COVID-19 News

September 25, 2020
Florida Lifts Restaurant Restrictions, Preempts Local Business Closures

Your table is ready - bars and restaurants in Florida no longer have any capacity restrictions. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Friday removing remaining restrictions on businesses that were in place to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The order, which took effect immediately, also prohibits local governments from issuing their own local orders to the contrary, or collecting any fines from pandemic-related rules. "In the state of Florida everybody has a right to work,” DeSantis said at a news conference in St. Petersburg. “We’re not closing anything going forward.” Some Florida Democrats criticized the Republican governor, suggesting some areas may not be ready to reopen with the rest of the state. Associated Press / Tampa Bay Times / Florida Politics / WTSP / Governor's Executive Order

DeSantis: NFL Teams Should Allow More Fans to Show Tampa Can Host Super Bowl in February

Tampa's Raymond James Stadium and other NFL venues in Florida should move toward allowing more fans in the stands to show the state can safely host a Super Bowl in Tampa early next year, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday. While the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed limited numbers of fans at home games, the Tampa Bay Bucs played their home opener Sunday without spectators and have said they plan to do the same Oct. 4 against San Diego. At a news conference in St. Petersburg, DeSantis said he understands teams' effort to move slowly, and that teams have the right to determine capacity.  “They want to go slower than anyone," DeSantis said of the teams. "So it’s not like they want to have full capacity. But I think you can do much more than what’s been done. Outdoor transmission (of the coronavirus) has just not been a major factor.... I’d like to have everyone have fans in some capacity and then let’s build going forward.” Raymond James, home of the Buccaneers, is scheduled to host the Super Bowl in February. "We expect to do a full Super Bowl," DeSantis said. "We want to show we’re going to be able to do that.” Florida Politics / Tampa Bay Times / WTSP


September 24, 2020
Florida New Jobless Claims Continue to Decline

New unemployment claims in Florida dropped slightly again last week as the state's economy continued to slowly recover from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown that started in the spring. Florida reported 35,289 first-time claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Sept. 19, down by just over 1,400 from the week before, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. While steadily declining in recent weeks, Florida still hasn't gotten anywhere near where it was before the pandemic started - in early March the state saw fewer than 5,300 first-time jobless claims. Florida's unemployment rate is now 7.4 percent. Nationally, new jobless claims ticked up last week by 4,000 to 870, the government said. Department of Labor

Positivity Rate Drops Back Below 5 Percent

The COVID-19 testing positivity rate in Florida dropped back under the preferred 5 percent level on Thursday’s official pandemic report, one indication that the virus prevalence remains under control. The rate - which is the percentage of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 that are not retests of earlier positive cases - had gone up above 5 percent for two days after 10 days below 5 percent. But on Thursday the rate dropped to 4.45 percent. The state has been under the statewide positivity rate goal of 10 percent for more than a month. Sun Sentinel

Collier County to Resume Jury Trials in October

Some felony and misdemeanor jury trials will be able to start in Collier County early next month. After a seven month suspension of jury trials because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Collier County Clerk of Court is starting to mail out juror summons notices for two upcoming trials in October. Everyone entering the courthouse, including jurors, will be subject to COVID safety measures including a mask requirement, a short health screen and keeping six feet distance from others. Florida Weekly - Naples 


State University System: Schools Should Start Developing Alternate Plans for Fall Graduation Ceremonies

State universities should have alternate plans to holding any traditional commencement ceremonies with normal crowds in the fall, the state university system says. In a release on Wednesday, the SUS noted that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a threat and suggested that graduation ceremonies normally held in fall, and those that were postponed to fall from the spring and summer, will likely need to be rethought.  "Recognizing that health guidelines still limit gatherings at this time, it is prudent for universities to develop alternate plans for fall commencement ceremonies, which include any rescheduled spring or summer commencement plans that may have been changed to the fall," the SUS said. "While we understand the disappointment this may cause, universities were creative in their spring and summer commencement festivities, and each of them found ways to celebrate their graduates and their achievements.  We are confident that the fall graduates will be equally celebrated." State University System Press Release

September 23, 2020
Broward County: Voting Rights Outweigh Local Health Rules - People Without Masks Won't Be Stopped from Voting

Broward election officials say if people insist on voting without wearing masks they'll be able to do so. A spokesman for the Broward County elections offices said it can't turn away voters, whose rights to vote are protected by federal law, which trumps any local mask laws. “We follow local ordinances and guidelines. However, if someone refuses to wear a mask we cannot deny them the right to vote," said Broward elections spokesman Steve Vancore. What's not clear is whether local officials from the county who are in charge of enforcing the mask mandate might issue citations for violations of the order, while not preventing people from voting. Sun Sentinel

Florida Resident Death Toll from COVID Over 13,600

The Florida Department of Health on Wednesday added more than 200 additional deaths to its list of fatalities from COVID-19, though most of those added to the count died weeks ago, and so don't accurately reflect how bad the outbreak is currently. In all, more than 13,600 Floridians have now died from the virus six months into the pandemic. Another 164 non-residents have died from the virus in the state. Florida’s COVID-19 death rate is tied with Pennsylvania's at 15th in the nation, with 62 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall the state ranks fifth for COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S., behind New York, New Jersey, California and Texas. Sun Sentinel

Port Orange Teacher's Aide Dies from COVID, Brother Dies a Day Later

A teacher's aide at an elementary school in Port Orange has died after contracting COVID-19, the Volusia County school district said. Her brother, an emergency medical worker, died a day later. Teaching paraprofessional Shyla Pennington died with COVID on Saturday, Volusia school officials said in a press release.  She had been a teacher's assistant in the district for 18 years. It wasn't clear in information from the district whether Pennington had been working at Sugar Mill since schools reopened, where she may have contracted the virus, or what steps may have been taken by school officials to determine whether others were in contact with her. The school was open this week. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that Gerald Jones, Pennington's brother, died Sunday, also from COVID. Daytona Beach News-Journal


September 22, 2020
Florida Housing Market Has COVID Immunity

Florida's housing market continued to be strong in August even in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with closed sales, new pending sales, and listings and median prices all up over a year ago, Florida Realtors reported Tuesday. Single-family existing home sales were up almost 9 percent over August of 2019. The median statewide sales price for homes rose 13.2 percent year-over-year to $300,000.  “Florida’s housing market continues to gain momentum and provide support for the state’s economy, even as we all remain vigilant in protecting our health, safeguarding our communities and trying to keep businesses going during the ongoing pandemic,” said Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms. “Our homes have become more important than ever over the past few months as we’ve dealt with stay-at-home orders, working from home, helping children with remote education and more." Florida Realtors Press Release


Advocacy Group Seeks to Block Utility Cut-Offs During COVID in Motion Before PSC

Advocacy group Earthjustice on Tuesday asked the Public Service Commission to bar utilities from cutting off power to people who don’t pay bills during the COVID pandemic. It’s the first legal challenge to plans by the state’s regulated utilities to resume requiring payment of power bills. Duke Energy and Tampa Electric have both resumed disconnections for unpaid bills, and Florida Power & Light has said it plans to resume requiring payments in October. Tampa Bay Times

Positivity Rate Edges Back Up Above 5.8 Percent with Confirmation of 2,470 New Coronavirus Cases

The first time positivity rate for COVID-19 tests edged up by more than a percentage point to 5.88 percent in the Department of Health's latest daily report on Tuesday, putting it at its highest level in nearly two weeks, but still well below the state's goal of 10 percent. The test rate marked the 40th straight day of a positivity rate under 10 percent, but ended a run of 10 straight days with fewer than 5 percent of tests coming back positive. The state confirmed 2,470 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, pushing the state's total for the pandemic above 687,900. The state also added 99 new deaths to its total death toll since the beginning of the pandemic. Department of Health / Miami Herald / Orlando Sentinel


September 21, 2020
OIR Approves ACA Plan Rate Increase With COVID Impact

Individual major medical plans sold through the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) exchange have been approved for the 2020-2021 plan year with an average approved rate increase of 3.1 percent starting next Jan. 1, the Office of Insurance Regulation announced, mostly due to the COVID pandemic. OIR approved said the additional costs for insurers from COVID amounted to a 2 percent increase. Office of Insurance Regulation

Some Miami-Dade Students Could Go Back to Classes at End of Month

Miami-Dade students could start returning to in-person classroom learning starting Sept. 30 in a staggered format under a plan being proposed by county school officials.

Other students who want to return to in-person classroom learning would be able to do so by Oct. 7 under the plan, which still would need approval from the county's school board. Miami Herald / WPLG

Coronavirus Cases in Young Up in College Areas

Florida health officials on Monday reported 369 more young people in the 15-to-24 age group have been infected by the novel coronavirus, making up 22 percent of all new cases in the state. Almost half of those new infections are in counties with major universities such as the University of Florida, Florida State, UCF and USF. In addition, South Florida, home to two state universities, reported 83 new cases in that age group from the day prior. Sun Sentinel

September 18, 2020
Second Round of CARES Money Will Provide $255 Million for Small Counties

Fifty-five Florida counties with population below below 500,000 will be eligible for $255 million in new CARES Act money, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday. The money to reimburse the counties for spending on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic follows an earlier round of money from the coronavirus relief act that provided more than $300 million. Counties have to show how they spent money from the first round of funding and provide a spending plan for the new money to be eligible, the governor's office said in a press release. Governor's Press Release

September 17, 2020
Broward County Mayors Say They Should Meet Publicly to Discuss COVID Issues

A majority of Broward County’s mayors agreed Wednesday that they should stop meeting privately to weigh COVID-19 decisions and should open up the discussion to public view. For six months, the county has refused to allow the public to watch meetings in which mayors and county officials discuss how to protect against the coronavirus. Of the mayors representing the county’s 31 cities, 22 told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday that they support opening up the discussions in the interest of transparency. They say the meetings need to be recorded, opened to the public or both. Sun Sentinel

Final Federal Unemployment Payment For Those Put Out of Work by COVID Should Land This Week

Floridians eligible for extra federal unemployment compensation should see their fourth and final payment this week from the supplemental benefit program for those out of work due to COVID-19. The four payments were for the weeks that ended Aug. 1, 8, 15 and 22 under the federal Lost Wages Assistance program. The money for participants should land in bank accounts “sometime this week,” Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity said. The duration of the benefit varies from state to state. Sun Sentinel

Florida Resident COVID Death Toll Surpasses 13,000

Florida health officials added 147 more deaths of state residents to the fatality count for the duration of the COVID pandemic on Thursday taking the death toll for Florida residents over 13,000 since the beginning of the crisis. More than 150 non-residents have also died in Florida from the virus since the spring. The deaths added to the count on Thursday aren't necessarily all recent - only recently recorded as being COVID-related. There can be a time lag - sometimes of months - between when deaths happen and when they're added to the official count. WPLG

As Businesses Open, Unemployment Claims Continue to Fall

More than 30,000 Florida workers filed first time jobless claims last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the normal economy, but the number of those seeking benefits continued a steady decline as more businesses brought people back. The new claims in the week that ended Sept. 12 were down by more than 6,400 from the more than 40,000 that filed first time unemployment claims a week earlier in Florida, the Department of Labor said Thursday. Nationally, the number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits through state and federal programs fell in September for the first time in five weeks. And continuing jobless claims dropped nationally as well, but the overall drop wasn't as robust as economists had hoped for with many service industry establishments returning from the worst of the coronavirus shutdowns around the country. Department of Labor 

Miami-Dade Allows Staggered Reopening of Some Businesses, Bars Still Closed

Miami-Dade County will allow the staggered openings of some businesses, including movie theaters, convention spaces and indoor amusement facilities, starting Friday. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said after meeting with doctors on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the county that some types of businesses will be able to open and operate at 50 percent capacity, but must follow county guidelines that include mask use and social distancing, and must have air circulation. Bars remain closed in the county for now, but Gimenez said officials will discuss next week a possible opening date for those. CBS Miami


September 16, 2020
South Florida Teachers Continue to Worry About Reopening Plans

Teachers in South Florida remain concerned about class sizes and social distancing in classrooms and hallways as schools in Broward and Miami-Dade counties prepare for an eventual return to in-person learning. United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats and Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said Wednesday that teachers agree that the best learning environment for kids is face-to-face in-school learning, but say they're worried about whether current plans will prevent large outbreaks. NBC 6 

Related: Two-thirds of voters in Broward County support delaying in-person classes more to ensure safety. Broward officials are aiming for an Oct. 5 opening date. Sun Sentinel

Universal Won't Bring Back Furloughed Workers Anytime Soon

Universal Orlando notified the state that 5,400 furloughed employees won't be brought back soon – though it doesn't expect they'll be permanently laid-off. Still, the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic slowdown is expected to continue into next year, the company said. Orlando Sentinel

Orange County Commissioners Plan to Continue Virtual Meetings

Orange County commissioners will continue to hold their meetings virtually for at least several months, Mayor Jerry Demings said. The mayor said the board normally meets in a small meeting space that makes going back to live meetings hard if the board is going to continue to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Demings also noted that public interest and participation in the board's meetings has increased since the start of the pandemic. Orlando Sentinel

Palm Beach Teachers Union to Ask Board to Remove Superintendent

The local teacher's union is calling for Palm Beach County schools superintendent Donald Fennoy to be removed from office, saying teachers don't have faith in his ability to successfully open campuses for in-person learning next week. "CTA has tried to work with the current superintendent, but we have lost all faith and now have zero confidence that a righting of this rudderless ship is possible without immediate change," Classroom Teachers Association President Justin Katz wrote in an email to members. Katz said he will formally make the termination request to school board members at a board meeting Wednesday afternoon. Palm Beach Post / WPBF

Sarasota School Board Considers How Long to Keep Mask Requirement in Place

The Sarasota County school board is pushing to keep its mask requirement in place through the full school year, despite complaints from community members urging the board to drop the requirement now. Masks are "one of the few effective measures we have," Sarasota doctor Manuel Gordillo told the board. "To me it's like asking the question, 'When can we stop wearing seatbelts because we haven't had any accidents?'" At the same school board meeting on Tuesday more than a dozen people spoke against the mask requirement. A final vote on how long to keep the mask policy in place is expected at the next Sarasota School Board meeting Oct. 6. WUSF

September 15, 2020
Broward Officials Plan Oct. 5 Return to Classes

Broward County schools should plan for students to return for in-person classes on Oct. 5, Superintendent Robert Runcie said Tuesday. Runcie said a decline in COVID-19 rates in the state, as well as expectations from Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders, make it time for a return to face-to-face learning. "We recognize there's a population that wants to come back to our schools and those families should have that option," he said. Sun Sentinel / Broward County Schools (Video)

Palm Beach County Bars Remain Closed for COVID Prevention

While bars around most of the state are allowed to welcome customers this week, restrictions remain in place in Palm Beach County. Local officials are keeping bars closed there, but plan to remove the restrictions if the daily positivity rate for new coronavirus cases remains low. Health News Florida 

COVID Cases in Prisons Up by 40 More Over Weekend

Forty more state prison inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases since March to 15,852, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. The new total released Monday was up from 15,812 cases on Friday. The number of inmates who have died from the virus remained at 117. News4Jax

Latvala: COVID Was 'Sickest I've Ever Been'

Rep. Chris Latvala was hospitalized twice during his bout with the COVID-19 virus, once for three days and once for nine days. The ordeal changed his perspective, and has him now urging people to take the virus seriously. "I had shortness of breath like someone was standing on top of you," Latvala said. "Be careful. Wear a mask," he said. "Practice social distancing. This is not the flu. It's hard to describe what I had." Florida Politics

September 14, 2020
Florida Jobless Eligible for Fourth Week of Extra $300 Unemployment Compensation from Feds

Florida residents who were out of work in August could receive another $300 payment this week after the state was approved for a fourth week of the extra federal unemployment benefit. The payments – which are on top of the regular state unemployment compensation amount – were originally expected to go only through Aug. 15, but state officials said Monday that Florida is now eligible for an extra week. Orlando Sentinel

State Sees Fewest Number of New COVID Cases Since June 11 as New Positive Test Rate Also Declines

The 1,736 new cases of COVID-19 added to Florida's total count on Monday was the fewest number of new cases in one day since June 11. The positivity rate continued to decline in Monday's report as well, slipping below 4 percent to just over 3.9 percent of tests returning positive. State officials also said 34 more resident deaths from COVID-19 were added to the pandemic death toll, which is now 12,642 Florida residents. WPLG

New COVID Relief Bill in Congress Before Election Looking Less Likely

Congress likely isn't going to pass another COVID-relief bill before the election, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday. Negotiators over a potential relief bill are deadlocked, and some are questioning the need for further relief legislation with job losses having appeared to have bottomed out and the stock market still going strong. Rubio was one of several members and observers casting doubt on whether an agreed-on bill can be passed before November. Axios

Miami-Dade Has Seen Second Highest Number of Coronavirus Cases Among Nation's Counties

While the rate of new infections from the COVID-19 virus is easing in Florida, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows how hard the virus has hit South Florida, with Miami-Dade having registered the second-highest number of cases among all counties in the United States during the pandemic. Miami-Dade County has seen more than 164,000 cases of coronavirus, second only to Los Angeles County, California. Broward County is also in the top 10 at No. 7, with nearly 75,000 cases. Also in the top 10 are Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, Cook County Illinois, which includes Chicago, and the counties in Texas that include Houston and Dallas, two New York City area counties and Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas. Johns Hopkins University

September 4, 2020
Mayhew to Step Down at AHCA, Run the Florida Hospital Association

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew will step down, leaving the agency that regulates hospitals to run the Florida Hospital Association, the industry's lobbying group. AHCA also oversees nursing homes, and Mayhew recently headed up the move to allow nursing homes to reopen to visitors after the COVID-19 lockdown. Florida Politics / Orlando Sentinel

DeSantis Tells Counties to Report All COVID Measures

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday directed the state's counties to report to his office all the coronavirus related orders and rules they've put in place in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The request from the governor's office also asks for a report on how many fines counties have issued for such rules and information on any arrests or people jailed because of the special rules.

Counties have until Sept. 15 to submit their responses. Florida Politics

Palm Beach Schools to Reopen for In-Person Learning by Sept. 21

Palm Beach County schools will open by Sept. 21 for in-person learning, possibly earlier, county Mayor Dave Kerner announced Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order to move into Phase Two of its COVID-19 recovery. The Sept. 21 date is later than county officials had originally planned to open schools, but district officials asked for extra time earlier this week and the state agreed. WPTV / Sun Sentinel / Palm Beach Post

State Sending Masks, Other PPE to Nursing Homes for Visitors

The state is sending millions of masks, gloves and gowns to nursing homes to help them meet new guidelines that go along with the state rule change allowing homes to admit visitors. Gov. Ron DeSantis' order allowing visitation with some restrictions includes requirements for visitors to wear personal protective equipment. The 5 million masks, along with gloves and gowns is meant to help make that possible. WEAR

High School Football is Back; DeSantis Plans to Hit Game in Live Oak

The Friday night lights of high school football are back this week, though some football games will feel a little different. The crowds will be smaller in a lot of places – for example, Lee County announced high school football games will allow fans at up to 25 percent of stadium capacity and Collier County said high school football fans will be limited to two spectators per participant, per game. Duval and St. Johns counties in northeast Florida will limit stadiums to 30 percent capacity. In Orange County, which is also limiting spectators, the sounds and sights on the sidelines will be different – there won't be cheerleaders, dance teams or marching bands. In Osceola County, there will be bands, but they'll sound different too – they won't have any brass instruments. Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to welcome back high school football by heading out to a game Friday night. He'll be in Live Oak to watch the Suwannee Bulldogs host the Santa Fe Raiders.

September 3, 2020
UF to Have 20 Percent of Fans in The Swamp for Football

Fans will be allowed to watch University of Florida football at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this year in Gainesville, but only at 20 percent of the stadium's capacity, the university announced Thursday. The Gators have their home opener on Oct. 3 against South Carolina, after opening the season on the road on Sept. 26. The stadium capacity limit aimed at reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus will take the Swamp from the usual full attendance of 88,548 to about 17,000, school officials said. News4Jax / Independent Florida Alligator / Gainesville Sun