The first wave of the new coronavirus may be on the downslope, but a new survey shows it’s still dominating the thoughts and lives of everyday Floridians.
The University of South Florida and Nielsen polled 600 Floridians and found more than half were concerned about the ongoing pandemic while three-quarters feared a loved one would contract the virus in the next three months.
The virus’ impact on public health is only one facet. The economic damage and new societal norms, such as social distancing and wearing masks in public, are just as distressing.
However, an overwhelming majority say the sacrifices are necessary — 87% support restrictions on restaurants and bars; an equal number said church gatherings should be limited; 86% back state and local stay-at-home orders; 82% agree with beach and park closures; and 79% believe wearing masks in public is a necessity.
The poll also offers some good news for state and local officials on the ballot this fall. More than half approve of the state’s response, and nearly two-thirds said they trust the state government either “a great deal” or a “good amount.”
Local governments fared even better, with 69% saying their city or county commission has navigated the crisis well and more than three-quarters saying they trust their local officials.
The survey was conducted April 15-24, a couple of weeks before the state entered Phase One of reopening. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4% at a 95% confidence level. A full breakdown of the results is available via USF.
My pop-up podcast, “Hunkering Down with Peter Schorsch,” talks with some of Florida’s most influential politicos, offering a view into how they are handling the coronavirus pandemic on a personal level.
Each episode offers listeners a snapshot in time of what key people in The Process believe a post-pandemic future will bring; they also reveal how they are personally faring during Florida’s extraordinary statewide stay-at-home orders.
Also, listeners get an idea of what it might take to return the Sunshine State to some resemblance of normal.
Recent episodes include me hunkering down with:
— Former House Speaker Will Weatherford, now the managing partner of Weatherford Capital, discussing the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s role in the coronavirus response; the pro-business organization could have taken a hands-off approach but chose to rise to the challenge and support struggling businesses plagued by statewide closures.
— Tampa City Council Member Bill Carlson, who also serves as president of Tucker/Hall, one of Florida’s leading public relations firms. Carlson, a father of three boys, talks distance learning from the perspective of a parent, finding the unseen benefit in the lessons it affords children. Technology is the future of business, and kids are getting a front-row seat to how that works.
— Nick Iarossi, co-founder and owner of Capital City Consulting — as well as one of INFLUENCE Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in Florida. Iarossi focuses in on the tough work Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida officials are tacking during the pandemic and the possible over-scrutiny by Tallahassee media.
— Lobbyist, strategist and fundraiser Kelly Cohen, a partner and chief marketing officer for The Southern Group. Cohen describes how Orlando as a region is managing the ongoing coronavirus crisis and the political component in Central Florida, which is less partisan than the state on average.
— Glenn Kirkland, Jon Menendez and Heath Beach of Kaleo Partners, a Tampa- and Tallahassee-based tech policy and government advocacy firm specializing in technology policy, budget and procurement. The conversation touches on new ways of campaigning in the era of #COVID19 and how novel strategies could become permanent.
Please consider listening. Here is a link to the podcast’s homepage.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@Nate_Cohn: Taking the live interview polls this month, we’ve got CNN at [Joe] Biden+5 (v. long term avg Biden+9), Monmouth at Biden+9 (long term +3.5), and Marquette in WI at Biden+3 (long term +2). Put it together, you’ve got a largely unchanged race; if you had to squint, maybe Biden up a pt
—@fineout: Sen. [Marco] Rubio with his media criticism again. This time he says “national media” only reports negative news on PPP. (He doesn’t note that his fellow Fla senator has also raised questions about it)
—@AGAshleyMoody: As the wife of a LEO, I know firsthand the sacrifice & strong dedication that comes with putting on the badge. This #, I also want to say thank you to all the families who # every day by supporting their heroes in the line of duty.
—@richardcorcoran: WHATEVER occurred prior to the video of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery doesn’t matter. What’s on the video is 100%, unadulterated, murder. #JusticeForAhmaudArbery
—@CarlosGSmith: [email protected] has NO CHOICE but to extend the eviction moratorium beyond 5/17. Why? Because 700K+ Floridians haven’t gotten a single penny in unemployment benefits & can’t pay rent as a direct result of HIS @FLDEO’s failures. It’s his moral obligation.
—@LizbethKB: Thank you to the firefighters who are working to keep wildfire damage to a minimum in our community.
—@ShevrinJones: Register to vote by mail, pass it on.
— DAYS UNTIL —
NASCAR season resumes at Darlington Speedway in Darlington, South Carolina — 3; TNT’s adaptation of “Snowpiercer” premieres — 3; English Premier League soccer to restart — 25; PGA Tour resumes — 28; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 29; Father’s Day — 38; Apple to hold Developer Conference — 39; Federal taxes due — 62; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 64; “Mulan” premieres — 71; TED conference rescheduled — 73; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 95; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 99; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 102; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 113; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 114; Rescheduled date for French Open — 129; First presidential debate in Indiana — 138; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 148; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 154; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 155; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 161; 2020 General Election — 173; “Black Widow” premieres — 176; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 187; “No Time to Die” premieres — 194; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 223; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 435; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 444; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 540; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 638; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 680; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 723; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 876.
— CORONA NATION —
“CDC guidance more restrictive than White House” via Jason Dearen and Mike Stobbe of The Associated Press — The 63-page document is more detailed than other, previously reported segments of the shelved guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organizational tool created by the CDC advocates for a coordinated national response to give community leaders step-by-step instructions to “help Americans reenter civic life,” with the idea that there would be resurgences of the virus and lots of customization needed. The White House said last week that the document was a draft and not ready for release. It contains the kinds of specifics that officials need to make informed decisions, some experts said.
“Donald Trump vs. the skeptics: Reopening fight highlights polar opposite outcomes” via Ben White of POLITICO — Trump along with his most fervent backers, Wall Street investors and some conservative economists are making a big bet: Swiftly reopening the U.S. economy will go relatively smoothly with little resurgence of the coronavirus, delivering a quick snapback from the current horrifying plunge and rescuing Trump’s reelection prospects along the way. Many health experts and other economists, meanwhile, worry the U.S. is rushing to reopen while COVID-19 case counts climb and testing remains limited. A muddled, middle-ground scenario is also possible, one in which red states open faster, and many blue states go slowly, a phenomenon that is already showing up to some extent and giving the entire process a distinctly partisan overlay.
“’50 states and 50 different approaches:’ States scramble to hire COVID-19 contact tracers” via Ken ALltucker and Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today — Public health officials are counting on methodical contact tracing coupled with aggressive testing as the nation’s strategy to combat the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. “This tidal wave has hit,” said David Levy, CEO of EHE Health. “Other than an effective antiviral or vaccine, the only solution is testing and tracing.” Still, other than keeping stay-at-home orders firmly in place, public health officials say rapid testing and contact tracing give states the best chance to slow the virus and restart the economy.
“Layoffs are easing but remain at historic levels as millions likely filed for unemployment last week” via Paul Davidson of USA Today — America’s dispiriting weekly tally of COVID-19-related layoffs is likely to add millions more. However, the figure is expected to continue to fall. Economists estimate 2.5 million Americans filed new applications for unemployment insurance last week, down from the 3.2 million the prior week. Jobless claims provide the nation’s most reliable gauge of layoffs. That would push total unemployment claims the past eight weeks to a staggering 36 million. April’s unemployment rate hit 14.7%, highest since the Great Depression, up from 4.4% the prior month, and a 50-year low of 3.5% in February.
“U.S. likely to get Sanofi vaccine first if it succeeds, CEO says” via James Paton, Riley Griffin and Cynthia Koons of Bloomberg — Americans will likely get Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine before the rest of the world if the French pharmaceutical giant can successfully deliver one. That’s because the U.S. was first in line to fund Sanofi’s vaccine research. Many vaccine projects aim to provide shots in 2021, with some limited targeting availability for health care workers and other vulnerable groups as early as this fall. Sanofi has two COVID-19 vaccine projects underway. The company and GSK plan to start human trials in the second half of this year and aim to have a vaccine available by the second half of 2021. Sanofi also has a separate coronavirus vaccine candidate under development with Translate Bio Inc. Even if both vaccines prove successful, Sanofi likely can’t meet global demand alone.
“Common’s #WeMatterToo push urges jail releases amid virus” via Aaron Morrison of The Associated Press — Rapper and activist Common went into quarantine concerned about incarcerated people he has met during visits to jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers around the U.S. and who aren’t able to maintain social distance or adopt rigorous hygiene routines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Common’s his criminal justice reform organization Imagine Justice launched a campaign with dozens of advocacy and activist groups calling attention to the threat that the coronavirus pandemic poses on millions of men, women and youths who are incarcerated in the U.S. The campaign, dubbed #WeMatterToo, is urging authorities to immediately release people who have served the vast majority of their sentences.
“Reopening the coronavirus-era office: One-person elevators, no cafeterias” via Chip Cutter and Suzanne Vranica of The Wall Street Journal — Every part of office life is being reexamined in the era of COVID-19. When employees file back into American workplaces, some wearing masks, many will find the office transformed, human-resources and real estate executives say. Elevators may only take one person at a time. Desks, once tightly packed in open floor plans, will be spread apart, with some covered by plastic shields and chairs atop disposable pads to catch germs. The office adaptations reverse a decadeslong push in American corporations to cram workers into tighter spaces, with few separations between colleagues.
“More than 1.1 million unemployment claims now processed” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Through Tuesday, Florida had clawed through more than half of the nearly 2 million unemployment compensation claims submitted by workers contending they lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis. Florida has paid some form of unemployment compensation to roughly half the claimants confirmed. The latest DEO report, covering efforts through Tuesday, shows Florida still is rejecting just over 30% of all processed claims. Almost two out of every three Floridians whose claims have been processed have gotten approved for some sort of relief, and the vast majority of them have gotten checks, some getting state re-employment assistance, some federal pandemic unemployment compensation, and some federal pandemic unemployment assistance.
“Ron DeSantis hopes to open nursing home visitation for morale boost” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — With nursing homes in Florida shut to visitors over the last two months, DeSantis hopes the state can soon let families reunite. On March 14, DeSantis banned all visitation at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. But after two months of restrictions, residents are eager to interact with their families and other residents. Allowing visitation could be a “psychological boost” to residents who haven’t seen family during the pandemic. However, that plan could be weeks or months away, and the Governor said he doesn’t want to put a timetable on the plan or give false hope. The state will err on the side of caution to prevent an outbreak in those facilities.
“DeSantis seeks a way to allow visitors at nursing homes again” via Steven Lemongello and Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — “We’ve got to figure out a way to get to yes, we’ve got to figure out a way to give some folks hope and be able to see their family,” DeSantis said at a Tallahassee news conference. But he added, “if it’s a situation where we’re running a risk of having an outbreak, we’ll err on the side of caution.” He said he did not want to put a timetable on allowing visits. But he used similar language about trying to “get to yes” in a visit to Orlando on May 2 when talking about salons and barbershop openings in Orlando — just a few days before his administration allowed those businesses to reopen throughout most of the state.
“DeSantis plans to extend eviction and foreclosure moratorium through May” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis plans to extend the suspension on evictions and foreclosures through the end of the month. The original executive order is set to expire Sunday. “I think we’re going to do it through the end of the month,” he said Wednesday. “We’ll have an announcement on that, I think very soon.” That order suspends all statutes “providing for a mortgage foreclosure cause of action.” For evictions, the order only specifies tenants may not be removed for nonpayment, indicating evictions for other reasons are in bounds. The Supreme Court had previously ordered a pause on evictions and foreclosures through mid-April. After the Governor’s announcement, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith pinned the responsibility on DeSantis, citing problems with the unemployment system.
“DeSantis urges pro sports teams to train, play in Florida” via Iliana Limon Romero and Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis wants all professional sports teams to come to Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, offering a haven for those in other parts of the country under stay-at-home orders. “All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” DeSantis said during a news conference Wednesday. “Now, we’re not going to necessarily have fans, but there’s been reports that Major League Soccer may want to have their season in Orlando. Do it. We want to have you here. “We want to have the basketball practicing again. We would love to have Major League Baseball. And I think the message is that our people are starved to have some of this back in their lives. “
“Ashley Moody calls for federal partnership to hold China accountable” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — Moody and 13 state attorneys general are calling on Trump to hold China responsible for the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter addressed to the President, the group urged Trump to explore all avenues and accused China of withholding information from the international community and intentionally spreading misinformation. “A federal-state partnership would be the most effective and efficient means of coordinating resources to thoroughly explore the economic, diplomatic and legal options available to achieve the accountability our citizens deserve and to force China to atone for the unprecedented harm this crisis is inflicting on our nation,” Moody said.
“Education leaders eye ways to reopen schools” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — State Board of Education member Michael Olenick requested that Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran create a pandemic task force that would focus on the numerous changes that schools will need to make in the coming months. “We have a new normal here, and that new normal will also require this task force to prepare for a very likely event that there is going to be a spike again in the fall,” Olenick told Corcoran during a State Board of Education meeting. Olenick said the task force would be different from DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force and would include health experts, community members and school officials.
“Health care and business groups have GOP backing in push for lawsuit limits” via John Kennedy of the Tallahassee Democrat — As Florida and other states phase in reopening, industry groups are stepping up their push to protect businesses, health care providers and nursing homes from coronavirus-related lawsuits. In Tallahassee, proponents are preparing legislation for when lawmakers are called back into a still-to-be scheduled Special Session. “There has to be a forum to present the legislation, but we’re ready to go,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the budget committee on criminal and civil justice. Hospital associations and the nursing home industry, an epicenter for the coronavirus spread in Florida and nationwide, want doctors, hospitals, and health care providers shielded from being sued over any problems stemming from the care given during the pandemic.
“Florida ER visits plummet, virus scares patients from care” via Kelli Kennedy of The Associated Press — Emergency room visits have dropped by almost 50% across Florida since the coronavirus pandemic began as hospital officials warned that patients suffering from heart attacks and strokes are delaying or refusing care because they are afraid of going to the hospital. Calls to 911 are also down, and Fort Lauderdale paramedics transported about 1,000 fewer patients to the emergency room in April compared to the same month in 2019. First responders in the city of Miami transported 35% fewer suspected stroke patients in March compared to April. Hospitals stressed they are taking massive precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.
“As hundreds died in nursing homes, Florida anti-COVID ‘strike teams’ hit 4% of facilities” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — DeSantis announced at a news conference one month ago that his “strike teams” had visited 93 long-term care facilities in Florida with a mission to test residents and staff for the coronavirus to contain the scourge that was killing the state’s most vulnerable population. Records now show the state had, at the time, conducted tests at only eight nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There are nearly 700 nursing homes and 3,100 assisted living facilities in Florida with more than 150,000 residents, and the Governor has identified elders as the state’s most vulnerable population where, to date, 745 have died.
“Florida transferring nursing home residents with coronavirus into hospitals” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida has been mass-transferring residents with coronavirus out of nursing homes with outbreaks and into local hospitals since Sunday, regardless of whether they show signs of the virus. The transfers come after two major changes took place: First, the Agency for Health Care Administration issued a directive that outlines strict protocols for how a facility must respond when it has one or more cases of the virus. Next, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid, issued new federal flexibility in Florida to allow hospitals to bill at an established rate so they can accept residents who are positive but don’t necessarily need hospital-level care.
“What’s in the censored Florida Medical Examiners database of COVID-19 deaths?” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon and Jim Waymer of Florida Today — When a 66-year-old man was found dying on an Amtrak train passing through Okeechobee County on April 5, there was nothing to indicate that he had COVID-19. It was the local medical examiner’s office that pieced it together. The examiner discovered the man had recently arrived with a fever at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport. The CDC sent him to a hospital for a coronavirus test. Released before the results came back, he got on a southbound train and went into cardiac arrest while traversing the Sunshine State. The detective work that pulled this story together and exposed the missteps of the haphazard response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of the record that the State of Florida doesn’t want you to see.
“Hearing from a suicidal constituent, Randolph Bracy ups his plea to DeSantis to fix unemployment woes” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Sen. Bracy is upping his advocacy for improving the state’s unemployment compensation system after receiving a particularly striking constituent comment, one of the hundreds he’d gotten recently. “This person reached out to me and said they had considered suicide, because their situation was so dire; a single parent who had weeks, two months now, of unemployment, no response, and she reached out in desperation,” Bracy said. “And so, I decided it was time to come here.” Bracy and fellow Orange County Sen. Stewart on Wednesday urged DeSantis to take more action to fix Florida’s broken unemployment system and to expand and extend benefits in any way he can for the perhaps close to 2 million Floridians who lost their jobs in the coronavirus crisis.
“Florida loses nearly 30,000 clean energy jobs” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A BW Research Partnerships analysis of Department of Labor data found more than 1 in 6 clean energy workers nationwide filed unemployment claims since the pandemic began. The study, conducted for a coalition of renewable energy advocates, found Florida among the hardest hit states with, 3,693 workers who filed unemployment claims in March, and another 25,915 in April. “The economic data from April shows that the job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic are worse than expected,” said Phil Jordan, vice president and principal at BW. “Unemployment claims increased dramatically across many key segments of the clean energy sector, such as construction and manufacturing. And the data does not suggest that we have yet to hit bottom.”
“As coronavirus pandemic spikes orange juice sales, a Florida citrus grower gets squeezed” via Janine Zeitlin of USA Today — Florida is the world’s second-largest producer of orange juice. The industry has weathered a blur of tempests. The footprint of the Florida orange juice industry has shrunk in the past two decades, with free falls in production and the shuttering of dozens of citrus processing plants. Only seven major plants remain. Long-suffering citrus was overdue for a silver lining, though it came with a heavy shroud. As Americans stocked up on toilet paper and Lysol, they also grabbed juice. Across the country, in April, retail orange juice sales shot up nearly 50%, to 44 million gallons.
“Protesters left body bags on the steps of Florida’s Capitol” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing — Dressed in Tyvek suits and accompanied by the Grim Reaper, protesters piled up 17 body bags on the steps of Florida’s Old State Capitol building. The protest was organized by progressive grassroots group Indivisible, which is urging DeSantis to stop endangering the lives of his constituents as the state reopens in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The group isn’t the first to symbolically invoke Death as a form of protest. Earlier this month, Santa Rosa Beach attorney Daniel Uhlfelder dressed as the Grim Reaper in protest of DeSantis’ decision to allow the state’s beaches to begin reopening.
“What we know and don’t know about how coronavirus will affect Florida’s budget” via Kirby Wilson, Lawrence Mower and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — When they passed a $93.2 billion state budget in March, Florida lawmakers knew a growing global pandemic was going to blow a hole through the state’s finances. Two months into the crisis, the extent of the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 related shutdowns is still unclear. The coronavirus-related shortfalls could cost DeSantis top priorities, including some that were praised by both Democrats and Republicans.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“FIU student adds to lawsuits over tuition, fees” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Attorneys for Sarah Fagundez, an FIU graduate student from Miami, filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court against the university system’s Board of Governors. Fagundez contends that she and other students throughout the university system should receive refunds of portions of tuition and fees that they paid. Students were shifted to online learning in March to try to prevent the spread of the virus, and classes will remain online during the summer. While the details of the lawsuits vary somewhat — the first two cases, for example, focus only on the spring semester, while Fagundez also raises arguments about summer classes — their thrust is the same: Students did not get everything they paid for and should receive reimbursements.
“Moving on a new Yellow Flag Phase: Miami-Dade releases color-coded coronavirus plan” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — As Miami-Dade’s mayor prepares to allow most businesses to reopen Monday, he unveiled a color-coded system designed to help the public track the county’s restrictions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Miami-Dade sits in the “Orange Flag Phase,” the designation in the guide that allows parks, marinas and open spaces to be open “with facial covering requirements in place.” Gimenez said he plans to shift Miami-Dade to the “Yellow Flag Phase,” a category that allows the reopening of a broad list of businesses that includes restaurants, but under restrictions on capacity, spacing and sanitation measures. The plan includes some detailed draft rules that highlight how difficult it will be for businesses to recover fully after two months of closures.
“North Miami offering $1 million for renters and $600K for businesses hurt by COVID-19” via Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald — The North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency has approved a $1 million rent relief package and $600,000 for small-business owners impacted by the coronavirus epidemic. The renters’ relief program will cover two months of rent for qualified residents who live within the NMCRA boundaries. Applicants must have resided in the city for a minimum of one year, show proof they have lost their jobs or been otherwise impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and provide their landlord’s information. Due to the anticipated demand, applicants will be chosen at random via lottery selection. Applications must be received by 2 p.m. May 29. The NMCRA also added another $600,000 in relief money to its existing Emergency Relief to Jump Start Businesses fund.
“Beaches stay shut. But Miami Beach salons, stores to reopen next week” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Beaches will remain closed in Miami Beach until June at the earliest. Still, the city announced Wednesday that 761 businesses could plan to reopen their doors next week. City Manager Jimmy Morales said 602 retail stores, 141 barbershops, and hair and nail salons, and 18 museums will be given the green light to reopen next Wednesday. The cities of Miami, Doral, Hialeah and Miami Gardens are expected to roll out a similar reopening plan. While the city has not received specific guidelines from the county, Morales said his proposed reopening guidelines would be consistent with what the county rolls out. The newly reopened businesses must follow public health guidelines, such as reduced occupancy numbers.
“‘This is wicked’: Miami clears out Overtown homeless encampment despite CDC guidance” via Alex Harris, Charles Rabin and Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Homeless people living in an Overtown encampment in place for years said they were forcibly removed Wednesday morning, without any offer of another housing option. Residents of the underpass sounded the alarm while taking morning showers at a nearby sanitation station set up by nonprofit social justice organization Dream Defenders. Rachel Gilmer, co-director of Dream Defenders, said residents there told her police threatened to arrest them for trespassing if they didn’t leave within 30 minutes. Only one person told her they were offered housing, a hotel for one night.
“Hard Rock may reopen Florida casinos as coronavirus lockdowns ease” via Fox13 staff reports — Hard Rock International may reopen some Florida casinos with new coronavirus safety measures as soon as the end of May as the U.S. gradually lifts lockdowns imposed to curb the disease’s spread. “We are anticipating very large crowds,” Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen said. “We saw opens last week in other parts of the U.S., and frankly, volumes are tremendous.” To guard against a resurgence of the coronavirus, Hard Rock plans to limit crowds to 50% of capacity, create sanitizing stations, keep some machines turned off to support social distancing, use dividers at tables, shields for dealers and begin thermal body imaging at its larger casinos.
“Town Center mall reopens in Boca — with many stores still closed. ‘It’s slightly dystopian.’” via Angie DiMichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Town Center at Boca Raton shoppers stepped into a mall that looked much different from the way it did a few months ago. The mall opened for the first time since early March, offering limited hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Solo shoppers and small groups of about two to four people walked through the mostly empty walkways. Seating areas throughout the mall had few people sitting to rest. Purple stickers on the floor with white arrows showed guests which way to walk and reminded them to stay 6 feet apart. Roped off and dark, the play area for kids was empty too.
“Key West protesters say the highway checkpoints must go so the economy can come back” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Monroe County leaders have said the Keys will remain closed to visitors the rest of May and “potentially longer,” due to the threat of COVID-19. County leaders have credited the roadblocks with keeping the Keys’ infection rate relatively low in comparison to other parts of South Florida. Across the Keys, beaches and parks have reopened, along with restaurant dining rooms, retail stores and, as of Monday, hair salons, barbershops and nail salons. Hotels, gyms and bars remain closed due to the pandemic. The Keys have 95 known cases and three deaths.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Two Northeast Florida hospitals to study antibody treatments for COVID-19” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — Two Northeast Florida hospitals are participating in a national study to see if plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help those who become infected with the illness. Jacksonville’s Memorial Hospital and Orange Park Medical Center, both operated by HCA Healthcare, are participating in the Mayo Clinic and U.S. FDA study researching whether convalescent plasma from previous coronavirus patients could benefit those new patients who’ve become infected. It’s not a vaccine study. While there is no proven treatment yet for COVID-19, HCA officials said plasma from people with other viruses have previously helped treat newly infected patients.
“Two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Sunland Center” via News Service of Florida — Two more residents of a Northwest Florida facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the number of infected residents of Sunland Center to four. Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities spokeswoman Melanie Etters said the two residents of the state facility in Marianna were taken to the hospital Tuesday night after staff members noted the residents “seemed a little different.” The residents tested positive at Jackson Hospital. The confirmed cases came after two other residents of the facility tested positive Monday. All four of the residents will remain in the hospital until they have two negative tests, Etters said. DOH will conduct mandatory testing for all Sunland residents and employees Thursday.
“Orlando convention center to host 30,000 people next month” via Stephan Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — The Orange County Convention Center is preparing to open back up next month with an expected gathering of 30,000 people for a national youth volleyball tournament with promises it will follow social distancing and other coronavirus safety protocols. The 47th AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships will begin on June 16, the first event at the convention center since nearly 50 shows have canceled or postponed since early March as virus infections began climbing in Florida. The tournament, which drew more than 100,000 people last year, will be less than a third of that size and will not allow spectators. The AAU’s decision to stage the annual youth tourney sparked debate on an AAU message board with some decrying the push to continue with the tournament as “irresponsible.”
“UCF’s enrollment trending down for fall, but up for summer” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — As Florida’s public universities continue to offer classes only online and there’s no date set for a return to campus, enrollment for UCF’s fall semester is down, but sign-ups for summer classes remain strong. Summer student counts are up more than 5% over last year, and those students have enrolled in 10% more credit hours, UCF President Alexander Cartwright said in a committee meeting Wednesday morning. But for fall, the picture is less rosy: Student counts and credit hours are down by more than 6% so far. Registration is still underway for the late-summer term and fall semester. The university’s finances are closely linked to enrollment because about half the school’s main operating fund comes from tuition.
“Epic Universe theme park construction in Orlando won’t resume until the economy bounces back, Comcast official says” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Construction of the new Epic Universe theme park in Orlando won’t resume until the nation’s economy begins to revive, a key leader of Universal Orlando’s parent company said Wednesday. “All things considered, it’s a big capital swing, so better to really march forward with that when we have just a bit more visibility on what’s going on with the economy post-COVID,” Comcast Chief Financial Officer Mike Cavanagh said during a virtual interview at the J.P. Morgan Investor Conference. “I can’t tell you when that’s going to be when we revisit it.” When asked, Cavanagh stressed Universal is delaying the project, not rethinking whether to do it at all. “The confidence is high,” he said. “It’s a great project.”
“Pinellas long-term care facilities see three more coronavirus deaths” via Kavitha Surana of the Tampa Bay Times — Three more residents of Pinellas County long-term care facilities have died of COVID-19, according to medical examiner reports released Wednesday. That brought the total number of lives lost to the disease in Pinellas nursing homes and assisted living facilities to 44. That is about two-thirds of the 64 virus-related deaths in the county, a testament to how rapidly the virus can devastate vulnerable elder care facilities. The deaths are connected to three nursing homes that have all been struck by outbreaks: Freedom Square retirement community in Seminole; St. Mark Village, a nursing home in Palm Harbor; and Gulf Shore Care Center, a nursing home in Pinellas Park. All had underlying medical issues.
“Another 21 Pinellas Park nursing home residents contract COVID-19; evacuation underway” via Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times — The COVID-19 outbreak at Gulf Shore Care Center continues to worsen as paramedics started moving 21 more nursing home residents who tested positive to local hospitals. The transfer came 48 hours after paramedics moved five other residents to hospitals. Two employees have also tested positive. There were 28 confirmed cases at the facility. Gulf Shore Care Center recorded its first COVID-19 death Monday.
“Booze rules remain confusing as state reopens from shutdown” via Josh Solomon and Romy Ellenbogen of the Tampa Bay Times — While restaurants were readying to reopen their dining rooms last week for the first time in more than a month, St. Petersburg officials delivered a notice. Under a section about alcohol in DeSantis’ executive order amending the state closure, it said: “Restaurants may no longer sell alcohol in sealed containers for off-premises consumption without the appropriate state license.” The city cleared up the confusion with a message. “However, we have since been informed by state officials that prohibiting off-premises consumption may have been an unintended consequence of the Governor’s order,” wrote city spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez. “Therefore, we are not currently enforcing this.”
“Grand Prix of St. Petersburg rescheduled for Oct. 23-25, with fans” via Matt Baker and Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times — Two months to the day after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg became one of the area’s last significant events to shut down, it became the first major local sporting entity to announce its restart in the coronavirus era. Race organizers announced Wednesday that the annual event had been rescheduled for Oct. 23-25. Instead of its traditional place as the IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Grand Prix will serve as its championship race — hopefully with fans in attendance. “The City of St. Petersburg stands ready to welcome back the fans of IndyCar, drivers, teams, and sponsors in October …” Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. “I am confident that the race will occur in a manner that puts public health at the forefront.”
“Pirate Water Taxi to resume operations in Tampa on Friday” via Sharon Kennedy Wynne of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa’s Pirate Water Taxi will resume daily operations starting Friday with a reduced capacity and lots of hand sanitizer, the company has announced. “We are excited to get back on the water, especially with our brand-new 100-passenger water taxi, which will come in handy with social distancing,” Pirate Water Taxi president and CEO Troy Manthey said in a news release. “The health and safety of our crew and riders has always been our top priority. We are taking all necessary precautions to resume operation safely.” The waterside taxi service started four years ago has 15 stops around downtown Tampa along the Hillsborough River.
“Push to reopen Sarasota’s Lido Beach fails again” via Earle Kimel of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Commissioners Hagan Brody and Liz Alpert both wanted to see the beach open in time for this weekend, despite the fact that the board had recently voted to wait until May 18 to consider again reopening. Brody’s motion, which was seconded by Alpert, failed on the same 3-2 vote as the last attempt to open the beach had failed, with Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Vice Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie and Commissioner Willie Shaw voting against opening the beach. “You’re literally talking about a couple of hundred yards of the sand for our residents to use,” Brody said.
“St. Augustine tests wastewater for SARS-CoV-2” via Sheldon Gardner of The Florida Times-Union — To get ahead of further COVID-19 outbreaks, the city of St. Augustine is turning to an unexpected place: its wastewater treatment plant. The city recently began testing wastewater for coronavirus, and officials have been awaiting results of the first round of samples. “The reason we’re doing this, the main goal of it, is early monitoring. It’s an early indicator of a viral outbreak, if you will, in the city,” said Stephen Slaughter, the city’s engineering manager. Slaughter, who is part of the testing program, said the idea came from news about others conducting the testing. Research shows that the testing can provide up to six-day lead time in detecting COVID-19 compared to traditional public health efforts, City Manager John Regan said.
“Music by the Sea concerts in St. Augustine Beach postponed” via Stuart Korfhage of The Florida Times-Union — The St Augustine Beach Civic Association announced that it will delay the start of Music by the Sea concert series until at least July 1. A release from the Civic Association noted that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, large gatherings are still prohibited. That group and others are hopeful this type of event may be included in Phase III of DeSantis’ Reopen Florida plan. No date has been set for the implementation of Phase III. The Civic Association release said the organization has some concerns about the series and how social distancing guidelines might impact the event. The Music by the Sea production team will revamp the schedule over the next few weeks. The Civic Association said a July start is not guaranteed.
“Status of St. Augustine’s July 4 fireworks show still uncertain” via Sheldon Gardner of The St. Augustine Record — The city has decided to revisit the decision to cancel this year’s July 4 fireworks show. St. Augustine’s city manager decided to reverse a decision to cancel the city’s July 4 fireworks because of the COVID-19 threat after learning that information he relied on was incorrect. Other towns have canceled their fireworks, City Manager John Regan said. Officials are concerned that the demand would be higher if the city went forward. Even in an average year, the event draws thousands of people to downtown.
“Clay County to open new test site next week” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Clay County Emergency Management announced Wednesday that it would open a new site for testing next Monday during the coronavirus pandemic. The site is Bear Run Clinic at 3229 Bear Run Boulevard in Orange Park. It is set to remain open from May 18 to May 22. Hours for testing at the clinic are 8 a.m. to noon and then from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Clay County began its testing program for COVID-19 on May 11, with testing sites moving across the county. That stage of the program still has two more days left: On Thursday and Friday, testing will be available at Walter Odum Park in Orange Park.
“Cuts, ‘tough decisions’ coming to Leon County Schools as coronavirus blows hole in budget” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Cuts are coming in Leon County Schools as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic take a bite out of the district’s budget. CFO Kim Banks and the district’s finance department are mapping out cost-cutting measures for 10%, 15% and 20% reductions, depending on how severe the financial impacts of the pandemic turn out. “The problem is, we have no information from the state right now,” Banks told School Board members at Tuesday night’s meeting. “And we have no idea how bad it is.” Cuts will include teacher positions and school programs, officials said. “We are going to have some tough decisions to make over the course of the next several weeks and the months to come,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said.
“Pasco schools plan to reopen child care service in June” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — With Florida slowly reopening its businesses, parents headed back to work need someplace safe to watch their children. The Pasco County School District expects to offer that service, starting in mid-June. Even though its summer academic programs will remain online, the district intends to reopen its PLACE program at up to 20 schools for approximately 2,300 children in kindergarten through fifth grade. More than 1,000 families have already expressed interest, Assistant Superintendent Betsy Kuhn said. In a usual summer, the PLACE program serves about 3,400 children in 36 schools. Mostly, the kids congregate in cafeterias and gymnasiums. The model will look markedly different this summer, Kuhn said, from drop off to pickup.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“State, local governments slash services as demand rises” via Eleanor Mueller and Kellie Mejdrich of POLITICO — COVID-19 budget cuts have already resulted in 935 layoffs or furloughs nationwide for fire department employees, according to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, with as many as 30,000 additional layoffs projected. New York state announced more than $10 billion in spending cuts that include $8.2 billion slashed from local aid to schools, health care programs and municipalities; in Los Angeles, city workers must take 26 furlough days this fiscal year, which amounts to a 10 percent pay cut. “The federal government can’t just give money away with no strings attached to poorly-managed states that are going to turn around and use it to backfill their decades of fiscal mismanagement,” said Sarah Schwirian, the press secretary for Sen. Rick Scott.
“Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell: More spending from Congress’ costly but worth it’” via Victoria Guida of POLITICO — Powell warned that fallout from the coronavirus crisis could result in lingering pain for the U.S. economy and said further action by Congress to head off that damage would be worth the high cost. Congress is divided over what next steps to take to address the crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to move ahead with a Friday vote on a new $3 trillion relief package despite resistance from Trump and Senate Republicans. Powell’s entreaties for more congressional spending, though cloaked in deferential language, have grown more forceful as the emergency has dragged on.
“TIAA offers buyouts to 75% of American workforce” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — TIAA, which in 2017 acquired EverBank Financial Corp. and its 1,624 Jacksonville-based employees, is offering buyouts to 75% of its American workforce. It’s unclear how many jobs in Jacksonville will be lost, as the company will not say how many workers it intends to let go or how cuts will impact individual office locations. Instead, TIAA released a statement saying that it expects 5% to 7% of eligible employees to accept the buyout. TIAA acquired EverBank in 2017 as part of a $2.5 billion merger, renaming it TIAA Bank. At the time of the merger, EverBank employed 2,963 people, including 1,624 employees in Jacksonville. A TIAA spokesperson reached Wednesday declined to say how many people the company employs in Jacksonville.
“From PepsiCo to GM, big advertisers set to cancel commitments to TV networks” via Suzanne Vranica of The Wall Street Journal — Big advertisers from General Motors Co. to PepsiCo Inc. to General Mills Inc. are seeking to walk back spending commitments they made to broadcast and cable networks, a dynamic that is testing the industry’s five-decade-old way of doing business. TV ad spending fell in the initial weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, but was insulated from an even more significant drop. That is because the majority of the roughly $42 billion spent on national TV ads in the U.S. is bound by contractual commitments that are made well in advance of a new TV season, which starts each September. As of May 1, companies have the option to cancel up to 50% of their third quarter ad spending. Ad buyers estimate that roughly $1 billion to $1.5 billion in commitments for third quarter ad spending could be canceled.
“Grocery store prices post highest jump in 46 years” via Nexstar Media Wire — According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the prices of staples like eggs, meat and cereals recorded their highest increases in 46 years. Eggs saw the most significant hike, up 16%. But all six of the major grocery store food categories, cereals and bakery products; meats, poultry, fish, and eggs; dairy and related products; fruits and vegetables; nonalcoholic beverages and beverage materials and other food at home, are up at least 1.5%. Grocery stores seem to be alone in price increases as most industries saw declines in April.
“‘Pandemic profiteering’: Uber’s Grubhub proposal draws swift rebukes” via Eric Newcomer of Bloomberg — Uber Technologies Inc.’s offer to buy Grubhub Inc. antagonized officials in Washington and major U.S. cities, who were already taking steps to limit the fees companies charge restaurants and regulate their treatment of workers. If a deal between the two companies proceeds, analysts said it’s likely to face antitrust scrutiny. Food delivery tie-ups are complicated. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, many of the operations were unprofitable as they fought for market share. In New York alone, at least a dozen food delivery services compete for customers who are increasingly ordering from multiple platforms. Grubhub, the oldest of the major apps, had been forced to burn cash to play defense against upstarts like DoorDash, Inc.
— THE HUMAN TOLL —
“She had COVID-19 when she died, and it was overlooked. Is Florida undercounting the dead?” via Jessica De Leon of the Miami Herald — Patricia Schafer’s roommate was one of the coronavirus’ first victims at the Braden River Rehabilitation Center. The Bradenton nursing home’s attending physician ruled her death resulted from something strangely different: Old age. And pneumonia. The investigation, or lack thereof, into Schafer’s death raises important questions about Florida’s ability to track and study virus-related fatalities, especially in elder-care homes, which currently account for more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the state. Braden River was not very forthcoming with information after Shafer’s death certificate was rescinded, even claiming they didn’t have confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the home at all.
“Dead teen’s friends: ‘We can get a haircut, go to the mall. Why can’t we mourn?’” via Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times — They knew the coronavirus still looms large over life in Hillsborough County, but they didn’t care. Their friend was dead. For just a few moments Tuesday afternoon, some 200 teenagers gathered on the basketball court in Riverview’s Panther Trace neighborhood to say goodbye to Demona Deon Oliver Jr. Many said they simply needed to know if the rumors were true — that Deon was the unnamed 18-year-old male killed in a crash along I-75 Monday. It didn’t take long for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies to hear about the gathering. The deputies were firm but sympathetic, waiting to move in until balloons had been released into the air amid chants of “Deon” and “Family.” Then, tow trucks arrived, and the teens scattered.
— MORE CORONA —
“As some countries ease up, others are reimposing lockdowns amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections” via Liz Sly and Loveday Morris of The Washington Post — As many parts of the world, including the United States, explore ways to ease restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus, countries that had already opened up are closing down again after renewed spikes in infections. Experts had widely predicted such a resurgence of cases, but these increasing numbers come as a sobering reminder of the challenges ahead. The reemergence of coronavirus cases in many parts of Asia is also prompting a return to closures in places that had claimed success in battling the disease or appeared to have eradicated it altogether, including South Korea.
“Armed militia helped a Michigan barbershop open, coronavirus defiance that puts Republican lawmakers in a bind” via Moriah Balingit of The Washington Post — Armed members of the Michigan Home Guard stood outside Karl Manke’s barbershop, ready to blockade the door if the police arrived. They were determined to help Manke, reopen his shop Monday, in defiance of state orders. They gathered to rail against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approach to fighting the coronavirus outbreak. The protest and others like it have alarmed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Whitmer said she worries Republican state lawmakers are pushing people to violate it.
“Couples turn to `minimonies’ to salvage wedding plans” via Leanne Italie of The Associated Press — Couples trying to salvage weddings put on hold by the coronavirus are feeding a fresh trend in the bridal industry: the “minimony.” Rather than wait, they’re getting hitched alone or with a few local loved ones looking on at a safe social distance as other guests join virtually. Then they plan to reschedule larger celebrations when allowed. Guest lists of 50 or fewer accounted for just 8% of U.S. weddings last year, down from 10% the year before. Weddings with 51 to 150 guests encompassed 54% of couples. Vendors focused on micro weddings and organized elopements have seen an uptick in interest since the virus struck, but some couples were ahead of that curve.
“Taking an Uber? The app has new COVID-19 policies” via Sara DiNatale of the Tampa Bay Times — When local Uber drivers pull out their phones Monday to accept a rider or deliver a meal, they’ll have to take a selfie to prove they’re wearing a face covering. Uber announced Wednesday it’s using in-app technology to verify drivers have a mask on and is requiring riders to wear them, too. The new rules come after the platform encouraged app users to stay at home for the last two months. “People are starting to turn to Uber once again,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. The company’s senior director of project management, Sachin Kansal, said the latest policies do not encourage people to leave their homes. Instead, they ensure those who need to use the app to stay safe.
“Hollywood Bowl season canceled for the first time in 98 years. So long, L.A. summer” via Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times — For the first time in its nearly 100-year history, the Hollywood Bowl is canceling its entire season — a loss that amounts to far more than opening night with Brandi Carlile, the film screenings and singalongs, the concerts starring Diana Ross, Yuja Wang and Janelle Monáe that were to have followed. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., which manages the venue, announced the impossibility of attempting a summer season with the coronavirus crisis not yet resolved. The cancellation adds to the mounting revenue losses for the L.A. Phil, which faces an $80 million budget shortfall, the orchestra said. The Bowl officially opened in 1922 and provided needed entertainment throughout the Depression and immediately afterward.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“MAGA-loving congressman accidentally pushes to ban Trump campaign spending at Trump properties” via Lachlan Markay of The Daily Beast — It’s almost certain that Greg Steube did not intend to prohibit the President from steering campaign funds to his own hotels, resorts and golf clubs. He introduced a bill this month explicitly designed to target campaign spending by a House colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar. Steube’s legislation is called the Obstructing Monetary Allocations to Relatives Act or OMAR Act, a not-at-all-subtle shot at Omar, who has steered nearly $600,000 since 2018 to a company owned by political consultant Timothy Mynett, whose ex-wife said in divorce filings in early 2019 that he had admitted to carrying on an affair with Omar. The bill prohibits any campaign payment “to a vendor which is owned or controlled by an immediate family member of the candidate.”
“Brian Mast’s threat to Florida’s farmers also threatens Trump” via Brian Burgess of The Capitolist — Mast got elected on the promise to do something about the ongoing algae problems that flow into local estuaries each year. The problem is that water flowing into Lake Okeechobee carries with it too many nutrients, promoting algae growth. Mast has settled on a proposal that satisfies some of his constituents but doesn’t actually solve the problem. Mast wants to drop the water level in Lake Okeechobee so that the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t forced to release its algae-filled waters into the estuaries that flow toward his district come a rainy season when flooding becomes a threat. Mast’s singular focus on attacking farmers south of Lake Okeechobee is also politically dangerous.
— STATEWIDE —
“In Florida, felons must pay court debts before they can vote. But with no system to do so, many have found it impossible.” via Amy Gardner and Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — A vast number of felons are too poor to pay their fines. And even if they can afford to do so, a patchy system of court records does not always allow them to know what they owe or whether they’ve paid. Jamall Williams, 38, talked about his monthslong inquiry with the Leon County court clerk’s office, which keeps the record of his 2009 conviction for grand theft auto. Williams said he was eager to vote — both to set an example for his children and to please his wife, a regular voter-registration volunteer. “That’s how I met her,” he said. “She tried to register me to vote, and I wasn’t able, because I’m a convicted felon.”
“Supreme Court to hold more online arguments” via the News Service of Florida — The Florida Supreme Court will have another round of online oral arguments in June, after holding remote arguments this month for the first time. The court announced Wednesday that it would hear 14 cases using Zoom videoconferencing technology on June 2-4. The first round of online arguments was May 6. “The switch to remote technology is a major change for the state’s highest court,” the announcement said. “For 175 years since statehood, the Florida Supreme Court always has heard arguments with attorneys and judges together in the same room. It is a tradition that dates to early English law, which Florida adopted as the basis for its own legal system when it became a state in 1845.”
“Florida Democrats tell DeSantis: Take the money, democracy depends on it” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida Democrats want DeSantis to use federal money to make voting safer this November. A group of state lawmakers and members of Congress on Wednesday called on the Governor to stop “dithering” and “act now” to get a $20 million federal grant, available for states to help prepare for voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials traced at least 50 COVID-19 cases to the Wisconsin primary election last month. The speed by which the virus spreads has fueled debate about whether in-person elections should occur during a public health emergency. Congress put up $400 million in the CARES Act approved in March to help state officials administer voting during the outbreak, but Florida is one of four states that has not requested any of the money.
“Florida supervisors urge DeSantis to ‘act immediately’ to accept federal election funds” via Alex Daugherty and David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Florida is one of just four states that have yet to accept federal funds to prepare for elections during the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s election supervisors are urging DeSantis to take the money now. The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, a bipartisan group that represents county-level election supervisors across the state, sent a letter to DeSantis on Wednesday urging him to take $20 million in funds that were awarded to Florida as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that became law in March. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency responsible for administering the funds, said the responsibility to make the request lies with the Republican-controlled state Legislature, and not the Governor.
“I-4 lane shutdowns through downtown Orlando won’t start until Thursday night” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Plans to close three I-4 westbound lanes through downtown Orlando have been pushed back a day so that motorists won’t be funneled onto a single lane until Thursday night. Demolition work was completed during overnight I-4 lane closures earlier this week, shortening the time the lanes will have to be closed. All lanes will reopen by 8 a.m. on Monday. The closure stems from the $2.415 billion reconstruction of the interstate, called I-4 Ultimate, in Seminole and Orange counties, the state’s biggest road project ever that is running a year behind schedule. “These operations are going to be very impactful to traffic,” said DOT’s traffic engineer for Central Florida, John Tyler. “We are strongly advising folks to stay away and avoid the area if they can.”
— 2020 —
“Trump embraces Snapchat as battle for 202 youth vote heats up” via Sarah Frier of Bloomberg — The day the U.S. Senate acquitted Trump of impeachment charges, his reelection campaign staff posted a video on Snapchat, where they knew young voters would see it. The clip is one of Trump’s most popular Snapchat posts. Videos like this have helped Trump’s Snapchat following nearly triple to over 1.5 million in about eight months, far exceeding rival Joe Biden’s audience on the app. America’s first-time voters, in a normal election year, would be registering to vote on college campuses, at the library, or their local DMV office. COVID-19 is making that impossible right now, so Snapchat is one of the best ways to get them involved and influence their thinking, political groups say.
“Joe Biden is losing the internet. Does that matter?” via Kevin Roose of The New York Times — Biden is very famous, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his YouTube channel. Biden has just 32,000 subscribers on the site. The videos that Biden posts, these days, mostly repurposed campaign ads and TV-style interviews filmed from the makeshift studio in his basement, rarely crack 10,000 views. And the virtual crickets that greet many of his appearances have become a source of worry for some Democrats, who see his sluggish performance online as a bad omen for his electoral chances in November. In a normal election year, a former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee would have no trouble filling an arena. But the coronavirus has forced Biden to abandon in-person gatherings and adapt to an all-digital campaign strategy.
“Biden as an edge on Trump. So why are democrats worried?” via Katie Glueck, Lisa Lerer, Shane Goldmacher and Alexander Burns of The New York Times — Less than six months before Election Day, Biden finds himself in an extraordinary position: Party leaders have quickly united around him, and he has an edge over Trump in most polls. But he has yet to prove himself as a formidable nominee who can set the political and policy agenda for Democrats and the nation. Biden’s inability to influence the political or policy debate about the coronavirus and the nation’s economic collapse has worried some Democratic allies, donors and former Obama administration officials who want Biden to be more visible.
“Darren Soto, Democratic allies say Biden is backing Puerto Rico relief” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — After bashing Trump’s response to Puerto Rico’s disasters and relief requests as a “nightmare,” Soto and Democratic allies said Wednesday they have assurances Biden is including island aid. Soto, Puerto Rico territorial Sen. Carmelo Rios, and some community leaders within the stateside diaspora Wednesday contended Biden is committed to ending “second-class citizenship” treatment for Puerto Ricans on the island. They addressed whether the Puerto Rican diaspora may be significant in the 2020 presidential campaign. It’s a bloc that has grown tremendously in the past five years, particularly in the I-4 corridor that traditionally influences Florida’s political swing. It’s also is a bloc that historically has been unreliable in turning out to vote.
— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —
“Gregory Tony adds more than $100K in April, remains atop BSO field in fundraising” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Tony expanded his money lead in his 2020 reelection bid, adding more than $100,000 in April. Those contributions came in before recent reports that Tony shot and killed a man when he was 14 years old. Tony was cleared in that shooting, and the records were sealed, meaning the information did not come out in background checks before his appointment as Sheriff. Tony has worked to weather the storm since the early May report of the 1993 incident. Tony’s campaign has now raised more than $155,000. Broward First, a political committee supporting Tony’s bid, has brought in another $956,000. It’s unclear how the incident will register with voters and donors, going forward.
“Legal fees, consultants continue to eat at remainder of Andrew Gillum PAC money” via Jeffrey Schweers of USA TODAY — The original $3 million nest egg left from former Tallahassee Mayor Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign now is down to its last $1.76 million — with no sign that fund will be replenished. That’s what’s left in the Forward Florida political committee after spending what was left on legal fees, political and communications consultants, accountants and grants to get-out-the-vote campaigns in the 18 months since Gillum, a Democrat, narrowly lost the race to DeSantis. After the defeat, Gillum said he would redirect that political money to “flip Florida blue” by registering new voters. Indeed, most of the committee’s money has gone to voter registration efforts, officials with Forward Florida have said. But a substantial sum — around $650,000 — has gone to legal fees.
— TOP OPINION —
“Florida’s reopening is worth rooting for” via Joe Nocera of Bloomberg — DeSantis said, again and again, was being guided by “facts, data and science.” In the first phase of Florida’s reopening, social distancing will still be enforced. The elderly will remain quarantined. Florida’s parks are open. His many critics disagree, accusing him of playing to Trump in handling the crisis. But if you take even a cursory look at Florida’s numbers, they tend to bear him out. In the nation’s third most populous state, fewer than 1,800 people have died of COVID-19. DeSantis’s critics, who tend to lump him together with Trump, say the Governor doesn’t deserve any credit at all.
— OPINIONS —
“Andrew Cuomo: What Washington must do to protect workers” via The Washington Post — Large corporations receiving government bailouts must be accountable for doing right by their workers. So far, Washington has been in repeat mode. Our country cannot let that happen again. Washington must put in place stronger requirements for corporations that take federal bailout money. Corporations that do so must hire back at the same levels that they employed before the onset of the public health crisis and subsequent economic fallout. Federal financial assistance that refinances corporate balance sheets shouldn’t be the catalyst for bigger corporate profit margins at the expense of workers. Washington’s bailout rule should be simple and clear: No government support if you don’t hire back all of your pre-pandemic workers.
“Why did Florida wait until business resumed to shut down Interstate 4?” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Thanks to the ongoing construction, trips along Interstate 4 can also be a white-knuckle experience with shifting routes, narrow lanes and ever-changing exit ramps. Nobody likes this construction. That’s why, when DeSantis announced April 11 that he was going to speed up construction during the pandemic — when people were stuck at home and businesses were closed — it made a lot of sense to me. But then a week passed. And then another. Then a third and fourth. Finally, this week — more than a month later, and now that many Orlando businesses have reopened and traffic has picked back up — the state decided to close down major parts of the road. Needless to say, this makes less sense.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Florida’s death toll at nursing homes continues to rise: 776 residents or staffers at long-term care facilities have now been dies of COVID-19. However, DeSantis claims we’re doing better than most other states.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Florida education officials are trying to figure out when it will be safe to reopen the schools and colleges. Pinellas County’s School Superintendent says summer school is crucial this year to help kids make up for what’s commonly referred to as the “summer slide.” Now there’s the coronavirus slide. And the president of Tallahassee Community College says there’s no going back to normal.
— DeSantis wants professional sports teams to get back to business in Florida. He’s inviting teams from other states to train and play games in Florida if they face restrictions at their home fields.
— Another deep dive into the problems at Florida’s unemployment agency. Orlando-area Sens. Linda Stewart and Randolph Bracy have come to Tallahassee so they can help constituents back home navigate the system.
— The latest with Florida Man, who was arrested for building a campfire to stay warm. The trouble began when he lit it up.
To listen, click on the image below:
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Class in Session with Jeb Bush” via ExcelinEd — “Class in Session” is a series of video conversations with visionaries and experts in all sorts of subjects. Created specifically for secondary school students and relevant for the classroom, these 20-minute virtual conversations — hosted by former Florida Gov. Bush — draw out personal and professional experiences and elicit advice for America’s next generation from leaders across the nation. Classes include “Lessons in Civics” with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “Lessons in Coding” with Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, “Lessons in Media” with former White House press secretary Dana Perino and “Lessons in Teamwork and Grit” with Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross, among others.
“Orlando City players upbeat as MLS reportedly moves toward resuming playing at Disney” via Iliana Limon Romero of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando City defender Alex DeJohn spoke with confidence, enthusiasm and optimism. Orlando City’s technical staff stepped up the intensity of the individual drills during the second week of limited workouts and DeJohn couldn’t help but look ahead to Major League Soccer resuming play. “We worked pretty hard during the quarantine, but being out here is a little bit different from just going out to run by yourself,” he said. “ … we’re just ready to get back out there and start playing again.” MLS has informed teams it would like to host those matches to Orlando. Teams would begin individual training in Florida June 1 and resume play June 22 while sequestered at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports on Disney property.
“New York tourist who wouldn’t move for Magic Kingdom parade dismisses lawsuit against Disney” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — A New York man who sued Disney for false imprisonment after he was arrested for attacking a Disney employee who asked him to move aside for a Magic Kingdom parade has ended his legal action against the theme park company. Marc Rubin in March voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit filed in 2018, although court records don’t indicate whether he received a settlement. He had planned to propose to his fiancee at the Magic Kingdom that night, Rubin said in his lawsuit. Instead, he was arrested. Neither his lawyer nor Disney would comment. The two sides were at an impasse during mediation in September 2019, Orange Circuit Court records said.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to Audrey Henson and Todd Reid.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.