Florida coronavirus questions answered, from prisons to face masks

Florida Wonders answers five reader queries about how COVID-19 is impacting Rays funding, hospitals and more.
A Sunstar Ambulance turns the corner for Mease Countryside Hospital Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in Safety Harbor.
A Sunstar Ambulance turns the corner for Mease Countryside Hospital Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in Safety Harbor. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2020) ]
Published July 29, 2020|Updated July 31, 2020

Welcome back to Florida Wonders, a series where Tampa Bay Times journalists answer your questions.

We’ve been inviting readers to submit questions they want our reporters to research using Hearken’s community engagement tool. Over the past few weeks, readers have submitted quite a few questions about the coronavirus in Florida. Here are answers to some of your burning questions.

“How much do N95, surgical, and cloth masks block COVID-19 particles from leaving or entering your mouth and nose?” — Tracy Cooper

N95 respirators are designed to block 95 percent of very small particles when worn correctly (hence the name). Layers of fine polypropylene fibers trap both incoming and outgoing particles using static electricity, NPR reported.

However, some N95 masks include valves that release unfiltered air, which doesn’t prevent the wearer from spreading the virus. The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding these types of respirators. There are also increasing counterfeit respirators on the market as authentic N95 respirators remain in high demand and short supply.

Due to the shortage of N95 respirators, surgical and cloth masks are the way to go for most people. The number of particles blocked by these face coverings vary by mask. Both are designed to block large particles, like those expelled during a cough or sneeze, NPR explained. And both are helpful in stopping you from touching your own face while out and about. Neither are designed to block very small particles.

Still, experts maintain that wearing face masks plays a large role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Research from the University of Edinburgh suggests that wearing a covering over the mouth and nose can reduce the forward distance travelled by an exhaled breath by over 90 percent. And emerging evidence suggests that masks could protect the people who wear them by reducing the viral dose, the New York Times reported.

“What is going on with CV19 in Florida’s jails and prisons?” — Anonymous

Breaking news and public safety reporter Kathryn Varn has been covering jail outbreaks in the Tampa Bay region. Local jails say they are following guidance to screen new inmates for symptoms, suspend in-person visits and reduce their populations.

After an outbreak in June, the Pinellas County Jail added new safety measures, including changing all court appearances to video appearances and asking judges to avoid taking defendants into custody.

Still, the virus has continued to spread. Recently, one hundred inmates at the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center tested positive for coronavirus in a two and a half week span.

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Related: Inside Pasco jail, 100 inmates test positive for the coronavirus. Here’s how Tampa Bay jails are faring.

Times/Herald reporters Kirby Wilson and Samantha Gross have been following the coronavirus’ spread in state prisons. The state’s 96,000 prisoners have not been allowed visitors or activities like religious services since March. But as the virus spread throughout the state, it made its way into facilities.

Over the weekend, the coronavirus death toll for Florida prisoners rose to 46, Gross reported. As of Monday, 1,417 of the state’s 28,000 correction workers have tested positive for the virus.

Related: ‘It’s apparent that they’re failing’: As Florida inmate deaths soar, families feel dread

No officer deaths have been reported, but medical examiner data shows the death of one man who was living with his son that works as a corrections officer. For more on conditions for prison staffers, read Gross’ article.

Related: How Florida is failing to protect prison staffers from COVID

“What are the recovery rates from COVID-19 in Florida? What are the seven day rolling averages for new cases and the percent of positive tests?” — Harry Spring

Florida is one of several states not recording or sharing recovery rates. This is partially because the state struggled to settle on a concrete definition of recovery, wrote Miami Herald reporter Michelle Marchante. It’s also difficult to tell how many people have recovered since many who have coronavirus are not seeking medical attention.

The seven day rolling average for new cases from Monday, July 21 to Monday July 27 was 10,336. The seven day rolling average for the percent of positive tests for that same period was 15.16 percent.

“Positivity is an important metric, because it shows how common the virus may be in the community and if there’s enough testing to make sure asymptomatic cases are also under control,” wrote Romy Ellenbogen, our breaking news reporter who specializes in health. “A high number means testing needs to be expanded.”

For more on positivity rates, read Ellenbogen’s story here.

“How has the coronavirus changed the funding situation available to keep the Rays in Tampa Bay (St. Pete) vs other cities vying for our team?” — Chris Griffin

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard responded to this question with a statement via email:

“Neither the County Commission nor the Tourist Development Council has specifically talked about the Rays in recent months, and we have not heard from them regarding their plans or needs,” Gerard wrote.

“In general, the bed tax receipts are quite a bit lower than they were last year, and the Council has decided to put a hold on funding new capital projects for the foreseeable future; until the situation is closer to normal. Since there has not been an ask from the Rays for a new stadium, that would include them. The County is still in negotiations with the Dali and the Clearwater Phillies about their previously submitted projects.”

“How many people are hospitalized with coronavirus and how many are intubated in Florida?” — Deborah

As of Tuesday, more than 9,110 Floridians are in the hospital with coronavirus as the primary diagnosis.

The state doesn’t release specifics about how many are intubated, but that primarily happens in the ICU. As of Tuesday, about 18 percent of intensive care unit beds are available statewide.

Have a question for our Florida Wonders series? Fill out the form below. If the form isn’t loading, click here.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

LATEST ON CORONAVIRUS: Six things we’ve learned about the coronavirus since March.

MASK UPDATE: Find out where you have to wear a mask in Tampa Bay

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THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

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