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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.17.20

Don’t miss your first look at stories driving today’s agenda in Florida politics.

Primary Election Day checklist:

  1. Information sheet
  2. Check the traffic (but not your 401(k)).
  3. Wash your hands.
  4. Make sure your Hazmat suit is back from the cleaners.
  5. Wash your hands again.

Yes, it’s Election Day in Florida, and things are a tad stressful.

We’re not talking about the Democratic presidential preference vote. If you haven’t already voted by mail or taken advantage of early voting, you might see 16 names on the ballot. Most of them have dropped out, but it’s still OK to fill in the circle by Andrew Yang’s name, or whoever you wish. It’s not a horse race, though. Joe Biden is an overwhelming favorite over Bernie Sanders and the other names on the ballot. News outlets will most likely project a Biden victory seconds after the polls close.

Ready to vote?

 So, the real issue is how many people will go to the polls today and what precautions they will take.

Things have changed a bit. Check with your local polling place to make sure the precinct you usually use is open. Everyone is trying to stay safe from COVID-19, and obviously, that is the top priority for elections officials. But the election also is a referendum on us as an electorate.

Sure, the outcome might be a foregone conclusion, and officials warn against too much exposure to large groups. But is that really how we decide elections in this country?

Think about how smug you can feel with your “I Voted” sticker when your other friends stayed home.

Just don’t forget the Hazmat suit.

Oh, and wash your hands.

Then, wash them again.

— ELECTION DAY —

Voters are voting — Here are the Florida primary returns as of Monday afternoon, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Supervisors of Elections have sent 1,242,247 Republican vote-by-mail ballots; 661,083 have returned, 367,648 are outstanding, and 4,439 are unsent. There have been 209,077 early in-person votes cast. As for Democrats: Supervisors have 1,591,759 vote-by-mail ballots; 637,467 have returned 509,524 are outstanding, and 6,419 are unsent. There have been 438,349 early in-person votes cast. NPA/’Other’: Those classified as “other,” 250,930 vote-by-mail ballots, 18,022 have returned, 30,781 are outstanding, and 190,172 are unsent. There have been 3,955 early in-person votes cast.

Ron DeSantis vows election will proceed, saying ‘we are not going to panic’” via Mario Ariza, David Fleshler and Brooke Baitinger of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s presidential primary election will move forward despite the threat from the new coronavirus, DeSantis said. DeSantis’ announcement came right after President Donald Trump had separately in the afternoon urged everyone to avoid groups of more than 10 people. But DeSantis said there still is a way to carry out the election in Florida. On Tuesday, the polls will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. “We are dealing with this in a thoughtful way, but we are not going to panic,” DeSantis said of staying the course amid the pandemic. “These things can be done in ways where there are not large crowds.” Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana all have pushed back their primaries because of the coronavirus.

Stay calm: Ron DeSantis says the primary election will go on as planned.

Coronavirus pandemic threatens primary” via Allison Ross of the Tampa Bay Times — A number of local elections officials in Florida have said poll workers are dropping out over concerns about the virus and are struggling to replace them. Meanwhile, several polling places in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere are having to move at the last minute to protect vulnerable populations or because some sites refuse to be polling sites any longer. The last-minute changes are almost certainly going to confuse voters and could stir unrest at polling places, experts say. “The people who do want to vote on Election Day are potentially going to be disenfranchised” by the last-minute polling place moves, said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who studies elections.

Supervisors prepare for Election Day with soap and sanitizer” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — Supervisors of elections are stocking voting precincts with extra soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. They’re asking workers to frequently wash their hands and clean voting equipment, doorknobs and counters. And, in some counties, voters might see poll workers wearing gloves or masks. “We have been cleaning up after every voter. Any surfaces they touch are being wiped down after every voter,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said. Nearly 2 million Florida voters had already cast ballots early or by mail as of Sunday, according to Secretary of State Laurel Lee. While some other states, including Georgia, postponed Tuesday’s presidential preference primary, DeSantis was determined that Florida’s election would take place.

Miami-Dade, Broward say CDC limits on gatherings will not affect primary” via Alex Daugherty and David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Ard, the spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections, told the Miami Herald immediately after Trump’s announcement that the state is “still moving forward as planned” with the primary. Secretary of State Lee said: “Precinct-based voting is unlike the gatherings our health professionals have advised Floridians to avoid.” “At the end of the day, we’re dealing with this in a thoughtful way, but we’re not going to panic,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee. “I think you can do it in a way that protects people.”

—”Florida is weird. Thanks to coronavirus, its primary will be, too” via Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida

—”Citing coronavirus, activists sue to extend vote-by-mail deadline in presidential primary” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald

—”Some Marion County polling places vote “No” to using their facilities” via Carlos Media of the Ocala Star-Banner

Joe Biden aims to lock down Florida vote long-distance amid COVID-19 scare” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Biden’s Florida campaign arm dedicated its efforts to mobilizing supporters through online and phone efforts. The campaign has sent directives to its Florida team to find “new and creative ways” to assemble a diverse coalition in the state. That’s included investment in digital platforms and the heavy use of texting and phone banks. In place of large-scale rallies and community events, the campaign turned its efforts to the virtual world. Dr. Jill Biden, the candidate’s wife, canceled a fundraiser in Orange County. She and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted an organizing call with campaign volunteers. “We have to beat Donald Trump,” the First Lady hopeful said. “But we can’t do it without you.”

Joe Biden is ready to lock down Florida, despite coronavirus. Image via AP.

Tuesday’s primaries offer chance for Biden to reach Latinos” via Jonathan Cooper of The Associated Press — Primaries in Arizona and Florida offer Biden a chance to show he can make up ground with Latinos, a crucial group of voters he’ll need in his corner to defeat Trump. Biden is playing catch-up when it comes to engaging Latino voters and is weighed down by anger over the high rate of deportations during the Obama administration, which left scars for many immigrants and their families. “We need more. And we need commitments as we move into the general,” said Regina Romero, a Democrat who recently took office as Tucson’s first Latina Mayor. Biden can win over reluctant Latinos with a bold and progressive stance on immigration, she said.

 —“In advance of the primary Biden seeking Florida Latino voters with surrogates’ statements” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics

—”Biden vs. Sanders: Florida primary preview” via Matt Isbell of MCI Maps

“Donald Trump requests absentee ballot” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — Like 160,000 other Palm Beach County voters, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have requested vote-by-mail ballots for Florida’s presidential primary. The ballots were picked up for Trump on Monday, and as of Wednesday had not been submitted, according to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections website. During his visit to Palm Beach last weekend, Trump apparently chose to forgo an opportunity to go to an early voting site to cast a ballot in the Republican primary, for which he is a huge favorite to win. Trump is not expected back in the area before Election Day.

Will Palm Beach, Broward shed flaws of elections past? Tuesday will be the test” via Hannah Morse of the Palm Beach Post — Wendy Sartory Link and Pete Antonacci have at least three things in common. Both are lawyers by trade and had been longtime Republicans. Within a month of each other, Republican governors appointed them to run elections in two of the three counties in all of Florida with the most Democrats. It’s now up to them to make sure Palm Beach and Broward counties aren’t once again portrayed nationally as the butt of seemingly endless elections-focused jokes. Link and Antonacci say they have done whatever it takes to ensure that the elections they run are secure and smooth, from actively seeking critiques to improving ballot design to spending millions on new equipment to get results online faster.

—”Dozens of local Palm Beach contests on the ballot as voters head to the polls Tuesday” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

—”Orange Co. has six municipal elections Tuesday” via Scott Fist of Florida Politics

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@RealDonaldTrump: Everybody is so well unified and working so hard. It is a beautiful thing to see. They love our great Country. We will end up being stronger than ever before!

@NPRInskeep: Important news out of Iran: a spokesman for the judiciary says Iran has “temporarily freed” about 85,000 prisoners, including “political prisoners,” according to Reuters. We’re seeking confirmation. The UN had requested the move in response to coronavirus.

@AlexNazaryan: When he was in midst of the fight against HIV/AIDS, Dr. Fauci was known to run 7 miles daily. I just asked him if he still keeps to that exercise regimen. No, he says, noting that he is working 19 hour days to fight the coronavirus. He is down to 3.5 miles — at the age of 79.

@ChrisLHayes: From an ER doc in New York City on shift today: “Today. Is. F’ing. Nuts. It kinda blew up here. And sending home lots of people undoubtedly positive because we don’t test on discharged patients. This has been spreading a long time.”

@TigerWoods: There are a lot more important things in life than a golf tournament right now. We need to be safe, smart and do what is best for ourselves, our loved ones and our community.

Tweet, tweet:

@Conarck: Midnight just hits different without a pending DOH release.

@JeffSchweers: Gotta say, the level of detail state is providing on #COVID19 cases is deep. Will try to unpack more tomorrow

@BillyCorben: Many people in Miami don’t live paycheck to paycheck; they live day to day, tip to tip. This is going to be devastating for so many of our friends and neighbors in our tourism/hospitality-fueled economy.

@BenBWieder: I might have missed it, but why has no public health department adopted the slogan “Make novel coronavirus a short story” as a slogan to encourage social distancing?

@SMotus: I know Twitter isn’t real life, but lately, it seems like real life is just Twitter two days later.

Tweet, tweet:

— DAYS UNTIL —

“After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” premieres on HBO — 2; Last day of 2020 Session — 3; Quibi launches — 20; Easter — 26; First quarter campaign reports due — 29; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 36; NFL Draft — 37; Mother’s Day — 54; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 59; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 83; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 101; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 117; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 121; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 129; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 154; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 160; First presidential debate in Indiana — 196; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 204; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 212; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 219; 2020 General Election — 231; “No Time to Die” premieres (now) — 253.

— CORONAVIRUS —

White House deploys SWAT teams of technocrats in attempt to fix testing” via Dan Diamond of POLITICO — As hospitals grapple with more coughing and feverish emergency-room visitors than they can test, the White House deployed a SWAT team of fixers and technocrats to ramp up coronavirus testing, in an implicit acknowledgment that the Trump administration’s response has continued to fall short of what is needed. About 100 staffers and outside advisers, split between the health department and the White House, are currently working on teams to rapidly increase supplies of test kits and cope with shortages across the country. “This is the A-team of people who get shit done,” said one official, who’s worked with some of the staffers leading the effort. “We’ve got to show the American people that we can deliver on the testing promises.”

Donald Trump changes tone, gets real on virus threat” via Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller of the Associated Press — He called on the country to come together. He warned of pain to come. And he deferred to the nation’s public health experts while at least momentarily putting aside petty squabbling. After weeks of trying to play down the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump struck a new, more urgent tone on Monday as he delivered a sobering message to Americans grappling with a new reality that will dramatically alter their lives for months to come. Trump’s more somber tone came as he addressed the public at a White House briefing and made a direct appeal to all Americans to do their part to halt the pandemic’s spread.

Before  Trump’s inauguration, a warning: ‘The worst influenza pandemic since 1918’” via Nahal Toosi, Daniel Lippman and Dan Diamond of POLITICO — Seven days before Trump took office, his aides faced a major test: the rapid, global spread of a dangerous virus in cities like London and Seoul, one serious enough that some countries were imposing travel bans. Trump’s incoming team learned a strain of novel influenza known as H9N2, and that health systems were crashing in Asia, overwhelmed by the demand. The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise.

Before his inauguration, Donald Trump and the team were briefed on what could happen in a pandemic.

’It shouldn’t take a pandemic’: Coronavirus exposes Internet inequality among U.S. students as schools close their doors” via Tony Romm of The Washington Post — In states like Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington, educators say they are feeling firsthand the sting of the digital divide — the historically hard-to-erase gap between those who have speedy, modern-day Web connections and those who do not. Millions of Americans lack basic broadband or simply cannot afford it. The burden often falls heavily on younger students, who may struggle to complete their classwork even during a normal school week because of technological and economic barriers. But the disruptions wrought by coronavirus threaten to exacerbate those digital woes, raising the question of whether the U.S. government and the telecom industry should have done more to cure the country’s digital divide — well before a pandemic gripped the nation.

Silicon Valley ramps up efforts to tackle virus” via Kirsten Grind and Rolfe Winkler of The Wall Street Journal — Companies, including Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. conducted a nearly hourlong meeting with White House officials, including Michael Kratsios, chief technology officer of the U.S. Forty-five people joined. Among the topics: how citizens could be diagnosed without visiting a doctor, and how the companies could work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its top priorities, according to an agenda. The Technology and Research Task Force is part of a broad push by technology companies large and small across Silicon Valley to figure out ways to solve the myriad problems related to the rapidly spreading virus.

Supreme Court postpones arguments due to coronavirus” via Josh Gerstein of POLITICO — Among the cases being postponed are a high-profile trio of disputes over access to Trump‘s financial records. The cases, involving Trump’s objections to demands from House committees and a New York grand jury, were scheduled to be heard on March 31. A major software-related copyright dispute between tech titans Google and Oracle set for March 24 is also affected by the delay. The justices are typically loath to postpone arguments even under very challenging conditions. When most of official Washington shuts down for snowstorms, the court typically convenes anyway and expects lawyers to be ready to argue. “The Court will examine the options for rescheduling those cases in due course in light of the developing circumstances,” the statement said.

Coronavirus pandemic prompts U.S. agency of last resort to gear up” via Ben Kesling of The Wall Street Journal — The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing in case it has to take on its little-known role as the nation’s health care system of last resort, a possible job that gained urgency last week when Trump declared a national emergency over the new coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services is the lead agency for coordinating a response to a national emergency. But the VA also serves a lesser-known role: the country’s backup health care system in case of an emergency, a disaster or a pandemic overburdens U.S. hospitals. In an emergency, the VA secretary can decide to treat civilians, not just veterans.

Coronavirus could bankrupt most airlines by end of May, consultant warns” via Anurag Kotoky of Bloomberg — Many airlines have probably been driven into technical bankruptcy or substantially breached debt covenants already, Sydney-based consultancy CAPA Centre for Aviation warned in a statement. Carriers are depleting cash reserves quickly because their planes are grounded and those that aren’t are flying more than half empty, it said. “Coordinated government and industry action is needed — now — if catastrophe is to be avoided,” CAPA said. Otherwise, “emerging from the crisis will be like entering a brutal battlefield, littered with casualties,” it said. Most of the biggest carriers in the U.S., China and the Middle East are likely to survive because of government help or support from their owners, CAPA said.

Relax, America: The U.S. has plenty of toilet paper” via Sharon Terlep of The Wall Street Journal America can spare a square. Jittery shoppers across the country are clearing shelves of bathroom tissue as coronavirus keeps people home and threatens to force more Americans into quarantine. But toilet paper—unlike some other high-demand items such as hand sanitizer and face masks—remains plentiful, according to the two biggest manufacturers. Charmin maker Procter & Gamble and Cottonelle maker Kimberly-Clark say they have ramped up toilet-paper production and are able to make enough to meet demand.

Report: Kentucky Derby to be postponed until September” via the Associated Press — Citing unidentified sources close to the race, the Courier-Journal of Louisville said Churchill Downs will postpone the Derby from May 2 to Sept. 5, marking the first time in 75 years that the race won’t be run on the first Saturday in May. A formal announcement will be made Tuesday.

—”Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson released from coronavirus treatment” via BBC News

— FLORIDA RESPONDS — 

A fifth person in Florida dies of COVID-19” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The number of positive cases also rose to 160 people, 142 Florida residents, and 18 non-Florida residents. The deceased was from Orange County. Broward County continues to have most cases in the state, 24%, while Miami-Dade has 14% of all the cases. It appears some counties are seeing its first cases such as Leon County, although the resident was diagnosed and is being isolated out of Florida. Florida health officials announced earlier Monday 155 positive cases in the state — up 19 cases from Sunday. The Department of Health also released a new dashboard to the public. The new dashboard will be updated twice a day to provide more transparency, according to state officials.

Loan program aimed at keeping businesses ‘afloat’” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Appearing at the state Emergency Operations Center, DeSantis said the $50 million in state loans will supplement any loans made available by the U.S. Small Business Administration and will help to “keep people afloat.” People can apply for the loans, administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The interest-free loans can be up to $50,000. “We think that this is obviously something that is affecting the economy. We hope this is not something that affects the economy infinitum. That it’s relatively short,” DeSantis said. “The problem is if you’re in some of these industries really getting hit, you have a cash flow issue. Particularly if you have tight margins, this is a way to kind of keep people afloat.”

Ron DeSantis activates a program that will offer low-interest loans to businesses harmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis may ‘issue guidance’ on bars, restaurants by Tuesday” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis said it made sense that cities were canceling their St. Patrick’s Day parades, but was okay with modest celebration. “If you fire up a Guinness in your own house, I have no problem with that. You’re going to get no argument from me,” he said. But he was reluctant to follow the lead of other governors and order restaurants and bars to curtail the size of their crowds, cut hours or close altogether. “We received new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and are in the process of internalizing it and see how it would affect policy in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. Earlier in the day, he had conference calls with several restaurant leaders as well as the head of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association: “We are likely to issue guidance and allow locations to tailor to their own needs,” DeSantis said.

Florida expands coronavirus testing criteria” via Naseem Miller of the Orlando Sentinel — After sticking with a strict set of rules, the Florida Department of Health has finally expanded the testing criteria for COVID-19, allowing physicians to order a test based on their clinical judgment, mirroring what the CDC has been recommending. According to new clinical guidance issued in an email to providers on Sunday, clinicians can choose to order a COVID-19 test even if their patient doesn’t fall within the categories that DOH has outlined. If doctors choose to order a test for their patients within or outside the six criteria, they need to collect the samples and send them to their health care facility or a commercial lab like LabCorp and Quest.

Drive-through coronavirus test sites start opening in South Florida” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — With a growing need for more and faster testing for the new coronavirus, drive-through testing centers are starting to open in South Florida this week. For now, only one site is open in West Palm Beach for limited testing, but plans are in motion for a number of other drive-through and pop-up options throughout the region. On Monday, FoundCare in West Palm Beach began limited drive-through testing. Broward, which so far has the largest number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, is expected to get its first drive-through test sites this week. The West Palm Beach VA Medical Center and the Miami VA Medical Center are setting up outside tents as walk-up clinics. Baptist Health South Florida said it may soon be opening drive-thrus, too.

Chris Latvala calls for senior-only shopping hours to prevent coronavirus spread among at-risk Floridians” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Latvala is calling on DeSantis to request Florida grocers to offer “senior-only” shopping hours to help the most vulnerable residents protect themselves against the threat of the coronavirus. Elderly individuals and those with underlying health issues or who are otherwise immunocompromised are at the greater risk of complications associated with COVID-19. “As Florida comes together during this difficult time, I ask that you make a request to support our most vulnerable community by asking businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies to establish senior shopping hours so that they can get the necessary supplies they need and not have to deal with the mass crowds,” Latvala wrote in a letter to DeSantis.

Chris Latvala floats a senior-only shopping day.

FPL says it won’t cut off electricity for overdue bills during coronavirus crisis” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Florida Power and Light said this week it would suspend service cutoffs over overdue bills for at least two weeks as the state reels from sizable chunks of its economy shutting down during the coronavirus epidemic. “We know this is a difficult and unsettling time for the residents of Miami-Dade County,” Armando Fernandez, head of external affairs in Miami-Dade, said in an email Monday to County Commissioner Eileen Higgins. “FPL has a long history of working with our customers during difficult times, and we will continue to do so. FPL will be suspending disconnections at least through the end of March.” While FPL didn’t announce its new policy, an executive confirmed it Monday afternoon on Twitter in reply to another Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani.

As coronavirus spreads, Florida is buying way more guns than normal” via Gabrielle Calise and Langston Taylor of the Tampa Bay Times — Buying a gun in Florida requires undergoing a background check, which screens for criminal convictions, among other red flags. So, the number of background checks is a good proxy for tracking firearm sales. In recent days, the number of background checks in Florida has gone through the roof. Starting Friday, Florida processed more background checks than normal, indicating people are buying guns in much higher numbers than expected this time of year. On an average Friday over that period, the state ran about 3,300 background checks. This past Friday, the number was nearly 5,800 — 75% higher. Saturday’s total of more than 6,200 checks was 74% higher than the average Saturday.

Return of Canada’s ‘snowbirds’ raises COVID-19 concerns” via Lauren Gardner of POLITICO — The return of the snowbird is a sign of spring in Canada — though this year, those returning from states with coronavirus cases are causing concern rather than celebration…Many of those “snowbirds” live part of the year in Florida, which has seen a stark increase in the number of diagnoses and at least 141 positive cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that’s spread across the globe. Those retirees are among the most vulnerable populations affected by the upper respiratory disease. With rising concern about the outbreak, politicians and health officials are wondering aloud how they’ll handle the influx as cases of the virus continue to rise in the country.

— LOCAL ANGLES —

Broward County is hardest hit by coronavirus. But testing is still limited by supplies.” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — One day after DeSantis announced he was deploying the National Guard to help Broward County contain the novel coronavirus, hospitals there said they are still sending specimens for COVID-19 testing to off-site labs, where results take several days. The reason? National supply shortages of a component used to run the tests. Dawn White, vice president of government and community relations at Baptist Health South Florida, which runs several urgent care centers in Broward, said the health care system could not yet do on-site testing because it was waiting on a reagent that is on back-order due to a national shortage.

Miramar ICE facility still open despite coronavirus concerns” via Manuel Madrid of the Miami New Times — The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has fundamentally changed daily life in South Florida, where large gatherings have been canceled. Public health experts recommend working from home and avoiding public transportation, if possible, to stem the spread of COVID-19. All those precautions, however, appear to go out the window when it comes to immigrants, who, with few exceptions, must still report to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Broward County. Afraid of coronavirus but even more frightened of deportation, those immigrants are forced to disregard CDC recommendations when they take public transportation and stand in long lines for hours without access to facilities where they can wash their hands.

Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach to close beaches; restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. in both cities” via Susannah Bryan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Spring break may be in full swing, but now it’s getting a buzz-killing dose of coronavirus reality. Both Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach, where spring breakers were expected to flood into town through early April, are closing their beaches in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19. Both cities are also ordering bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. and cap crowds at 250 people to get a grip on the pandemic. “We cannot become a petri dish for a very dangerous virus,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said Sunday during a joint news conference at Miami Beach City Hall. “Spring break is over. The party is over.”

Coronavirus case linked to Winter Party Festival in Miami Beach, LGBTQ group says” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Even when some of Miami’s biggest shows went down like flies because of coronavirus fears, one party in Miami Beach went on: the Winter Party Festival, which has been a Beach fixture since 1994. During the welcome reception for the Winter Party Festival on March 4, a festival representative and Mayor Gelber demonstrated a hands-free handshake that attendees should use. It involved jazz hands. Organizers rolled out a hygiene policy and said they gave out 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. Now, after the weeklong festival was held as scheduled, one of its attendees has tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Coronavirus case linked to Miami Beach’s Winter Party Festival attendee. Image via Getty.

Miami governments grapple with coronavirus by canceling or closing public meetings” via Joey Flechas, Martin Vassolo, and Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Concern over the spread of COVID-19 has forced local governments to slow down as they grapple with how to keep working during a crisis that strongly discourages public gatherings — the cornerstone of government in the sunshine. As the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases increases daily, some municipal agencies have canceled government meetings, closed facilities and deferred decisions. On Monday, the day after new restrictions and limited hours were announced for public spaces and private businesses across Miami-Dade, the city of Miami canceled all public meetings through April 1, including committees, boards and the second City Commission meeting of the month. The cancellation defers a docket of decisions and recommendations made at these meetings, as well as the public comments people make before votes.

Miami Commissioner calls for coronavirus home screening services” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Commissioner Manolo Reyes is pushing DeSantis to increase home screening for the new coronavirus among poorer elderly residents, as well as ramp up unemployment assistance as the pandemic continues to take a toll on the nation’s economy. On Sunday, DeSantis discussed the state’s plans for Broward County, where more people have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus than any other county in the state. Among those plans is a decision to set up a drive-thru testing center that may open this week, as well as deploy the National Guard. As of Monday afternoon, Broward has seen 38 cases. But Miami-Dade County sits second with 23 positive tests. Reyes represents District 4 on the Miami City Commission.

Miami-Dade State Attorney candidate calls for suspension of cash bail during coronavirus outbreak” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Miami-Dade State Attorney candidate Melba Pearson is pushing to ditch cash bail and increase physician availability, among other reforms, amid the coronavirus outbreak in South Florida. Pearson is running to be the next State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Miami-Dade County. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is currently representing that circuit. But Pearson is looking to oust her in 2020. A release from the Person campaign outlines the steps she believes Rundle should be taking. The plan is anchored by the suggestion to suspend the use of cash bail. “State Attorney Rundle should immediately place a moratorium on the use of cash bail in Miami-Dade,” Pearson argued.

While shoppers hoard, South Florida grocery stores scramble to keep up” via Phillip Valys of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Supermarkets are scrambling to keep up with unprecedented levels of consumer hoarding, while many South Florida restaurants are shutting down temporarily. But we need to eat — even during a global pandemic. Is South Florida on the verge of a food shortage? The short answer: No. There’s still plenty of food, despite empty grocery shelves as consumers stockpile everything from toilet paper to water. Delivery trucks are still rumbling day and night. Publix spokesperson Maria Brous said they began replenishing stocks of hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes and paper products, with one big caveat: Customers are now limited to two individual items per shopping trip. For its part Winn-Dixie, which operates 50-plus stores in South Florida, says there are zero disruptions to its food-supply chain.

450+ Duval Schools employees report need to self-isolate” via Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union — This follows a survey sent out to school and District-based employees, asking where they worked and if they had left the country. Those returning from foreign travel were instructed to self-isolate for 14 days. Shortly after the survey was sent out, the district announced spring break would be extended through March 23. At a school board meeting, the board addressed its need to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for social distancing. The board voted to waive an old policy that limited how often a district employee could work from home.

Catholic diocese issues special dispensation to help limit virus spread” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Weeks away from Easter, Northeast Florida’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic clergyman is authorizing many parishioners to remain absent from worship services due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bishop Felipe Estevez of the Diocese of St. Augustine issued a special dispensation Tuesday night aimed at limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The dispensation exempts Catholics in various groups indefinitely from the traditional obligation to attend Sunday Mass, and exempts all other Catholics for the remainder of March.

— MORE LOCAL ANGLES —

2nd Orange County person dies of coronavirus” via Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie — A second Orange County person has died of the novel coronavirus at a local facility over the weekend, Dr. Raul Pino said Monday afternoon. He said a 79-year-old woman with a separate underlying health condition died after she developed a lower respiratory disease that was later determined to be COVID-19. Pino said it is unclear how the woman contracted the virus. She did not report any travel or exposure to possibly infected people before she died. The first Orange County person to die from the virus fell ill in California after traveling to South Korea and never returned to Florida after the time of diagnosis.

OIA chief says airport needs federal aid amid coronavirus downturn as 3,000 U.K. visitors seek to take last flights out” via Kevin Spear and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Orlando International Airport is among a group of airports seeking $10 billion in U.S. government aid to help offset losses incurred by the sharp drop in travel due to coronavirus, said Phil Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. “What we’re looking at is an unprecedented downturn in traffic,” he said. “We all have obligations — in particular debt-service obligations.” Brown said the group of airports have been in discussions with the White House and U.S. lawmakers concerned about making the payments on bonds used for airport construction and other projects. Asked if he was hopeful OIA would get some federal help, he said, “All I can tell you is we’re going to persevere.”

Orlando TSA officer with COVID-19: heed officials’ warnings” via Asher Wildman of Spectrum News — A TSA agent at Orlando International Airport who tested positive for the coronavirus says it’s important to listen to the warnings from officials. The officer is now home-quarantined while the airport takes measures to prevent further infection. TSA Officer Andrea Silas said she thinks she contracted the virus while working at the airport. She says she first felt symptoms last Thursday and was tested the next day. “It hit me like a freight train,” she said. By Saturday, she was told she tested positive for the coronavirus and was ordered to self-quarantine to the bedroom of her home for two weeks. She says her entire TSA team is now on a paid two-week leave.

Let’s hear it for Magic, sports stars helping others amid coronavirus outbreak” via Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel — We saw the DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, announce they are funding a $2 million compensation package that will pay hourly employees for the rest of the regular season for games missed due to this global pandemic. Among those 1,800 hourly employees being paid are the Magic’s own employees along with city-owned Amway Center employees and employees of the Orlando Solar Bears and Lakeland Magic. And there’s more help coming. According to Magic spokesperson Joel Glass, several Magic players have also said they want to donate to help those Magic part-timers who need it most.

The Orlando Magic announced it is taking care of its part-time arena employees.

Orange County halts evictions during coronavirus outbreak” via Caroline Glenn of the Orlando Sentinel — The Orange County Sheriff’s Office will cease evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, following closures and cancellations that have left many of the county’s service and tourism industry workers without pay. The agency said, “because of the State of Emergency related to coronavirus, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office will temporarily suspend all eviction activities until further notice,” in a release sent out Monday afternoon. The decision means officers won’t be serving tenants with eviction papers or assisting landlords by removing tenants in Orange County or its municipalities, including Orlando. Additionally, Duke Energy and the Orlando Utilities Commission said last week that customers wouldn’t have their electric service suspended for nonpayment.

Disney World donates food as nonprofits, schools step up feeding efforts” via Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel — The unprecedented closing of all Walt Disney World theme parks has had one upside: a massive donation to Second Harvest Food Bank on Monday. The truckloads of food — enough for more than 18,000 meals — comes as local school districts, soup kitchens and food pantries scramble to keep people fed in the wake of widespread shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The perishable food from Disney, prepared for theme park restaurants, is being distributed by Second Harvest to help some 60 homeless and domestic-violence shelters and soup kitchens in six Central Florida counties: Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake, Brevard and Volusia.

Universal Orlando is closing down CityWalk and resorts through March amid coronavirus” via Bianca Padro Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Universal Orlando is closing down Universal CityWalk at midnight Monday, and all hotels at Universal Orlando Resort will close as of 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20, the company said Monday afternoon in a statement. All closures will be in effect at least through March 31, in response to growing concerns of community spread of COVID-19 and warnings from federal officials to avoid crowded spaces. “We are working hard to take care of the needs of our guests and team members,” Universal Orlando said in an email. “We will continue to monitor this ongoing situation and follow the guidance of the appropriate health agencies.”

Feeding South Florida aims to ensure students are fed during school closures” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Volunteers are being asked to help pack meal boxes for those students who are now forced to stay home. Officials around the state began announcing schools would be closed throughout the state. That left school-aged children staying home, some of whom rely on school meals to eat due to money concerns at home. Enter Feeding South Florida, an organization that serves as a food bank for Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The group also works to improve local infrastructure and to pair needy individuals or families with assistance programs and even job training. Feeding South Florida added a pair of shifts to serve students by packing additional meal boxes.

From The Columbia to Oxford Exchange, Tampa’s most experiential restaurants prep for more takeout — while others will close temporarily” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — When Jamal Wilson set out to create the Hall on Franklin in a historic Tampa Heights storefront, he envisioned a place and food so special, it had to be experienced in person — and later shared on social media. As public health experts urge people to practice social distancing to slow the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Wilson’s built-for-Instagram food hall may sit mostly empty for weeks if not months. Tampa Police Department hand-delivered notices to some bars and restaurants that it may restrict hours or enforce closures. Trump urged Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to not eat in bars and restaurants. “How do you pay people without money coming in?” Wilson said.

WWE cancels WrestleMania, all other events in Tampa Bay over coronavirus fears” via Brendan Ward of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The event, which was slated to be held at Raymond James Stadium on April 5, will now be streamed instead from WWE’s training facility in Orlando. Along with the main event, WWE had planned fan events including tapings of Monday Night Raw, Friday Night Smackdown and NXT: Takeover Tampa Bay throughout the week. There were also plans for a fan event called WrestleMania Axxess. “In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place. However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5, at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view.”

Nassau County issue virus-related closings and health warnings” via Dan Scanlan of the Florida Times-Union — The “OneNassau” Joint Information System is monitoring the rapidly changing coronavirus situation and has posted updates for every county citizen. First, OneNassau is recommending that any event of any size should only be held if it can adhere to Center for Disease Control guidelines for “hand hygiene, social distancing, and protecting vulnerable populations.” Elections will be held at all 14 polling sites. And while public schools are shut down now, they will reopen March 30, OneNassau said. Nassau County public beaches and parks remain open, and private businesses may do so “as they see fit,” OneNassau said.

First positive coronavirus test confirmed in Escambia County” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — The Escambia County case, along with four other new cases statewide that were announced Monday evening, bringing the total number of cases up to 160 in Florida. The case is travel related. Escambia County announced it would be activating its Emergency Operations Center and declaring a local state of emergency. “We are proactively activating the EOC and declaring a local state of emergency to ensure we have the appropriate resources for this unprecedented event, ” Escambia County Emergency Manager Eric Gilmore said in a county news release. “We encourage the public to follow CDC guidance for social distancing and proper health and hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Escambia County.”

Pensacola drive-thru coronavirus testing clinic swabs 61 patients, receives over 500 calls” via Madison Arnold of the Pensacola News Journal — Ascension Sacred Heart operated the clinic from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and provided nasal swab tests to those suspected of suffering from COVID-19. Hospital spokesman Mike Burke said things were running smoothly. The hospital is asking those who are experiencing fever, cough and symptoms of respiratory illness to call their primary care physicians to ask to be prescreened for the virus. The hospital also has a call center for screenings at 850-746-2684. No one directed to the drive-thru clinic will be turned away because of health insurance. There is no upfront charge to receive the swaps.

Pensacola drive-through coronavirus testing unit swabbed 61 people on its first day. Image via the Pensacola News Journal.

Gambling continues at South Florida casinos despite coronavirus spread” via Ben Crandell of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It was business — and life — as usual on the gaming floor at South Florida casinos this weekend as guests and staff fingered chips, dealt cards, and pushed and pulled on slot machines as if the world outside was not in the grip of a deadly virus spread by human proximity and touch. While entertainment activity was shut down by concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus, gaming rooms remained open in casinos across South Florida. That included the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, Seminole Classic Casino, the Casino @ Dania Beach, the Big Easy Poker Room in Hallandale Beach, Isle Casino Pompano Park and Hialeah Park Racing & Casino.

— MORE CORONA —

If the Internet can handle a nuclear bomb, it can handle us all working from home” via Alex Kantrowitz of BuzzFeed News — “We haven’t seen dramatic slowdowns anywhere across our network,” Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, a web infrastructure and security company, told BuzzFeed News. “In Italy, we’re seeing a 30% increase over normal usage and we’re not seeing any deterioration of service across Italian ISPs. And that is an entire country that’s in quarantine.” After all, the internet was “designed to survive a nuclear blast,” Roger Entner, founder and analyst at Recon Analytics, told BuzzFeed News. “The likelihood that this goes down is rather low. I don’t think we have to fear.” But thanks to the way the web operates today, the worst-case scenario may be slightly lower-quality streams for some people.

Red states are finally starting to Google ‘coronavirus’” via Michael Tesler of The Washington Post — Republicans have consistently been much less concerned about the coronavirus than Democrats. Google search rates were almost twice as high in states where Trump was least popular as they were in states where he won supermajorities of voters in 2016. In fact, Trump’s 2016 vote share explains over half the variation across the states in Google search rates for “coronavirus” in the past month. Sometimes, when a situation’s gravity becomes undeniable, reality can burst through the partisan bubble. Partisan disagreements over economic conditions shrink considerably during economic crises such as the Great Recession. That may be happening now for the coronavirus.

Chinese restaurants hit especially hard during coronavirus scare” via Amy Drew Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel — Chun Lau walks through the near-empty restaurant to greet me. Top Top Hot Pot is a large, end-unit space in Waterford — opulent, really — with soaring ceilings and interesting seating patterns. Formidable chairs around tables designed for hot pot, a circular ring of lighting that mirrors a bar at the center where customers enjoy broth, noodles, dim sum and more. Before COVID-19, he tells me, this place would generally be half full on a day like this. Today I count five people. But while the most I queried were thus far reporting a 15-20 percent decrease, Chinese restaurants were reporting far higher. Lau’s bottom line has seen a staggering 50 percent drop. He correlates it directly to the health scare.

Chinese restaurants, like the Top Top Hot Pot in Orlando, are especially feeling the coronavirus pinch. Image via Facebook.

Empty streets, bored tourists, anxious merchants: Puerto Rico amid coronavirus curfew” via Jim Wyss of the Miami Herald — Sequoia Mack and her friend flew from Baltimore to Puerto Rico Sunday night hoping to hit some clubs and celebrate her 21st birthday. Instead, their night consisted of walking to a gas station to buy water — the only establishment they could find open amid an islandwide lockdown. Puerto Rico has taken some of the most extreme measures in the nation as it tries to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Sunday imposed a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that will run through month’s end and ordered all nonessential businesses closed. The announcement — made over the weekend and less than 24 hours after officials said a curfew was not in, works — caught many by surprise. But as of Monday, it seemed to be working.

In virus’s wake, theaters are putting their plays on film, so that they still might be seen and enjoyed” via Peter Marks of The Washington Post — For actress Sharlene Cruz and the rest of the team birthing “Sanctuary City,” it was as if the whole run of the play occurred in the space of an hour and 45 minutes. “It felt like today was opening night and closing night,” Cruz said. The New York Theatre Workshop’s performance itself was special: a hastily arranged, COVID-19-inspired filming at off-Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre of a new play by Martyna Majok, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2018 for “Cost of Living.” But now, as playwrights, actors, and other artists of all stripes were discovering, work painstakingly mapped out was being brought to an abrupt, heartbreaking halt.

McDonald’s to close all company-owned restaurant dining areas and PlayPlaces” via WFLA 8 — McDonald’s is closing the dining areas at its corporate-owned restaurants amid concern over the coronavirus pandemic. It is also encouraging its franchisees, which operate about 93% of all locations, to do the same. “Our independent franchisees continue to focus on the needs of their local communities and make safe and caring decisions,” the company said in a statement Monday. “Franchisees are strongly encouraged to adopt similar operations procedures while keeping the needs of their people and communities at the center of their decisions. This guidance is supported by franchisee leadership and is expected to be adopted by the majority of franchisees.” The company said all corporate-owned restaurants would close seating areas. However, drive-thru, walk-in takeout and delivery will still be available.

— A VIRAL HURRICANE? —

To look at local grocery stores in South Florida, it’s easy to make a parallel between the coronavirus crisis and a potential hurricane.

The similarity between hurricane emergency and the coronavirus pandemic allows us to think more clearly about it, writes Brian Norcross of The Washington Post:

— Every person can make a difference: Those who prepare have a better post-storm experience than those who do not. “If you don’t follow the rules, which are designed to keep you safe — and keep you from spreading the novel coronavirus to others — you are rolling the dice.”

— It’s all in the details. While the odds of catching the virus at any single instance is still quite low, those odds can add up in time — over a month or more — meaning (like a hurricane), if you’re in South Florida long enough, chances or better it will happen to you.

— There is danger in misleading terms. “Mild” cases of coronavirus is a dangerous misnomer, particularly with people who have mild pneumonia. Mild does not cover those who are seriously ill.

— Confusion breeds confusion. In cases of hurricanes, TV news reports can vary wildly, and that confusion can lead to paralysis — or delay in getting help. The same is valid with coronavirus. Fortunately, there are accurate and credible resources both within and outside of the government.

— Look at the long-term. After Hurricane Andrew, Miami-Dade County took the lead in improving building codes. And after coronavirus passes, long-term plans will be needed.

— Short-term preparation is also essential. Stocking up, shuddering windows, and evacuations are all part of staying safe in a hurricane. For this crisis, there are parallels: Social distancing, frequent hand-washing. And always remember, no one is 100% safe.

— We all must work together. Helping each other — especially older people — through the aftereffects of a hurricane is essential, the same applies here.

— There will always be irresponsible people. Some decide to sit out the storm at home, even with evacuation notices. With coronavirus, people are still going to bars to party. It’s actions like this that could lead to the same situation is in Europe — total lockdown. Try to convince anyone to act responsibly.

— DATELINE: TALLY —

Legislature to keep public away and lawmakers apart to pass budget and avoid virus” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Florida legislators scrambled to come up with a safe way to reconvene this week after their decision to leave Tallahassee without finishing the budget put them in a historic bind. If they return, they risk spreading the coronavirus. If they don’t come back, they don’t finish the budget and can’t authorize the release of funds. After concluding that the Florida Constitution requires a majority of legislators in each chamber to be physically present to approve the only bill they are required to pass each Legislative Session — the budget — they agreed upon an extraordinary set of unprecedented conditions to guide a meeting that will begin at noon on Thursday. In essence, they will keep the public away, and lawmakers apart.

Tweet, tweet:

Budget adds health contracts, Medicaid changes” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Lawmakers agreed to provide more than $57 million to the state Agency for Health Care Administration for two new contracts. Part of that funding — $10 million — would allow AHCA to hire a contractor to assist with the Canadian Prescription Drug Importation Program. The remaining $47 million is being targeted to a new Medicaid information-management system dubbed FX, which is short for Florida Health Care Connection System. It has been a priority for agency Secretary Mary Mayhew, who wants the system to integrate data across the various agencies that support Medicaid programs, such as the Agency for Persons with Disabilities and the departments of Health and Children and Family Services.

New budget language moves back next-gen SLERS deadline” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Department of Management Services has yet to break ground on a next-generation Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System. Still, they could get more time under budget language proposed by the Senate. The language included in the latest government appropriations bump offer would push back the deadline set in the 2019-20 budget to the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. It comes after DMS was forced to cancel a SLERS contract with Motorola Solutions. The department had selected Motorola to develop the next-gen successor to the state’s current system, which was built out by Harris Corp., now L3Harris. The contract had been tied up in the courts.

What happened to Florida Poly PECO funding?” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Legislature provided Florida Poly with $7 million to get rolling on the project last year, and the university has received another $22.9 million in funding to keep construction moving. The 2020 request was $12.75 million — with that funding, the 85,000-square-foot facility would have the cash to take it over the finish line. It seemed as if Florida Poly would get the ARC funding as recently as Friday night. It was the No. 1 ranked project on the higher education PECO list, which prioritizes project funding requests from all state universities. Yet, when the Legislature released its PECO list, the Florida Poly funding had been removed while other, lower-ranked projects remained.

What happened to the PECO funding for Florida Polytechnic University? It seemed to have dropped off the budget.

Super Bowl LV in Tampa next year to get security help from the state” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The budget, which lawmakers are expected to approve Thursday, includes $1 million for Super Bowl LV security. Inclusion in the budget is a major win. The Senate included in its budget offer in the Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations committee a $1 million offer, but the House had not matched that offer as of last Monday. If left intact, the funding would be appropriated to the Department of Economic Opportunity to “contract with any county hosting a signature event.” In this case, that would be Hillsborough County for next year’s Super Bowl.

ZooTampa, Florida Aquarium land ‘sprinkle’ funding in 2020-21 budget” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Both will receive $250,000 as part of the House and Senate’s sprinkle fund if the line items survive DeSantis’ veto pen. The Senate included $250,000 for ZooTampa in its sprinkle list, half what it had previously offered in the budget conference. The final number matches what the House had offered. The House, meanwhile, is providing the same allocation to the Florida Aquarium, a win for the nonprofit after the Senate previously had funding zeroed out.

’The night the devil got loose’: How a Florida tragedy is being brought to light a century later” via Kelly Hayes a Fresh Take Florida — As many as 60 African Americans died Nov. 2, 1920, because they wanted to vote. Two years ago, Ocoee Mayor J. Lester Dabbs and the West Orange Reconciliation Task Force erected a marker to remember the tragedy and to begin meaningful conversations about what happened. Because for years, people did not even acknowledge it. The marker is part of a movement afoot to try and make right the wrongs of the past and begin proper education of the Ocoee massacre. This year, a measure introduced in the Florida Legislature aims to compensate descendants of those who lost their lives that day. ‘That was the night the devil got loose in Ocoee’

— D.C. MATTERS —

Idiot —Public health experts say stay in. Devin Nunes and other defiant officials say, ‘It’s a great time to just go out.’” via Katie Sheppard of The Washington Post — “There’s a lot of concerns with the economy here because people are scared to go out,” Nunes said on Fox News. “But I will just say one of the things you can do if you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant. … Let’s not hurt the working people in this country that are relying on wages and tips to keep their small business going.” That advice goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidelines, which have encouraged people to stay home as much as possible. Nunes also advised people to go to the bars instead of panic-driven shopping and hoarding.

Devin Nunes directly contradicts the CDC recommendations on staying home.

K Street looks to ride coronavirus relief efforts” via Theodoric Meyer of POLITICO — Lobbyists for drone makers and hog farmers — not to mention the oil and gas industry, among others — are looking to hitch a ride on the federal government’s coronavirus response. The deluge of “asks,” as K Street refers to such pleas, include policies that might help address the crisis and revive the economy. But other proposals are similar to ones the same industries have pushed for years and have only a tenuous connection to the pandemic. Even some in the influence industry are calling foul. “Some of the requests for aid appear opportunistic on their face while others seem truly desperate,” the lobbyist Dave Oxner wrote in a recent note to clients.

Virus outbreak delays Census counting off-campus students” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — Because of the new coronavirus, the U.S. Census Bureau has postponed sending out census takers to count college students in off-campus housing and delayed sending workers to grocery stores and houses of worship where they help people fill out the once-a-decade questionnaire. The Census Bureau said in a statement that the deadline for ending the 2020 census at the end of July could be adjusted as needed. The 2020 census started last week with its website going live and the start of mailings notifying people to start answering the questionnaire. As of Sunday, 5 million people had already responded to the census, according to the bureau.

— STATEWIDE —

Gas prices fall in Florida in midst of coronavirus fears, setting a new 2020 low” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Prices at 11% of Florida gas stations have dipped below $2 a gallon — a trend that may be the new normal. AAA — The Auto Club Group believes increased supply from Saudi Arabia and the coronavirus economy will continue to drive a pump price decline. “Low pump prices are likely to get even lower this week,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA. “The combination of the coronavirus and the ongoing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia are contributing to some of the lowest futures prices since the Great Recession,” Jenkins added.

Expiring driver’s licenses extended 30 days, as offices deal with limiting lines” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry Rhodes issued an emergency order extending all Florida driver’s licenses and identification cards that will expire in the next 30 days, and waiving delinquent-renewal fees. More than 130,000 driver’s licenses and identification cards are set to expire in the next 30 days. Meanwhile, throughout Florida, the County Tax Collectors are taking individual approaches to try to limit crowds and lines at the local government offices most known for crowds and lines, tag and license offices. Tax collectors’ offices also handle everything from tax payments to concealed weapon permits. Many of the services can be arranged online.

UCF presses forward with president search; reveal of last-minute candidate expected Wednesday” via Annie Martin of the Orlando Sentinel — Consultant Alberto Pimentel and search committee members didn’t reveal the man’s identity during a meeting, though several have been courting him for weeks. They’re expected to meet again to review his credentials and decide whether he should join two other finalists who will sit for remote interviews this Friday with the Board of Trustees, which plans to select the university’s next president then. Florida law demands that state university president searches be open to the public, but committee members defended shielding the man’s identity from the public until the last couple of days of the search. University spokesman Chad Binette wrote in an email the likely candidate is the president of “major research university,” but did not say which one.

Former state legislator and Hernando County Commissioner found dead” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — Former three-term state House representative and two-term Hernando County Commissioner Jeff Stabins was found dead in his Spring Hill home. Officials with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said a preliminary investigation found no foul play involved. They did not release a cause of death. Stabins, 60, was known for his passionate, but quirky approach to governance. Late last year, he launched a largely-symbolic run for the White House to protest his unhappiness with the tenure of Trump. A Republican for nearly all his political life, Stabins adopted the slogan “Make America Good Again” and drove around Hernando County in a truck emblazoned with that sentiment.

Former state legislator, Hernando County Commissioner and one-time presidential candidate Jeff Stabins is found dead.

— THE TRAIL —

Can Democrats win back Florida?” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — They had lost winnable races for Governor and Senate two years ago in nail-biter recounts. Many now feared that the state’s voters, with their reflexive disdain for political revolution, would spurn Sanders in November, giving Trump a far easier path to reelection. Florida’s long status as a swing state could be over. And there is no telling what coronavirus, which threatens the state’s $86 billion-a-year tourism industry and its more than five million people over the age of 60 will do to the state’s economy and population. For Democrats, winning requires a balance: turning out base voters in South and Central Florida while also keeping Republican margins close in rural and exurban areas in Southwest and North Florida.

Florida Democrats suspend face-to-face fieldwork, ask staff to work remotely” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The Party leadership approved a wide-ranging list of measures including postponing all meetings that would attract 50 or more people, and instructing staff to work remotely. “The Florida Democratic Party shares the concerns of our fellow Floridians and the entire country, and we join with our communities to work to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Party stated in a release. “While we have taken measures to stay safe, the Florida Democratic Party, our staff of more than 100 employees and our 12,000+ active volunteers will not stop campaigning, but we will begin to change the nature of our campaign efforts in light of the public health reality,” the release continued.

Candidates seek relief from petition process amid coronavirus pandemic” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Several have asked to Division of Elections to extend the deadline for submitting signed cards to election officials. “By not waiving or extending the deadline for candidates to reach their petition numbers, you are effectively disenfranchising many grassroots funded candidates who are unable to pay for the filings fees,” said Cindy Banyai, a Democrat running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. As a federal candidate, Banyai feels some urgency to the issue. She faces a deadline of March 23 to submit 5,052 valid signed petitions from voters in the district, or she’ll need to pay a $10,440 qualifying fee. But she closed 2019 with $10,889 in cash on hand.

Ave Maria law grad enters crowded CD 19 field” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Naples native Christy McLaughlin, a 24-year-old Ave Maria University graduate, filed this week for outgoing U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney’s Congressional seat. The staunchly pro-life Millennial became the ninth Republican running in the most crowded GOP field in the state. “I have nothing but respect for everybody who is running,” McLaughlin said. “But, I just have some different ideas.” Chief among them are her views on abortion.

Christy McLaughlin is the latest entrant in the CD 19 race.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala endorse Kevin Chambliss in HD 117” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Chambliss has worked as a congressional liaison for both Congresswomen. He serves as a community liaison for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss and worked on Joe Garcia‘s 2012 congressional campaign. Chambliss is also a youth pastor at Covenant Missionary Baptist Church. “Kevin has been an activist and organizer in South Miami-Dade for years, and his commitment to advocating on behalf of his community is second to none,” Shalala said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “Tallahassee would stand to benefit from having more people like him in office, and that is why I am proud to give him my endorsement.” Chambliss is one of four Democratic candidates vying to replace term-limited House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

Julie Jenkins adds $15,000 in February, but Jackie Toledo still far out front” via Florida Politics — Toledo couldn’t raise any campaign contributions in February because lawmakers are barred from raising funds during Legislative Session. Nevertheless, Toledo holds a commanding lead in overall fundraising. Still, Jenkins made up some ground in February. Jenkins raised about $15,000 from dozens of contributions in February, according to state elections records. That’s less than half what she raised in January, shortly after launching her campaign. She raised about $40,000 in her first reporting period. Through February, Jenkins has raised a total of $51,000. She has only spent about $6,300, leaving her with about $45,000 in the bank.

Margaret Good still fundraising during coronavirus outbreak, shifts canvassing and campaigning online” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — In a fundraising email to supporters, Good’s campaign said public health concerns drove the decision. “We’re taking steps to modify how we campaign to accommodate prevention methods,” she said. “We have canceled upcoming events and have suspended canvassing. With that said, this campaign is still moving forward — we have a seat to flip.” Good is challenging Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican running for his eighth term. “I think that there’s a great opportunity here to innovate and adapt, and we are working hard to get our message out here in the 16th district,” she said. “But we’re making sure to stay safe and taking appropriate precautions.” The decision was made as the Florida Democratic Party suspended all face-to-face voter contacts.

— LOCAL —

Jacksonville City Council defers confirming new JEA board members” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union — The coronavirus upended a plan to confirm a brand-new JEA board because the Jacksonville City Council met by phone rather than in person, making official voting action off the table. City Council President Scott Wilson had initially put voting on the JEA board as the sole action item for the special meeting, but that changed to a purely informational session about the city’s growing response to the coronavirus. The deferral leaves uncertain when JEA will get a new board in place. The current board submitted a mass resignation in January, but four board members have agreed to remain in those roles until the City Council confirms a replacement slate.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

It’s primary day, and coronavirus has already thrown a monkey wrench into the system. Most of the volunteers who help the elections office at the precincts are seniors, and a lot won’t be showing up to help with the primary — but officials insist precincts are safe.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— DeSantis says the state is creating a $50 million fund for short-term, zero-interest loans to small businesses struck by the coronavirus.

— Say goodbye to Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Florida this year, and spring break will be a lot different.

— Florida’s Department of Health just hired 100 new epidemiologists to help deal with the virus, with 100 nurses on standby if the state decides to set up a mobile field hospital for the victims.

— Officials in Broward County are trying to figure out what’s next, now that their county is the new epicenter of Florida’s coronavirus outbreak.

— The chair of the Broward County legislative delegation talks about coronavirus, and the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections discusses the presidential primary amid a pandemic.

— Florida unemployment rate dropped again in January It’s now tied the record low. But that was before coronavirus.

— Two Florida Men are making news in the political world, neither for anything good.

To listen, click on the image below:

— TOP OPINION —

This crisis looks worse than 9/11 and the 2008 collapse. Will we finally fix our politics?” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — It’s tempting to blame Trump for the dysfunction, and he has unquestionably made things worse. But he merely exploited a political system that has been unraveling for a quarter-century or more. There are many causes: the realignment of parties along racial lines and into ideologically opposite blocs; the passing of the Greatest Generation which, having experienced war, knew that political opponents weren’t enemies; the toxic injection of unaccountable money into politics; and the polarization, vitriol and disinformation spread by social media and cable-news voices. As I’ve chronicled this deterioration, I’ve often been asked what it would take to fix things. My standard response: a crisis beyond anything we’ve seen.

— OPINIONS —

Where’s some national leadership when America needs it?” via Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Anyone doubting America faces a big health crisis got a dose of reality on Monday: The U.S. Senate actually worked through a scheduled, weeklong recess. Now, perhaps, our federal politicians can solve the lack of unified and responsible leadership that’s exacerbating this novel coronavirus pandemic. Look around you at the chaotic manner we’re handling a national health issue. Our beaches are closed. Our restaurants are open. Sports games are gone. Casinos tables are busy. The truest lesson of this pandemic, thus far, is how in a national vacuum of leadership every community invents their own ideas for what to do. Every business, too. And then there’s the corollary to that: Everyone will keep following their ideas, potentially deepening the crisis and delaying the recovery, until some unified voice of leadership presents a single, informed policy. Should we elect such a person to do this? Call him the President?

I can’t see my ailing mother because of coronavirus. My head understands, but my heart aches” via Michael Mayo of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — My widowed mom is 87, had major brain surgery last month and has stage 4 melanoma. And now I can’t hold her hand or hug her for a month. Or maybe longer. With the new coronavirus spreading, the state has banned all “nonessential visitors” for 30 days. That includes family members. My head understands, given the way this pandemic has ravaged the elderly worldwide. But my heart aches. A few weeks ago, as my mom lay groggy and confused in bed, I stroked her forehead. “That feels good, Michael,” she said. “I love you, mom,” I said. Tell me that’s nonessential.

Does this still matter? —It’s Sunshine Week: let’s celebrate transparency in government” via Linda Doggett For the Fort Myers News-Press — In recognition of Sunshine Week (March 15-21), Clerks throughout the state are celebrating transparency in government — and our role in providing our citizens access to important public, court and historic records. As Lee County’s Clerk of Court & Comptroller, I am proud to provide our citizens with access to records and the information they need to be active members of the community. While maintaining transparency and equal access is core to my work as your Clerk, it is also my duty to protect confidential information with our redaction process. Sunshine Week is a national initiative celebrating access to public information and open government.

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

 

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— ALOE —

Uber Eats waiving all delivery fees on orders from independent restaurants” via WFTS — Uber Eats is waiving delivery fees on all orders from independent restaurants across the U.S. and Canada. “We know small businesses are the backbone of this great city, and we are actively monitoring the impact on our locally-owned restaurants who are facing a difficult season due to COVID-19. As we work to minimize the impact of coronavirus, we are proud to see companies like Uber Eats step up to help our community,” says Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. “Technology allows us to stay connected, despite social distancing. And by using services like Uber Eats, we can continue supporting our small businesses while protecting the safety of restaurant workers, customers, and our community.”

Universal to make current theatrical movies available for home viewing on Friday” via Ryan Faughnder of the Los Angeles Times — In an extraordinary step, the studio will make its movies available in the home on the same day as their global theatrical releases, beginning with DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour,” opening April 10 in the U.S. The company will also make movies that are currently in theatrical release available on-demand starting as early as Friday, starting with “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt” and “Emma.” The movies will be available on a wide variety of on-demand services, including iTunes and Google Play, for a 48-hour rental period at a suggested retail price of $19.99. The coronavirus pandemic has led to the shutdown of theaters and forced studios to reconsider their strategy for distributing movies.

Universal is going to release ‘Trolls World Tour’ on-demand because of the coronavirus.

Is ESPN hinting at early release for ‘The Last Dance’ documentary on 1998 Bulls?” via Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports — As much fun as Netflix binges are, or as fulfilling as a good book can be, the absence of live sports (and the discourse that surrounds it) leaves a gaping void in the lives of a lot of people. One way many in my Chicago-centric Twitter bubble have suggested filling that void is by petitioning ESPN to release ‘The Last Dance’ — a 10-part documentary series that has promised to tell the “untold stories of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls” — a couple of months early. The series is currently scheduled to release in June. But could that change, with no live sports to fill airtime for the weeks and months to come? There’s been nothing resembling official word from ESPN yet, but there might be a reason to believe they’re leaving a trail of hints.

NFL will hold draft as scheduled but cancel public events due to coronavirus” via Jacob Knutson of Axios — The league said the selection process will still be televised, adding that it is exploring “innovative options” for conducting the draft in such a climate. “This decision reflects our foremost priority — the health and safety of all fans and citizens. While this outcome is disappointing both to the NFL and to the Las Vegas community, we look forward to partnering with the Raiders, the City of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for a future NFL Draft as well as evaluating opportunities for other major NFL events in Las Vegas in the future, including the Super Bowl.” — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Celebrating today is our dear friend Christian Minor, as well as Rep. David Smith, former Rep. Sean Shaw, Kelsey Frouge, former. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell, and Rob Weissert.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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