ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida has seen a decline in COVID-19 cases throughout August. Is this a sign that the state may be ready to enter phase three of reopening?
On Sunday, Florida marked its 8th straight day in a row that cases have been reported under 5,000. Only 2,974 new cases were reported since Saturday morning. That is only the second time since June 22 that fewer than 3,000 new cases have been tallied in a day. The other time was on Monday, when 2,678 cases were reported. However, Sundays and Mondays often have a low number of reports as not all hospitals report on the weekend.
Nevertheless, this is an improvement from what the Sunshine State saw in July, with increases hitting over 15,000 new cases a day at some points. The state has seen a decline in recent weeks though and experts are hopeful it will continue.
"We are on the downhill path to getting to a new normal," Rebel Cole, of Florida Atlantic University, told FOX 35. "It looks like all those measures show that we peaked around July 20 and have been declining for over four weeks."
He added that he believes the numbers will continue to go down, stating that "Florida is moving out of the COVID spotlight. We’re no longer going to be called the epicenter."
In addition, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also been declining. As of Sunday morning, 4,578 patients were being treated for the disease in Florida hospitals compared to Saturday’s 4,773. It is a drop of almost 800 since Thursday. Hospitalizations peaked at above 9,500 on July 23.
Florida, except for Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward County, is currently in phase two of reopening under the 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery.' The guidelines for this phase has changed some since it was first announced in late April.
Phase two currently allows for:
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
The 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan allows for restaurants to operate with 50 percent indoor seating capacity and full capacity outdoors with appropriate social distancing. Restaurants can also allow for bar-top seating.
Bars, pubs, and taverns were originally allowed to operate with similar guidelines but have since been ordered to shut down, as the state has put a temporary ban on liquor sales at bars because of a rise in cases over the summer. Leaders in the industry are working to come to an agreement with the state on reopening.
Retail stores can currently operate at full capacity with appropriate social distancing and sanitization protocols. Many chains have included social distancing signage, sanitizing stations, and limited hours in their new safety measures.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to reopen for the 2020- 2021 school year in August. Several Central Florida school districts, like Seminole and Orange County, already have with both virtual and in-person options. Six other districts will follow on Monday.
New safety protocols both in the classroom and buses are in place for those returning to campus in the fall. For several districts, this includes extra sanitization, social distancing, and masks.
In addition, the Florida High School Athletics Association is allowing fall sports to begin on August 24th, despite medical advice given to hold off.
Amusement parks have reopened in Florida as well, all with limited capacity and enhanced safety measures to protect both park guests and employees.
Universal Orlando Resort reopened on June 5th, welcoming back guests over several days. Then, SeaWorld Orlando and Aquatica reopened on June 11th. And finally, Walt Disney World reopened on July 11th after nearly four months of being closed.
During the shutdowns, revenue at the parks dropped significantly. A Comcast earnings report revealed that revenue at the Universal parks fell 94 percent during the second quarter when most of its parks were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney also lost $4.84 billion, or $2.61 per share, compared to a profit of 79 cents in the prior-year quarter.
In addition, major events like Disney's 'Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party' and Universal's 'Halloween Horror Nights' are canceled due to COVID-19. However, Busch Gardens says Howl-O-Scream is still happening this year but with no houses, open-air scare zones, and limited capacity.
The parks are currently struggling to bring people back to the parks. Several of them are offering ticket deals to boost attendance. For example, Walt Disney World has rolled out the new 'Florida Resident Disney Magic Flex Ticket' options offer guests a choice of 2, 3, or 4-day tickets at a discount. The more days you want, the cheaper the per-day cost. It gets as cheap as $49 per day. Universal is also offering a new "Buy a Day" ticket that gives visitors unlimited visits through December 24 -- for the price of a single-day ticket.
Gyms can operate at full capacity with appropriate social distancing and sanitization.
Movie theaters, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, and arcades can operate at 50 percent capacity with appropriate social distancing and sanitization protocols, according to the 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan.
For example, on Thursday, AMC Theaters opened in Central Florida with 15-cent tickets. Auditoriums will only be 40 percent filled at most to allow for social distancing, the company said. Masks are required before, during, and after the movie unless you are eating or drinking. Theaters have also increased sanitation and cleaning procedures.
BARBER SHOPS AND SALONS
Barbershops, hair salons, and nail salons may operate with appropriate safety protocols.
LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
Visitors are still not allowed at long-term care facilities in Florida but the Governor is working to allow this. He has assembled a task force to determine the best way to safely go about allowing visitors. In addition, about 70 percent of the state's nursing homes are receiving rapid test kits from the federal government.
Florida has required nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, to test their staff members twice a month. It has entered into a contract with Curative to provide the testing kits, and the long-term care providers get the results within 24 hours, the governor said.
The 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan also allows for professional sports venues to open and continue operating for games, events, competitions, and training.
Several major sports leagues are completing their seasons in Orlando. For example, 22 NBA teams came to Disney to complete a shortened version of the rest of the season. Fans are not allowed in the stands though. The MLS was originally doing something similar on Disney campus but is now allowing teams to return home for league resumption. Orlando City Soccer Club will even let a limited amount of fans watch three upcoming home matches from the stands.
The WWE has also been filming their shows from Orlando. They are currently leasing the Amway Center "for the foreseeable future," and will broadcast both RAW and Smackdown from there. Fans can attend "virtually."
MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES
Both museums and libraries can operate at full capacity, the 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan states.
Elective surgeries can be conducted at hospitals with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety protocols, the plan states.
Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward County are still in phase one of Florida's reopening plan. However, a recent report from the Sun-Sentinel stated that the area may soon enter phase two because of the decline in cases. This will allow for higher capacity limits at businesses and restaurants can offer bar-top service. It will also serve as an important benchmark for resuming in-person learning at schools.
For the rest of the state though, when will phase three begin? It is not entirely clear, unfortunately. The 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan allows the state to upgrade phases when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence of cases, while still maintaining health benchmarks, hospital bed capacity, and a test positive rate.
Cases and hospitalizations have been on a downward trend for over a week now and experts expect this trend to continue, signaling a good chance at eventually moving forward into phase three of reopening Florida.
Phase one and two have been changed from the original 'Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida's Recovery' plan and it is likely that the original plan for phase three will be different from what Governor DeSantis originally announced.
The original plan was going to allow for the following changes:
- Individuals older than 65 years of age and individuals with a serious underlying medical condition can resume public interactions, but should practice social distancing.
- Non-vulnerable populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
- Non-essential travel may continue.
- Employees should resume unrestricted staffing of worksites and implement the final phasing in of employees returning to work.
- Employees should resume non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
- Local government meetings should return to in-person quorum and public participation for local government bodies.
- Bars, pubs, and nightclubs that derive more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol should operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices.
- Restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices.
- Gyms and fitness centers should open to full capacity but should maintain adequate sanitation practices among employees and patrons during all hours of operation.
- State parks should be fully opened, including overnight accommodations. Beaches should remain fully open.
- Large venues such as movie theaters, concert halls, and bowling alleys should re-open fully with limited social distancing protocols.
- Large spectator sporting events should consider reducing capacity with limited social distancing protocols.
- Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.
- Salons, barbershops and nail salons, should operate under full capacity but should consider removing all unnecessary, frequent-touch items such as magazines and newspapers, and maintain sanitation standards.
- Retail businesses should operate at full capacity.
Coronavirus can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces. Others can then contract the virus by touching these objects or surfaces, then their eyes, nose or mouth.
As stated before, symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. They may show in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure, the Florida Department of Health says. Most people recover from COVID-19 without special treatment, but the elderly and those with underlying medical problems are more likely to develop serious illness.
If you display coronavirus symptoms, you should contact a local health organization and make them aware of your condition prior to arrival while also following specific instructions or guidelines they may have.
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 and let them know if you have been infected or believe that you may be. If you are infected, a medical professional or another authority will likely advise that you remain isolated while sick. This includes staying at home and not going into public places or large events.
Please visit the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage for information and guidance regarding COVID-19 in Florida.
For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, please contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-(866) 779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours a day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest coronavirus news.