This post will be updated today, Friday, April 10, and through the weekend with the latest information on COVID-19 in South Florida.
WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Local journalists are working hard to keep you informed on the latest developments across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.
WLRN staff continues to add to community resource lists, including this article on where kids and families can get food while schools are closed, and this post about whether and where to get tested for the coronavirus.
The dedicated website for the Florida Department of Health, including information about symptoms and numbers of cases, can be found here. The dedicated website from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be found here.
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School Districts Seek Student Input On How To Make Graduations Safe From Coronavirus
Updated at 1 p.m. April 12
South Florida superintendents have a question for high school seniors: How do you want to celebrate your graduation?
In Broward County, two students from each high school are working together on proposals for alternatives to traditional graduation ceremonies. The students will present their suggestions to Superintendent Robert Runcie next week, he said in a video update on Friday evening.
“I am a big proponent of student voice,” Runcie said.
Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he’s also collecting student input on graduation plans. He said the district is considering holding ceremonies virtually or postponing them until late summer.
“This is usually the time of the year when our soon-to-be graduates find excitement in trying on their caps and gowns, selecting that perfect dress or tuxedo for prom, signing yearbooks, attending grad bash and partaking in other special events that mark your final year of high school,” Carvalho said in a video message to seniors on Friday. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly impact the way we share and participate in these time-honored traditions.”
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) April 10, 2020
The Palm Beach County district announced last week it was canceling May graduations scheduled to be held at the South Florida Fairgrounds. The district is also working on alternatives.
Officials in Monroe County have not yet announced plans about graduation alternatives.
Palm Beach County Orders Masks In Stores
Updated at 10:15 a.m. April 12
Palm Beach County joins the other South Florida counties in ordering people to wear masks in stores, restaurants and other public gathering places.
The order takes effect on Monday, April 13. Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe already have similar orders in place.
Meanwhile, the Palm Beach Post reported that a 33-year-old Wellington-area nurse died Thursday from what her family suspects is COVID-19. She is not currently included in the state's reporting of deaths from the coronavirus, according to the paper.
Fried: USDA Approves Online Purchases With SNAP Benefits
Updated at 5:40 p.m. April 11
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved Florida's request to allow online purchases through the SNAP program, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced Saturday.
Nearly 3 million Floridians take part in SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, according to Fried's office.
The Florida Department of Children and Families administers the program and will ultimately determine the structure of the SNAP online program in Florida, through flexibility authorized by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. It's not known when online purchases may begin.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is also collaborating with the Department of Children and Families to implement the Pandemic EBT program, which will allow families whose children are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch to receive SNAP benefits.
Miami-Dade Libraries Taking Easter Off From Distributing Unemployment Applications
Updated at 5:30 p.m. on April 11
Miami-Dade Public Libraries, which have so far distributed more than 46,000 paper applications for unemployment benefits, will pause on Sunday in observance of Easter.
The distribution will resume at 8 a.m. Monday, April 13.
Paper applications for people who don't have internet service or printers are available outside of 26 library locations from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.
The applications are available in English, Spanish and Creole, along with envelopes to return them.
Sealed envelopes can be dropped at the library's book drop or at any CareerSource office. They can also be mailed to the return location.
For a list of participating library locations, links to download and print the applications, and more information, visit mdpls.org/reemployment-assistance. Residents may also call 305-375-2665 to find the nearest library location providing the printed applications. CareerSource South Florida is available to provide assistance with completing the application by calling 305-929-1547.
South Florida Continues To Lead State In COVID-19 Cases, Expanded Testing And Testing For Antibodies On Their Way, DeSantis Says
Updated at 11:45 a.m. on April 11
Data released Saturday morning by the state shows that more than 18,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida, with 438 dying from the virus.
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties continue to account for more than half of those totals.
In a press conference Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said one in every 125 Floridians has now been tested and that sometime this week the state should hit 1 percent of the population, or about 215,000 residents.
"That is a pretty good ratio," he said. "South Korea was viewed as leading the way on testing and they had reached one in every 200 individuals."
DeSantis repeated the information from Friday that testing at the state drive-through sites, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, will be expanded in both number and criteria for who gets tested.
People younger than 65 showing symptoms will be able to get tested, along with asymptomatic people who have had "close sustained contact" with someone who tested positive, he said.
DeSantis also said the state is ordering FDA-approved serology tests to determine who has the antibodies to COVID-19 — people who have had the virus but may not have realized it.
Miami Herald: COVID-19 Test Backlog Worse Than State Says
Updated at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, April 11
Florida is significantly under-reporting the state’s COVID-19 testing backlog, a blind spot in the data that could obscure the pandemic’s size and hamper efforts to decide when it’s safe to end restrictions such as social distancing — even as Gov. Ron DeSantis touts the state’s transparency when it comes to coronavirus.
On its public website, the Florida Department of Health says about 1,400 people statewide are waiting for their test results. But that’s an undercount, the department acknowledged in response to questions from the Miami Herald. And it’s likely a massive one.
That’s because the state only reports the number of Floridians waiting to hear back from state labs, not private ones — and those private labs are completing more than 90% of Florida’s tests. The state website doesn’t say that its figures exclude the vast majority of pending tests for the novel coronavirus.
Read more from our news partners at the Miami Herald
Hard Rock Stadium drive-thru testing expands Monday
Updated at 3:16 p.m.
A drive-thru coronavirus test site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will be expanded to serve many more residents, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.
Since the federally supported site opened nearly three weeks ago, it has been limited to 250 tests a day for first responders and health care workers and people 65 or older.
But starting Monday, “anybody that has coronavirus symptoms, regardless of age, can come and get tested,” the governor said, noting that more swabs will be collected daily. He didn’t give a specific number.
Read more at our news partners the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
CDC Issues New Return to Work Guidelines for Essential Employees
Updated at 9:28 a.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising that critical infrastructure workers may now be permitted to return to work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community. Critical Infrastructure workers who have had an exposure but remain asymptomatic should adhere to the following practices prior to and during their work shift:
● Pre-Screen: Employers should measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.
● Regular Monitoring: As long as the employee doesn’t have a temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
● Wear a Mask: The employee should wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after the last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages.
● Social Distance: The employee should maintain 6 feet and practice social distancing as work duties permit in the workplace.
● Disinfect and Clean Workspaces: Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and shared electronic equipment routinely.
For more details regarding the CDC’s return to work guidelines, visit bit.ly/3aZyL1J.
Questions about the possibility of re-infection remain unanswered.
Pinprick Blood Tests Find Undetected COVID-19; State Death Toll Near 400
Friday, April 10, updated at 7:30 a.m.
Health researchers from the University of Miami and Miami-Dade County officials have started to randomly test residents for COVID-19 antibodies using a pinprick blood sample. The tests will give scientists an idea of how many people have been infected unknowingly, which could help provide a timeline for easing lockdowns.
The effectiveness of this effort is unknown. Antibody levels in blood aren't always accurate, making the tests quite faulty.
“We’re learning how to fly while we’re building the plane,” Erin Kobetz, a University of Miami professor leading the project, told the Miami Herald.
This research project comes as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Florida continues to rise. Thursday was Miami-Dade County's deadliest day, with 16 new deaths related to the virus. It was also the biggest jump in deaths for Florida, with 48 new deaths, totaling to 371 deaths statewide since the outbreak began.
Thursday also came with 1,128 more confirmed cases, bringing the state's total number to 16,826.
The Miami Herald reports that the random pinprick blood tests have already begun in Coral Gables, Miami Beach, North Dade, Kendall, Miami Lakes, Aventura and Miami Springs.
The data collected will go to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to add to their models for the pandemic's peak, which are closely watched by local and federal officials. The new information from Miami-Dade could also help reserachers to better estimate hospital surges and when to start lifting social distancing guidelines.
— Leslie Ovalle