Latest On Coronavirus: Disney, Seaworld Allowed To Reopen - WUSF Public Media | Tampa NPR, Local News Coverage

Latest On Coronavirus: Disney, Seaworld Allowed To Reopen

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 1 p.m. Sunday, May 31, according to the Florida Department of Health:

56,163—Positive Tests | 2,451 — Deaths

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State Signs Off On Reopening Disney, Seaworld

Walt Disney World Resort and SeaWorld on Friday received approval to reopen from Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears.

Both theme parks have been shut down since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In letters sent Friday, Beshears told each of the entertainment giants they had “established the necessary plans for the safe operation of its theme parks properties upon reopening.”

Beshears said his decision was based on the department’s review of proposed safety guidelines submitted by the theme parks, noting that Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings endorsed the plans.

SeaWorld is expected to reopen on June 11. Disney is set to open Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, and reopen Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15, according to DisneyParks.com. [Read more

— News Service of Florida

Florida Paid $16M To Private Labs For COVID-19 Testing

Florida has paid $16,279,852 in contracts to private laboratories for coronavirus testing as of Friday afternoon. The state’s COVID-19 information center tells WFSU “that number includes cost of collection kits and lab testing.”

Quest Diagnostics, BioReference Laboratories, Inc. and Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) are some of the companies that have performed the most tests for Floridians. Quest Diagnostics in Tampa reports performing more than 200,000 tests, BioReference and LabCorp more than 100,000 each.

Private labs account for the vast majority of the state’s testing efforts, which Governor Ron DeSantis has said in recent weeks “exceed demand.” More than 48,000 of the state’s 53,000-plus cases have been confirmed by private testing labs.

The state Department of Health reports this week Florida is nearing one million total tests on Floridians, at about 984,000. Though, the state has been counting retests in its total test count. DeSantis clarified during a press conference in April that the state’s “total” number tested, doesn’t represent unique individuals tested.

“If LabCorp sends in (to DOH) 5,000 test results, LabCorp does not distinguish between someone who’s never had a test, or someone who tested positive and tested negative twice. It’s just not the way it’s done. So, we feel getting the information out, explaining how it’s done on the second page, probably makes sense.” [Read more

— Ryan Dailey

Webinars On Toll Roads During Coronavirus Opposed

Open government advocates want the brakes applied to upcoming webinars about controversial toll-road projects, contending that more-inclusive in-person meetings should be held as the state reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman said the webinar plans will continue, the First Amendment Foundation also questioned the legality of six webinars already held by task forces working on the projects, which would stretch from Collier County to the Georgia border.

“The webinars are a poor substitute for the kind of government that is required by Florida’s Sunshine Law, which does apply to the M-CORES task force meetings,” First Amendment Foundation President Pamela Marsh wrote Thursday to Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault, using an acronym for the projects that the state has dubbed the “Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance.”

Marsh wrote that the webinars should be “postponed (and preferably canceled)” until everyone interested in attending can be accommodated. Marsh added that state administrative rules require meetings to be halted if technical problems develop with the communications network, which she said occurred during each meeting.

“All portions of the Sunshine Law continue to apply even during this horrible pandemic,” Marsh stated. “No part of the law has been suspended or modified as applied to state agencies. As a result, I respectfully request that FDOT exercise patience, cancel any and all M-CORES task force meetings, and reschedule the meetings only when members of the task force and Florida citizens can fully participate in-person and by all feasible means.” [Read more

— News Service of Florida

Hillsborough To Open More Testing Sites

Hillsborough County officials have announced the opening of three more public testing sites for Covid-19.

Gene Early, with the county’s department of healthcare services, said they have been working with Suncoast Community Health Centers to partner with the state Department of Health to provide testing in Brandon.

“We believe this solution will provide additional outreach in the Brandon area, to the Hispanic population and others, that might otherwise not be tested,” Early told members of the Hillsborough Emergency Policy Group.

He added that the county will also open two other mobile testing sites in Wimauma and Sun City. They are expected to be open one to two days a week. [Read more

— Steve Newborn

Universal Orlando Hotels Set To Reopen

Universal Orlando plans to reopen its hotels to guests, more than two months after they were closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The hotels will reopen in phases beginning June 2, with a range of best practices and hygiene procedures.

Universal’s resorts include Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal’s Aventura Hotel and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort-Surfside Inn and Suites.

Guests staying in the resorts will be allowed entry into the parks on June 3 and 4, before they reopen to the public on June 5.

— Associated Press

University Students To Return To Campus In Fall

With COVID-19 concerns still pressing on the Fall semester for Florida universities and others nationwide, the Board of Governors approved the State University System’s plans to bring students back to campus.

The system that represents Florida’s 12 public universities proposed precautions that follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, implementing the use of face coverings and hand sanitizers, and regular disinfection of university facilities. Those who’ve reported traveling to or from virus hotspots with community transmission should be prioritized for testing. [Read more

— Fresh Take Florida

Florida Department Of Health Bringing On More Contact Tracers

The Florida Department of Health is bringing on more contact tracers to keep track of COVID-19 cases.

Doctor Shamarial Roberson is the agency’s deputy director. She says the state is hiring an external vendor to supply 600 tracers in the next few weeks.

“Since we are a fully integrated public health system, we can move contact tracers across the state to target the areas of need. So we’ll watch the numbers and based on the cases we have, we’ll assess our needs and we’ll make changes accordingly,” Roberson said.

Dr. Roberson says so far the state has recruited more than 1,500 contact tracers.

Health officials say contact tracing is crucial to slow the spread — and in turn keep economies open.

— Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN

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