First in Sunburn — Sen. Kevin Rader is choosing to depart the Senate after just one term, leaving open the 2020 contest for Senate District 29.
Rader won that seat in 2016 after serving six years in the Florida House. Rader had filed his intention to run for reelection back in Dec. 2016, shortly after that win. Despite being eligible for a second four-year term, Rader says he will step aside.
“After a great deal of self-reflection and many serious conversations with my loving wife and partner, Amy, I have decided against seeking another term in office as I turn my full attention toward my family and my business,” Rader said in a statement first provided to Florida Politics.
The SD 29 seat is significant to the South Florida community. The district spans the community of Parkland in Broward County. That’s the site of the infamous 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Representing the people of this district has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I’d like to thank the voters for trusting me to look out for their interests in Tallahassee, which I have sought to do every day whether we are in session or not,” Rader added.
“I’m especially proud of the work that my hardworking staff and I have done to advance gun safety legislation in the aftermath of the tragic mass murder in Parkland over two years ago as well as the bill I passed this year ensuring all of Florida’s schoolchildren are put through a rigorous Holocaust education curriculum.”
No Democrats had filed to challenge Rader before Tuesday. Republican Brian Andrew Norton, who’s running his first political campaign, did file for the contest earlier this year.
The incumbent seemed to have a preferred successor in mind already, as he is urging Rep. Tina Polsky to jump into the contest.
“She has been an impressive and highly effective member of the State House and I feel that the state Senate along with the people of this district would be lucky to have her,” Rader said.
In addition to covering Parkland, SD 29 extends northward into Palm Beach County spanning South Bay, Belle Glade and Wellington. Polsky’s House District 81 covers much of those same regions of Palm Beach.
A new survey from St. Pete Polls found two-thirds of voters have no plans to grab a table at their favorite restaurant now that dining rooms are permitted to reopen. And if they absolutely must go out, 85% say they plan to wear a mask.
As most continue to practice strict adherence to social distancing, they have developed a high level of respect for those whose jobs cannot be done with 6 feet of separation.
Voters were asked for their opinion on a range of essential workers, and the results should bring a smile to the face of anyone who must wear a badge or scrubs.
More than nine in 10 polled said they approved of first responders such as police, firefighters and paramedics.
The approval was near-universal, regardless of party affiliation — just under 92% of Democrats and Republicans said they approved of first responders, while nearly 93% of independents said the same.
Police and firefighters have traditionally been viewed as everyday heroes, but another set of professionals have joined the ranks in recent weeks: health care workers.
Doctors and nurses risk exposure to the virus every time they clock in, at times without proper protective equipment.
There have been several indications that they’ve reached hero status since the pandemic hit full force two months ago, from mask sewing circles to thankful graffiti. The St. Pete Polls survey confirms that those anecdotes reflect Floridians’ heartfelt beliefs.
The poll found 88% of Floridians approve of doctors and nurses compared to just 3% who disapprove and 9% who say they are unsure.
— TOP STORIES —
“Senators to roll out revised bipartisan bill for $500B in state, local emergency aid” via Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — Sens. Joe Manchin, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cory Booker and Susan Collins are signing onto a bill originally introduced last month by Sens. Bob Menendez and Bill Cassidy. The amended bill completely eliminates any population threshold to qualify for aid, “allowing every state, county, municipality, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia to qualify for direct federal assistance, regardless of its size.” The measure — dubbed the State and Municipal Assistance for Recovery and Transition Act or SMART Act — would also reverse Treasury Department guidelines stating that prior pandemic assistance for state and local governments can’t be used to replace revenue shortfalls. The revised bill tweaks how funding for counties and municipalities is calculated and sets aside $16 billion for tribal governments.
“Marco Rubio tapped to serve as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman” via Andrew Desiderio and Marianne Levine of POLITICO — Rubio will temporarily serve as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced. It represents a significant elevation for Rubio, who after a failed 2016 presidential campaign is once again seeing his star rise. Rubio is among the Senate’s most vocal Russia and China hawks, and he has actively sought to position himself as a go-to Republican voice on foreign policy and national security issues.
“Ron DeSantis eyes theme parks, sports to get ‘mojo’ back” via Hannah Morse of The Palm Beach Post — DeSantis had his sights set on the economy, hinting at how he would let theme parks reopen and saying he extended an invitation to out-of-state sports leagues with statewide coronavirus cases and deaths still increasing. Theme parks and sporting events could very well be next on his list. DeSantis said he would consider allowing theme parks to reopen if plans outlining how to keep employees and visitors safe were submitted to his office. They must also have the support of local officials to get the turnstiles moving again.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@OliviaNuzzi: If you are worried enough about the virus to take a drug that has not been proven or approved to prevent or treat the virus, but you are not worried enough to wear a mask and gloves, what the hell does that mean?
—@EvanAxelbank: I am not old enough to remember when presidents hid the drugs they were taking
—@KaitlanCollins: Nearly 90,000 Americans have been killed by coronavirus, and the president is tweeting about me pulling my mask down for six seconds on Friday.
—@HelenAguirreFer: Those who refuse to accept the data, facts or do not acknowledge their use of erroneous # models, like many did regarding Florida, are either irresponsible or on a political campaign. Unfortunately, many of them work for “news” organizations.
My grandmother’s fight against COVID-19 ended today. Sadly, though she beat the disease, she could not survive its aftermath. Yolanda Ortega Cata was pure kindness. Today, the world is a little less awesome due to her passing. But her memories are those of pure joy and strength! pic.twitter.com/anVhxf1NUV
— Jose Felix Diaz (@josefelixdiaz) May 18, 2020
—@NewsBySmiley: Every campaign season we get a rash of politicians who say they have no interest in being politicians
—@JK_Rowling: People are now explaining Bitcoin to me, and honestly, it’s blah blah blah collectibles (My Little Pony?) blah blah blah computers (got one of those) blah blah blah crypto (sounds creepy) blah blah blah understand the risk (I don’t, though.)
— DAYS UNTIL —
English Premier League soccer to restart — 13; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 20; PGA Tour resumes — 23; Father’s Day — 33; Apple to hold Developer Conference — 34; Federal taxes due — 57; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 59; “Mulan” premieres — 66; TED conference rescheduled — 68; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 90; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 94; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 97; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 108; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 109; Rescheduled date for French Open — 124; First presidential debate in Indiana — 134; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 144; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 149; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 150; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 156; 2020 General Election — 168; “Black Widow” premieres — 171; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 182; “No Time to Die” premieres — 189; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 218; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 430; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 439; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 535; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 633; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 675; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 718; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 871.
— CORONA NATION —
“Almost 90,000 dead and no hint of national mourning. Are these deaths not ‘ours’?” via Micki McElya of The Washington Post — Over the course of a week, as the national death toll from COVID-19 marched steadily toward 90,000, Donald Trump returned repeatedly to the idea that America is at war with the coronavirus. But if we are all warriors, why aren’t the currently more than 86,000 American pandemic dead treated as patriots and honored for their sacrifices? The metaphor appears to stop at death’s door. There is a conspicuous absence of any collective mourning at all. The pandemic dead have received almost none of the national mourning rituals typical after noteworthy symbolic national losses and the omission is significant.
“If coronavirus swells in a second wave later this year, will the nation be ready?” via Dennis Wagner of USA Today — Many scientists believe the pandemic likely will dissipate over the summer only to return late this year in a second wave that could be worse than the first. While that outlook is no certainty disaster planning is all about anticipating worst-case scenarios. with months to go before a possible Round 2, is the United States prepared — medically, economically and emotionally? The leading answer from epidemiologists, economists and futurists: probably not. The Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies was nearly emptied. Unemployment is higher than any time since the 1930s. Global trade is crippled. If COVID-19 has delivered any lesson, it may be the value of looking ahead at a nation’s ability to absorb catastrophic shock.
“Virus survivors could suffer severe health effects for years” via Lisa Du of Bloomberg News — More than 1 million people around the world have been deemed recovered from the coronavirus, but beating the initial sickness may be just the first of many battles for those who have survived. Some recovered patients report breathlessness, fatigue and body pain months after first becoming infected. Small-scale studies conducted in Hong Kong and Wuhan, China, show that survivors grapple with poorer functioning in their lungs, heart and liver. And that might be the tip of the iceberg. While researchers are only starting to track the long-term health of survivors, past epidemics caused by similar viruses show that the aftermath can last more than a decade. According to one study, SARS survivors suffered for as long as 12 years after the epidemic coursed through Asia.
“Coronavirus vaccine front-runners emerge, rollouts weighed” via Peter Loftus of The Wall Street Journal — Governments and drugmakers are weighing how to roll out coronavirus vaccines, including reserving the first batches for health care workers, as several shots race to early leads. Of more than 100 vaccines in development globally, at least eight have started testing in humans. The efforts are part of a larger rush, including at the White House, to line up funding for accelerated testing and expanded manufacturing capacity, all to make doses available in the U.S. starting as soon as this fall. There isn’t a guarantee that any of the most advanced vaccine candidates will prove to work safely on such a short timetable. Some, like vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, are based on relatively new technologies that haven’t been approved previously.
“Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine shows encouraging early results in human safety trial” via Carolyn Johnson of The Washington Post — Moderna, the Massachusetts biotechnology company behind a leading effort to create a coronavirus vaccine, announced promising early results from its first human safety tests. The eagerly-awaited data provide a preliminary look at one of the eight vaccines worldwide that have begun human testing. The data is only a first step toward showing the experimental vaccine is safe and effective. A Chinese company, Sinovac Biotech, recently published a study in the journal Science showing that its vaccine protected rhesus monkeys against infection and is currently being tested in 144 people. Two other safety trials are ongoing in the U.S., led by Pfizer and Inovio Pharmaceuticals.
“‘Immunity passports’ won’t reopen America” via Joanne Kenen of POLITICO — Antibody tests and “immunity passports” were supposed to be the great hope for safely reopening the economy. The problem is many of the more than 120 tests on the market are inaccurate. And scientists don’t really yet understand how much immunity antibodies confer or how long it lasts. Tests and the apps to promote them are gaining traction among businesses and consumers eager to know who has been exposed to the virus, raising the risk that people will be relying on faulty results to promote their immunity from the coronavirus. Using “passports” or apps that are unregulated, unreliable and rife with errors to decide who can work, travel or eat out raises troubling questions about privacy, discrimination, risk and fairness. Scientists are sounding alarms, too, about both the tests, which the FDA has recently begun vetting and the gaps in knowledge.
“Feds release guidelines on nursing home visitation” via the News Service of Florida — The federal government released guidelines states could follow to reopen long-term care facilities to visitors. In the guidelines, which have no legal weight, the Trump administration recommended that nursing homes don’t reopen for visitation until they have no new reported COVID-19 for at least 28 days; have adequate personal protective equipment for staff members, and have adequate access to COVID-19 testing. DeSantis announced that he would like to reopen Florida’s nursing homes, which have been closed to visitors since March 14.
“N.Y. reopens another region, urges sports to resume without fans” via Keshia Clukey of Bloomberg — New York will open a sixth region on Tuesday and urge major sports franchises to resume playing without fans, as the state continues a slow recovery from the new coronavirus. Western New York, which includes Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties, will have all the contact tracers needed, the last of seven metrics required to restart its economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday at a press briefing. Erie County Medical Center also will be allowed to resume elective surgeries. In New York, the state hardest hit by the outbreak, the numbers of new hospitalizations and intubations continue to decline, Cuomo said. There were 106 deaths on May 17, the lowest one-day toll in at least seven weeks.
“As New Orleans reopens, tourists and residents are hesitant to return” via David Montgomery and Richard A. Webster of The Washington Post — Across New Orleans residents were hesitant to venture back out in a city that once was an epicenter of the novel coronavirus, even though social distancing has paid off with sharply decreased rates of infection. Tourists were scarce, too. On Bourbon Street alone, three huge hotels with many hundreds of rooms between them sat shuttered. The streets of the French Quarter were empty enough for a half-a-dozen young women on bicycles to ride down the center of Bourbon Street with glow sticks on their spokes. Their shrieks briefly animated the night.
“Most Americans agree that keeping up with COVID-19 news is overwhelming” via Mallory Newall and Sara Machi of Ipsos — A new poll finds that the number of Americans who are watching the news more than normal has decreased since mid-April. A majority agree that keeping up with COVID-19 news is overwhelming, and half are seeking out other news unrelated to the pandemic. More than half of Americans still agree that they feel lonelier since social distancing began, unchanged from last month. Around one in ten have sought out therapy since the pandemic began, with 46% saying it was their first time seeking it.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“Gov. DeSantis is often secretive about his whereabouts, leaving reporters and taxpayers in the dark” via Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix — It matters that the public knows what its governors are up to. So much so that Florida Governors’ daily administrative schedules are official public records. Under Republican DeSantis, though, this important document has been reaching reporters’ hands well after most of the meetings and events it documents are finished. Often, well into the evening. The practice reached its nadir, perhaps, on April 28, when DeSantis met with Trump in the White House to discuss the governor’s strategy on COVID-19 just days before he would loosen restrictions on social distancing for businesses, hospitals, and other gathering places. The daily schedule popped into reporters’ inboxes at 8:49 p.m. — hours after the meeting.
“As Florida reopens, COVID-19 data chief gets sidelined and researchers cry foul” via Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today — Late last Friday, the architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard announced that she had been removed from her post, causing outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship. The site was created by a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officers headed by Rebekah Jones, who announced last week her removal as of May 5, in a heartfelt farewell note emailed to researchers and other members of the public who had signed up to receive updates on the data portal. Citing “reasons beyond my division’s control,” Jones said her office is no longer managing the dashboard, is no longer involved in publication, fixing errors or answering questions “in any shape or form.”
“How the youngest 25 in Florida died of COVID-19” via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — Like the almost 2,000 other Floridians who died of COVID-19, the vast majority of young people to have had their lives cut short by the novel coronavirus were already struggling with other chronic health problems when the new illness hit them. Of the 25 deaths among Floridians under 40, 17 were men and eight were women. Most suffered from asthma, chronic bronchitis, morbid obesity and high blood pressure — or some combination of all the above. Race also appeared to be a risk factor. Of the 25 youngest to die, 12 were black, almost half the deaths. Eight also had diabetes — among the biggest risk factors for dying from the new coronavirus, according to the CDC.
“Scott Rivkees eyes the need for pediatric COVID-19 testing” via the News Service of Florida — Florida needs more hospital-level testing for COVID-19, including more pediatric testing capability as the state continues to reopen, Surgeon General Rivkees told hospital officials. “At this point, we are now several months into this, each hospital should really have the capability to have in-house testing ability for COVID-19,” Rivkees, the secretary of the Florida Department of Health, said on a statewide conference call. More testing at the hospital level is necessary, he said, as many surgeries and medical procedures are again being offered after being shut down earlier in the pandemic.
“Growing numbers in long-term care facilities” via Casey Chapter and CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Roughly 10 long-term care facilities in the Big Bend have reported cases of staff or residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Amid shifting data, the health department also has a history of incorrectly reporting positive cases in those facilities. The state health department reported Canterfield of Tallahassee, an assisted living facility on Tharpe Street, had two staff members test positive for the virus. The facility had three staff members test negative for COVID-19 and three other coronavirus tests are pending. Other facilities have seen coronavirus cases.
“Visits suspended at Florida prisons through June due to coronavirus pandemic” via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — In-person visitations at prisons around the state will remain suspended through June 7 due to the coronavirus, the Florida Department of Corrections said. It’s the fourth extension FDC has made to its initial visitation freeze, which was first implemented in March. In a news release Monday, FDC said: “[t]he decision to reinstate the normal visitation schedule will be evaluated in consultation with public health experts.” The agency said inmates “will continue to have access to their loved ones through mail, phone calls and video visitation” during the suspension, and that it had provided free credits to inmates and their loved ones to communicate with one another.
“Floridians have gotten $2 billion in unemployment so far, Gov. DeSantis says. That’s not great.” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Comparing Florida to other states isn’t simple. DeSantis’ $2 billion figure includes both federal CARES Act benefits ($1.2 billion) and state unemployment benefits ($840 million). State unemployment benefits vary widely from each state. Florida’s weekly benefit payout top out at a stingy $275 per week, one of the worst in the nation. If you combine both state and federal benefits, most states appear to have paid out far more in unemployment than Florida. Michigan (with a population less than half Florida’s size) has paid out $5.6 billion. California, for example, has paid out $11.1 billion in state benefits, but just $1.2 billion in federal benefits.
— “’Who’s been waiting?’ DeSantis denies state isn’t paying valid unemployment benefits claims” via Greg Angel of Spectrum News 13
“Interstate 4’s soaring ‘flyover’ ramps with S.R. 408 are complete, DeSantis says” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Of the $2.4 billion overhaul of 21 miles of I-4, DOT labels the junction of the region’s two busiest roads as the signature and most costly part of an overall project slated to be finished at the end of 2021. The layered tapestry of concrete ramps at the southwest corner of downtown Orlando was designed for drivers to maintain highways speeds as they transition at varying heights above the ground between the two expressways. DeSantis made his announcement from atop the about-to-open ramp from westbound I-4 to eastbound S.R. 408, a swooping lane that will provide drivers with new and dramatic views of the city amid a panorama of heavy traffic in all directions.
“State eyes plans for reopening university campuses” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser will present guidelines for reopening university campuses in the fall after students were sent home in March to curb the spread of COVID-19. Criser is slated to offer the guidelines during a May 28 meeting of the university system’s Board of Governors. Based on the guidelines, universities will present individual plans for the fall semester during a June 23 meeting. A university-system task force has been working in recent weeks on the issue of reopening campuses. Board of Governors Chairman Syd Kitson said early this month that the task force included leaders of each of the universities.
“Theme parks are expected to submit reopening plans” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida’s major theme parks are being told to submit plans showing how they expect to reopen during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, DeSantis said. The major theme park operators, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Parks & Resorts, and SeaWorld Entertainment, have not publicly stated when they expect to reopen. DeSantis made it clear he sees pouring tens of thousands of people per day into the theme parks is going to require something beyond the usual social distancing and capacity restrictions placed on restaurants and stores. “When you open a theme park, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and three days later do it. Now they’re going to need a lot of runway to be able to know a date certain,” DeSantis said.
“Florida Chamber predicting a swift economic recovery after Q2” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Florida is trudging through the worst single quarter ever recorded, but the economy could soon rebound after the state reopens, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Jerry Parrish. “However, a lot of the industries are going to come back pretty quickly — things like manufacturing, especially a lot of types of construction,” he added. The hospitality industry, which pays the wages of an estimated 1.4 million Floridians, has been hit the hardest by the lockdown and decline in tourism. Segments of that industry could be out of jobs for months, and it could take a vaccine to return to pre-pandemic tourism levels.
Happening today — Economists with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences — Christa Court, John Lai and Andrew Ropicki — will hold a virtual news conference to discuss a recent study of the economic effects of COVID-19 on various sectors of the state, 1:30 p.m., Zoom details to follow.
“Nikki Fried blasts Florida GOP leadership at Hillsborough Dems meeting” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Fried has been a vocal critic of DeSantis, first because of his attempts to strip the state’s energy office from her department, and then later because he snubbed her from the Re-Open Task Force, the only member of his cabinet to be left off. Now Fried is pillorying DeSantis over his COVID-19 response, calling for voters to remember that elections have consequences. “If you don’t know now why elections count and why elections matter you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months,” Fried said.
“Florida National Guard maintains 2,188 troops during ‘Full Phase One’ reopen” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — “As this crisis continues, the Florida National Guard will maintain a ready force across the state for a variety of missions to include medical support and distribution of necessary commodities,” the Florida National Guard said in a statement. To date, the Florida National Guard has 2,188 Guardsmen on duty, many of whom are running the 26 Community Based Testing Sites that provide drive-thru and walk-up services. More than 186,186 sample collections have been administered, the Florida National Guard said.
“Farmers, restaurants, schools band together to fight hunger, prevent page a spoilage” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — When COVID-19 forced Florida to shut down much of its economy in April, farmers were left to watch the fruits and vegetables they raised rot in their fields. At the same time, a record number of people lost their job, more than 1.9 million applications for unemployment benefits have been filed in Florida since March 15. Hunger fighting program Feed the Need Florida had an idea to bring farmers, restaurants and schools together to continue feeding children who don’t have access to school-provided breakfasts and lunches. Since April 5, the effort has extended to five counties and recruited 850 restaurants into a partnership with school districts and food banks.
“‘Ink Master’ artists criticize Florida tattoo studio shutdown” via Rick Neale of Florida Today — “Ink Master” contestant and Cocoa Beach tattoo artist Mark Longenecker has a message for DeSantis: Come see how clean and sterile my shuttered shop is — and I’ll offer you a free tattoo. Florida tattoo studios remain closed, though DeSantis let hair salons, barbershops and nail salons reopen. On May 2, DeSantis visited an Orlando barbershop, where he conducted a COVID-19 hair salon discussion. Longenecker — and tattoo artists across the Sunshine State — took note of the media event. And they say they’re getting the short end of the stick. “The tattoo industry? We’re forgotten about. It’s not like we’re a bunch of bikers that are bad people. The old stereotypes are long gone,” said Longenecker, who opened Endless Summer Tattoo in 2004.
— CORONA LOCAL —
“Reopening Jacksonville: Diners, customers happy to be hanging out again” via Teresa Stepzinski of The Florida Times-Union — Bacon sizzled, eggs scrambled and creamy sausage gravy smothered golden, flaky biscuits at the original Metro Diner in San Marco. It’s been a week since DeSantis allowed restaurants statewide to reopen their dining rooms to guests at 25% occupancy during the coronavirus pandemic. The Hendricks Avenue diner opened to eager customers Monday, the first day allowed under the Governor’s order. “At the start of the week, our sales were an even split between our in-dining room service, delivery and takeout, and now our dining room has picked up speed and taken the lead,” managing partner Ed Lenhart said. He said the transition back to dine-in seating from only being allowed to do takeout and delivery has gone smoothly.
“South Florida mayors talk Phase One reopening: ‘We’re hopeful that people are responsible’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — As South Florida transitions into Phase One of reopening Monday, a pair of local leaders is urging residents to maintain social distancing practices to ensure the region does not experience another spike in cases. Such a spike could lead to the region pulling back on reopening measures. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties had been exempted from the state’s original Phase One plan due to the fact the region has consistently led the state in confirmed COVID-19 cases. Data shows the spread has slowed throughout the state, however, which has allowed officials the opportunity to test a partial reopening. A spike in cases would show that test has failed, causing the city to return to shutdown mode.
“This woman had no child care options for her son with autism — so she had to quit her job” via Bianca Padro Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Arasay Peñate didn’t know what autism spectrum disorder was when she arrived in Little Havana from Cuba three years ago with her young son, who had trouble saying the word “mamá.” But since her son, now-4-year-old David Silva Jr., was diagnosed with the condition, her plans of coming to Miami to study and get a good job became secondary to her son’s care. In March, when the coronavirus pandemic forced her son’s child care at Easterseals South Florida to close down, Peñate quit her job while her husband, David Silva, continued working at two high-end restaurants jobs that seemed stable. But two months later, caring for their son on their own has come at a steep cost. Peñate and Silva are both out of jobs, having spent their only income on rent.
“Jupiter Farms man was virus skeptic until it infected him” via Adriana Delgado of The Palm Beach Post — Brian Lee Hitchens was a coronavirus skeptic until the illness led him to be hospitalized at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. Now the Jupiter Farms resident wants people to know the virus is dangerous and real. He has taken to Facebook to share his experience. He said he doesn’t understand how coronavirus deniers who in past weeks protested shelter-in-place measures still believe the virus, which has kept him hospitalized since April 19, is a hoax. Hitchens’ improved condition hasn’t been enough to get him discharged. A second negative test, a key to when a patient can come home, came back Sunday. He was unsure when he would leave the medical center.
“Broward reopens with hungry customers and hopeful business owners” via Susannah Bryan, Danielle Ivanov, David Lyons and Angie DiMichele of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After weeks in lockdown, diners and malls and salons across Broward County finally opened for business Monday. South Floridians ventured out from their homes for a haircut or a pastry or a walk through their favorite mall, some with mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement. They were met by hand sanitizers and servers in masks and eager business owners. Jonathan Pagan, a bartender from Plantation, headed to Sawgrass Mills and found a mall different from the one he was used to — less crowded and with fewer stores to browse. “I’ve never seen this place look like this ever in my life,” Pagan said. “It’s different. It’s strange. [But] I’m just happy the mall is open.”
“Restaurants divided on mask protocols as they reopen at 50% occupancy” via Liz Balmaseda of the Palm Beach Post — The Governor’s Phase One executive order, which went into effect Monday, limits dining room capacity to 50% of a restaurant’s usual occupancy rate and requires 6 feet of spacing between outdoor tables. The restrictions were not enough to convince one local pizzeria to reopen to indoor customers. Pizzeria owners Phoebe Reckseit and Jennifer Morales have yet to reopen the dining rooms at their Pizza Girls restaurants in downtown West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. “I guess we’re going to think about it really hard,” says Reckseit, who does provide outdoor seating at her restaurants. “What I notice is that people want to sit outside. There’s more circulation and it seems safer.”
Assignment editors — Feeding South Florida will join Reps. Vance Aloupis, Ana Maria Fernandez, Juan Fernandez-Barquin, Daniel Perez and Anthony Rodriguez for a drive-thru fresh food distribution, 9 a.m., Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th St., Miami. Food distribution is on a first-come, first-served basis while supplies last.
“Beachgoers mostly observe social distancing at Boca and Delray beaches” via Austen Erblat and Dan Sweeney of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — After nearly two months without being allowed on the beach, people in Palm Beach County mostly stuck to the rules of social distancing Monday. Beaches throughout the county reopened Monday after several weeks of closures. The beach on Singer Island in Riviera Beach and at South Inlet Park in Boca Raton remain closed. Boca Raton’s beaches were without lifeguards or restrooms. A couple of dozen people were on the sand or in the water, with most following the rules. A small number of people were laid out on towels or chairs. Many more people were on the sand in Delray Beach.
“Key West gyms reopen after coronavirus shutdown with some new tools of the trade” via Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald — Dan Reynen reopened his WeBeFit Personal Training gym in Key West on Monday with copper coating the dumbbell grips, the door handles and the front desk. Copper, known to kill the novel coronavirus along with other bacteria, was added just in time for the Governor’s decision to reopen gyms and fitness centers throughout most of Florida. In these uncertain days, Reynen is not taking any chances. “Our average client age is 52 years old,” Reynen said. “There is no excuse for any facility to open up and risk their employees’ health or their customers’ health because they want to make a dollar off a session.”
“Florida Keys will reopen to visitors June 1 amid pandemic” via The Associated Press — The Florida Keys will reopen to tourists on June 1, more than two months after the island chain closed to visitors to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. Checkpoints that barred visitors from coming into the Florida Keys will be removed next month and hotels and other lodging establishments, including campgrounds and vacation rentals, will also be allowed to reopen at 50% occupancy. These businesses must implement sanitation stations and follow cleaning guidelines for COVID-19. The decision to reopen comes amid the low coronavirus infection rate in the Florida Keys. The move to reopen was the “toughest decision” Monroe County officials had to make, Monroe County Spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Orlando is reopening. Persuading tourists to come back is harder.” via Alex Leary and Arian Campo-Flores of The Wall Street Journal — Florida has begun reopening for business, but this tourist mecca faces a grinding road to recovery. The coronavirus pandemic has pummeled the economy of the Orlando metro area, where legions of theme-park attendants, servers, maids and bellhops rely on the 75 million visitors a year who produce $75 billion in revenue. The tourists are gone, and the prospect of their return uncertain. The Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks haven’t said when they will reopen and could be among the last businesses in the state to do so given the complexity of social distancing and cleaning.
“Benefit of virus shutdown: Orlando’s snarl interchange fixed early” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Less traffic on the roads during the coronavirus crisis has benefits, as DeSantis pointed out in overseeing the dramatically-sped up completion of a new interchange for Interstate 4 and State Road 408 in downtown Orlando. The completion and opening of five new ramps serving that interchange means that for the first time ever, really, drivers will be able to move logically and seamlessly between Orlando’s two most important expressways, each carrying more than 150,000 vehicles per day. The efforts allow FDOT to open the new interchange ramps three months earlier than scheduled. The interchange is not the only major transportation construction project being accelerated during the traffic slowdown. DeSantis also cited work in Tampa Bay and Miami, though he did not get specific.
“‘It felt good to be back’: Tampa Bay gyms reopen” via Kathryn Varn, Jack Evans, Anastasia Dawson, Megan Reeves and Maggie Duffy of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Bay area gyms big and small ran with the opportunity to open for business. But with COVID-19 still a health threat, many put new protocols in place: smaller classes with shorter durations for more time to clean off equipment, more sanitizing stations, spaced out equipment and temperature checks at the door, to name a few. The break wasn’t easy on gym owners and trainers either, who turned to video classes and small business grants to stay afloat. As restaurants and salons were given the green light to reopen, gym owners and fitness die-hards questioned why they weren’t included.
What Jackie Toledo is reading — “Tampa Hard Rock will reopen this week with mandatory face masks and temperature checks” via Colin Wolf of Creative Loafing — Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, one of the last major local attractions to close during the coronavirus pandemic, will now be one of the first to reopen. The Seminole Hard Rock will conduct temperature checks for all guests and team members prior to entry. Any guest or team member with a temperature above CDC guidelines will not be allowed entry. All guests must wear masks or cloth face coverings that meet CDC guidelines, without exception. Masks will be provided to guests, as needed. Thousands of alternating slot machines will be turned off, to help ensure social distancing on the casino floor. New Plexiglas barriers will divide players at table games, poker games and customer service areas.
“Brevard County government offices reopen to public with restrictions due to coronavirus” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Brevard County reopened its government facilities to the public on Monday — but with restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be limited access and appointment-only services in many departments until further notice. Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county is implementing “a safety-conscious approach to ensure that proper safety measures and Centers for Disease Control social distancing guidelines are observed.” The county has installed new protective measures, including Plexiglas sneeze guards in areas visited regularly by the public. It also has implemented enhanced cleaning and disinfectant procedures, including the sanitization of frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, stair railings and countertops, in all county government facilities.
“COVID-19 cases increase at disabilities facility” via the News Service of Florida — Fifteen residents and 11 staff members at a Northwest Florida facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Sunday. Agency for Persons with Disabilities spokeswoman Melanie Etters said the state was requiring the 244 residents and 800 staff members at the Sunland Center in Marianna to be tested. The decision to test everyone was made after the state discovered the first two cases at the facility. State data indicate that the residents and staff who tested positive came from two of the buildings on the campus.
“Panhandle gyms welcome back members” via Erin Franczak of Northwest Florida Daily News — Greeted at the door by staff members, gym patrons were excited to get off the couch and back into their fitness routines Monday. Gold’s Gym in Fort Walton Beach, off Eglin Parkway, reopened for the first time Monday with added safety measures and protocols. The number of people allowed in the gym at a time is 50%, and signs were added to every other machine to allow for social distancing. Extra sanitizing stations were also added throughout the gym. At 1 p.m. every day, the gym will be closed to allow for cleaning and sanitizing. Members already in the gym will be allowed to finish their workouts, but those not already inside will not be allowed to enter.
“Panhandle counties submit plans to revive vacation rentals” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — In late March, DeSantis shut down short-term vacation rentals statewide to new reservations and banned advertising. On Friday, he outlined a pathway for individual counties to submit plans to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). State lawmakers and counties across the Panhandle have in recent weeks asked the Governor to lift the ban, at least for the region, which is one of the least COVID-19-afflicted in the state. All counties’ plans will discourage renting to travelers from hot spot regions, namely New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana. Escambia, Santa Rosa and Bay counties’ plans go further, banning guests from states with 700 cases per 100,000 residents, adding Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
“Panama City gets part of over $1 million worth of food donations” via the Panama City News Herald — The parent company of Winn-Dixie grocery stores recently donated more than $1.28 million worth of food to the needy in Panama City and the Southeast. According to a Monday news release, Southern Grocers held an in-store hunger relief program that took place from May 5-15 at all store registers. Customers had the opportunity to purchase a contactless $5 hunger relief bag containing nonperishable food items. The parent company of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, together with the SEG Gives Foundation, has donated nearly 258,000 $5 hunger relief bags to Feeding America in Panama City and throughout the Southeast. The donation was made possible through customer and associate donations and a generous contribution of $25,000 from Pepsi, received during the hunger relief program.
“Memorial Day ceremonies in Escambia, Santa Rosa canceled. How to virtually honor the fallen” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — The annual celebration at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola will not host formal Memorial Day ceremonies this year, according to Jill Hubbs, Veterans Memorial Park board member. However, those who wish to honor the fallen can do so virtually. “We still wish to honor and remember those who gave their all in the service of our great nation,” Hubbs said. “We invite family members and friends to post a picture of your loved one and share their name, branch of service and information about them so that their memory and their service can be honored.” The names and photos can be posted on the Veterans Memorial Park Facebook page.
“Lido Beach to reopen to public on Tuesday” via Allyson Henning of WFLA — After being closed for two months, Lido Beach is officially back open to the public. Sarasota commissioners voted 4 to 1 Monday to reopen the public beach on Lido Key. Commissioner Willie Shaw made the motion, seconded by Commissioner Hagen Brody. Crews will take down barricades at beach accesses Tuesday morning. Brody stressed how significant Lido Beach traffic is to small businesses on St. Armands Circle. He told commissioners around 10 businesses on the circle have gone out of business since the pandemic started. Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch explained that she doesn’t want the community to get the wrong impression by the beach reopening, but ultimately supported the motion to reopen. “If you don’t feel safe, don’t go out,” she said.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“$500 billion Treasury fund meant for coronavirus relief has lent barely any money so far, oversight commission finds” via Erica Werner of The Washington Post — A $500 billion Treasury Department fund created by the Cares Act in March to help stabilize the economy has lent barely any money. The money was supposed to be used to help prop up large segments of the U.S. economy at a time when millions of Americans had lost their jobs or were ordered to work remotely. The Congressional Oversight Commission was created by the law to help oversee how the taxpayer money is being used, and the group issued its first report even though it still doesn’t have a chairman. The commission has four other members who were appointed individually by congressional leaders, and they produced a 17-page report that contains mostly questions about how the Treasury fund is going to function.
“Donald Trump hears restaurant owners’ worries, sees good days ahead” via Darlene Superville and Kevin Freking of The Associated Press — Restaurant owners gave Trump a sobering accounting of the widespread damage the coronavirus pandemic has dealt their industry and asked him to adjust a loan program for small businesses to address their concerns. The president put a hopeful spin on the situation, saying encouraging news on vaccines and treatment efforts could “negate” the bad news. Restaurant owners said they appreciated that the government had acted swiftly on assistance efforts, but cautioned that even opening up to more customers would not necessarily mean a return to profits because they’ll be serving fewer customers.
“Rubio calls for fast action to extend U.S. payroll protection program” via Susan Cornwell of Reuters — The U.S. needs to quickly revise its coronavirus aid program for small businesses to extend the eight-week period in which the law currently requires companies to spend the money, Rubio said. With many businesses that received loans under the $660 billion PPP program moving toward the end of their eight-week period Rubio said lawmakers need to move fast to extend it. While most states have begun to reopen their economies at least in part, some 36 million Americans, one in five in the workforce, have lost their jobs since the pandemic began. The Democratic-run House of Representatives has already voted to extend the eight-week period in the PPP to 24 weeks.
Assignment editors — Sen. Rubio, who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will participate in a conversation with AEI’s Michael Strain on the Paycheck Protection Program and economic policy amid the coronavirus pandemic, 3 p.m. Eastern time. Click here to RSVP.
“Royal Caribbean reveals details of cruise layoffs as Miami-based industry withers” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — At Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., a previously announced round of South Florida layoffs came into focus with terminations that went across the board. Royal Caribbean says it eliminated positions including a vice president of architectural design, a senior manager for public relations and a director of digital product. The layoffs occurred at the company’s PortMiami facilities and commenced April 24. They are expected to be permanent. As with other cruise companies, Royal Caribbean has seen its share price plummet about 75% year-to-date. Royal Caribbean now has about $3.4 billion on hand.
“Uber to cut 3,000 more jobs” via Marisa Fernandez of Axios — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is cutting about 3,000 more jobs and closing or consolidating 45 offices to soften the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic. Khosrowshahi’s announcement comes just two weeks after the company said it would ax about 3,700 jobs and save more than $1 billion in fixed costs. Much of Uber’s ride-hailing business has vanished as people stay indoors, even as the company’s food delivery sector has seen a boom.
“Investors don’t share Trump’s scorn for blue states” via Matthew A. Winkler for Bloomberg Opinion — Trump seems to think that states led by Democratic governments are profligate and don’t deserve federal coronavirus relief aid. The worst offenders, he said, mentioning Illinois, New York and California, are debt-burdened places “run by Democrats in every case.” Actually, no. Republican-dominated states tend to receive more from the federal government than they contribute to the national coffers, while states where Democrats usually prevail suffer the reverse fate. When it comes to debt performance, one way to measure fiscal responsibility, blue Democratic states have done better than Republican red ones in the municipal bond market, where their debt was coveted. That’s because they adopted unpopular policies such as raising taxes to shore up underfunded pensions and other burdensome imbalances accumulated after the 2008 financial crisis.
— MORE CORONA —
“100,000 cruise ship crew members remain trapped at sea” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — In the avenue of ocean that stretches south from Miami to Cuba and northeast to the Bahamas, dozens of cruise ships sail back and forth. Crew members on board, many no longer receiving paychecks, wait for news about when they will return home and see their families again. Two months after the cruise industry shut down amid repeated COVID-19 outbreaks on ships, more than 100,000 crew members remain trapped at sea. While most passengers were able to get off cruise ships by early April, crew members have largely remained stuck. When cruise companies first shut down operations on March 13, they expected to cancel cruises for just 30 days, believing the crisis would quickly pass. Some crew members have spent days in small, windowless rooms with no information about when they will be going home as their ships float in and out of U.S. ports.
“Will fans ever come back? Dwindling attendance was an issue before pandemic” via Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun — While school presidents and conference commissioners try to figure out when there will be football, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where there will be any major home-field advantages this season. How loud can it get with small crowds who are socially distanced? I mean, don’t even think about trying to do “The Wave.” (Although, come to think about it, maybe that’s the one bright spot of this virus — no more waves.) We know we are going to see something different not only in terms of schedules but as far as fannies in the seats go. “People are scared to go out,” said Dennis Dodd, of CBS Sports. “And who knows when they won’t be?”
“When schools reopen, will prep football teams have enough time to prepare?” via Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times — Even if the coronavirus crisis dissipates and the state’s prep football season plays out as scheduled, coaches still must deal with a dilemma growing more serious each day. For now, the season is scheduled to commence with preseason games the week of Aug. 12-15. Current Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines permit three weeks of practice before the preseason game. This year, the first permissible practice is July 27. But those three weeks generally are preceded by months of conditioning, not to mention spring practice. During the ongoing crisis, schools have been closed since mid-March, and spring practice in Florida was canceled.
“Pandemic forces health care industry to expand telemedicine” via Trevor Shirley of WFLA — The ongoing pandemic has forced the health care industry to quickly embrace telemedicine, expanding access to care for millions of Americans. The FCC is doling out millions of dollars to get patients better connected to their doctors. So far, the FCC has given out nearly $33 million to almost 100 health care systems in 30 states. Telehealth keeps sick patients out of offices where they could infect others. Plus, it expands health access into rural areas with limited care options. The grants are issued on a rolling basis, with more expected to be approved in the coming weeks.
“Rooms by the hour for people weary of quarantine” via James O’Brien of The New York Times — Netflix. Peloton. Charmin. These are well-known brands benefiting from the quarantine lifestyle. Here’s one you’ve never heard of: Globe. Its target customer is all of us who are really annoyed with the people we live with. Globe may be thought of as a daytime, by-the-hour version of Airbnb. Say you simply cannot abide for another second listening to your wife’s work humor on her Zoom calls to clients. You need a break. Going to your office is not currently an option. So you flip to your Globe app and look for a nearby empty apartment to rent for a few hours. “At a time when people are hanging on to the fringe of their sanity because we are not meant to be cooped up like this,” co-founder Emmanuel Bamfo said: “We give people a reprieve.”
“Apple’s retail reopening plan: Temperature checks, mandatory masks and 25 stores to reopen this week” via Steve Kovach of CNBC — Customers will be required to submit to a temperature check and wear a mask before entering an Apple store. If a customer doesn’t have a mask, Apple will provide them with one. Customers will also be screened for other symptoms caused by COVID-19, like a cough. Apple said occupancy will be limited in stores, and employees will be focused on “one-on-one, personalized service.” Store reopenings are based on local official guidelines and Apple’s own data.
“Pet adoption rates have actually gone down because of coronavirus” via Katherine Ellen Foley of Quartz — A lot of people in the US had the same thought once pandemic lockdowns began in March: Now that I’m home a lot more often, maybe it’s time to pull the trigger and get that rescue kitten or puppy I’ve always wanted. Despite the increased interest in adoption, some data suggest that overall adoption trends have leveled out over the past two months. According to a pet microchip company that collects data from roughly 1,500 US shelters and rescue centers, cat and dog adoptions have actually decreased by about a third compared to the same period last year. Based on that data, fostering for cats has skyrocketed, while dogs in new foster homes have tapered off.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“How much of Trump’s presidency has he spent tweeting?” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Trump has been tweeting a lot recently, even by the standards of Trump. He tweeted more than 30 times before 9 a.m. Tuesday. All of this tweeting does lead one to wonder: Exactly how much time is Trump spending on tweeting? The gap between the first and second tweets from Trump in a chain averaged 6½ minutes early last year — suggesting that it took Trump about that long to formulate the well-crafted missives we all enjoy. If he takes that full 6½ minutes to put together each tweet. If so, he’s spent nearly 63 days of his 1,200-or-so days in office doing nothing but updating @realDonaldTrump.
“Coronavirus vs. border wall: Lawmakers debate which is more important” via Anna Wiernicki of WFLA — The Trump administration says construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border remains a top priority, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Trump waived environmental regulations to fast track the construction. But Democrats say the country’s resources should be focused on fighting the pandemic, not building the wall. Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar says construction should be halted, period. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn says the wall is more important now than ever.
“Ted Yoho on why he’s not wearing a mask: ‘There’s just no need’” via Manu Raju of CNN Politics — Yoho was spotted walking around the Capitol and on the House floor without wearing a mask. Told that the Capitol physician suggests wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible, Yoho cited no need because of “herd immunity.” Asked if he thinks he’s protected by herd immunity, Yoho said: “I think the only way you’re going to get it is to get exposed.” Herd immunity refers to when a large segment of the population is immune from a specific disease. During the latest House session, most members on both sides were seen wearing masks. But a handful of Republicans continue to defy the recommendations.
“Republican lawmakers blast Army Corps for potential EAA Reservoir construction delay” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Three FL Republicans are hammering the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a decision that could delay construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project for a year. U.S. Sen. Rubio and U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Francis Rooney said the Army Corps is wrong to designate the EAA Reservoir a “new start” project. That decision diverts money which could have been used to begin construction this year, delaying the start until 2021. The Army Corps says despite the decision, the project remains on track for its target completion date in 2028. Water from Lake Okeechobee can also often contain toxic blue-green algae. Without a reservoir to hold that water, it can flow to other water systems, causing the algae to spread.
— STATEWIDE —
“Resumption of jury trials likely to be limited and regional” via Jim Ash of The Florida Bar — Florida businesses may be coming back to life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Chief Justice Charles Canady says it’s too early to predict when Florida courts will be fully operational. The chief justice acknowledged that the inability to hold jury trials is creating a backlog of cases that will have to be addressed. “It’s possible that initially, we will go back to jury trials in some parts of the state but not in other parts of the state,” he said. Justice Canady said he wants to make sure that the courts are fully prepared for any possible resurgence of the pandemic after the initial rate of infection levels off.
“FBI is said to find link between Pensacola gunmen an al-Qaida” via Katie Brenner and Adam Goldman of The New York Times — The FBI found that the gunman, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a Saudi Air Force cadet training with the American military, had communicated with an al-Qaida operative who had encouraged the attacks, according to two officials. The FBI uncovered the links after recently bypassing the security features on at least one of Alshamrani’s two iPhones without help from Apple, according to the officials. They would not say what methods the investigators used to access the phones, but the move is likely to ease for now tensions between Apple and law enforcement officials who have demanded access to encrypted devices to investigate crimes.
“Court to weigh liability Parkland school monitor” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A state appeals court will hear arguments about whether to shield from liability a campus security monitor who spotted and followed accused gunman Nikolas Cruz before 17 people were killed at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. A circuit judge refused to dismiss the complaint against Andrew Medina, who contends that he cannot be held liable because of state sovereign-immunity laws, which are generally designed to protect government agencies and employees from lawsuits. Medina is one of several defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Broward County by Meadow Pollack’s parents after the Feb. 14, 2018, attack. Cruz is awaiting trial on murder charges.
“Beloved Loxahatchee River dying for freshwater, asks for emergency assistance” via Kimberly Miller of The Palm Beach Post — South Florida’s only nationally-recognized wild and scenic river is being poisoned by a lack of fresh water as dry conditions allow the ocean to sour the unique ecosystem once dominated by towering cypress trees. The Loxahatchee River, which traditionally receives a stipend from Grassy Waters Preserve to fight saltwater intrusion during the dry season, has been cut off from that tap for weeks with preserve waters themselves running low. Albrey Arrington, executive director of the Loxahatchee river District, appealed to South Florida Water Management District board members to work on a solution that would funnel water from rock pits west of Wellington to the Lainhart Dam in the northwest fork of the Loxahatchee River.
“For years, Miami-Dade promised to modernize traffic lights. Why the wait continues” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Easing congestion in Miami-Dade by letting computers decide when lights turn green may get delayed again over the tricky question of when it’s OK for the county not to accept the lowest bid. Siemens, a global manufacturer out of Germany, won a bidding contest last fall to install computerized traffic-management systems at 2,900 intersections. Siemens’ $152 million offer came in about $86 million less than its closest competitor. Despite offering the lowest price, the cheaper bid has emerged as a significant problem for Siemens, with commissioners warning Miami-Dade should probably be paying more. On Tuesday, the 13-member board is scheduled to vote on legislation to scrap all the bids and require the county to start fresh.
“’They didn’t lobby me’: JEA sale scheme darkens Lenny Curry’s doorstep” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — The Florida Times-Union was first to report documentation of a connection between one prominent bidder and two members of Lenny Curry‘s inner circle. NextEra, the parent of Florida Power & Light, reported on a subpoena that it had employed former Curry administrator Sam Mousa and Curry campaign consultant Tim Baker. Curry addressed the news, saying “the important thing” is that neither Mousa nor Baker nor anyone else lobbied him or his administration. “Consultants were representing some of the bidders,” Curry said, including “consultants that maybe worked on my campaign.
“JEA wants to keep customer rates flat despite previous leadership’s warnings they would increase” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — JEA’s new interim leader Paul McElroy wants to keep customer rates stable next year, despite his predecessors’ repeated warnings that customers would likely pay more for electricity as soon as next year to help the utility prepare for a looming budget crunch related to Plant Vogtle. The proposed budget forecasts modest revenue increases from both the energy and waterside of the utility. Despite cost increases related to Plant Vogtle, JEA plans to keep electric and water rates stable and contribute $120 million to the city’s general fund budget. JEA’s budget will take a major hit in years to come because of its 2008 decision to help build and purchase power from Plant Vogtle, a project that has been riddled with delays and price increases.
Happening today — The Florida Public Service Commission will meet to discuss preparations by electric utilities for the upcoming Atlantic Hurricane Season, 1 p.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee.
“AFSCME seeks reinstatement of work hours for custodial staff at FSU” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — The union representing Florida State University’s custodial workers, who have had their hours cut during the COVID-19 crisis, want those hours reinstated. Moreover, representatives of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees want FSU to not penalize custodial workers who have accepted paid administrative leave from the university. FSU has reduced hours for approximately 150 workers in the Building Services Department, cutting their paychecks in half. The union and university representatives held an impact hearing on Tuesday, but it ended with FSU declaring an impasse.
What Chris Sprowls is reading — “Accrediting agency to take up USF consolidation on June 12” via Nancy McCann of The Crow’s Nest at USF — Right before spring break in mid-March, the USF Tampa administration submitted an important document to the regional agency that accredits higher education institutions in the South. The document is called a Substantive Change Prospectus. It’s required when significant changes are being made at accredited institutions. The Executive Council of the SACSCOC Board of Trustees is scheduled to take action on USF’s proposed consolidation on June 12. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has upended college life since early March, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said no changes will be made to the prospectus before the vote in June. Under the single university starting in July, the prospectus says, the two regional chancellors will have roles with “primarily local, branch campus-based responsibilities.”
“Lizbeth Benacquisto hired as executive vice president at Hope Healthcare” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Benacquisto will return to a job in the nonprofit sector. Hope Healthcare named the Fort Myers Republican as its new executive vice president. Benacquisto said she’s excited to work hand-in-hand with legendary leaders like Samira Beckwith on such an important mission. The former Wellington Councilwoman has worked most recently in corporate development. Benacquisto has served in the Florida Senate since 2010, and terms out in November after a decade in the chamber. She ended up running four times, most recently winning a Republican primary over Jason Maughan with 69% of the vote in 2016.
— 2020 —
“If Democrats hold a big convention, will anybody come?” via Reid Epstein of The New York Times — Interviews with 59 members of the Democratic National Committee and superdelegates found that the vast majority of them don’t want to risk their own health or the health of others by traveling to Milwaukee and congregating inside the convention facilities. The reluctance was spread across all age groups and expressed by both longtime delegates and would-be first-time attendees. Even those who plan to go had reservations; one said he would haul his own boat from Tennessee and stay on Lake Michigan rather than risk a hotel room.
“Freed by court ruling, Republicans step up effort to patrol voting” via Michael Wines of The New York Times — Six months before a presidential election in which turnout could matter more than persuasion, the Republican Party, the Trump campaign and conservative activists are mounting an aggressive national effort to shape who gets to vote in November and whose ballots are counted. Its premise is that a Republican victory in November is imperiled by widespread voter fraud. The Republican program, which has gained steam in recent weeks, envisions recruiting up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 key states to monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious. The party and its allies also intend to use advertising, the internet and Trump’s command of the airwaves to cast Democrats as agents of election theft.
— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —
“Christine Quinn will again challenge Kathy Castor” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Quinn will again challenge Castor in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. Quinn, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully against Castor in 2016, earning just 38% of the vote. Quinn is running on several GOP mantras including protecting freedom, expanding school choice and supporting military and veterans. Quinn is a California native who moved her company to Florida to escape what she described as burdensome regulations.
“Margaret Good slams Vern Buchanan for saying more benefits will keep workers home” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — The comments came as part of a regular “Ask The congressman” segment on the local news station. A constituent asked what assistance was available for the underemployed in Florida, which turned to federal assistance. Buchanan responded by encouraging the constituent to present her specific situation to his office. But he expressed concern over potentially expanding support previously provided in the CARES Act. “We want to encourage people to go back to work,” Buchanan told ABC-7. “The employers are going to need people as we start ramping up this economy.” Good slammed the assertion that unemployment benefits will keep people from returning to jobs lost because of the pandemic.
“Patricia Sigman draws Equality Florida support in SD 9 race” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Equality Florida Action PAC, the advocacy arm of Equality Florida, Florida’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, announced its endorsement of Sigman. That nod joins the backing her campaign previously received from Ruth’s List, which works to elect Democratic women, and the Senate Victory Fund, which is controlled by Democrats already in the Florida Senate. The winner of the Aug. 18 primary will face former state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford in the November election to fill the seat opening with the departure of term-limited Republican Sen. David Simmons.
“Pasco County will hold local elections on June 30” via Dale Greenstein of WTSP — They were originally scheduled for April 8, but like just about everything else, Pasco County’s municipal elections were postponed because of the pandemic. Now, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley has set a date, Tuesday, June 30. Voters in Dade City and San Antonio will pick their commissioners, but the election in Zephyrhills has been called off because Mayor Gene Whitfield is now running unopposed. Corley is also pushing vote-by-mail as a good option for anyone concerned about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the polls.
— TOP OPINION —
“Cut through the fog of coronavirus war” via Scott Gottlieb of The Wall Street Journal — The CDC made its first definitive statement last week describing a rare but disturbing condition in children related to COVID-19, Kawasaki disease, whose symptoms include rash and fever and, later in its progression, inflammation of blood vessels. This is a reminder of how much we don’t know about COVID-19. Data on patients aren’t being streamlined and shared with the public quickly. There are shortcomings in our ability to access the electronic systems designed to help glean facts from clinical data. Doctors who usually conduct careful clinical research are battling to preserve lives while risking their own health. To date, there’s been no systematic reporting from CDC on collected clinical experience.
— OPINIONS —
“Only in America is Sunday the day after Thursday” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp needed a way to show that he hadn’t been rash to reopen restaurants, theaters, nail salons and the like in late April. His administration came up with a creative solution. They doctored the statistics. Last week, Georgia’s Department of Public Health released a graph showing a dramatic, steady decline in cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the state’s five most affected counties, from a peak on April 28, just before the state’s restrictions were eased. The dates had been re-sorted to create the illusion of a decline. The five counties were likewise re-sorted on each day to enhance the illusion.
“Combine testing with screening to fully and safely reopen Florida’s economy” via Harris Rosen and Anthony Sabatini for the Orlando Sentinel — Here is an idea. We should announce that all businesses in the state may open to higher occupancy with two provisions: 1) that all employees in the business should be screened on a daily basis and 2) that all guests/customers should be screened before they enter the business. All other restrictions should be waived. If a business wishes to require masks and/or distancing, or other restrictions or precautions, it may do so. All businesses should open quickly and judiciously. Caution and discretion should be employed. Basically, what we need now is a paradigm shift. We should not be concerned solely with testing alone. Massive testing by itself will not restore consumer confidence and get people moving around again.
“Dear Gov. DeSantis: It’s not our fault your jobless claims system is broken” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Jobless Floridians desperate to make their rent and car payments seek unemployment benefits — only to have their calls dropped and their online applications crash time after time. Yet who does Ron DeSantis blame? The very Floridians who through no fault of their own lost their jobs and are desperate for help. That’s tone deaf, demeaning and demoralizing from a governor who should know better. “Nine times out of 10,” he said, “the application’s incomplete.” It’s bad enough that Florida’s unemployment benefits are among the stingiest in the nation. It’s worse that so many residents can’t even get those benefits because of a system that was designed to fail.
“Elizabeth Fetterhoff: Let’s play ball — opening up sports brings hope” via Florida Politics — While we are waiting for our industries to open back up, watching sports and being active in our parks relieves our minds for a few hours and let us live in a world where everything is all right. Opening our parks for walks and other safe activities gives us ways to relieve stress and provide for healthy mental well-being. It is the small change we need right now. Whether it be professional, collegiate, or amateur, sports are a great way to get part of our economy up and running and bring joy into our homes.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Gov. DeSantis holds his latest COVID-19 update next to a busy highway in Orlando, which got some special attention because of the pandemic. Good news if use I- 4 on a regular basis. If you don’t, well, consider yourself lucky.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Another day, another round of questions for the Governor about the state of Florida’s unemployment compensation system. DeSantis is starting to take umbrage, snapping at reporters who ask them.
— Broward and Miami Dade were the last counties in Florida to enter the reopening Phase One; there have been a couple of hiccups. The Mayors of Miami and Broward County talk about their progress and plans.
— While most of us are focusing on coronavirus, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says don’t forget about wildfire. Fried travels to Collier County to checks out a blaze that has blacked almost 9,000 acres.
— Checking in with Florida Man, who wore a top (but no pants) at a pool in Naples.
To listen, click on the image below:
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Disney streaming chief Kevin Mayer leaving to become TikTok CEO” via Sara Fischer of Axios — Mayer will take over at a pivotal time for the Chinese-owned social networking company. Owned by ByteDance, one of the fastest-growing Chinese tech giants, TikTok has become a formidable social media company over the past year, accruing hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The company’s biggest threat to date is regulatory scrutiny, particularly around the way it stores and uses user data. In his new role, Mayer will also serve as COO of ByteDance, where he will oversee global development and corporate functions of the company like sales, marketing and public affairs.
“Disney Springs reopening comes with a warning about risk” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — While enhanced safety measures are being taken at Disney Springs, “an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the company said. The opening of some shops and restaurants at Disney Springs marks the latest baby steps Orlando’s theme park resorts are taking toward reopening since mid-March when the spread of the new coronavirus forced them to shut their gates. Next week, Disney World plans to open more shops and restaurants at Disney Springs, a high-end outdoor shopping area with restaurants, movie theaters, a bowling alley and a Cirque du Soleil theater. All workers and visitors over age 2 will be required to wear face masks at Disney Springs.
“Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin is selling coronavirus masks” via Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times — Big Cat Rescue founder Baskin, prominently featured in Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, started selling face masks with her catchphrase. The dual-layered tie masks feature the words “Hey all you cool cats and kittens” above a whiskered feline smile. Masks cost $11 each and come in black or leopard print. The masks are being sold on tread365.com to raise money to help big cats. Portions of the proceeds also support first-responders. Big Cat Rescue is closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak. A post on bigcatrescue.com said the animal rescue is losing $160,000 a month in tour revenue.
“‘Hope this helps:’ Chad Ochocinco leaves huge tip at newly reopened Broward restaurant” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — No one can accuse Ochocinco of being a cheapskate. The former Miami Dolphins player left a hefty tip on his lunch Monday, which marked the first day that restaurants in Broward and Miami-Dade could allow patrons to dine in after a shelter-in-place order back in March. Ochocinco, born Chad Johnson, tweeted a picture of the check from Havana’s Cuban Cuisine in Cooper City. You can see the baller left $1,000 on a tab of $37.40 for servers of the Cuban eatery. “Congrats on reopening,” Johnson wrote at the bottom of the bill. “Sorry about the pandemic, hope this helps.”
“Miami theme park goes retro with new drive-in as COVID-19 keeps movie theaters closed” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — An old-fashioned moviegoing option is coming soon to North Miami: a drive-in theater outside Dezerland Park, the largest indoor theme park in the region which has been closed since mid-March. The city of North Miami issued a permit to let the park host drive-in movie nights every Friday through July 3. Cars will be spaced apart in the parking lot with a maximum of 150 per showing. The sound from the movies, which will be displayed on a 22-foot by 40-foot screen, will be pumped in through car radios. Food orders will be taken by a phone app and delivered to people’s cars.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Best wishes to U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, Senate President-to-be Kathleen Passidomo, and former Sen. Daphne Campbell.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.