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Florida virus cases soar, hospitals near last summer's peak

Florida virus cases soar, hospitals near last summer's peak

MIAMI — Hospital admissions of coronavirus patients continue to soar in Florida with at least two areas in the state surpassing the previous peaks of last summer’s surge, prompting calls by local officials for the governor to declare an emergency.A large hospital system in Jacksonville said its hospitals were at maximum capacity, its emergency centers also at a critical point as the state grappled with the new and more infectious delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.In Brevard County, two hospitals began setting up treatment tents at its emergency departments. And at a Fort Lauderdale park, a long line of cars snaked around a testing site, recalling the first weeks of the pandemic last year.Florida hospitals reported more than 8,900 patients with COVID-19 on Thursday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Florida Hospital Association said the state peaked at 10,179 cases last July.The patient number on Thursday was five times higher than a month ago, and it quickly climbed from about 5,500 in just one week.”What’s extraordinary is the speed at which we are currently seeing new cases,” said Dr. Vincent Hsu, executive director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiologist at AdventHealth in Orlando. “The slope is pretty steep, and we haven’t seen the end of it. This is still coming.”AdventHealth said Thursday it had reached a new high on Thursday since the pandemic began with about 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalized patients across its system in central Florida. Twelve hospitals in the state are reporting critical staffing shortages to the federal government.The state reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an additional 17,500 cases — making one fifth of the national new caseload — and 56 new deaths, raising the total death toll for the state to nearly 38,900.The rapid rise in hospitalizations and cases has prompted officials in Miami-Dade and Orlando to issue new orders requiring masks at indoor county buildings. The mayor of Orange County, home to Walt Disney World, is forcing all nonunion county employees to get vaccinated by August.And Walt Disney World also announced this week that it would again be requiring the use of masks indoors.Just 48 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, and hospitals say the vast majority of the patients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.Despite calls for him to declare an emergency, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed not to reinstate any pandemic restrictions. In early June the state stopped providing daily figures of cases and deaths, switching to weekly reports.He signed a law in May a measure that invalidated local COVID-19 orders and gave him power to nullify future ones.On Wednesday, the governor mocked new federal guidelines recommending use of masks even for those vaccinated against COVID-19. He also took aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, who recently said the U.S. is in an “unnecessary predicament” of soaring cases fueled by unvaccinated Americans and the virulent delta variant.DeSantis said Florida would “choose freedom over Fauci-ism.”“I think it’s very important we say, unequivocally, ‘No to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, no to mandates,’” DeSantis said. “We’ll be holding the line. We will not back down.”His words drew enthusiastic applause during his appearance in Salt Lake City, Utah, before the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that pushes conservative policies in Republican-controlled state legislatures.DeSantis said he opposes those measures because they were ineffective and “had catastrophic consequences” for the economy.The governor’s stance against lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccine passports is a key component of his reelection campaign. The campaign is selling koozies with the phrase “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” and T-shirts reading: “Don’t Fauci My Florida.”Charlie Crist, a Democrat challenging DeSantis next year, condemned his speech in Utah in a statement sent Thursday. Crist served as a Republican governor from 2007 to 2011, before joining the Democratic party. He has served in the U.S. House since 2017.“Our hospitals are being overrun by sick patients, families are losing their loved ones, and our children are facing another difficult and confusing school year. But where’s Governor DeSantis? He’s profiting from selling merchandise that demonizes our nation’s top doctor” he said.

Identifying the remains a burdensome task in condo collapse

Identifying the remains a burdensome task in condo collapse

MIAMI — As crews peel away layer after layer of the collapsed condo tower in South Florida, the death toll increases — and so does the burden of collecting and identifying the dead, as rescuers and pathologists balance the rigors of their duties with relatives’ desperate need for closure.Nobody has been found alive since the first hours of the June 24 disaster that killed at least 27 people in the town of Surfside, so updating the families has so far been a matter of delivering bad news. And what crews are finding is often not intact.“It’s not necessarily that we are finding victims. We are finding human remains,” Miami-Dade County Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah said to audible gasps and moans on a recent day when he had the delicate task of briefing relatives at a family assistance center set up in a hotel near the site.With more than 115 people still unaccounted for, the task could soon overwhelm the local medical examiner’s office, and the federal government has sent a team of five people from the University of Florida to help with DNA analysis. More help could be on the way, said Jason Byrd, commander of the Florida Mortuary Operations Response System.The medical examiner has already run into problems. When pathologists were trying to deliver one woman’s body in time for a funeral, some faulty DNA testing meant they had to cut off a finger and rush it to a lab to log her fingerprint, an official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident.Time is a complicating factor as well, as experts say DNA analysis becomes less reliable as bodies start to decompose.But the way the building collapsed, with its 12 floors pancaking on top of each other, may make some of the work relatively straightforward as crews clear debris from the top and work their way down, according to Dennis Dirkmaat, who chairs the Department of Applied and Forensic Sciences at Mercyhurst University.They “remove the uppermost layer in a horizontal manner, locate all of the individuals found there,” said Dirkmaat, who worked on recovery and identification of victims from United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. “You know exactly where they’re located. You can eventually place them in a particular apartment or a particular location.”Lt. Col. Oz Gino, the commander of an Israeli search and rescue battalion working at the Florida site, said his team used blueprints of the building to create detailed 3D images of the disaster site to aid in the search. They also gathered information from families of the missing to build a room-by-room model laying out where people would have been sleeping during the pre-dawn collapse.The pace of finding victims’ remains has been slow so far, with efforts focused on searching for anyone who may still be alive. That part of the process should take a couple of weeks before it turns into a recovery phase, which could also run for weeks.Many of the building’s occupants are Jewish, and emergency workers are being careful to heed religious sensitivities as they handle what they find.In the Jewish faith, the whole body and all its parts, including limbs, blood and tissue, must be collected in preparation for burial. Bodies should not be left overnight or exposed in the open as they are considered to be made in the image of God.Jadallah said every time crews find human remains, they remove them and clean the area. They also work with a rabbi to ensure any religious rituals are done properly.The medical examiner has honored the wishes of some relatives not to perform autopsies, which are not mandatory unless there is a criminal investigation. They are forbidden in Jewish tradition on the grounds that the body must not be violated after death.Mark Rosenberg, the head of a team from the nonprofit burial society Chesed Shel Emes, said he has about 20 people near the collapse site who are summoned every time someone is pulled from the rubble to say prayers.And Yossi Landau, who leads volunteers with the Israeli organization Zaka, which assists in identifications after accidents, disasters and bombings, said his group deployed a crew to the site to assist with burial preparation.It’s a race against the clock, since Jewish tradition also says burials must be timely: The remains of Leon and Christina Oliwkowicz, an elderly couple from Venezuela, were identified June 27 and their funeral was held the following day.“You have to bury the body in its entirety,” Rosenberg said, “and as soon as possible.”————Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Surfside, Florida, and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.

Girl's prayer at collapse site leads to meeting with Biden

Girl's prayer at collapse site leads to meeting with Biden

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Gazing at the mountain of rubble that had buried her father, uncle and dozens of others, a 12-year-old girl moved away from her relatives, sat down by herself and pulled out her phone. She opened a collection of Psalms and began to pray.Elisheva Cohen’s moment of reflection at the site of the Florida condominium collapse captivated the Surfside mayor and led to an introduction to President Joe Biden, who asked to meet her Thursday when he arrived to console families affected by the disaster.For days, families were kept away from the collapse site, which had been deemed unsafe. Then earlier this week, relatives were taken there briefly. Some shouted the names of loved ones and friends, hoping to hear their cries for help. Others cried.Elisheva sat down alone, away from her mother and brother, and began to read prayers.Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett soon noticed her. He knelt down beside her to ask if she was OK.“Yes” the girl told him.“And that really brought it home to me,” Burkett said. “She wasn’t crying. She was just lost. She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to talk to.”Only six months ago, Elisheva celebrated her bat mitzvah with her mother and father, Dr. Brad Cohen, one of about 120 people missing under the rubble. The year that precedes the religious ceremony involves intensive study of Hebrew, the Bible and history.That night, Dr. Cohen was proud. His youngest daughter was growing up and reaffirming her Jewish identity. Her father instilled a love for the teaching in both Elisheva and her teenage brother.Before Dr. Cohen completed his medical residency and internships, he had spent weekends staying at the home of his mentor Rabbi Yakov Saachs, always desperate to learn more about his faith.On his long commutes, he played cassette tapes, hungry to learn the teachings.“Even though he was dog tired, it was a priority for him to try and glean as much information as he could,” Saachs told The Associated Press in a phone interview.At Brad Cohen’s urging, the entire family became “more observant,” the rabbi said, following customs about not driving or doing business on the Sabbath.The night before the collapse, her mother sent a message to Cohen with a selfie taken by Elisheva in front of a mirror. She wore a pink T-shirt with a high ponytail. They were staying in separate homes.“Look how pretty,” the message read.She was wearing the same outfit the next morning, when her mother “frantically woke her up” to tell her about the collapse.For several days, Burkett shared Elisheva’s story far and wide. After Biden’s visit was announced, the girl’s mother, Soriya Cohen, bought her a new blue and white dress for the occasion. Her teenage brother was the first one in the family chosen to meet Biden. He had rushed home from a kibbutz in Israel as soon as he heard about the collapse.But the teen had already arranged to have a class with a rabbi in Miami during the president’s visit.“He said, ‘I already made a commitment,’” Saachs said. “So he said no.”The mother also skipped the meeting with Biden, saying she felt the president’s visit was a diversion from the search efforts. Elisheva went with another family member.The mayor said the most moving moment of Biden’s visit was when he shared Elisheva’s story with the president.“I wanted him to know and see the face of that little girl who is praying for her father across from the rubble,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Would you please bring her to me right now?’”Police went to get Elisheva. Biden walked up to her and they hugged.———Associated Press Writer Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also contributed to this report.

Widower seeking new start in Florida is missing in collapse

Widower seeking new start in Florida is missing in collapse

A New York City man bought a beachfront condo in Florida to start a new chapter of his life after his wife and parents diedBy ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON Associated PressJune 30, 2021, 5:04 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSURFSIDE, Florida — On a recent morning before communal prayers at a synagogue, Harry Rosenberg told a friend that his new beachfront condo in Florida offered a much-needed change of scenery after an awful year in which he lost his wife to cancer and both parents to COVID-19 in New York.The home in Surfside was to be a gathering spot for visiting children and grandchildren, and his daughter and son-in-law were doing just that when they traveled to the condo last week from New Jersey to join him for the Sabbath.Hours later, the building collapsed, and all three family members are missing in the rubble.Their cascading tragedies — cancer, COVID-19 and now the flattening of the building — are reminders of the excruciating toll the collapse has taken on families after what was already a grief-filled year.Elsewhere in the building, a woman also sought a fresh start in Florida after falling ill and recovering from COVID-19. Another man was visiting Florida to attend the funeral of an old friend who died after being infected, and a Colombian family was in Miami to get the vaccine.“He told me, ‘It is the next chapter of my life.’ He went through hell. His parents passed away. His wife passed away,” said Steve Eisenberg, who saw the 52-year-old asset manager last week at the synagogue.Rosenberg “came to Florida to breathe a little bit,¨ said Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar, founder of the Shul of Bal Harbour, the synagogue he joined.When the building tumbled to the ground, Rosenberg’s daughter, Malky Weisz, 27, and her husband, Benny Weisz, 32, had just arrived for their visit on the second floor of Champlain Towers South. So far, 12 bodies have been recovered. Almost 150 people are still unaccounted for.Described as a family man and observant Jew, Rosenberg had launched a young adult center for mental healing at a hospital in Israel in memory of his late wife, Anna Rosenberg.Before his wife died last summer of a brain tumor, he spent three years taking care of her, a close friend said.“He put his life on hold,” said Maurice Wachsmann, a friend of Rosenberg’s for more than 30 years.Months after her death came more heartache. His father died of COVID-19 in January, and weeks later his mother died of the same.“It was extremely difficult,” Wachsmann said. “He did everything for his parents. Family first, before everything.”Rosenberg decided to move to Florida, first renting smaller apartments and finally buying last month the larger condo in Surfside, north of Miami Beach.Last week, Rosenberg traveled to New York for the baby-naming ceremony of his second grandchild and rushed back to Miami to prepare for his daughter and son-in-law’s visit. She works as an auditor at a branch of the Roth & Co accounting firm in Farmington, New Jersey. Her Austrian-born husband works in finance.In his short time in Florida, he was already known by people in the community. Fellow members of the synagogue and his family are now anxiously awaiting any news from the scene. In the pile of rubble, family and friends have spotted one remnant of his life at Surfside from afar: a white couch.

COVID-19 cases delay long-awaited Royal Caribbean cruise

COVID-19 cases delay long-awaited Royal Caribbean cruise

Royal Caribbean International is postponing for nearly a month one of the highly anticipated first sailings from the U.S. since the pandemic began because eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON Associated PressJune 16, 2021, 6:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMIAMI — Royal Caribbean International is postponing for nearly a month one of the highly anticipated first sailings from the U.S. since the pandemic began because eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19, the company’s CEO said.The brand new Odyssey of the Seas was to set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 3 but is now postponed to July 31. Royal Caribbean International’s CEO Michael Bayley said late Tuesday on Facebook that the decision had been made “out of an abundance of caution,” adding that the company is also rescheduling a simulation cruise scheduled for late June.“While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests,” he said.Bayley said all 1,400 crew members aboard the Odyssey of the Seas were vaccinated on June 4, but two weeks had not passed for their bodies to build protection against the virus. Six of the crew members who tested positive are asymptomatic and two are mildly sick, he said, adding that the company has quarantined all crew members for 14 days and will continue routine testing.Company spokeswoman Lyan Sierra-Caro said the trial voyage with volunteer passengers that was originally planned for later this month would help the cruise line meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements before resuming trips with paying passengers. The CDC has not yet approved the trial run, Sierra-Caro said.The debut of the Odyssey of the Seas was highly anticipated as cruise lines attempt a comeback after more than 15 months of not sailing from the U.S. because of the pandemic. Royal Caribbean International has said that passengers are “strongly recommended” to get vaccinated, adding that unvaccinated passengers must be tested for the virus and follow other measures.Celebrity Edge, also part of the Royal Caribbean Group, is set to become the first post-pandemic ship to sail from the U.S. with ticketed passengers on June 26. A Celebrity Cruises’ spokeswoman told The Associated Press that Celebrity Edge is able to sail without a test run because it is following CDC guidelines allowing ships with 98% vaccinated crew and 95% vaccinated guests to skip that step.“We are exceeding these guidelines,” said Celebrity Cruises spokeswoman Susan Lomax in an email.A new Florida law bans businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. Gov. Ron DeSantis argues the legislation was meant to preserve individual freedom and medical privacy.Lomax said the state law stipulates that businesses may not require customers to provide any documents, “but we are able to ask guests if they would like to share their vaccination status.”————Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

COVID-19 cases delay long-awaited Royal Caribbean cruise

COVID-19 cases delay long-awaited Royal Caribbean cruise

Royal Caribbean International is postponing for nearly a month one of the highly anticipated first sailings from the U.S. since the pandemic began because eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON Associated PressJune 16, 2021, 6:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMIAMI — Royal Caribbean International is postponing for nearly a month one of the highly anticipated first sailings from the U.S. since the pandemic began because eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19, the company’s CEO said.The brand new Odyssey of the Seas was to set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 3 but is now postponed to July 31. Royal Caribbean International’s CEO Michael Bayley said late Tuesday on Facebook that the decision had been made “out of an abundance of caution,” adding that the company is also rescheduling a simulation cruise scheduled for late June.“While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests,” he said.Bayley said all 1,400 crew members aboard the Odyssey of the Seas were vaccinated on June 4, but two weeks had not passed for their bodies to build protection against the virus. Six of the crew members who tested positive are asymptomatic and two are mildly sick, he said, adding that the company has quarantined all crew members for 14 days and will continue routine testing.Company spokeswoman Lyan Sierra-Caro said the trial voyage with volunteer passengers that was originally planned for later this month would help the cruise line meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements before resuming trips with paying passengers. The CDC has not yet approved the trial run, Sierra-Caro said.The debut of the Odyssey of the Seas was highly anticipated as cruise lines attempt a comeback after more than 15 months of not sailing from the U.S. because of the pandemic. Royal Caribbean International has said that passengers are “strongly recommended” to get vaccinated, adding that unvaccinated passengers must be tested for the virus and follow other measures.Celebrity Edge, also part of the Royal Caribbean Group, is set to become the first post-pandemic ship to sail from the U.S. with ticketed passengers on June 26. A Celebrity Cruises’ spokeswoman told The Associated Press that Celebrity Edge is able to sail without a test run because it is following CDC guidelines allowing ships with 98% vaccinated crew and 95% vaccinated guests to skip that step.“We are exceeding these guidelines,” said Celebrity Cruises spokeswoman Susan Lomax in an email.A new Florida law bans businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. Gov. Ron DeSantis argues the legislation was meant to preserve individual freedom and medical privacy.Lomax said the state law stipulates that businesses may not require customers to provide any documents, “but we are able to ask guests if they would like to share their vaccination status.”————Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

Rapper Polo G is arrested in Miami after album release party

Rapper Polo G is arrested in Miami after album release party

Officials say rapper Polo G has been arrested in Miami on charges including battery on a police officer, resisting arrest with violence and criminal mischiefBy ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON Associated PressJune 12, 2021, 7:39 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleMIAMI — Rapper Polo G has been arrested on charges including battery on a police officer, resisting arrest with violence and criminal mischief.Jail records show the rapper, whose name is Taurus Bartlett, was booked into jail early Saturday on five charges and released on bond hours later.The Miami Police Department released arrest affidavits in which officers stated Bartlett, 22, and others were pulled over early Saturday, and the rapper ended up in a struggle on the ground with officers. One of the documents says an officer who was trying to handcuff Bartlett was struck multiple times.The documents say Bartlett was aggressive as he resisted arrest in downtown Miami. One of the officers said he had ordered him and all the passengers in the car he was traveling in to get out of the vehicle to pat them down for firearms, saying he suspected they carried weapons because they heard a passenger claim the vehicle was bulletproof.The police department said it was reviewing the incident that would include examining all camera footage, saying the arrest was captured on several body-worn cameras. Police spokesman Michael Vega said it also was investigating several threats received against personnel and facilities in response to the rapper’s arrest.The Chicago-based artist had just released his newest album “Hall of Fame” on Friday. His single “Rapstar” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April. His mother and manager said on Instagram that Polo G and his younger brother were riding in a car with security after an album release party.The mother, Stacia Mac, posted a message on Facebook saying she had bonded out Polo G and other people who were arrested in the same traffic stop. Jail records did not list an attorney for the rapper.