This post will be updated today, Monday, May 18, with the latest information on COVID-19 in South Florida.
You turn to WLRN for reporting you can trust and stories that move our South Florida community forward. Your support makes it possible. Please donate now. 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.
To receive WLRN's coronavirus updates newsletter on Wednesdays and Saturdays, sign up here.
State Universities ‘Preparing To Re-Open Campuses In The Fall’
Updated Monday at 3:30 p.m.
Florida’s dozen public universities — including Florida International in Miami and Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton — are planning to reopen in the fall, the State University System administration announced on Monday.
A system task force “has been working diligently for weeks to put in place a framework for re-opening university campuses in the fall,” according to a news release.
The system’s chancellor, Marshall Criser III, will provide guidelines for reopening during a meeting scheduled for May 28. Then, leaders of the system’s individual universities will present their specific plans during a subsequent meeting on June 23.
“Our measured and thoughtful approach will be informed by science and medical professionals,” Syd Kitson, chair of the system’s board of governors, said in the statement.
Universities’ fall semesters are set to begin in late August.
Coral Springs Encourages Residents To Start A Contact Tracing Journal
Updated Monday at 2:45 p.m.
The city of Coral Springs is encouraging people to keep a contact tracing journal as communities reopen during the pandemic.
“It’s a way for people to potentially save lives,” said Mayor Scott Brook.
Contact tracing is a classic public health technique. It involves figuring out if an infected person has possibly spread the virus to their close contacts.
Brook said keeping a journal helps people if they get a call from a Florida Department of Health contact tracer. According to health officials, both this method and expanded testing help keep local and state economies open.
“I recognize that keeping the population locked down is not something we can just do indefinitely. It has great economic and psychological costs,” Dr. Tom Hladish told The Florida Roundup on Friday.
He’s a consultant to the Florida Department of Health and research scientist at the University of Florida.
“My biggest concern is that we need to have adequate infrastructure in place to evaluate whether these changes are having an unacceptable impact to and know that quickly,” he added on the show.
The Florida Department of Health has said it has more than 1,000 contact tracers in the state. A report by the National Association of County and City Health Officials finds that there should be about 30 tracers per 100,000 people.
– Alexander Gonzalez
Broward Teachers Union Wants Temperature Checks Before Employees Can Enter School Buildings
Updated Monday at 2:15 p.m.
With campuses closed through the end of the school year, teachers in Broward County will be cleaning out their classrooms this week — and the union representing them isn’t happy with how the school district is handling the process.
Chiefly, the Broward Teachers Union is asking the district to require temperature checks before employees are allowed to enter campus buildings.
Temperature checks are being used all over the world — in Florida, everywhere from the state Legislature to Disney World to Miami-Dade County restaurants — in hopes of identifying people who have fevers and therefore might be infected with the coronavirus. But there are major questions about the effectiveness of the strategy, given that many people with the virus do not show symptoms.
The teachers union has also said schools should allow teachers to complete required paperwork from home and should not ask them to gather in groups in media centers or cafeterias.
“Those who do come in should get in and get out as quickly as they can and not be asked to congregate with their colleagues,” BTU president Anna Fusco said in a statement.
Broward County Public Schools administrators said the campus visits are voluntary. People visiting campuses will be required to wear masks or other face coverings, and anyone with flu-like symptoms will be turned away, Alan Strauss, the district’s chief human resources and equity officer, said in a statement.
“The health and safety of our teachers, while always important, has been a focus during this pandemic,” Strauss said.
“At the same time, there are responsibilities that still must be completed at our schools,” he said. “Teachers have personal items they have left that must be retrieved. There are tasks that must be done at their school that are necessary to close out the school year.”
— Jessica Bakeman
Miami-Dade Schools To Consider 'Academic Safety Net' For Students Amid Pandemic
Updated Monday at 12:30 p.m.
The Miami-Dade County school board will consider creating an “academic safety net” for students during the final months of the school year.
“No child should be penalized for their grades this semester,” school board member Martin Karp said.
Karp proposed an item slated for board consideration Wednesday that calls for “a plan for the final marking period pertaining to academic performance, which would account for student stress levels, learning environments and obligations.” The proposal leaves the details up to school district administration.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Karp said some students are taking care of siblings or sick family members — or even dealing with worse problems at home.
“There could be some form of abuse. There could be some kind of domestic violence. There could be fallout from job loss,” Karp said. “And it makes it that much more difficult for the students to be able to do well.”
Karps said his plan is primarily designed to help high school students who might be at risk of losing a college scholarship.
The Miami Beach City Commission passed a resolution last week supporting the proposal.
Other school districts as well as colleges and universities around the country have offered some leniency with grades to account for the challenges of at-home learning, such as a pass-fail system.
Public schools throughout the state shifted instruction online in mid-March, around the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter in the academic year. Campuses are not likely to reopen until the fall.
Walk-Up Testing Site Opens At Opa-Locka Park
Updated Monday at 12:10 p.m.
A new walk-up testing site opened Monday in the city of Opa-locka.
“This site will allow the community, whose income level may not afford them the opportunity to have a car, to walk up and get a test done, because a lot of us don’t know if we have the virus or not,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan during a news conference Monday.
Up until this point, the nearest site to Opa-locka residents was at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens – which is mostly a drive-thru operation.
Jordan said the site’s location also expands access to communities of color, which several reports and health experts have shown are at greater risk from COVID-19.
The opening of a new site coincides with the first day that Broward and Miami-Dade counties enter the first phase of reopening. Some non-essential businesses, including restaurants, can resume under certain regulations.
“This expanded testing is critical to ensure that we keep improving our communities’ public health,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during the Monday news conference.
The walk up testing is located at Sherbondy Park. People 12 years or older can get tested – with or without an appointment. For more information, call 305-499-8767.
– Alexander Gonzalez
Free Grab-And-Go School Meals Will Continue Through Summer
Updated Monday at 11:45 a.m.
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the federal government quickly waived rules governing how free school meals could be distributed to make the vital resource more accessible to families: Now parents are able to pick up meals without their children present. Staff members are allowed to hand out enough meals to last multiple days, and families are able to take the food home instead of eating it on school campuses.
That additional flexibility has now been extended through Aug. 31, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced.
“Providing Florida’s children with reliable access to healthy, nutritious meals is critical to ensuring that no child goes hungry," Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement.
The federally-funded program called Summer BreakSpot, which typically provides free meals to children during summer breaks, has been operating throughout the COVID-19 school closures.
Click here to enter your zip code, find the closest location, and check the opening dates and hours to confirm the site is participating. You can also call 211 or text FLKIDSMEALS to 211-211 to find the closest participating Summer BreakSpot location.
And here’s WLRN’s guide for finding free food during the pandemic.
Statewide Coronavirus Cases Surpass 46,000
Updated Monday at 11:30 a.m.
Florida surpassed 46,000 positive cases of COVID-19 as Florida’s Department of Health confirmed an additional 854 cases of COVID-19 on Monday morning. Florida has a total of 46,442 confirmed cases.
Monday's update also included the announcement of 24 new deaths, increasing the statewide number to 1,997.
Miami-Dade And Broward Begin Reopening; Keys To Reopen To Visitors June 1
Updated Monday at 7 a.m.
Florida's two most populous counties are joining the rest of the state in the first step toward what many are calling the new normal.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties enter Phase 1 of the state's reopening plans on Monday.
This is after nearly two months of being on a near-total shutdown in an effort to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed off on plans for both counties to reopen restaurants and other businesses deemed non-essential.
Miami-Dade County released a draft guide called the "New Normal," outlining the new rules businesses will have to follow once they reopen.
The county is requiring anyone who is going back to work to wear a mask and if any employee tests positive, that business must test all staff and hire deep cleaners to sanitize the premises.
The City of Fort Lauderdale gave commercial gyms the green light to reopen on Monday, defying a county ordinance that says gyms must remain closed.
DeSantis said fitness centers and gyms can reopen at 50% capacity on Monday, but counties can enact stricter orders. Miami-Dade and Broward aren't allowing gyms to reopen until a later phase.
Fort Lauderdale's decision to go reopen gyms could lead to a legal fight between the city and the county, said Broward Vice Mayor Steve Geller.
Both Miami-Dade and Broward county officials said they will work together about when to reopen beaches, but no date has been set yet.
Meanwhile, June 1st is the day set for the Florida Keys to reopen to tourists.
The Monroe County Emergency Management announced on Sunday that checkpoints on U.S. 1 and State Road 905 barring visitors from coming into the Florida Keys will be removed next month. Hotels and other lodging establishments will also be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy, says the county.
Airport screenings and bus restrictions are also expected to be lifted next month.