Ben Montgomery
Oct 18, 2021 - COVID

Florida's secret delta toll

Illustration of a market arrow breaking through a pile of coronavirus cells.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Roughly 4,500 Tampa Bay residents — an average of about 36 per day — died from COVID-19 over the four months the Florida Department of Health did not share daily pandemic information with citizens.

Driving the news: The data is now available and gives a clearer picture of the heartbreaking toll of the latest record-breaking spikes from the delta variant — which is only now subsiding — between June and October.

Ben Montgomery
Oct 14, 2021 - COVID

Florida investigates businesses enforcing COVID-19 safety rules

Illustration of business doors being barricaded by a vaccine needle.
Maura Losch/Axios

The state Department of Health is investigating a bevy of Florida businesses for enforcing COVID-19 safety rules that violate the state's law against them.

Flashback: Florida passed a law this year that prohibits businesses from requiring customers to show a proof of vaccine. The department of health can "enforce penalties on applicable entities or institutions that require documentation of vaccination or post-exposure status."

  • For municipalities, the fine can be as high as $5,000 per infraction.
  • Anyone can report a violation to [email protected].
Selene San Felice
Oct 13, 2021 - COVID

Florida contact tracers aren't tracing

Illustration of a crowd of people with a glowing line identifying positive cases of coronavirus 
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Florida is spending tens of millions of dollars on contact tracing, but state officials can't say if the program is actually working, according to a new Tampa Bay Times report.

What's happening: The state health department isn't keeping track of calls made by contact tracers — who are already only doing a portion of the job as it's described in CDC guidelines.

  • The CDC says contact tracers are supposed to call people who have tested positive, give them their test results, ask who they've come in contact with, then reach out to warn those people.
  • But Times reporter Anastasia Dawson found many Florida tracers are telling infected people to reach out to their contacts themselves.

Hillsborough schools keep masks, ditch doctor's notes

Illustration of a mask with a red checkmark being drawn over it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

At a meeting last night, Hillsborough County School board members voted to extend its mask policy without requiring parents to provide medical documents for their children to opt-out.

Why it matters: The county school system's case count dropped significantly through September. The 519 student and teacher cases reported on Sept. 7 fell to just 15 cases on Tuesday.

  • Sarasota County announced Sunday that it is changing to a masks-optional policy for students, after that county's cases also dropped.
Rebecca Falconer
Sep 23, 2021 - COVID

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a news conference at the Florida Department of Health office in Viera, Florida, Sept. 1.
Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Florida. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Selene San Felice
Sep 16, 2021 - COVID

Major Sarasota entertainment venues now require COVID vaccine or negative test

Jerry Lee Lewis sits in front of a piano at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.
Jerry Lee Lewis in 2019 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota. Please don't give him COVID. Photo: Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As fall theater season kicks off, nine of the leading arts and cultural organizations in Sarasota County — including the Asolo Repertory Theater, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Sarasota Orchestra — announced they will require proof of a COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test starting Sept. 26.

Yes, but: A Florida law enacted earlier this year bars businesses from requiring proof of vaccination and threatens a $5,000 fine for each violation.

Ben Montgomery
Sep 15, 2021 - News

Thousands turn out for Venice mask exemption event

Illustration of a mask with a red x being drawn over it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Several thousand parents of schoolchildren showed up at a rural wedding venue in Venice on Sunday to ask sympathetic doctors to medically clear their children from wearing masks in public schools, per the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

  • The event included a barbecue and a visit from Michael Flynn, former President Trump's first national security adviser.
Selene San Felice
Sep 10, 2021 - News

Patton Oswalt cancels Florida shows over COVID noncompliance

Patten Oswalt on stage.
Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Who's ready to laugh? Not Florida, apparently.

What's happening: Comedian Patton Oswalt just canceled shows in Florida and Salt Lake City, Utah, on his "Who's Ready to Laugh?" tour after venues wouldn't comply with his policy requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

  • A Dec. 30 stop at the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater was canceled along with three other December dates in Florida.

What he's saying: Oswalt said an Instagram video that he was planning to add more shows at compliant venues in Orlando and Clearwater.

  • "I have an ego, but my ego is not big enough to think that people should die to hear my stupid comedy. Hopefully in the future we can rebook those when sanity holds sway again."
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