Coronavirus Florida: Cases up by more than 1,000; officials ponder when schools will reopen
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that Florida public schools may reopen, if only for a couple of weeks, this year. DeSantis closed schools March 13 until at least May 1, but that's subject to change as the coronavirus spreads through the state.
In an afternoon briefing, DeSantis said no decision has been made yet about when schools would reopen, but that he thought it was important, if the evidence supports it, that they do, if only to restore a sense of "normalcy."
"If it is safe we want kids to be in school. I think most parents want that," said DeSantis. "I'm not saying it's going to be 100% normal immediately, but I do think there would be value if it's safe to do it."
DeSantis said he would confer with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran about any decision and held out the possibility that some districts could remain closed while students returned to the classroom in others.
"If you look at how this has impacted the state, it has not been a uniform impact ... if the problem is different in certain parts (of the state), then we should recognized that," said DeSantis.
Florida health officials confirmed another 1,128 cases of coronavirus infections in a 24-hour period that ended at 6 p.m. Thursday and an additional 48 deaths. That brings the total number of cases in the state to 16,826 and deaths to 371.
The number of new patients has increased by at least 700 for each of the past 12 days.
Florida recorded its first infection March 1 and first two COVID-19 fatalities March 6.
Officials say the number of Floridians hospitalized with the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the virus is 2,298, up 116 since Wednesday night.
The crowded South Florida counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach account for 9,711 cases, or 57.7% percent of the state’s total. Only one county, rural Liberty, remains coronavirus free, according to state health officials.
DeSantis said, at this time, the state does not appear to have a shortage of hospital beds.
"We have a total capacity of 43% of hospital beds available right now. It’s been pretty consistent over the last 10 days ... so there is a lot of space available. We’re obviously monitoring that every step of the way," said DeSantis.
In the United States, there are more than 434,861 cases, and the U.S. death toll had reached 14,529, as of Thursday morning. The largest cluster of cases are in New York state where 6,298 deaths have occurred.
Elsewhere, the virus continues to ravage the U.S. economy. It has shut down businesses and scaled back government services to where in less than three weeks, more than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs or been temporarily furloughed.
Economist predict that by the end of the month, the virus will have forced more than 20 million Americans into unemployment, a 15% jobless rate, which would be 50% higher than the peak of the Great Recession.
The economic shutdown triggered by the coronavirus in Florida overwhelmed the state's unemployment compensation system. Wednesday night, the Department of Economic Opportunity said a new mobile-friendly online application site went live.
“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is committed to ensuring Floridians are able to receive the benefits owed to them during this global pandemic,” Ken Lawson, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said in a prepared statement. “The team is working around the clock to make the process for applying for Reemployment Assistance as easy as possible for Floridians.”
The new site, floridajobs.org/raapplication, is only open to Floridians who have not yet submitted an application for reemployment assistance and do not currently have an account in the system.
Paper applications are also available at https://bit.ly/2y70K0T.
Among those who have been forced off the job are people in essential industries such as law enforcement, janitorial services and agriculture.
Infections or exposure to the coronavirus have forced them to self-isolate.
Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for when those workers can return to work and procedures for managers to follow to minimize the virus threat in the workplace.
The CDC said essential workers who have been potentially exposed to the virus can return to work if:
They are not showing any symptoms.
Their temperature is checked for a fever when they report to work.
Wear a mask for two weeks while on the job.
Practice social distancing at work.
Don’t share headsets or other equipment.
Go home immediately if they show any sign of illness.
If a worker becomes sick on the job, the CDC said managers should clean and disinfect their work space and inform all person who had contact with the ill employee up to two days prior before the symptoms occurred. Anyone who came within 6-feet of infected worker should be considered exposed.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.