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Positive Covid Cases Spike In Pinellas As State Count FlattensPINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - As the U.S. Coronavirus death toll tops 200,000 - now the highest in the world - some Tampa Bay area doctors are discussing the recent increase in positive cases.   “What are you doing?! You are creating fear and panic,” said Virginia Frizzle, a Pinellas County resident.  “I am so for face masks. It’s the minimum that could be required, the minimum that we can do, not only for the person standing across from us, or standing next to us in line at the supermarket,” said Karen Mullins, a Pinellas County resident.  Among a variation of calls from Pinellas County residents Tuesday afternoon, Pinellas County officials listened in prior to voting on the local State of Emergency.  “There may be cases and there may be rises and falls in cases, but nobody’s dying on the street and therefore there is no emergency. For you to force mask wearing on me and have no basis for it…,” said Dawn Lechner, a Pinellas County resident.  This afternoon's Board of County Commissioners meeting was different though. As the U.S. coronavirus death toll tops two hundred thousand, now the highest in the world, local doctors right here in Tampa Bay are discussing their recent increase in positive cases.  Before voting in favor to extend the county’s local State of Emergency, the board brought forward several doctors to speak on the county’s most recent numbers.  “So we are seeing an uptick, in fact, our new cases have gone up two out of the past three weeks,” said Dr. Larry Feinman.  Tampa surgeon, Dr. Feinman says, week over week, state versus Pinellas County, the state has flattened, whereas Pinellas County’s rate has increased.  “Pinellas County’s rate is 77 percent higher in terms of increase as compared to the state in general,” said Dr. Feinman.  Doctor Nishelle Threadgill pointed to the near future where our ability to isolate may diminish over the next few weeks.  “October is the next option for Pinellas County School students that may choose to return to school and I certainly suspect that there will be quite a few who now will also return to those classrooms,” said Dr. Nishelle Threadgill, CMO, Community Health Centers of Pinellas.  Just after the board’s vote to extend the local State of Emergency, the board then discussed separating the mask mandate ordinance from the local State of Emergency due to the amount of time the public comment portion of the meetings was taking.  “Our work is piling up because we have never taken public comment at our work sessions. When we’re taking public comment for hours at a time, things are not getting done that our citizens are waiting for us to get done,” said Janet Long, a Pinellas County Commissioner.  “Commissioner Long I hear what you’re saying but we have yet not finished a meeting. So any work that’s on the agenda has gotten completed in every single meeting, even with people calling in; and I think it’s a real slippery slope when you represent the people, that you don’t want to hear from them, especially on something that is so important as this outbreak and this pandemic,” said Kathleen Peters, a Pinellas County Commissioner.  The board voted 4 to 3 in favor of delegated the extension of the local State of Emergency each week to County Administrator Barry Burton. This will remain overseen by Burton until the board gathers further detail from physicians, giving them reason to discuss the order in detail again.  Doctors during that meeting suggested they come together to create a proposal for the Board of Commissioners explaining potential metrics to begin rescinding the mask ordinance.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to the story.
Andrea Alvarez with CW44 News At 10Pinellas County, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - You can count on Andrea Alvarez to deliver breaking news in Pinellas County and to get it right.
Positive Covid Cases See 2 Week High In Pasco CountyPASCO COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The number of positive COVID-19 cases has increased significantly over the last two weeks in Pasco county. Officials held a meeting this Monday morning to review and discuss those numbers along with the future of face mask mandates.  “I want to see the supporting documentation, again, the science, the data, the facts, the information that you all use to come up with your final decision on what you decide to do with the masks because that’s important to me,” said one Pasco county resident during Monday’s Board of County Commissioner’s meeting.  “It’s not fair. It’s not fair to us. This should not be forced on us,” said another during that public comment.  Pasco county residents against a mask mandate showed up to speak out against the order during that meeting. What they didn’t expect to hear is that the county’s positive COVID-19 case numbers have gone up significantly over the last two weeks.  “As of this morning, 8,834 cases. In this past week, we’ve had a 61 percent increase in the last seven days… so we’re heading in the wrong direction at this point,” said Mike Napier, Administrator, Florida Department of Health in Pasco county.  Napier says the county continues to support a drive-thru testing site for residents. “The concern here really is that we were doing pretty well back in the early part of September averaging about 3 percent as a rolling average on our positivity. This last week is the first time in almost a month that we have almost a 6 percent positivity rate and we have 1300 cases,” he said.  Last week, testing was established in Pasco County Schools for those showing symptoms, and as of Friday: “We had a total of 79 students and 26 staff that have tested positive for 105 total cases,” said Napier.  What’s more concerning, according to Napier, is the amount of students and staff who have been exposed to those positive for coronavirus. “We have almost 1,400 students exposed at school which means they’re going to be sent home for that exposure time and making sure they’re staying home for those 10 or 14 days depending on their exposure. And we’ve have 128 staff that were exposed at school,” said Napier.  Each Pasco County Commissioner has a different opinion on mask mandates… “You know, these are the things I see: I’ve been in Wawa, people yelling. I’ve been in Walmart, I’ve been in Target, folks yelling ‘you have to wear a mask, you’ve got the wrong mask. You know, again, I’m all about us highly recommending it but I support it until you tell us otherwise,” said Mike Wells, Vice-Chairman, Pasco County Commissioners.  Napier says he’s working with his surrounding health officers to discuss mask mandate decisions coming from a regional standpoint rather than local. “We know that we have a community that moves from Pasco [County] into Pinellas [County] and Pinellas [County] into Pasco [County], Hernando [County], Hillsborough [County]. We’re actually looking to the academics to be able to come up with something from a regional standpoint,” said Napier.  Pasco County Commissioner Rob Oakley said, “I would hate to see us open it up too early and then it go out of site when we can keep that from happening.”  Officials were sure to point out that it is too early to extrapolate a correlation of increased positivity with the reopening of bars last week. Check back with CW44 News At 10 for updates as we follow this developing story. ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. 
New Study: Physician 'Burnout' Contributing To Increase In Suicide RatesPINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a troubling trend, a rise in suicides among physicians and now their families are asking for more protection and treatment options for doctors during the pandemic. Newly released data shows cases of burnout in healthcare are skyrocketing. Local Signs of a Growing Issue Eight months into the U.S.'s his fight against the spread of COVID-19. Government officials across the nation continue to call on top health officials for their guidance. "So I did reach out to the medical officer for all the HCA system to ask him to poll his board certified physicians and so he did," said Pinellas County Commissioner, Janet Long.  In July of 2020, Pinellas County administrative officials spoke one-on-one with county health officials who pointed to the strain on our healthcare system. Dr. Angus Jameson, Medical Director at Pinellas County EMS revealed, "If I were to give you an honest assessment, I was in the hospital until fairly late last evening in the ER and I can tell you that the ERs are, an interesting place right now. They're stressed at this point, from a physical standpoint but also, frankly, from a human standpoint. Your healthcare workers are exhausted. They've been at this for months. It's not easy." Families of physicians and the medical professionals themselves are standing up to speak out about the fast growing risks our doctors and nurses are facing. Dr. Gary Price, President of the Physicians Foundation noted, "Prior to the pandemic, we actually had an epidemic of physician burnout. Prior to 2020, our surveys revealed that at least 40% of physicians were suffering symptoms of burnout. Unfortunately, the tragic endpoint for that for some is suicide. So there's no question that we've seen the COVID pandemic make what was already a bad situation - much much worse." Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. On Thursday, the Physicians Foundation released new numbers showing that the number of physicians suffering from burnout symptoms has increased to 58 percent.  A Step Toward A Solution Cory Feist has been impacted directly. His sister-in-law, Dr. Lorna Breen was an emergency room physician in Manhattan, working as the city was being pounded with the onslaught of coronavirus cases. Dr. Breen died by suicide in April at age 49. CW44 News At 10 "There's a stigma in this country around getting mental health treatment. There's also a cultural challenge in the healthcare profession in and of itself. It is not viewed as a courageous act to sit down or to tap a colleague on the shoulder and say you need to take a break." Feist is pushing for more action from the Senate and Congress to pass the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act. The bill would create behavioral health and well being training programs and encourage physicians to seek treatment when needed. Feist continues, "It currently has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Don't wait. This can happen in the blink of an eye. These folks are putting themselves in harm's way every single day." The Physicians Foundation identifies five warning signs to be aware of. The first is health and the increased usage of medications, alcohol or illicit drugs. Second is emotional changes that can include extreme mood swings or despair. The third is a noticeably negative attitude which can include inappropriate outbursts of anger or sadness. The fourth is relationships and the withdrawal from friends, family and coworkers. Last is temperament, such as anxious, agitated or recklessness. If you need further guidance or you are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) for free 24/7 support. CW44 News at 10 will continue closely monitoring this issue, be sure to check back for further coverage.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Rising Drug Costs In Florida Threaten Independent PharmaciesBRANDON, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - In Tampa Bay, there are close to 100 independent pharmacists that are at risk of shutting down because of lack of drug pricing regulations. Independent pharmacies are worried that this will cause pharmacy deserts and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses in Florida's economy. The Local Dilemma Third generation pharmacist, Basil Noriega is keeping his family’s legacy alive everyday as he heads into work. He operates Bill’s Prescription Center, one of the longest running pharmacies in Tampa Bay, established in 1956. “We were one of the first pharmacies in Brandon. Brandon was just kind of a hole-in-the-wall place at the time,” said Noriega. “One of the things he noticed was that the pharmacy that was in Brandon at the time was a little tiny shack. [My father] kind of found his niche. My great-great-grandfather was also a pharmacist,” said Noriega.  But with the threat of pharmacy benefit manager reimbursements, that legacy could soon be lost.  “It started about 10-15 years ago, we started seeing these pharmacy benefit managers coming in and really affecting the reimbursement rates and increasing the cost of medications per patient. The past five years, it’s gotten so bad where you’re seeing independent pharmacies across the nation closing...everyday,” said Noriega.  Think of PBMs as the middle men. They were created to help negotiate drug prices between “big pharma” and pharmacies. They pool money from contracted pharmacies to amass purchasing power, then negotiate rates and rebates with the pharmaceutical companies. Opponents of PBMs contend a greater incentive exists to favor high-priced drugs over cost-effective counterparts due to drug rebate calculations. The issue here: there are no regulations in place stopping PBM’s from increasing prescription costs. “It all boils down to: people are paying more, the government is paying more - for what? It’s for companies behind the scenes to make money,” said Noriega. “I’m getting one right now." Noriega pauses as he's interrupted by a notification of reimbursement. "So yeah this [prescription] costs us $152 and they’re paying us $60… So.”  Of 123 independent pharmacies surveyed, 98% are full MEDICAID providers. 61% of those pharmacies plan to discontinue MEDICAID if below-cost reimbursements continue. Noriega says, without change, we run the risk of losing these small businesses.  Resolving The Issue With Policy “You’re going to create a monopoly where CVS and Walgreens are going to be the only ones that will be able to give you prescription drugs and then they’ll start to dictate the prices,” said Jackie Toledo, (R) member of Florida House of Representatives.  Representative for District 60, Jackie Toledo proposed House Bill 961 in December 2019 that would crack down on PBMs and subsequently lower healthcare costs. “Nothing happened. Another year goes by where we’re not dealing with this issue. So next year, maybe I’ll start with the smaller piece of it,” said Toledo. But the fight is not over. In fact, representative Toledo is working with advocacy groups like PUTT (Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency) and SPAR (Small business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform).  “It’s costing all of us money and minimizing our access to these prescription drugs,” said Toledo. “You know, when I got into it I started really getting upset with what’s happening. I’ve read books, I’ve seen data. If we don’t stop this from happening it’s going to continue to have an adverse effect on our healthcare system.”  Both PUTT and SPAR Non-Profits have now developed a statewide coalition of advocates with a goal of preserving patient access and keeping drug costs affordable. CW44 News At 10 will continue to follow this story as it develops.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Clearwater Business Helps Struggling Small Businesses Affected By COVIDCLEARWATER, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - Small businesses are becoming a big focus as the pandemic is causing a tremendous strain on local small businesses. Some new statistics show that many won’t survive. A movement is happening right here in Tampa Bay aimed at helping revive those struggling businesses. The movement is called, Save Our Town. Michael Plummer, Jr., owner of Our Town America, a local marketing company headquartered in Clearwater, Florida aims to continue connecting small local businesses with new Florida residents that might not otherwise have a chance to explore their new neighborhood due to the pandemic. “It’s not like they’re walking around, exploring their community as they used to. I mean, they’re [leaving] their house with a destination in mind, ‘I’m going here, going to do that,” said Plummer. “We have people who have been with us for years, decades, and they’re having to close their doors. It’s a struggle out there for every type of business. Every type of business, someone’s taking a hit,” said Plummer. According to Yelp’s Local Economic Impact Report, as of mid-June, nearly 140,000 businesses closed nationwide since March 1, 2020. Of all business closures, 41% of them were permanent. “PoFolks restaurant, right off 34th. It’s just a great restaurant ran by good people and they’ve taken a heck of a hit. Why? People just aren’t dining out the same way,” Plummer related. And Carriage Cleaners, a dry cleaning service in Seminole that Plummer says lost 80% of their business in the first few weeks. “Great, family-owned people. Super nice and, think about it, people aren’t dressing up, going out as they used to. That’s just one of those industries you wouldn’t naturally think of.” Moved by the toll the pandemic has taken on his peers, Plummer sought to utilize his strengths to help guide new strategy for his clients. Among other finer points, Covid-centric thinking seems to be a key to success, “Let them know you’re clean. Those are other issues that are coming up. People are looking for, ‘are they clean, standing up to regulations, are they doing curb-side now, delivery, pick-up?’.” Plummer also suggests to patrons not wanting to watch their favorite local businesses disappear, “Shop now. Shop early for the holidays. Buy gift cards for local restaurants. While you’re at those restaurants, leave a tip. Consider paying your gym membership. They’ve taken a heck of a hit as well.”  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Florida Bars Reopened Monday: Not Soon Enough For Some Struggling OwnersYBOR CITY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - Florida bar owners were able to reopen their businesses Monday after an amendment to the state’s Executive Order was lifted. Bars can reopen at 50% capacity as long as they follow social distancing and Covid-prevention rules.  While most bar owners are relieved at the fact they can now reopen their doors for business, Kevin Lilly, Founder and Owner of Rock Brothers Brewing in Ybor says he still has a few things to get off his chest.  “We were the first to close and the last to open. We have specifically been closed very long.. and lost a lot of money. As a brewery, it’s been a double-edged sword because we also brewed more beer in May anticipating the June opening. What do you think happened to my wholesale beer sales when the bars closed? Nothing. Garbage,” said Lilly. He was forced to dispose of the beer.   Lilly did not “reopen” his bar on Monday, however, as he’s been open for three weeks already. After he and his fellow bar owners in the industry began coping with their losses from closing down, they then began asking questions.  “You know, we didn’t really know what to do, obviously. We all kind of accepted this eight-week closure,” said Lilly. “It got kind of… very off putting because we started to see other people open, other people doing things and then we’re going ‘hey.. what’s going on’.” To legally circumvent the shutdown, he began toying with ideas like food and cigar sales. In May, Lilly says he was given some hope. “So what happened in May is that the state told us that we were going to be able to open in June, that’s what they told us,” said Lilly.  He scratched the food and cigar idea to avoid more cost. “So then I went and spent more money to brew beer to be open in June and then two weeks later when they let us reopen on June 5th, they shut us down again,” he said.  This not only set him back the $30,000 he was paying to stay in business but another $10,000 to $20,000 in new beer he had just brewed. On top of this he had no plan and things became hopeless. Nearly three months later though, state officials sat down with Lilly and his fellow bar business owners at a roundtable to discuss a next step.  “The answer from Beshears was, 'all I can say is get your food license'. That was his answer. I said, ‘well number one, why wasn’t this told to us back in June. I would have done this a long time ago,” said Lilly.  So over the last three weeks, Lilly and others have begun incorporating food into their sales. And the lift on the executive order, allowing bars to reopen came soon after. But Lilly wants to be sure the message is clear that bar reopenings are long overdue.  “I had over 100 shows cancelled that were on the books. Looking ahead, I’m having to do everything I can to just get people in the door, give them a safe, enjoyable time and get my room filled with as much private parties and things I can do locally,” said Lilly “Bars are not the enemy. We [need to make] livings too. We have a right to earn money and there are people out there doing a good job.. and we just want to earn a living.”  His recently built food stand won’t go to waste. Kevin Lilly says he plans to revamp it to create a chefs tasting table for whisky, wine and cheese, renaming that section of the bar, Bar 509 after the Florida Statute 509 food license that allowed him to reopen.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.
9/11: HCSO Employees Share Their Stories As First Responders That DayHILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - There were ceremonies and moments of silence across Tampa Bay Friday as many paid respects, remembering 9/11. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department paid tribute to those who lost their lives on that day and to people in our own community who saved countless others. In a video message, several Hillsborough County employees shared their experiences as first responders who working in New York City and Washington DC on 9/11.  A special thanks to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and those who continue to serve and protect despite everything they've already endured.  ©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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