on Monday.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.