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Publix, Home Depot open COVID-19 testing sites

The Florida Division of Emergency Management has partnered with Home Depot and Publix Super Markets to establish six additional COVID-19 testing sites. Gov. DeSantis announced the partnership at the first Home Depot testing site in Boca Raton Friday. The state is working with Home Depot and Publix to determine the best locations for the rest of the testing sites, a news release said. These testing sites will begin as a pilot program, with the possibility of future expansion. The Florida Division of Emergency Management is providing staffing and personal protective equipment. Each of these test sites will be able to conduct up to 100 tests per day. Tests will be sent to Quest Diagnostics and results will be available within five-to-seven days.

USF launches second funding round for pandemic projects

The University of South Florida's COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants program has made a second round of investments in faculty research projects to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The projects range from new medical interventions to detect and stop infections to innovations in personal protective equipment. Faculty from nine colleges spanning USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee are involved in the projects. One of the projects, led by Joan Reid of the USFSP College of Arts & Sciences, will look at the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on detained youth. A complete list of projects is here. A total of $344,855 will support this new round of research projects. USF is partnering with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, which is contributing $100,000 in support of five of the proposals which have the potential for technology commercialization. The first round of grants was awarded in April.

Florida Funders gets top ranking in Pitchbook report

Pitchbook ranked two Tampa firms as leaders in the southeast United States for venture capital funding. Florida Funders, a hybrid venture capital fund and crowd-funding platform, ranked No. 1 in the southeast region for the first quarter of 2020 with five deals, including an investment in Vizetto, a Canadian company with a video conferencing platform to enable remote teamwork. Ballast Point Ventures in Tampa, with two deals in Q1 2020, also made the Pitchbook list, available here.

Straz Center furloughs, lays off workers

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts will substantially reduce its operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and is trimming its workforce. The center had earlier furloughed 28 workers and now is furloughing and laying off 75 others, it said in a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification filed with the Florida Department Economic Opportunity. Thirty-five employees will be temporarily furloughed, or put on an unpaid leave of absence, effective June 27, and three more will be temporarily furloughed effective July 31.  Thirty-five workers will be permanently laid off effective June 27, and two others will be permanently laid off effective July 31. 

Pinellas commissioners reverse course on restrictions on Fort DeSoto boating

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners will not pursue implementation of restrictions on boating at part of Fort DeSoto Park. The commission got dozens of emails objecting to the limits on watercraft near the North Beach shoreline that were in a May 19 resolution. Commissioner Janet Long called on the board to repeal its decision after a weekend visit to the park. Commissioners agreed at their May 28 meeting that the ordinance approved last week should be changed, but they could not take action until the county posts public notices about what it  intends to do. They are expected to take up the issue again in two weeks.

Ruby Tuesday shutters Tyrone Square restaurant

Ruby Tuesday has permanently closed its restaurant at Tyrone Square in St. Petersburg. It's one of 147 Ruby Tuesday restaurants that have closed since Jan. 23, including 11 in Florida, according to Business Insider. The casual dining chain decided to close select locations in an effort to better position its restaurants for future business, a spokesman said in a statement. 

Unemployment claims continue to grow in Florida

Almost 174,000 Floridians filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits in the week ended May 23, a May 28 report from the U.S. Department of Labor said. Since mid-March, about 2.38 million Floridians have filed initial unemployment benefit claims. Nationally, about 2.12 million first-time claims were filed in the week ending May 23. The COVID-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims and insured unemployment, the Labor Department said.

Tech Data sales, profit drop in Q1

Tech Data Corp. reported net income of $48.1 million or $1.34 a share, on revenue of $8.2 billion for the first quarter of fiscal year 2021. Net income was down 13 percent and revenue was down 3 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. Sales declined because of portfolio optimization actions, according to a news release from Tech Data (Nasdaq: TECD), an IT distributor headquartered in Clearwater and the largest publicly held company headquartered in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. The onset of the global COVID-19 crisis brought challenges to businesses across geographies and sectors, including the IT ecosystem, said Rich Hume, CEO. He said the company delivered technologies needed to address evolving business needs, including enabling remote work. Funds managed by Apollo Global Management plan to acquire Tech Data in a $6 billion deal that's received shareholder and most required regulatory approvals, except for approval by Australian regulators who are still reviewing the deal. Tech Data and Apollo are targeting closing their deal before the end of June, although that timing may shift depending on when they receive Australian regulatory approval.

St. Petersburg clinic owner charged with Medicaid fraud

Willie Barnes, the owner and operator of Barnes Holistic Counseling Therapies Institute in St. Petersburg, was arrested Wednesday and charged with Medicaid provider fraud. Barnes is accused of receiving more than $15,000 in Medicaid payments for therapy never provided to clients, according to a news release from the Florida Attorney General’s office.  An investigation showed Barnes also allegedly offered kickbacks for patient referrals and patient retention, which is prohibited by Medicaid provider fraud laws, the news release said. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and more than $30,000 in fines and restitution.

Tuesday Morning closing stores in St. Petersburg, Largo

Closeout retailer Tuesday Morning has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and plans to close more than 200 of its 700 stores. Among the stores closing in the first wave of shutdowns this summer are Tuesday Morning locations at Tyrone Gardens, 931 Tyrone Blvd. N. in St. Petersburg and at Barclay Square, 13819 Walsingham Rd. in Largo, a court filing said. The stores that are closing were selected because they were underperforming or too close to another location in the company's portfolio, according to a news release. Steve Becker, CEO, said Tuesday Morning filed for bankruptcy protection because of the prolonged and unexpected closures of stores in response to COVID-19.

USF’s fall calendar takes shape

University of South Florida students will have a very different academic calendar for the fall 2020 semester. The university said it intends to offer some face-to-face classes, services and activities in the fall, but after Thanksgiving all classes and final exams will be delivered in an online format. The change will reduce the number of students, faculty and staff who would normally come back to USF campuses and the surrounding communities within the Tampa Bay region following Thanksgiving, USF said. The first day of the fall semester will begin on Aug. 24, with the last day of classes on campus on Nov. 25. After Thanksgiving break, classes will resume online on Nov. 30-Dec. 4, with final exams Dec. 5-Dec. 10. Although classes won’t be held on Labor Day or Veterans Day, travel around each federal holiday will be discouraged, the school said. Plans are still being developed for fall commencement ceremonies.

Truist doubles commitment to COVID relief

Truist Financial Corp. is providing financial help for nonprofits and small businesses throughout its footprint, including in the west Florida area. Truist (NYSE: TFC), the bank created in the merger between SunTrust and BB&T, last week pledged $25 million to help underserved communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. That pledge followed an earlier $25 million commitment from the bank for its Truist Cares initiative. Locally, the bank already has provided 15 grants in the West Florida area totaling $575,000 in support. See more about the local support efforts in this story in the St. Pete Catalyst’s Impact section here.

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