TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s coronavirus numbers remain high as in-person early voting begins ahead of the state’s primary and some school districts prepare to reopen on Monday.
Florida reported 187 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 8,238.
That pushes the average number of reported deaths over the last seven days to 156, down from a high of 185. There were more than 8,500 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to nearly 527,000 cases.
The number of people who are hospitalized because of the virus continued to decline. There were 6,836 hospitalizations late Saturday morning compared to 7,174 the day before. Miami-Dade County by far had the most COVID-19 hospital patients with 1,558.
The numbers were reported the same day statewide in-person early voting began ahead of Florida’s Aug. 18 primary election. Florida has no statewide races on the ballot. Voters will largely be choosing party nominees for Congress and the state Legislature, as well as voting in local races. In-person turnout appeared to be light while there’s been a significant increase in vote-by-mail ballots requested.
And schools were preparing to reopen Monday in about 10 districts, with a handful of others to follow during the week. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran told school districts last month they must reopen schools for in-person instruction or face a cut in funding. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis later said there would be flexibility to allow districts to delay openings.
The Florida Education Association is suing the state in effort to postpone school openings, saying there haven’t been enough precautions put in place to make sure students and teachers are safe.
“We know that kids get COVID, we know they spread COVID, we just don’t know to what extent and how severe that might be,” said Andrew Spar, vice president of the teachers union. “What we don’t know is when we open schools and create these super-spreader situations in a climate in which we have uncontrolled community spread, what is that going to do?”
He said teachers want to be in the classroom, but there isn’t a good plan to ensure that it’s done safely.
Spar said schools don’t have the resources to add extra staff to sanitize schools or extra bus drivers to ensure safe distances between students. He also said there has been an increase in teachers either resigning, asking for a leave of absence or retiring out of safety concerns.
He said he has seen teachers saying, “‘I’m not going to risk my life when I’m so close to retirement. I’m going to retire instead.’ We’ve seen that, for sure, across the state,” Spar said.