Here are some of the top stories from the past week from NBC 6 News:
As COVID Deaths Soar, Florida Curtails Public Records on Which Counties Hit Hardest
As COVID cases and hospitalizations in Florida recede from their all-time peaks, the death count is soaring to record levels -- more than 300 people dying each day for a stretch in late August, with more deaths being added once they are confirmed.
But the state is no longer releasing what was public information revealing details about those victims and the counties they lived in when they were struck with a virus that has now killed 48,273 Floridians.
State Rep. Carlos Smith (D-Orlando) and a nonprofit government accountability group are suing the Department of Health seeking to force the state to cough up the data.
"They claim that the basic local COVID data that we were requesting via public record was confidential, which is totally bogus," Smith said. "It can't be confidential as they claim now without it having been confidential before."
Until June 3, the state released a detailed two-page report for each of the 67 counties, detailing cases, hospitalizations and deaths broken down by 10 age cohorts.
Since then, it's released weekly summaries that reveal how many new cases were detected in each county (along with the counties' positivity and vaccination rates)
Building Audits After Surfside Collapse Uncover Unsafe Structures, Violations
Building safety is at the top of mind for local leaders and condo residents following the Champlain Towers South Building collapse.
Recent audits conducted by local municipalities have uncovered unsafe conditions, violations and a lack of enforcement.
Local municipalities launched audits following what took place in surfside. As a result of local audits, buildings across South Florida have been flagged as being unsafe and in some cases buildings have been evacuated.
Broward County’s Board of Rules and Appeals did its own preliminary audits into the county’s 40-year inspection program. In 2020, the audit found of the 14 cities with buildings six stories or higher, only three cities had completed the 40-year inspection process and certified the necessary buildings safe.
The three cities included Dania Beach, Hillsboro Beach, and Plantation. Nine other cities reported still being in the process of completing the certification process and two did not respond.
Future Uncertain for Some After Federal Unemployment Benefits End
Ana Cepera’s struggles have no end in sight.
“Right now, I’m without a job,” she said. “Every day I’m like, OK, is today the day that they’re going to tell me I’m going to lose my home?”
The mother of three told NBC 6 Responds she was facing eviction.
"Many family and friends say, 'You can't cry,'" she said. "But sometimes you think that's the only thing you can do."
Ana was also among the thousands of Floridians now ineligible for any unemployment benefits after two federal programs expired on Labor Day. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance covered people like independent contractors or gig workers, who traditionally don’t qualify for state benefits. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation provided additional weeks of benefits for those who had exhausted their benefits.
The Department of Economic Opportunity’s website said there were more than 545,000 jobs posted online. But Ana said, despite her efforts, she had been unable to find a job. She was also worried that the loss of unemployment benefits would make it harder for her to get back into the workforce.
Broward Center to Require Masks, Recent Negative COVID-19 Test for Guests
Mandatory face coverings and proof of a recent negative COVID-19 tests will be required for all guests at The Broward Center for the Performing Arts and its partner locations.
As an alternative to a negative test, patrons of the Broward Center and The Parker will be able to provide documentation showing full vaccination status, the venue announced Tuesday.
The new policy will begin Sept. 22, when the 2021-2022 concert season opens. Masks will be required for any guest 2 years of age or older, and proof of a negative test or vaccination will be required for anyone 12 or older.
The policy applies to all ticketed events including those presented by the Broward Center and its partners in the arts including Bank of America Broadway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera, Gold Coast Jazz, Miami City Ballet, Slow Burn Theatre Company and Symphony of the Americas.
Vaccinations will be required for staff, volunteers and crew working performances.
PolitiFact: COVID Hospital Cost Averages $17k Per Patient
Hospital bills are all over the spectrum depending on the details of a specific visit: the age of the patient, underlying conditions, equipment used, how long they stay in the hospital, and the health insurance they have. However, there is a ballpark figure of the average stay.
Doctors and medical professionals have said all year that the vaccine or monoclonal antibody treatments are way cheaper than a visit to the emergency room.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, posted online, “the average hospital stay for a case of COVID-19 costs about $17,064. The vaccine is free.”
Politifact looked into it and rated it “mostly true.”
“When we talked to experts for this fact check, they were really adamant there’s not one price you can count on,” said Katie Sanders, the managing editor of Politifact.
Since many hospital bills are private, fact checkers rely on watchdog groups like the non-profit FAIR Health, which like into COVID costs from the first half of 2020. This is where the representative got the $17,064 figure. That cost is even on the low end, representing the cost for someone 70 years older and up according to the report. It goes up if the patient is younger. Also, this is for what’s called the “allowed amount,” which is the cost after insurance negotiates the price down.
How Adopting a Pet Can Bring You Love and Happiness
Recent studies show that the bond people build with their pets can bring more happiness into their lives.
“Let’s face it, most people are happier when they have a companion animal in their life,” said Jenny Schlueter, Chicago Animal Care and Control spokesperson.
Owning a pet can help lower stress levels, increase fitness, and open new opportunities for social interactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Animal shelters across the U.S reported adoption spikes during the coronavirus pandemic as people were confined to their homes.
“The silver lining of the pandemic has been that pet adoption has gone up significantly,” Schlueter said. “There are more people willing to foster animals which is really, really great.”
However, as COVID-19 restrictions loosen and people return to work, shelters are beginning to see their pet populations rise once again.