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Health News Florida

Latest On Coronavirus: Cases Exceed 37,000, Probe Into Unemployment System, And More

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WUSF will be providing the latest news and information on coronavirus in Tampa Bay and across the state. Here are the latest developments:

Total positive cases of coronavirus as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 5, according to the Florida Department of Health:

36,492 – Florida Residents | 947 – Non-Florida Residents | 1,471 – Deaths

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

NEWSLETTER: Sign Up For Coronavirus Updates From Health News Florida

DeSantis Rips Unemployment System

Governor Ron DeSantis has called it “a jalopy” and “a clunker,” and says it was “in tatters.” He’s talking, of course, about Florida’s online system for handling claims for unemployment benefits, which cost taxpayers $78 million and still doesn’t work right.

The system known as “Connect” continues to cause anger and despair for laid-off Floridians as they cope with the loss of their paychecks during the coronavirus pandemic. The state has bought dozens of computer servers; accepted paper applications; reassigned other workers to handle the crush of calls; and changed managers. But problems persist. The state says the number of processed claims has dramatically increased, but so has the demand for assistance. The number of claims now exceeds 1 million, and DeSantis says the system’s many problems will be investigated.

"Obviously, we had a situation where one challenge was people couldn't even access the system," DeSantis said. "You had 50% — this thing was down 60, 70% of the time—This created a huge, huge source of angst with the public. People need to be able to submit a claim."

At a Monday news conference, DeSantis gave a detailed progress report on efforts to improve the site, but he said there are 900,000 pending claims that have not been processed. DeSantis also announced that he has asked his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, to investigate the original deal, which spiked from $40 million to $78 million and was amended 14 times, according to the governor. [Read more]

-- Steve Bousquet, WFSU

Pinellas Offers Free Testing

Pinellas County is now offering COVID-19 testing without restrictions at three sites. The testing is free and is being offered for walk-ups and drive-through to at Community Health Centers in Pinellas Park, Clearwater and the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center in St. Petersburg. 

You don't have to have coronavirus symptoms to be tested. And you'll need to bring ID and make an appointment to cut down on the wait.

The Department of Health has already been offering coronavirus testing in Pinellas County at a number of sites. [Read more]

-- Susan Giles Wantuck

Florida Aquarium To Reopen May 15

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa has announced plans to reopen to the public on May 15.

Visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines, and several safety measures will be in place.

For now, animal touch exhibits will and the outdoor play area will remain closed. Tickets can only be purchased online, and attendance will be limited.

The aquarium is taking for the reservations for the opening starting Thursday on its website. [Read more]

-- Carl Lisciandrello

Sarasota Approves COVID-19 Grant Program

The City of Sarasota has approved a grant program aimed at helping small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative would help stabilize struggling small businesses with grants up to $5,000. Money would come from $2.2 million in economic development funds.

The grant program is still being finalized-- but will be eligible to businesses with 25 employees or less. Grants will be awarded on a first come first served basis. [Read more]

-- Cathy Carter

Pinellas Beaches Busy On First Day Back

Pinellas County's beaches were busy Monday, on the first day that people were allowed to return to the sand.

>Beachgoers from Fort DeSoto to Tarpon Springs showed up in flocks after being shut out since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Clearwater Beach, hundreds of people enjoyed the sand and surf amid large signs warning them to keep six feet apart unless they lived together.

"I'd like to see more people wearing face masks," said Pat Gerard, chair of the Pinellas Coutny Commission. "I saw one on my whole walk up here. But who wears face masks to the beach? Right?" [Read more]

-- Julio Ochoa, Daylina Miller

Diners Flock To Tampa Bay Restaurants

Diners are returning to Tampa Bay area restaurants for sit-down service now that the state is letting them reopen with limited capacity.

Several local eateries that chose to reopen Monday said they were pleased with initial turnout. [Read more]

-- Stephanie Colombini

Carnival Set To Resume Cruises

Carnival Cruise Line says it's making plans to resume sailing Aug. 1. Carnival and all cruise lines have been banned from sailing from U.S. ports since March when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a No Sail Order. The order was later extended to July 24 or when "the Secretary of Health and Human Services' declares that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency."

In its announcement, Carnival says it plans to begin with eight ships sailing from Texas (Galveston) and Florida (Miami and the Ft. Lauderdale area). The company says it will ramp up with more cruises from U.S. and Australian ports during August.

-- Greg Allen, NPR

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