Coronavirus in Florida latest: Dozen more local deaths, re-opening plans ramp up

Here’s what you need to know for Friday, May 1.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the 2019 novel coronavirus.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the 2019 novel coronavirus. [ AP ]
Published May 1, 2020

Twelve more deaths related to the novel coronavirus were reported Thursday in the greater Tampa Bay region as Florida said its death toll had jumped by 50 to 1,290.

Businesses, customers mull re-opening plans

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this week that some parts of the statewide stay-at-home order will be lifted starting Monday, and now business owners and potential customers are pondering their own plans.

Restaurant owners across the Tampa Bay area were still grappling with how to make sense of the news, the latest in a series of surprises that have come to define the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other local businesses are mulling whether it’s the right time to open their doors. Some are eager to get whatever income back they can, while others question if it’s safe enough to put their employees back to work.

Tampa Bay residents have mixed reactions, with some saying they will venture out to stores and restaurants on Monday and others planning to stay home for now. A health expert said residents trying to decide what’s best for them should consider their own health and the safety of others.

Lawsuit targets broken unemployment system

The department overseeing Florida’s broken unemployment system — and the company that created it — are now being sued for its disastrous handling of coronavirus-related unemployment claims.

Housing officials take action to prevent rent spike

Florida housing officials on Wednesday filed an emergency rule that penalizes landlords and property managers who raise rent on low-income tenants during the coronavirus pandemic. The move comes a week after the Tampa Bay Times reported that landlords across the state could legally raise rent on more than 210,000 families in low-income, rent-controlled housing, even as the economic shutdown in response to the pandemic has kept many from working.

Florida’s testing gap

Only about 2 percent of Florida’s population has been tested for the coronavirus, a Times/Herald analysis has found. That’s far short of the amount many experts suggest is necessary to determine the true levels of infection. The percentage is even lower in rural areas.

Elective surgeries to resume

Tampa Bay area hospitals are preparing to resume normal surgery schedules starting next week after postponing thousands of procedures during the worst of the outbreak.

Clearwater’s mom-and-pop conundrum

The city of Clearwater announced last month that it wants to give mom and pop shops up to $5,000 in grants, but only a portion of what could be a $4 million program is funded. Now, officials are mulling whether they can legally draw from property tax revenue to help make up the difference.

Last in line: Publix lagged in safety measures

Many of the nation’s large supermarket chains were slow to adopt measures to safeguard employees and customers as the coronavirus spread and grocery workers were declared essential workers. Florida’s homegrown chain Publix lagged its competitors at almost every turn.

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Coronavirus in Florida podcast: Confusion over death count

The state of Florida is now withholding a list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by medical examiners. When that list was available in early April, the Times reported that the count was 10 percent higher than the figure released by the Florida Department of Health. On this episode of the Coronavirus in Florida podcast, host Allison Graves talks with Times deputy investigations editor Kathleen McGrory about this story.

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