COVID-19 News

October 21, 2020
COVID Workers Comp Claims Have Grown in Florida

State officials in California and Florida say COVID-19 cases now make up a significant number of the total workers compensation claims filed. The Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation reported that 21,221 COVID-19 indemnity claims have been filed as of Sept. 30, or 31.8 percent of the total number of injury and illness claims in the state. The large number of COVID-19 claims, however, is being offset by a reduction in the number of other types of claims as workers stay home because of the ongoing pandemic. Claims Journal

Bar Workgroup to Recommend Presumption that Remote Hearings Are OK For Civil Cases

Remote hearings would be presumed acceptable for civil cases in Florida court's under a permanent rule change the Supreme Court’s COVID-19 Workgroup will recommend to the Florida Supreme Court. The proposal is one of many designed to deal with the case backlog that has developed since the pandemic halted jury trials in March, Twentieth Circuit Chief Judge Michael McHugh told an Oct. 19 meeting of the Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force. Florida Bar News

DOH Delays Daily Report on COVID Cases

Florida health officials delayed the usually daily report on the number of coronavirus cases on Wednesday and didn’t provide an explanation.  A Department of Health official told The Orlando Sentinel that the agency would have more information “as soon as possible,” but didn’t have an explanation for the delay. The report normally comes out by 11 a.m. Eastern Time. The question over the data release comes after media outlets reported this week that Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering doing away with daily reports on COVID-19 statistics. The state already shifted from twice daily updates to a single update in late April. DOH later said in a statement that it was taking extra time to "ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths," and from now on would be performing additional reviews of all deaths. Orlando Sentinel / Tampa Bay Times 

October 20, 2020
DeSantis: If COVID Resurges, Schools Should Remain Open

In the event of another major outbreak of COVID-19, schools should remain open for in-person learning, "whatever the future may hold," Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday. The governor said it was a mistake to let schools close in the spring. "Going forward, whatever the future may hold, school closures should be off the table," DeSantis said during a visit to a Jacksonville charter school. "They don't do anything to mitigate COVID, but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social well being of our youth. Let's not repeat any mistakes of the past." DeSantis said more than 60 percent of the state's 2.8 million students in pre-K to 12th grade are getting in-person instruction, and that the risks remain low. "It's obviously even more clear now that schools are not drivers of spreading coronavirus, and schools need to be open," DeSantis said. "It is a bad public health policy to have schools closed." Sun Sentinel

Florida Opening Day Voting Was a Record

At least 350,000 people voted in Florida on Monday, the first day that polls were open for in-person voting, alleviating fears that COVID-19 would keep voters away. The number topped the previous record for the first day of early voting in the state, when just under 300,000 cast ballots in 2016. Politico

Uptick in COVID Cases in Central Florida Mostly in Young People, College Campus is Hotspot

Health officials in Orlando say the growth in coronavirus cases is mostly in young people. People between 15 and 34 now make up about half of all new coronavirus cases in Orange County. County health officials say much of the recent uptick in cases can be attributed to increased numbers of people in contact with each other on and around the University of Central Florida campus. WESH

October 19, 2020
Nova Southeastern and Lynn Seek Dismissal of Proposed Class Action Suit Over Online Classes

Nova Southeastern University and Lynn University, two private schools in South Florida, have responded to proposed class actions challenging their decisions not to issue partial tuition and fee refunds after classes were moved online because of the pandemic. The two schools sought dismissal of the proposed class action, saying the suits are based on subjective disappointment. Law360

Pandemic Has Halted Most Capital Cases

Death penalty cases have mostly come to a stop during the COVID-19 pandemic, considered incompatible with remote hearings, according to a Bar Criminal Law Section report. "Capital trials are not proceeding at this time, nor are they likely to proceed in the near future unless and until jury selections with large panels can be conducted safely and in accordance with all health guidelines," the report said. Florida Bar News

Juries Return to Tampa Courtrooms

With new precautions to guard against spreading coronavirus, jury trials resumed Monday in Tampa for the first time since March. Hillsborough County's courts are the latest to try to resume somewhat regular court work as COVID infection numbers have dropped in Florida. Tampa Bay Times / Bay News 9

New COVID Cases, Positive Test Rate Drop from Sunday; Positivity Rate Monday at 4.83 Percent

Florida health officials reported 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and 54 resident deaths, down from Sunday's tally of 2,539 new cases. The Monday report included test results for 36,540 people for a positivity rate of 4.83 percent, slightly higher than Sunday's rate of 4.66 percent. Sun Sentinel

October 16, 2020
State Reports 3,449 New COVID Cases, Adds 94 More Resident Deaths to Total

The Department of Health on Friday confirmed 3,449 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's known total to 748,437. Health officials also added 94 resident deaths to the total, bringing the resident death toll to 15,830.Friday was the second day this week that Florida reported more than 3,000 cases. It was also the highest single-day count reported since Sept. 19, when 3,573 cases were added. As of Friday afternoon, there were 2,083 COVID-19 patients admitted into hospitals throughout the state, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration dashboard. The number is significantly lower from early August, when more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients were admitted into hospitals throughout the state. Miami Herald

DOH Considering Reducing Frequency of COVID Data Releases; Democrat Lawmakers Object

A spokesman for the DeSantis administration said Friday that the Department of Health could reduce the frequency of its reports on the COVID pandemic in Florida, which currently are updated daily. Reducing the frequency of updates "is something that has been raised as we move to phase 3," DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo told WPEC TV in West Palm Beach, adding that no decision has been made on the idea. The report followed a couple of days of increasing numbers of COVID cases and infection rates. Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, and Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said a move to reduce the information about the status of the pandemic in the state would "be an affront to the public's health and right to understand case trends," noting the new upward trend in cases nationwide. "Across Florida, hospitalizations are increasing, ICU bed capacity is waning, and emergency room patients with COVID-like symptoms are increasing," the Berman and Cruz statement said. "We would like to recommend to the governor that he throw out President Trump's tired playbook of obfuscation and stay the course on daily transparent reporting."  WPEC / Berman-Cruz Press Release

Panhandle's Pace High Tops List of Schools with COVID Cases

Pace High School, in Santa Rosa County near Pensacola, tops the list of 1,920 primary and secondary schools in the state of Florida for COVID-19 cases, according to the most recent report issued by the Florida Department of Health on Oct. 10. Pace has reported 45 positive cases of COVID-19, including 44 among students. The schools with the next highest number of cases are Franklin County School in Eastpoint and Choctawhatchee Senior High School in Fort Walton Beach, each with 24 positive cases. Local education officials in Santa Rosa County said Pace High is following local protocols, including requiring students to wear masks, the same as other schools where infections aren't as high. Pensacola News Journal

COVID-19 Cases on Rise Again, Hospitalizations and Positive Cases Both Climbing

New cases of the COVID-19 virus are rising in Florida once again, as they are across the country, and for the first time since summer there has been a noticeable statewide increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. During the week ending Oct. 6, Florida counted about 2,200 new cases of the virus every day, the lowest mark since mid-June. Since then, however, every single day has brought that number up. Tampa Bay Times

October 15, 2020
Budget Hit: Hillsborough Cutting More Than 300 Teacher Positions

The Hillsborough County School District announced plans Wednesday to cut more than 300 teaching positions as it grapples with budget restrictions amid expected revenue losses from the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. In a letter to parents and staff, Superintendent Addison Davis said the moves were made "in a way that protects the classroom experience for our students and minimizes the impact on our teaching staff." District officials warned last month that "uncomfortable adjustments" would need to be made to address a $72 million operating deficit. WUSF

More Than 3,100 Took First-Ever Remote Bar Exam

The Florida Bar said Thursday that 3,137 people took the Florida Bar Exam on Tuesday and Wednesday, the first time the exam for potential new lawyers has been given remotely to all examinees. The test had to be administered remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "The board thanks all of the examinees for their hard work and dedication to seeing this process through," David C. Reeves, the board's chair, said in a statement. "We would also like to thank (test software vendor) ExamSoft for its effort in preparing for the exam and assisting the board and examinees on exam day." Grades are scheduled to be posted in late November. Florida Bar News 

Fried Proclaims This 'Mask Up Week'

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Thursday proclaimed the upcoming week "Mask Up Florida Week." Fried said the proclamation – which carries no force of law – is just a reminder that masks can reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. "I'm proud to proclaim 'Mask Up Florida Week' to raise awareness on the effectiveness of mask-wearing and to encourage everyone to do their part to help beat COVID-19," Fried said in a statement. "With so many lives and livelihoods on the line, we have to take our responsibility seriously and mask up to protect our loved ones, businesses, essential workers – and make sure we're doing all we can to keep Florida safe." Florida Politics / Press Release

Harris Named Acting Secretary at AHCA

Shevaun Harris, who has worked at the Agency for Health Care Administration for more than a decade, was named Thursday by Gov. Ron DeSantis as acting secretary at the agency, which runs the Medicaid program and oversees hospitals and nursing homes in the state. Harris replaces Mary Mayhew, who stepped down earlier this month. Harris most recently served as assistant deputy secretary for Medicaid policy at AHCA. Florida Politics / DeSantis Press Release 

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October 14, 2020
UF Forced to Postpone Saturday Football Game Because of COVID Outbreak

The University of Florida's football game with LSU in The Swamp on Saturday has been postponed by the Southeastern Conference due to the Gators' COVID-19 outbreak this week.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a news conference on Wednesday that the team has had 21 positive COVID-19 tests and now has fewer than 50 scholarship players available when adding in those who haven't tested positive but are required to quarantine. Gainesville Sun / ESPN

Keys Officials Concerned About Small Rise in COVID Case Numbers

The percentage positive of tests for COVID-19 has been on the rise in Monroe County. The 14-day average of COVID-19 tests is now more than 5 percent positive in the Keys, higher than rates on the South Florida mainland, which have been some of the hardest-hit parts of the state. Health News Florida

Winter Haven Mask Order Will Expire Thursday

The Winter Haven City Commission won't extend the city's mask law for a third time and instead agreed Monday to strongly encourage wearing masks in publicly accessible buildings. The order expires on Thursday. Commissioners had earlier agreed they likely wouldn't extend the order, citing a gubernatorial order that prevents the city from enforcing the order with penalties anyway. The Ledger

October 13, 2020
Gators Suspending Football Activities After Increase in Positive COVID Tests in Team

The University of Florida is stopping football activities after the university said five players tested positive for COVID. Athletic director Scott Stricklin said the team would stop workouts and practices and that UF Health and the athletic department's sports medicine staff would reevaluate the situation on Wednesday. Florida is scheduled to play LSU on Saturday. Florida joins Baylor as major conference football teams currently not practicing because of the coronavirus. Baylor's workouts were paused after 28 players tested positive. Yahoo Sports / CBS 4 Miami / Gainesville Sun

US Senate to Vote Next Week on GOP-Backed $500B COVID Relief Package, Much Smaller Than Democrats Want

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will vote next week on a roughly $500 billion COVID-19 relief package that mirrors an earlier Republican proposal as members of Congress try to jump-start negotiations that have been stalled for months over the size and shape of the next round of economic aid for the pandemic. A $1.8 trillion relief offer last week from the Trump administration failed to go anywhere as House Democrats sought a bigger package and Republicans said it was too big. Roll Call

Positive COVID Test Rate Ticks Up Slightly to Just Under 5 Percent; Resident Death Toll Tops 15,500

The Department of Health on Tuesday said it confirmed 2,725 additional cases of COVID-19 and added 119 resident deaths to the state death toll, now at 15,531 residents. The rate of tests coming back positive for the coronavirus in people who previously hadn't tested positive was 4.99 percent, up slightly from 4.25 percent the day before, Health Department officials said. Miami Herald

California Team to Visit Central Florida to Observe Theme Park Protocols

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is sending a team to Central Florida to see how health and safety measures have been implemented at theme parks like Walt Disney World since reopening. "While we absolutely take people's word for information that they provide us, we want to see things for ourselves," Newsom said Monday. Disney World near Orlando has been open since mid-July. The park has rules aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, including requirements for face masks, requiring temperature checks before admittance, distancing protocols and limits on how many people can actually be in the park at a time. Orange County health officials have said no COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to any Central Florida theme parks since their reopening. Spectrum News 13

October 12, 2020
Carnival Won't Cruise from Port Canaveral and Miami Until at Least December

Carnival Cruise Lines, which had been planning to sail starting Nov. 1 from two Florida ports following a months-long COVID shutdown, now says it is canceling planned November trips and will try to sail in December. The company's return from its coronavirus shutdown is being closed watched by state officials who need tourism to begin returning to normal levels. Fox 35 / Associated Press

Statewide COVID Positive Test Rate Remains Below 5 Percent, Broward Close to 2 Percent, Palm Beach County Below 2 Percent

The Florida Department of Health said Monday that the positivity rate for new COVID-19 cases remained below 5 percent, at 4.28 percent statewide as 1,533 additional cases were recorded. Health officials also said 48 resident deaths were announced, bringing the resident death toll to 15,412. The percentage of tests coming back positive for COVID has been below 10 percent for about two months, and below 5 percent for most of the past week. In some counties, the rate has dipped even lower – Broward County officials, for example, reported the county's rate on Monday at just 2.36 percent and the percent positivity in Palm Beach County dipped to 1.95 percent. Department of Health / Miami Herald / Palm Beach Post

Jury Trials Set to Restart in Duval County

Potential jurors will begin showing up this week at the Duval County courthouse as in-person trials begin after a hiatus because of COVID-19. Chief Judge Mark Mahon said the county wants to restart criminal trials first since inmates at the Duval County jail charged with serious crimes have been awaiting trial for months during the Pandemic. The court will try to identify cases that should be easy and short to try, such as those without a lot of witnesses, first. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is isolating prisoners before they go into the courthouse for their trials. News4Jax 

October 9, 2020
Pensacola Courthouse Ready to Restart Trials After COVID, Hurricane Sally Damage

Trials are set to resume on Monday in the courthouse in Pensacola. The First Judicial Circuit – which covers the area from Escambia to Walton counties – had planned to resume in-person trials in mid-September, but Hurricane Sally's arrival on Sept. 16 caused water damage at the courthouse, delaying the resumption. Trial court administrator Robin Wright said most of the damage has been repaired, or will be in time to begin court proceedings on Monday. Pensacola News Journal

Seminole County Schools Boosting Number of Students in Classrooms

More than 4,500 students who had been taking classes remotely will be back in classrooms in Seminole County schools on Monday. The move comes at the beginning of the second nine-week learning block that begins next week. More than 26,000 students will continue with online learning in the district. WKMG / WFTV

October 8, 2020
Florida Unemployment Claims Rise for First Time in a Month

The number of first-time jobless claims in Florida went up for the first time in a month last week, increasing by nearly 7,900 to just over 40,000. The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that 40,200 people filed new unemployment claims in the week ending Oct. 3, the first increase after several weeks of declining claims. The previous week, Florida had reported a pandemic-low 32,373 new claims. Department of Labor / Sun Sentinel

Democrats Plan to Seek Boost in Unemployment Benefits

State House and Senate Democrats on Thursday said they'll file legislation that would expand eligibility and extend the duration of unemployment benefits in Florida. The proposal, drafted by Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando and Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, would allow eligible out-of-work Floridians to collect benefits for up to 26 weeks regardless of what the unemployment rate is in the state. Currently, the maximum benefit duration is 23 weeks, and less than that – as few as 12 weeks – when unemployment numbers drop below a certain level. The bill would also raise the amount in weekly benefits workers can collect with a maximum of $500 per week, up from $275. The state's unemployment benefits came into focus in recent months with more than 2 million people filing claims as the economy shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Orlando Sentinel / Draft Legislation

Miami Presidential Debate Will Be Virtual if Held Because of COVID Concerns

A presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami must be held virtually because of ongoing concerns about transmission of the COVID-19 virus and President Donald Trump's recent positive test for the virus, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday. After the announcement, Trump said on a Fox Business TV show that he won't participate under the new format. Miami Herald / Fox Business / Commission on Presidential Debates 

October 7, 2020
Total Death Toll for COVID in Florida Tops 15,000; Positivity Rate Drops Back Below 5 Percent

State health officials added 137 additional deaths to the state list of fatalities from COVID-19 going back to the emergence of the virus in the spring, pushing the state's death toll for residents and visitors during the pandemic over 15,000. But the rate of tests for the coronavirus coming back positive dropped in Wednesday's report after a small increase a day earlier. The Department of Health said 4.15 percent of tests from Tuesday returned positive results after the rate had climbed slightly above 5 percent the day before. Florida is approaching two months of a positivity rate for new tests under 10 percent. WPLG / Department of Health 


Disney Will Cut 15,000 Jobs in Florida, About 20 Percent of Workforce at WDW Resort

Walt Disney World said Wednesday that more than 15,000 workers will lose their jobs in Florida – more than previously announced – as the theme park cuts about 20 percent of its workforce because of ongoing coronavirus concerns. Disney had previously said it would lay off about 6,700 non-union employees in Florida. The company now says it will also cut the jobs of just under 9,000 additional part-time union workers who had been furloughed during the pandemic, bringing the total of known layoffs at Walt Disney World Resort to about 15,500. The resort's total employment before the pandemic was about 77,000. Orlando Sentinel

Miami Mayor Suarez: Trump Shouldn't Come to Miami for Debate if Still Infected

The Republican mayor of Miami told Politico that President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden shouldn't debate in his city on Oct. 15 if the president still is testing positive at that time for COVID-19. "I don’t think it's safe, not for him and anybody else, anywhere or anyone he interacts with," Mayor Francis Suarez said. Trump has said he plans to be at the debate. Biden has said he'll follow medical advice on the question. Politico

October 6, 2020
John Thrasher, FSU President, Announces He Has Contracted COVID

Florida State University President John Thrasher said he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19. Thrasher, 76, who had announced earlier this year he will retire once a successor is chosen, tested positive on Tuesday. 

The university said his wife, Jean Thrasher, had learned she tested positive Monday night after after "a recent stay at a hospital and a local rehabilitation facility for an unrelated condition." Thrasher represented the Jacksonville area in the House and was House speaker from 1998 to 2000. He served in the Florida Senate from 2009 to 2014.  FSU Press Release / Tampa Bay Times

DeSantis Gives More Details on Rapid COVID Testing Program

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave an update Tuesday on rapid coronavirus tests that will be distributed throughout the state, targeted in particular for senior citizens living in nursing homes. About 60,000 of the tests will also be sent to school districts, as well as to existing test sites such as the Orange County Convention Center, the governor said. DeSantis said the new tests could lead to hundreds of millions in savings as well as time savings because samples don’t need to be sent to labs. Orlando Sentinel 

Latest COVID Numbers: Positivity Rate Edges Up Above 5 Percent

The rate of tests returning positive for COVID-19 in Florida was back up above 5 percent, state health officials said Tuesday after 12 straight days below that mark and a few days this week below 4 percent. Florida officials added 2,251 more coronavirus cases to the pandemic-long count of inections, pushing the statewide total to 720,125 infected. Officials also added 55 new fatalities to the death toll for the pandemic, which was 14,767 on Tuesday. Orlando Sentinel

October 5, 2020
City of Lakeland Drops Mask Requirement

The requirement to wear a mask in indoor public places in Lakeland expired Monday afternoon. Mayor Bill Mutz said there was no point in continuing the ban with Gov. Ron DeSantis having prohibited local governments from fining people for violating such bans. The city never issued any fines for violations of the mask requirement, which went into place July 2.  The Ledger