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Health News Florida
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Latest On Coronavirus: Largest Jump In Tampa Bay Cases, USF Players Test Positive, 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:

Here are the latest figures as of Wednesday, June 17, according to the Florida Department of Health:

82,719 — Positive Tests | 3,018 — Deaths

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

NEWSLETTER: Sign Up For Coronavirus Updates From Health News Florida

Largest Jump In Tampa Bay Cases

The Tampa Bay area continues to see unsurpassed numbers of new coronavirus cases, with 551 more people testing positive since Tuesday.

It’s the first time the regional daily increase in the number of people testing positive has topped 500.

Two counties saw their highest daily increases to date: Hillsborough with 244 more cases and Polk with 68.  Pasco County tied its highest daily increase with 23 new cases.

Pinellas County recorded its second-highest daily increase in positive tests 161, one less than the high posted Saturday.

Overall, the Florida Department of Health reported 82,719 total cases statewide today, an increase of 2,610 in 24 hours. That's just 173 fewer positive tests than the record high recorded Tuesday.

Health officials also report that 3,108 people have died in Florida from the coronavirus, an increase of 25 since Tuesday. There were five deaths reported in the Tampa Bay area Wednesday. [Read more]

-- Lisa Peakes

Two USF Players Test Positive

Two members of the USF football team have tested positive for coronavirus.

The university announced they were taking part in the first week of voluntary on-campus workouts, which started June 10.

All 75 players, and members of the staff, were tested before workouts began and before they were allowed access to workout facilities on campus, according to the university.

USF Coach Jeff Scott said the university will monitor the players who have returned to campus, and voluntary workouts will continue “in small groups with strict protocols.”

-- Carl Lisciandrello

Tampa Cancels Boom By The Bay Fireworks Show

The city of Tampa has canceled its Fourth of July Fourth show due to the rise in coronavirus cases.

The Boom By The Bay celebration was to be held along Tampa’s downtown waterfront.

In a statement, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Wednesday the city needs to focus on the safety of residents and limit large gatherings.

“While we would have loved to celebrate the Fourth of July together in person, we have to put the safety of our community first,” Castor said. “We are looking forward to an even bigger celebration next year once this virus is behind us, but we have to work together first to stop it.”

Castor and the city continue to urge residents to practice social distancing and wear face coverings in public.

-- Carl Lisciandrello

Florida Steps Up Testing For Nursing Home Staff

Nursing homes and assisted living facility staff will be required to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks, under a pair of emergency rules issued by Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration Wednesday. 

Facilities that don’t comply with the emergency rules could have their licenses revoked or suspended, while facing administrative fines.

The new rules reinforce the focus DeSantis has placed on trying to slow the spread of coronavirus in facilities that house many of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

There were just shy of 4,200 long-term care residents with COVID-19 and more than 2,400 infected staff members as of Tuesday.

About 61 percent of residents with coronavirus have been transferred out of the facilities where they contracted the disease, and into hospitals or other state designated COVID-19 facilities.

-- News Service of Florida

Florida Officials Spar Over Rising COVID-19 Cases

In Florida, where there's a surge of new COVID-19 cases, officials are divided over what to do about it. The state saw 2,783 new cases Tuesday. It was the third time in a week that Florida set a new daily record.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican officials, including President Trump, say the rising number of new cases was expected and is mostly the result of increased testing. Florida is now testing more than 200,000 people a week, more than double the number tested weekly in mid-May.

But local officials and public health experts are concerned about other statistics that show that the coronavirus is still spreading in Florida. The state's Department of Health reports that the number of people showing up in hospital emergency rooms with symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 is rising. Also worrisome — the percentage of people who are testing positive for the virus is going up. [Read more]

-- Greg Allen, NPR

DeSantis Vows To Keep State Open Despite Surge

Saying society needs to "function," Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Tuesday to keep Florida open despite a recent surge in the number of people infected with COVID-19.

“We are not shutting down. We are going to go forward,” DeSantis said during a late afternoon news conference. “We are going to continue to protect the most vulnerable. We are going to urge and continue to advise our elderly population to maintain social distancing and avoid crowds.”

DeSantis held the news conference amid increasing questions about the surge in cases and just hours after state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried accused him of acting “recklessly.”

Between June 4 and June 11, for example, Florida reported 8,886 new COVID-19 cases. During the past two days alone, it had 4,541 new cases.

-- News Service of Florida

DeSantis Vows Big State Budget Cuts To Offset Losses

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he will soon slash enough spending from the state’s proposed $93.2 billion budget to keep lawmakers from having to address a coronavirus-fueled loss in tax revenues before the November elections.

“There’s going to be a lot more vetoes, there'll be a lot of red,” DeSantis told reporters during a late afternoon news conference.

Lawmakers passed a record spending plan in March for the fiscal year that starts July 1. But the proposed budget has not been formally delivered to DeSantis, who has line-item veto power.

With two weeks until the fiscal year begins, DeSantis said his office has already been targeting cuts, identifying areas in agency budgets that can be held back on a quarterly basis and allocating federal stimulus dollars to cover pandemic-related costs. [Read more]

-- News Service of Florida

 More Funding Needed To Sustain Florida Medicaid Enrollment Surge

Unprecedented job loss due to the coronavirus means that more people across the country have enrolled in the nation's largest health care insurance safety net program.

Florida's Medicaid enrollment increased by nearly 5 percent in April and about three and a half percent in May.

Anne Swerlick with the Florida Policy Institute said the rising enrollment by itself isn't something to be concerned about.

“I think it shows that the Medicaid program in Florida is doing exactly what it was set up to do. And that's to be a safety net program,” she said. [Read more]

-- Daylina Miller

NOAA's Hurricane Hunter Base In Lakeland Hit With COVID-19

Authorities say five employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane hunter base in Lakeland have tested positive for COVID-19.

The areas of the Aircraft Operations Center where the employees worked were closed for cleaning on June 9. The employees last worked in the center between June 3 and June 8.

Spokesman Jonathan Shannon says they've notified anyone who was known to have been in contact with the employees and those people have been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The aircraft fly into storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and lasts through November.

-- Associated Press

Doctors Demand DeSantis Mandate Masks

Even as Florida is reopening, the state is seeing record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. A a group of doctors has asked Governor DeSantis to make the wearing of protective face masks mandatory in certain settings.

There is much that isn't known about the coronavirus. But Dr. Howard Kessler, president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, said one fact is undisputed.

"Face masks help slow the spread of the virus. They help lessen the chance of the wearing getting the virus and they help lessen the chance of the wearing, if infected, of spreading the virus," he asserted. [Read more]

-- Tom Flanigan, WFSU

Questions Remain About Reopening State Offices

More than a month after Gov. Ron DeSantis began restarting Florida’s economy, his administration has not issued guidance for how state agencies should reopen offices to workers and the public.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state workers have been working from home and have been following telework and sick leave policies issued in March by the Department of Management Services, an executive agency that oversees state personnel matters.

But the department had not outlined return-to-work protocols as of Tuesday, nearly two weeks after DeSantis moved into the second phase of the state’s economic reopening plan, which includes allowing expanded operations at restaurants and reopening bars and gyms. The first phase started in early May.

“Discussions are ongoing as to the reopening of state buildings. The work from the state agencies has been ongoing with some employees working from the office or teleworking,” Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The News Service of Florida in an email Monday.

Ferre did not answer repeated questions about the administration’s plan to reopen state offices or why DeSantis’ timeline for reopening has been different for businesses.

-- News Service of Florida

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