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Florida coronavirus death toll nears 400

MIAMI — Forty eight more people died in Florida from COVID-19, the single biggest jump in deaths since the outbreak began, state health officials announced Thursday night.

The new deaths brought the state’s death toll to 371, a 15% jump since Wednesday evening, while the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida rose to nearly 17,000.

All told, Florida recorded 1,128 more confirmed cases on Thursday.

More than half of the 48 new deaths were in South Florida: 16 were in Miami-Dade, seven were in Broward and six were in Palm Beach County.

Eight other deaths were recorded in Baker, Duval, Hillsborough, Manatee and Volusia counties. Information on the 11 other new deaths has not yet been released.

Of the total confirmed cases statewide, 16,323 are Florida residents and 503 are non-residents who were diagnosed or isolated in the state.

—Miami Herald


Starting next week, Americans can give IRS direct deposit information to get stimulus check faster

WASHINGTON — As soon as next week, Americans will be able to provide the Internal Revenue Service with direct deposit information so they can receive their stimulus checks of up to $1,200, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told House Democrats in a call Wednesday evening.

Soon after Congress passed the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill last month, the IRS said it was working on an online portal that would allow taxpayers, once verified, to find out the status of their checks and, if necessary, to provide their banking information for direct deposit. Initially, it wasn’t expected to be done until the end of April.

The payouts of up to $1,200 can be deposited directly within days once the IRS receives the needed bank information, Mnuchin has said.

Mnuchin spoke to House Democratic Caucus members in a closed conference call Wednesday. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee also said the portal could be available the week of April 13 in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The Treasury Department would not confirm the April 13 timeline Thursday.

According to the committee memo, the Treasury Department and the IRS initially estimated there would be 171 million rebate payments made through the economic stimulus bill and 101 million of these payments would have to be paid by paper check unless the IRS received direct deposit information for these payments before a paper check was mailed.

For those who already have direct deposit information on file with the IRS from their 2018 or 2019 return, the payments are expected to begin next week.

—Los Angeles Times


Sailor aboard hospital ship Mercy, docked in Los Angeles, tests positive for coronavirus

SAN DIEGO — A sailor on board the hospital ship Mercy tested positive for COVID-19 and will be removed from the ship, a Navy official said Wednesday.

The sailor is isolated aboard the ship and will soon transfer to an off-ship isolation facility, said Cmdr. John Fage, a 3rd Fleet spokesman. Crew members with whom the sailor came into contact also will be isolated and removed from the ship, he said.

The sailor has not been in contact with patients, Fage said.

“The ship is following protocols and taking every precaution to ensure the health and safety of all crew members and patients on board,” Fage said in an emailed statement. “We’re taking every precaution to mitigate the risk of inadvertent exposure to COVID-19 for the military treatment facility and entire Mercy crew.”

The Mercy left San Diego on March 23 and arrived at the Port of Los Angeles four days later. Its mission is to relieve Los Angeles hospitals by treating patients who do not have COVID-19.

It is unclear when or how its crew member was exposed to the virus. Naval Medical Forces Pacific told the San Diego Union-Tribune that some of its crew previously were assigned to Naval Medical Center San Diego, one of two local military facilities that are treating COVID-19 patients.

—The San Diego Union-Tribune


Federal judge orders testing measures at Cook County Jail, but rejects request to order immediate releases due to coronavirus

CHICAGO — A federal judge on Thursday rejected an emergency request to order the release of medically vulnerable Cook County Jail detainees due to an ongoing COVID-19 threat, but granted a temporary restraining order forcing Sheriff Tom Dart to comply with strict sanitation and testing measures.

A lawsuit filed last week by the Loevy and Loevy law firm and the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University alleged Dart has failed to stop a “rapidly unfolding public health disaster” at the sprawling jail complex. The jail now ranks at or near the top of lists of single locations for COVID-19 infections in the country.

The suit sought class-action status for all of the jail’s 4,500 detainees and also a temporary restraining order calling for the immediate release of any prisoner whose constitutional rights are being violated by their continued detention amid the coronavirus crisis.

In his 37-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly acknowledged the potential “grave risks” to health at the jail, which so far has seen 251 detainees and 150 staff members test positive for the virus — including one inmate who died earlier this week.

But Kennelly wrote that the plaintiffs had failed to show that they’d exhausted their options in state court — namely seeking expedited bond review under rules established by Cook County Chief Criminal Judge Leroy Martin Jr. last month amid the widening pandemic.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had argued that the bond review process was unduly cumbersome and ultimately “futile” for many detainees.

But Kennelly noted in his ruling that in one week in late March when expedited bond hearings were held, the jail’s population decreased by 424 detainees. Since March 9, the population has decreased by 1,175 detainees — bringing it to a record low for the past few decades, Kennelly wrote.

The judge also said none of the named plaintiffs had even gone to court to seek a bond reduction before filing suit.

“In the court’s view, it is rather incongruous to call an otherwise available process unnecessarily time-consuming or futile when one has made no effort to initiate it,” Kennelly wrote.

While Kennelly rejected the plaintiffs’ main request for immediate release on bond, he did grant a temporary restraining order requiring the sheriff to swiftly establish a policy “requiring prompt coronavirus testing of detainees who exhibit symptoms” as well as those exposed to others who have tested positive.

—Chicago Tribune


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