Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.19.20

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Get ‘burned first: Here’s your AM review of the news driving Florida politics.

If the coronavirus doom and gloom has got you down, maybe some good news about some good people can bring some much-needed cheer.

The marketing masters at Tallahassee’s Strategic Digital Services recently got a shoutout in Inc. magazine.

In its inaugural “Inc. 5000 Series: Florida” list, the magazine ranked SDS as the 53rd fastest-growing private company in the state.

Matt Farrar and Joe Clements, two of the brightest minds in Florida politics. Now they lead one of the fastest-growing companies in the state.

The high ranking follows Strategic Digital Services’ mention in Inc.’s 2019 national Inc. 5000 list, which pegged the company as the No. 638 fastest-growing privately held company in the U.S.

To put the significance in perspective, Strategic Digital Services is the most highly ranked Tallahassee-based company, and has the second-highest ranking in the Northwest Florida region.

“Over the past six years, we’ve put in the hours and sweat to build a business of which we are incredibly proud. Our team is the best in the business, and we have the credentials to back it up,” said co-founder Matt Farrar.

Co-founder Joe Clements added, “What we’ve learned in the past six years will stay with us as we continue to grow over the next six years. We are humbled to share the list with great Florida-based companies and can’t wait to see what’s next.”

The agency said the list — which includes 250 Florida companies in all — should provide some comfort in the current fog of economic uncertainty. 

The companies that made the Inc. 5000 Series: Florida list had an average growth rate of 302%, and in 2018 alone, they employed more than 56,000 people and added $12.6 billion to the Florida economy.


Senate passes coronavirus package as Treasury proposes rescue with emergency checks” via Marianne Levine and Andrew Desiderio of POLITICO — With Senate leaders vowing to work at “warp speed” to blunt the financial fallout from the pandemic, the Treasury Department unveiled to lawmakers a plan for $250 billion in direct payments to Americans starting April 6. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans were inching closer to unveiling their proposal for a third, even larger stimulus package to address the epidemic, which is likely to include some of Treasury’s ideas. The Senate’s approval of the House-passed coronavirus bill, known as “phase two,” comes as Republican Senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night.

Mitch McConnell and Senate leaders are vowing to work at ‘warp speed’ to help stimulate the economy during the coronavirus crisis. Image via AP.

Navy, Legislature screen as Florida grapples with virus” via Bobby Caina Calvan and Terry Spencer of The Associated Press — The Navy is isolating sailors at a major base because they may have contracted the coronavirus, lawmakers will be screened before they are allowed into chambers, and a third beach popular with spring breakers will close. Health officials were preparing to jump on any clusters of confirmed infections that might arise at a nursing home, hospital or elsewhere as the number of cases jumped by almost half Wednesday. They want to prevent an outbreak similar to one that happened at a Seattle-area nursing home linked to more than 30 COVID-19 deaths.

Mario Diaz-Balart is first member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19” via Christal Hayes of USA TODAY — Diaz-Balart said in a statement that he decided to self-quarantine in Washington after voting with hundreds of his House colleagues on the House floor for a coronavirus relief package. The 58-year-old Republican said he chose to stay in Washington because his wife has preexisting conditions, and thus is more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. Diaz-Balart noted that the following day, he started to show symptoms that included a fever and headache. He was notified on Wednesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus. In the statement, Diaz-Balart did not indicate where he may have contracted the illness, nor why he decided to self-quarantine.

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Coronavirus surfaces in 19 elder care facilities in Florida” via Alexandra Glorioso of POLITICO — Nineteen long-term care facilities in Florida have either a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus, including two confirmed cases in Duval and Broward counties. Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew said she could not divulge the name or addresses of the nursing facilities, citing patient privacy requirements.

Wuhan reports no new virus cases, offering hope to world” via the Associated Press — Last month, Wuhan was overwhelmed with thousands of new cases of coronavirus each day. But in a dramatic development that underscores just how much the outbreak has pivoted toward Europe and the United States, Chinese authorities said Thursday that the city and its surrounding province had no new cases to report. The news offered a rare glimmer of hope for the rest of the world as it battles the virus, and perhaps a lesson in the strict measures needed to halt its spread. It came as President Donald Trump likened the fight to “a war” and invoked emergency powers that allow him to compel manufacturers to deal with the pandemic. Wuhan was where the outbreak first took hold and thousands once lay sick or dying in hurriedly constructed hospitals. But Chinese authorities said Thursday that all 34 new cases recorded over the previous day had been imported from abroad.


@RealDonaldTrump: I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst-case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!

@RealDonaldTrump: I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China — against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!

@TheRickWilson: The amount of agitprop energy being poured into making the “Chinese Virus” line a central pillar of [Donald] Trump‘s messaging should, perhaps, be devoted instead into fighting the FUCKING VIRUS.

@Marianne_levine: [John] Cornyn says Senate likely to stay in until early next week to deal with phase three.

@CMarinucci: @DevinNunes, just now on Fresno @KMJNOW: “The media is absolutely responsible for this … 90% of them are working for the Democrats, working for the left. They’re doing dangerous things in this country by whipping everyone up in this panic. There’s no reason to be in this panic.”

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@Millie: Have you ever tried to change jobs and move halfway across the country during a pandemic?

@KionneMcGhee: I’ll say it: Without Media, we are screwed. Writers keep us informed and honest. When are we going to give them a bailout? To see many papers struggling, it’s disheartening and painful. State endowment fund is needed. Fund it! These writers have families and bills!

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@NickMerrill: I feel the same way about Bernie Sanders still being in this race as I do about people buying a 12 year supply of toilet paper.

—@Patrick_Wyman: Beyond hilarious that Zombie Deadspin, with its stick-to-sports mandate and absolutely inane writing, is launching today, when there are no actual sports to stick to and tons of demand for incisive, opinion-driven work

@TalkHoops: Tom Brady on the Bucs is something that would’ve happened in like Year 12 of franchise mode in Madden 08, and you would’ve seen it and said: “I hate how fake this game gets when you play deep into this mode.”


Last day of 2020 Session — 1; Quibi launches — 18; Easter — 24; First quarter campaign reports due — 27; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 34; NFL Draft — 35; Mother’s Day — 52; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 57; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 81; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 99; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 115; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 119; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo start (maybe) — 127; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 152; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 158; First presidential debate in Indiana — 194; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 202; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 210; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 217; 2020 General Election — 229; “No Time to Die” premieres (now) — 251.


Breaking overnight — “Federal Reserve to backstop money-market mutual funds amid coronavirus” via the Wall Street Journal — The Fed’s latest facility, called the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, will make loans available to eligible financial institutions backed by high-quality assets purchased by the institutions from money-market mutual funds. In a statement, the Fed said the facility would assist money-market funds “in meeting demands for redemptions by households and other investors, enhancing overall market functioning and credit provision to the broader economy.”

Pressure grows on Donald Trump to invoke Defense Production Act for coronavirus response” via Jon Ward of Yahoo News — Trump was not prepared to invoke the authorities that would allow the government to ensure that the private sector can ramp up production of emergency medical supplies, despite a growing chorus of voices urging him to do so. “We’ll make that decision pretty quickly if we need it,” Trump said at a midday White House news conference, when asked about invoking those authorities, known as the Defense Production Act. “We hope we don’t need it. It’s a big step.” The Defense Production Act (DPA) was enacted during the Cold War to allow the president to cajole — and even coerce — industry into producing products deemed necessary for national defense.

Calls are mounting for Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to provide medical products to fight the coronavirus epidemic. Image via AP.

U.S. military’s role in response to virus outbreak is growing” via Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor of The Associated Press — The Pentagon’s role in responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States began to rapidly expand as officials announced that two Navy hospital ships and two Army field hospitals were preparing to deploy to help overburdened regions. The latest moves are aimed at taking the pressure off local hospitals so that they can free up rooms and staff to deal with virus patients. Military hospital ships and field units are geared toward treating trauma cases.

Trump supporters know where to turn in a crisis: To him” via Elaina Plott and Dionne Searcey of The New York Times — In the small town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, the Parent Teacher Association group text chat normally lights up with news of school dances and carpooling schedules. Its main focus now is a global pandemic. Kerrie Aistrop, a 39-year-old mother of two, and her fellow moms exchange death-toll updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thought-provoking tweets and a bit of gallows humor. “After seeing how the public panics over coronavirus, I can see why the government would never tell us about Aliens,” reads one shared post.

Surgeon General: 15 days of social distancing ‘likely not going to be enough’ to halt coronavirus” via Quint Forgey of POLITICO — Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged that the Trump administration’s recommendation that Americans practice preventive measures for 15 days is “likely not going to be enough” time to successfully halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. “Fifteen days is likely not going to be enough to get us all the way through. But we really need to lean into it now so that we can bend the curve in the next 15 days, and at that point, we’ll reassess,” Adams said during an interview on NBC’s “Today.” The concession from the surgeon general comes after the administration announced a slate of new guidelines Monday intended to blunt the disease’s rapid rate of transmission in the U.S.

America needed coronavirus tests. the government failed.” via The Wall Street Journal — When cases of the new coronavirus began emerging several weeks ago in California, Washington state and other pockets of the country, U.S. public-health officials worried this might be The Big One, emails and interviews show. The testing program they rolled out to combat it, though, was a small one.

The Trump administration drove him back to China, where he invented a fast coronavirus test” via David Armstrong, Annie Waldman and Daniel Golden of ProPublica — As the Florida lab sat vacant, a different scene unfolded half a world away in China, where a team of 300 scientists and researchers worked furiously to develop a fast, easy test for COVID-19. The leader of that timely project? [Weihong] Tan, the former Florida researcher. The 59-year-old Tan is a stark example of the intellectual firepower fleeing the U.S. as a result of a Trump administration crackdown on university researchers with ties to China. Tan abruptly left Florida in 2019 during an investigation into his alleged failure to fully disclose Chinese academic appointments and funding.

Can smart thermometers track the spread of the coronavirus?” via  of the New York Times — A company that uses internet-connected thermometers to predict the spread of the flu says it is tracking the coronavirus in real time — something that had been impossible, given the lack of testing for the disease. Kinsa Health has sold or given away more than a million smart thermometers to households in which two million people reside, and thus can record fevers almost as soon as consumers experience them. For the last few years, Kinsa’s interactive maps have accurately predicted the spread of flu around the United States about two weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own surveillance tool, the weekly FluView tracker. The thermometer data “acts as an early warning system for illness spreading,” said Inder Singh, the company’s founder. The C.D.C.’s system lags because it relies on weekly reports from hundreds of doctors’ offices and hospital emergency rooms about what symptoms they are seeing in patients.

Hospitals need a surge — of doctors” via Rachel Roubein and Joanne Kenen of POLITICO — Hospitals are struggling to find enough doctors, nurses and other health care workers to care for mounting numbers of critically ill coronavirus patients. The staffing problems are on top of the equipment problems. Hospitals are taking extraordinary measures to bulk up the workforce, from calling on retirees for help to assigning medical students to answer the phones. The Trump administration announced new rules that would let doctors practice across state lines, without going through layers of recertification and licensing. The VA is also preparing to help bolster the civilian health care system. But the numbers of physicians is finite — and older ones, as well as those with their own health conditions, are at risk from COVID-19.

Canada, U.S. plan to close border to nonessential travel” via Maura Forrest of POLITICO — The move will mostly close the largest non-militarized land border in the world, another restriction as coronavirus spreads around the globe and cases multiply in both the U.S. and Canada. People will not be allowed to cross in either direction for recreational reasons, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. But “essential” travel — that delivers food, fuel and medicines into both nations — will continue, he said. Canadians and Americans who do “essential” work or who have “urgent” reasons to cross the border will be permitted to do so, Trudeau said adding that details will follow soon. “Travel restrictions will not apply to commerce or trade,” he said.

Canada, U.S. will be closing the border to nonessential travel. Image via AP.

U.S. government, tech industry discussing ways to use smartphone location data to combat coronavirus” via Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg of The Washington Post — The U.S. government is in active talks with Facebook, Google and a wide array of tech companies and health experts about how they can use location data gleaned from Americans’ phones to combat the novel coronavirus, including tracking whether people are keeping one another at safe distances to stem the outbreak. Public-health experts are interested in the possibility that private-sector companies could compile the data in anonymous, aggregated form, which they could then use to map the spread of the infection, according to three people familiar with the effort, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the project is in its early stages.

Once political B-listers, Governors lead nations coronavirus response” via Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns of The New York Times — Since the coronavirus began spreading, the governors have taken a lead role in issuing strict guidelines and stern warnings, asserting themselves in ways that only highlighted the initial inaction and lack of seriousness from the White House. With polls showing that far more Americans have confidence in their state governments to address the virus than they do in Mr. Trump, the contagion has elevated a class of veteran political leaders whom Republican voters bypassed in the 2016 presidential race and Democratic voters shrugged off in 2020. But the bigger question coming out of this crisis may be whether the new premium on competence and experience can lessen the polarization that has come to define American politics in this era.

Layoffs intensify, leading to soaring unemployment claims as coronavirus closures continue” via Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post — Just a week ago, hundreds of people had been laid off, but those numbers are skyrocketing. As Trump administration leaders, industry officials, and economists project dire warnings of millions of jobs vanishing this year, an increasingly grim picture of the U.S. labor market is emerging for the months to come. The deluge into unemployment offices is beginning to strain systems. In Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services said 36,645 claims were filed Monday. That’s typically what the department receives each month, The Columbus Dispatch noted. Pennsylvania experienced more than 50,000 on Monday and more than that on Tuesday. Economists are warning that the coronavirus is pushing the global economy into recession.

U.S. markets fall sharply as rampant volatility takes hold” via David Lynch, Thomas Heath and Taylor Telford of The Washington Post — The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank nearly 1,339 points or 6.3% to finish at 19,898.92. Both the broader S & P 500 and the technology-laden Nasdaq lost about 5%. Trading at one point was halted for the fourth time in six sessions when stocks tripped a circuit-breaker designed to prevent panic selling. Bond prices also fell, sending yields higher, and oil prices plunged to an 18-year low amid continued uncertainty over the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Even the prospect of roughly $1 trillion in emergency federal aid, including $1,000 checks for taxpayers and an airline industry bailout, was not enough to halt the retreat. Dire predictions about the global pandemic’s spread and its likely economic toll discouraged traders.

Twitter cracks down on coronavirus misinformation” via The Washington Post — The social media platform will work with “trusted partners” such as governments and “public health authorities” to review information, it said in a Wednesday blog post. Facebook, which said back in January that it would remove dangerous claims about the virus, also on Wednesday announced a coronavirus news and resources portal for its billions of users.


How did Florida hire 100 epidemiologists in a weekend? Here’s how.” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — How in the world do you find public health professionals who investigate the patterns and causes of disease — otherwise known as epidemiologists — who weren’t already working to combat the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic? Answer: Florida’s universities. In an unprecedented gathering of resources, the state has recruited 100 professors and students from five universities to help the state understand the coronavirus and how it’s spreading. Those professors and students are being hired part-time to do what epidemiologists do: interview people with coronavirus about their history and symptoms, trace their contacts, and enter that information into databases.

Long-term care facilities grapple with coronavirus” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Residents at 19 long-term care facilities across the state have tested positive or are suspected of testing positive for the novel coronavirus, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew. Florida is not testing residents of long-term care facilities as a precautionary measure. Instead, Mayhew said the facilities are “isolating that individual (who tests positive) to care for them appropriately” and keeping them “from other residents to protect other residents and staff.” Mayhew would not disclose the names of the 19 facilities, citing privacy concerns for the residents, but she said the Agency for Health Care Administration would provide a list of counties where the facilities are located.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew announces 19 long-term care facilities either tested positive or are suspected of having coronavirus. Image via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Firefighters to take coronavirus health care role, says Jimmy Patronis” via Florida Politics — Patronis, the state’s CFO and Fire Marshal, said that “as health care services throughout Florida become further strained, Florida firefighters may be used to supplement health care and logistical operations.” “No doubt,” added Patronis, “the need for more beds, more supplies, and more personnel with medical experience will be needed as cases of COVID-19 continue to grow.” Among the areas firefighters could supplement: drive-thru testing, which will be ramping up statewide in the coming days.

DCF to close all storefronts amid coronavirus outbreak, pushes Floridians to use online portal” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is announcing the closing of “all storefronts and lobbies” as government agencies and private businesses continue to limit public interaction during the coronavirus pandemic. The closures were described as “temporary,” though the agency has not publicly set a target date to reopen. Those looking to apply for benefits with the agency — such as food assistance (SNAP), cash assistance (TANF) or Medicaid — can do so online at the DCF’s website. Those seeking to call the agency can find the relevant numbers listed on that DCF webpage. For individuals without internet or phone access, the agency is also setting up drop boxes at existing storefronts.

DPBR won’t say how it will close bars, clubs that defy DeSantis’ order” via Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times — When Gov. DeSantis on Tuesday announced sweeping new restrictions to close bars and night clubs across the state, he directed Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to enforce the emergency order. But the state agency declined to share any details on how it plans to enforce the measure. And law enforcement agencies across the Tampa Bay area are each taking different approaches.

State urges banks to work with small businesses” via the News Service of Florida — Russell Weigel, the state’s new Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner, released a letter encouraging bankers and other lenders to work with customers affected by the public health emergency. “Reasonable efforts to make new loans and modify the terms on existing loans of affected customers will not be subject to examiner criticism,” Weigel said in the letter. He added, “The OFR will work with financial institutions across the state to minimize regulatory burden when scheduling examinations, consistent with applicable legal and regulatory requirements. Our examiners will work off-site during examinations to continue to minimize the impact on financial institutions.”

Seen from above, Disney World, Universal become ghost towns after coronavirus shutdowns” via Gabriella Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Theme parks writer Seth Kubersky had never been in an open-door helicopter before, so he gripped his iPhone as he felt like he was sticking his head out of a convertible speeding 120 mph an hour. When he could briefly take in the scene, it felt surreal: Orlando’s deserted theme parks looked like an apocalyptic movie. Disney World and Universal shut down their attractions Monday for a historic closure that’s scheduled through the end of March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Local theme park writers and television stations took to the skies to document the unprecedented moment: Orlando parks resembling ghost towns.

Kionne McGhee proposes state media endowment fund amid newspaper layoffs, coronavirus spread” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — McGhee says newspapers and other media should also get financial assistance because of the economic impact of the coronavirus. Layoffs at companies in Florida and across the country because of the novel coronavirus is already happening. And it’s already impacting media outlets. Seven Creative Loafing Tampa Bay employees were laid off Wednesday, according to the paper. Media layoffs because of the COVID-19 are in addition to the many layoffs that were already happening before the outbreak started spreading earlier this year, for myriad reasons. “There is no way that elected officials in government could function without (the media),” he said. “And that’s what makes Sunshine laws so important, and that’s why it’s so important to have media at the table.”


‘It’s a f— nightmare.’ Layoffs hit as South Florida restaurants close over coronavirus” via Carlos Frias of the Miami Herald — Michael Palou was getting ready for work Monday as a high-end restaurant chef when his phone pinged with the news that he had been laid off. His roommate and lifelong friend, Gianni Arriago, a waiter at a different restaurant, staggered home with word that he, too, had been furloughed on the same day. Overnight the two 28-year-olds found themselves unemployed and desperate over how they will survive — much less pay the rent at their $1,500 a month Little Havana apartment. ‘We’re all panicking,’ Palou said. ‘People need to know this is the hardest thing that has ever happened to us after Hurricane Andrew.'”

Audrey Gibson urges newly jobless to file for unemployment” via Florida Politics — The leading Democrat in the Senate urges those rendered jobless by coronavirus shutdowns to file for unemployment promptly. “The coronavirus has not only impacted Floridians’ health, but their ability to earn a living and provide for their families,” said Sen. Gibson. “While Washington finalizes its relief package, it’s important that those who have lost their jobs, either through layoffs, or government mandates, begin the process of applying through the state for the unemployment benefits they’ve earned,” Gibson added.

Audrey Gibson urges people to apply for unemployment as quickly as possible.

Coronavirus: Clay death was man in his 70s; St. Vincent’s Middleburg has first COVID-19 death in Northeast Florida” via Andrew Pantazi of the Florida Times-Union — “It is with deep sadness that we confirm the loss of a patient due to COVID-19,” St. Vincent’s spokesman Kyle Sieg said. “Out of respect for the privacy of our patients, we cannot share further information. Our hearts and prayers are with the family of this patient and all the families and loved ones impacted by this illness in our community and across the world.” Gov. Ron DeSantis said the man who died was in his 70s. This is Northeast Florida’s first death related to COVID-19.

Drive-through coronavirus testing site opens in Tallahassee; patients need doctor’s order” via Tory Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee’s first drive-through coronavirus testing site is opening today at 11 a.m. at the Northwood Centre and one woman was already tested before it officially opened. Peggy Ross, 63, had just gotten off the phone with her Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare doctor’s office Wednesday morning before showing up to the testing site, which wasn’t set to open for more than an hour. “He’s sending my screening test over, an authorization,” she said through her car window several feet away from a reporter. She was waiting behind traffic barricades blocking the Northwood Centre parking lot for the go-ahead to enter the testing area: “I’ve been sick for two weeks.”

Coronavirus cripples economic health of sports landscape in Tallahassee, statewide” via Rory Sharrock of the Tallahassee Democrat — With each passing day, the crippling impact of the coronavirus is proving to be a crisis for the physical and economic well-being of the country. Locally, the cancellation or postponement of spring sports weighs heavily on the business infrastructure of Tallahassee and beyond. The Sunshine State Games is one of the prime amateur events in Florida. It’s part of the state’s $57.4 billion sports industry that accounts for 580,000 jobs. This Olympic-style festival, which operates under the Florida Sports Foundation, is a program created throughout the state for amateur athletes of all ages and skill levels.

MSC cruise passengers posed ‘medium risk.’ CDC cleared them to disembark in Miami anyway” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Three days after thousands of passengers walked off the MSC Meraviglia ship in Miami without medical screenings despite a positive COVID-19 test from a previous cruiser, the agencies involved are still pointing fingers. The decision to allow 3,877 possibly exposed passengers to disperse across the country without even a temperature check was the responsibility of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Miami-Dade county seaport spokesperson Andria Muniz-Amador. When the ship approached PortMiami with clearance from the CDC, Port Director Juan Kuryla and Mayor Carlos Giménez had no idea a passenger who got off the ship a week earlier had tested positive, Muniz-Amador said. Neither did the Florida Department of Health, said Helen Ferré, spokesperson for DeSantis.

Coronavirus staggers Orlando airport; international passengers decline by nearly 70%” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — Domestic volume is down at least 30 percent at Orlando’s airport, which had been handling an average of nearly 1,000 takeoffs and landings daily. Planes still flying have relatively few passengers, said Phil Brown, speaking to the airport authority members about the impacts from coronavirus outbreak. The volume of international passengers dropped more sharply. Fewer than 2,300 are arriving daily in recently, down from an average of nearly 8,000 daily, Brown said. A casualty of that passenger decline has been the occupancy rate at the Hyatt, the airport hotel, knocking it down from nearly 90 percent to 60 percent, a trend that will probably continue, Brown said.

Orlando timeshare giant buying back shares amid coronavirus crisis” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on travel and the U.S. tourism industry pleads for public help, one of the world’s largest timeshare companies plans to use the opportunity to buy back more of its own stock. Orlando-based Hilton Grand Vacations Inc., the timeshare industry’s No. 2 player by sales, said this week that it had budgeted an extra $155 million to repurchase shares. The company’s share price has plummeted 60 percent in the past month, amid a broader stock market collapse triggered by the spread of the new and highly contagious coronavirus, which has brought global travel to a near-standstill.

Coronavirus closes Florida Mall, Mall at Millenia, Orlando Outlets” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida Mall, Mall at Millenia, Orlando International Premium Outlets, and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets will shut their doors through March 29 because of coronavirus. Mall at Millenia announced it would close at 7 p.m. Wednesday, but many of its restaurants will remain open. Simon also announced it is closing all of its retail properties, which include Florida Mall, the Outlets, and Orlando Outlet Marketplace, at 7 p.m. Wednesday. “The health and safety of our shoppers, retailers, and employees are of paramount importance, and we are taking this step to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” CEO David Simon said in a news release.

At MacDill, military families deal with travel cuts, child care shortage and prescription limits” via Eleana Najarro of the Tampa Bay Times — Travel restrictions, getting tested, and child care demands are challenges facing every community as they move to limit the spread of the coronavirus. At MacDill Air Force Base, the only difference is that many of those trying to cope are wearing uniforms. Col. Stephen Snelson, who serves as a de facto mayor of MacDill as commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing, took to Facebook on Tuesday for an online town hall to answer questions posed by dozens of participants. He quickly shut down rumors that COVID-19 has been confirmed on the base or that a lockdown is imminent, then spent time explaining Department of Defense travel restrictions that have turned people’s lives upside down.

BayCare to start drive-through coronavirus testing, but it’s not for everyone” via Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — BayCare Health System announced Tuesday it would begin operating drive-through testing areas at seven locations across Tampa Bay on Wednesday. The testing is not available for the general public and is limited to those who meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testing criteria. The criteria limit testing to patients who have been determined as high risk for coronavirus by a doctor because of travel history or direct contact with someone who has tested positive qualify for this service. The criteria may be expanded in the future as more testing supplies become available, according to a news release.

BayCare will begin drive-through testing for coronavirus in the Tampa Bay area. Image via AP.

These Tampa Bay businesses are busier than ever during coronavirus” via Christopher Spata of the Tampa Bay Times — The crews show up breathing through respirators, wearing hooded hazmat suits and two layers of rubber gloves. In normal times, they’re the ones called upon to clean up the grisliest scenes — bloody homicides, suicides and lonely deaths that go undiscovered for months, hoarding situations where layers of food and trash have accumulated for years in poorly ventilated spaces. Now, businesses like Tampa-based Spaulding Decon are being called in to clean up a pandemic. “It’s been crazy. We’ve actually done over $30 million in estimates in two weeks,” said owner Laura Spaulding. “In that period normally? It might be a hundred thousand.”

With coronavirus, Tampa Bay domestic violence advocates prepare for possible spike” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — It happened in the United States after Hurricanes Katrina and Irma. And in China, as coronavirus cases spread, activists noticed a spike in another public health crisis over the last few months: domestic violence. Advocates in Tampa Bay said they’re preparing for the same. “We know historically when things like this happen, that’s kind of what we have to expect,” said Zuleika Gonzalez-Felton with Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), one of 42 certified domestic centers in Florida. As guidelines encourage social distancing, one group particularly vulnerable to isolation is victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, said Dr. Abraham Salinas-Miranda, director of the Harrell Center for the Study of Family Violence at the University of South Florida.

Rays pledge $1M for Tropicana Field employees after coronavirus postpones MLB season” via Brendan Ward of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The Tampa Bay Rays join the league’s 29 other teams in creating funds to help game-day employees who will be affected by the league’s postponement. “Our game day staff are the familiar faces that our fans know and love,” Brian Auld, Rays president, said in a statement. “They are part of the fabric of the ballpark experience at Tropicana Field, and they are an essential part of our operations. We are proud that all 30 Major League Baseball clubs have made this commitment to their game-day employees.”

Tampa chef Ferrell Alvarez, trying to preserve jobs, converts rooster & the till to a ghost kitchen that will deliver from all three of his restaurants” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — Alvarez is turning his celebrated restaurant Rooster & the Till into Rooster Re-Dux, a consolidated ghost kitchen that will offer delivery food from all three of his concepts. Alvarez, a James Beard-nominated chef, says he’s had to let 41 of his 53 employees go as sales plummeted by as much as 60 percent in the last few days as fears of the coronavirus — and a city mandate that restaurants operate at 50 percent capacity — has kept diners at home. “This is definitely the most painful day of my career,” Alvarez said. He spent Tuesday writing delivery menus for Nebraska Mini Mart, Gallito and Rooster & the Till.


Pressure from athletes to delay Olympics intensifies” via Rachel Bachman and Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal — Opposition to holding the Olympics on schedule this July spiked to new among the people with some of the loudest voices in sports: members of the International Olympic Committee and the athletes themselves. The crescendo of outcry comes as entire countries lock down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, leaving athletes around the world to stare at empty calendars and shuttered training facilities.

Grocery delivery strains to meet voracious demand” via Jaewon Kang of The Wall Street Journal — Grocers aren’t meeting the now-intense demand for their delivery services, as consumers endure cancellations and long waits on orders they are placing to prepare for long stretches at home. Some customers say their orders have arrived with items missing or after dayslong delays. Websites are crashing from high traffic. And the demand for grocery delivery soared even higher in recent days after officials across the country barred large gatherings and instructed many restaurants to fill only delivery and takeout orders.

Grocery delivery is beginning to strain under a sharp spike in demand. Image via AP.

Supermarkets are limiting the number of shoppers at one time. Temperature checks and delivery-only stores may follow.” via Abha Bhattarai of The Washington Post — The novel coronavirus has pitched grocers onto the front lines of an accelerating public health crisis, forcing many chains to reduce hours and put buying caps on such high-demand foods as ground beef and frozen pizzas. Now some chains and independent grocers are restricting the number of shoppers in their stores or offering hours only for the elderly. Industry experts and trade groups say it’s only a matter of time before supermarkets take even more drastic measures, as they look for ways to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus among customers and employees. Many are looking abroad for guidance. In Italy, Lidl is capping stores to 20 shoppers at a time, who are limited to 10-minute slots.

How brands are taking extra precaution to avoid coronavirus insensitivities” via Peter Adams of Marketing Dive — Diggy Moreland, a lifestyle blogger and influencer on platforms like Twitter, recently stepped out of his shell to share chocolate bars with strangers in real life, receiving hugs and warm greetings in response. The social media personality’s experience was part of a feel-good campaign from confectionary marketer Hershey, but the brand pulled the ads last week to avoid associations with the novel coronavirus. The news marked one of the more extreme examples of how companies across categories, from KFC to Coors, are compelled to adjust their creative strategies in response to the global pandemic that last Friday led Trump to declare a national emergency.

Fighting fear with beer: Virus spurs curbside beer sales” via Allen G. Breed of The Associated Press — Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. But with the new coronavirus popping up all over the country, a trip to your favorite taproom isn’t in the offing. So breweries are stepping up, offering curbside growlers to stave off the grumbling. Where a bar door shuts, another door may open, and breweries are finding that’s a car door.

Getting coronavirus updates in Spanish is a mixed bag in U.S.” via Astrid Galvan and Regina Garcia Cano — As government officials across the country warn about the dangers of the coronavirus, they’re doing so predominantly in English. They’re potentially not reaching the millions of Spanish speakers in the U.S. who aren’t proficient in English to make sure they know how to stay healthy. Advocacy groups and Spanish-language media have stepped up to fill in the gaps.


Coronavirus is a nightmare. These stories tell us how to survive — and rise above it.” via Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post — It might seem, at first glance, that wallowing in pandemic fiction would be itself unhealthy — reliving misery and anxiety instead of escaping from it. Yet the paradox of plague art is that it is inherently hopeful, even when the events it chronicles are grim: The very existence of the story means that someone survived to tell it. Indeed, these works can do more than reassure us that we, too, will live — they offer portraits of people rising to meet extraordinary challenges. And in so doing, they reaffirm the values that will not merely help us through coronavirus, but that could salve, if not cure, our preexisting political condition.

On medical front line, health care workers fighting coronavirus worry about their risk” via Daniel Chang and Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — In South Florida’s hospitals and medical centers, doctors and nurses accustomed to working under pressure are dealing with a new reality: a novel pathogen they know little about that has spread across the world with alarming intensity. At Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami-Dade’s public hospital and the largest medical center in the state, some health care workers have likened the novel coronavirus outbreak to the HIV epidemic of the 1980s, which was then an unknown virus filling hospital emergency rooms with seriously ill patients — with little understood about how the disease was spreading. “I can remember going into a room with no gloves,” said June Ellis, the associate chief nursing officer for Jackson Memorial. “Was I nervous at that time? Yeah.”

Healthcare workers are increasingly concerned about exposure to coronavirus. Image via AP.

‘Ghost Town’ Seattle shows how coronavirus shuts down a city via Ian Lovett of The Wall Street Journal — The buses on Melissa Paulen’s commute to work at the University of Washington Medical Center have been nearly empty for almost a week. The halls of the hospital are almost empty as well, as visitors have been tightly restricted, and nonessential staff are working from home. “It’s a ghost town,” Paulen, a 37-year-old gynecologist, said of the city. “It feels kind of eerie.”

Testing positive: One woman’s journey from perfect health to the coronavirus” via Paul Schwartzman of The Washington Post — By last Wednesday, the tickle in Alison McGrath Howard’s throat had turned into chills, though not severe enough to keep her from seeing six patients who came to her Northwest Washington office for psychotherapy. On Monday, Howard, 54, learned that she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Now she is quarantined in her apartment, among the growing list of more than 100 people from across greater Washington known, as of Monday night, to have the virus. The victims span the region and all its variety. Her weeklong passage from perfect health to the grip of a ferocious virus is emblematic of what government officials fear awaits tens of thousands of Americans now ordered to remain at home.


Wilton Simpson offers inspirational message in a time of uncertainty — As the state buckles down for the full brunt of the coronavirus crisis, Senate President-Designate Simpson — a farmer by trade — offers an inspirational message to Floridians. A new video titled “God Bless You and Our Farmers” reminds us that inside every farmer is an optimist. “During this global pandemic there is a lot of uncertainty,” the video says. “As farmers, we’re used to that.” And instead of worrying about what could be, the video says, “you must keep your plow steady and keep your eyes focused ahead … So, join us in keeping your hands steady and your eyes fixed.”

To view the video, click on the image below:


With many places in the country on a virtual lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak, more people are turning to food and grocery delivery services.

But how safe are they?

According to The Wall Street Journal, experts say the main risk from mobile ordering services is the delivery person. If the person who’s bringing you food sneezes on you, there is a chance you could get infected. Person-to-person contact is the main transmission for coronavirus.

Touching contaminated packaging, while possible, is less likely to cause an infection. The same is true for touching raw food and then touching your face.

More people than ever are ordering food online. But in the age of coronavirus, is it still safe? Image via AP.

Doctors believe that ordering out is safer than going to a restaurant or grocery store, simply because you come in contact with fewer people. What’s recommended is to have minimal contact with your delivery person, throw away the packaging, and wash your hands before touching the food.

Also, the virus does not do as well in higher temperatures; if it’s hot food in a container, the virus will have a shorter life span.

Some of the best practices include paying for your food on a credit card beforehand (as well as the tip) and opt for the “no-contact” delivery, if available. Cooked food has a marginal benefit over uncooked food.

But if you must go to the grocery store, choose a time when it will not be as crowded, use hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes liberally, follow strict social distancing and consider an N95 mask and disposable gloves.


White House instructs federal agencies to pare down to ‘mission-critical’ services to contain coronavirus spread” via Lisa Rein, Kimberly Kindy and Eric Yoder of POLITICO — In a memo, acting budget director Russell Vought told department heads that they should “postpone or significantly curtail” operations that cannot be carried out through telework or that require in-person interaction with the public. “Government must immediately adjust operations and services to minimize face-to-face interactions, especially at those offices or sites where people may be gathering in close proximity or where highly vulnerable populations obtain services,” Vought wrote. He urged agencies to quickly communicate to the public any nonessential services they decide to cut — and postpone “non-mission critical functions” to limit the virus’s spread.

Rick Scott says large corporations shouldn’t be part of a coronavirus bailout package” via Alex Daugherty and Emma Dumain of the Miami Herald — The coronavirus has U.S. senators advocating policies that were unthinkable one week ago. In a Fox Business op-ed, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott said Wednesday that large corporations should not receive taxpayer dollars as part of a coronavirus bailout package. “Politicians in Washington are debating a variety of proposals to use taxpayer dollars to bail out big businesses and stimulate our economy,” Scott wrote. “Let me be clear: we should not bail out large corporations that have enjoyed years of growth and prosperity. I won’t support it.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz slams Ron DeSantis over sluggish response to coronavirus” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Wasserman Schultz, on a call with fellow lawmakers and Florida state officials, accused DeSantis of failing to acknowledge the coronavirus is spreading in the state even among people who haven’t traveled overseas. In a recording of the briefing, Wasserman Schultz tried without success to get state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to commit to informing the public about community spread in Florida. “It needs to be said out loud,” she told Rivkees during a seven-minute phone exchange marked by long silences. “When is that going to be said?”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasts Ron DeSantis for dragging his feet on coronavirus. Image via AP.

Stephanie Murphy, Joe Cunningham urge Congress to suspend tariffs as coronavirus threatens the economy” via the Florida Daily — From her perch on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Trade, on Wednesday, Murphy paired up with Cunningham to call on congressional leadership to temporarily suspend tariffs as part of the federal response to coronavirus. In the letter to the leadership of both chambers, Murphy and Wilson insisted lowering tariffs will help stabilize the economy.

Florida’s congressional delegation raises concerns about census count during coronavirus outbreak” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Darren Soto have joined a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham noting concerns about a possible undercount. “We understand that the Census Bureau is actively monitoring the situation in order to adapt operations to ensure a complete and accurate count,” the lawmakers wrote. A total of 38 House members signed onto the letter. The lawmakers also note the increasing limiting of public interaction, arguing that Ross and Dillingham need to do more to work around that new reality.

Cities asking Congress for $250 billion in aid” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — America’s mayors are getting in line at Congress with dire predictions of overwhelmed city services, plunging local tax revenues and a request for $250 billion in flexible, emergency fiscal assistance, to address the coronavirus economic meltdown. “Without significant federal assistance, we soon will be faced with having to make decisions that could include laying off employees, cutting budgets, and reducing or eliminating critically needed services,” the U.S. Conference of Mayors stated in a letter sent Wednesday. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate President Mitch McConnell, and minority leaders of both chambers, the mayors called their cities “the economic engines of the nation and home to the workers who make those engines run.”

White House postpones Spain state visit, cites coronavirus” via Darlene Superville of The Associated Press — The White House is postponing an upcoming state visit by Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia because of the coronavirus pandemic. The visit, including a black-tie state dinner to be hosted by Trump and first lady Melania Trump, had been announced for April 21. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham cited the coronavirus pandemic in announcing the postponement. She said in a statement that the decision was made so the U.S. and Spain can “continue to devote their full resources and attention″ to responding to the crisis. Grisham said the Trumps look forward to welcoming the royals “in the near future.” The state visit would have been the third under Trump.

Meanwhile …DraftKings bets on Ballard Partners” via O’Dyers — DraftKings is betting on Trump-connected Ballard Partners to help it achieve its economic development and regulatory relief goals in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the online gaming platform as US professional sports leagues have suspended play during 2020. DraftKings, which had $343M in 2019 revenues, is in the midst of wrapping up a merger with SB Tech to create the “only vertically-integrated pure-play sports betting and online gaming company based in the US.” The deal also is a vehicle for DraftKings to go public.


Governor, Cabinet to get raise — In October, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Cabinet will get their first pay raise since 2008, Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida reports. The 3% bump is included in 2020-21 state budget lawmakers are expected to pass on Thursday. The raise will hike the Governor’s pay to $134,181, Lieutenant Governor to $128,597, and the three cabinet offices — Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner — to $132,841. Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley said the increase was fair since all state employees are getting a raise in the new budget. “It was an across-the-board pay raise, and everyone got one except the Legislature,” Bradley said. “No one asked me for it.”

José Oliva outlines health precautions for budget vote” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — In a memo sent to House members and staff, Speaker Oliva outlined the special measures the House will take to ensure the health and well-being of people in the Capitol Thursday. Health screening stations will be set up at the side entrances on either side of the House chamber, which will provide the only access to the floor, the Speaker’s Office, and the Members’ Lounge. The House will offer lunchboxes to members an hour later. Staff will be required to take a screening at 8 a.m. before entering the chamber, and lawmakers are encouraged to take a 10 a.m. screening. That screening includes a no-touch thermometer and a series of questions to determine an individual’s risk level.

José Oliva will institute screening procedures before the House finalizes the Florida budget. Image via Getty.

Mike Caruso in self-quarantine due to ‘sinus infection’ symptoms, gets excused absence for budget vote” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Caruso of House District 89 is in self-quarantine after showing signs of a “sinus infection.” That’s according to POLITICO’s Matt Dixon. House Speaker Oliva‘s office described Caruso’s symptoms as similar to a sinus infection, and that Caruso is only quarantining due to an “abundance of caution.” But it’s unclear whether Caruso tested for the COVID-19 virus. Dixon tweeted that Oliva’s spokesperson, Fred Piccolo, said no other members had requested an absence due to coronavirus symptoms and that Caruso did not show signs of illness when he was in Tallahassee. Toward the end of Legislative Session, several House members self-isolated after reportedly attending two conferences where attendees later tested positive for the virus. Caruso was not among those members.

Lawyer says Tiffany Carr issue ‘out of control’” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — “The entire debate has spun out of control, with a media frenzy fueling speculation, outrage, a ‘rush to judgment’ and a ‘mob rule’ mentality,” wrote attorney Chris Kise, who represents the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation and Carr, who is the foundation’s principal officer. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and House and Senate leaders in recent weeks have vilified Carr for orchestrating $7.5 million in compensation over three years, which included more than $4 million in paid time off. “In 30 years of practice, I have never seen any issue or any series of issues spiral out of control so far and so fast, without anyone really considering all the substantive evidence,” Kise said in a telephone interview.

Legislature to surpass Governor’s request for water projects, directives” via Bruce Ritchie of Politico —  House and Senate leaders say they are poised to exceed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget recommendation for water programs by $191 million, tacking on local water projects the governor did not request. The Legislature says it is prepared to spend nearly $690 million for Everglades restoration and water quality programs, compared to DeSantis’ $635.3 million request. Lawmakers, who will vote on the 2020-21 budget this Thursday, matched $604.6 million of his line item requests.

Despite coronavirus upending state budget, local projects made cut” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Money disappeared for local projects, often derided as budget turkeys, near the end of this year’s legislative session. And money for Leon and surrounding counties weren’t spared. Lawmakers tightened spending while eyeing the spread of the coronavirus in Florida and the uncertainty of how long it will interrupt Florida’s tourism-based economy. They’re set to approve the $93 billion budget for 2020-21 on Thursday. Last week, however, the Legislature reworked tax-cut packages and dollars for local projects. Slashed was funding for things like the Orchard Pond Greenway in north Leon County, a water-pump lift station in Havana, and a Tallahassee workforce training program for homeless youth.

Settlement, new law spell and for ‘Best and Brightest’” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A federal judge has approved a $15.5 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit that alleged Florida’s long-controversial “Best and Brightest” teacher-bonus program discriminated against black and Hispanic teachers. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle approved the settlement, a day before state lawmakers passed a bill that would permanently do away with the Best and Brightest program. The bill (HB 641) must still go to DeSantis, though he has backed abolishing the program. Court documents indicate about 16,000 teachers likely will receive payments under the settlement, out of roughly 31,000 who were identified as potential class members.

Film industry quietly wins big, continues to build momentum” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Legislature didn’t approve a new film production program this year. However, the industry still has plenty to celebrate as the 2020 Legislative Session wraps. The industry staved off an attempt to shutter the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council, which provides the Department of Economic Opportunity with valuable insight and expertise related to developing, marketing, promoting, and providing services to Florida’s entertainment industry. Also, the entertainment biz successfully pushed to keep the licensing rules for talent agents — if the occupational deregulation package removed them, it would have put the public at risk. The film production program wasn’t a total loss either, as more lawmakers signed on to the proposal this year than last, indicating forward progress for the longtime industry priority.

Legislature votes to abolish the city of Weeki Wachee” via Barbara Behrendt of the Tampa Bay Times — Soon, the only ‘City of Live Mermaids’ will cease to be a real city, but it always will have that attention-grabbing slogan. The state House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill this month to abolish the city of Weeki Wachee — population 13 — and the Governor is expected to agree. Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, sponsored the legislation. He said at several committee presentations that while the city had taxing authority, there was no proof that those who paid taxes to Weeki Wachee received any city benefits in return. The city limits signs will come down, but there still will be a Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and local addresses that include the place name Weeki Wachee.

Capital denizens can mark March 2 on calendars” via the News Service of Florida — It’s never too early to start looking forward to the 2021 Session. Well, sort of. The 2021 Session will begin on March 2 and is scheduled to end April 30, according to a schedule posted on the Senate website. That is, of course, if the 2021 Session ends on time. Lawmakers were supposed to end the 2020 Session on Friday night but didn’t finish a budget in time. That is forcing the House and Senate to return to the Capitol on Thursday to approve a spending plan.

SpaceX hits another reusability record: The rocket that launched 60 satellites Wednesday was on its 5th flight” via Chabeli Carranza of the Orlando Sentinel — A five-times reused rocket carried 60 satellites inside a reused fairing, or the nose cone of the vehicle, to low-Earth orbit at 8:16 a.m., marking another step toward lowering launch costs for SpaceX. The soot-covered booster used in the mission from Kennedy Space Center Wednesday most recently flew in November, supporting the second flight of SpaceX’s Starlink spacecraft, a set of internet satellites the company has been rapidly launching to space since May 2019. Reusing a rocket five times is a record for SpaceX.

Personnel note: The Nature Conservancy announces Jennifer Morris as CEO” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Global environmental nonprofit The Nature Conservancy has selected Jennifer Morris to serve as its next CEO. “The TNC community set a bold vision for the organization’s next leader, and we are excited to have found that leader in Jennifer,” said Fran Ulmer, Chair of TNC’s global Board of Directors. Morris is the current president of Conservation International and has spent her 25-year career working to protect the environment. “I am honored, energized, and inspired by the opportunity to work with The Nature Conservancy’s passionate and committed team to build on their tremendous legacy of conservation leadership,” she said. Morris will report to the TNC’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters for her first day on May 18.

Congratulations: Jennifer Morris is the new CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Image via Conservation International/Katie Bryden.


Tampa Bay Times lays off 11 journalists” via the Tampa Bay Times — The Tampa Bay Times has laid off 11 journalists, the newsroom’s executive editor said in a note to the staff on Wednesday. Three additional positions, held by people who are planning to leave the Times, also will be eliminated. Last month, citing a tough start to the year financially, the Times announced that employees across the company would see a 10 percent pay cut for 13 weeks. That announcement said staffing reductions also were likely. The layoffs were not related to advertising losses caused by shutdowns from the coronavirus, Executive Editor Mark Katches said in the note. The impact of that is “too soon to tell,” he said.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay lays off seven staff members in response to coronavirus pandemic” via Creative Loafing Tampa Bay — In the wake of the fallout related to the global coronavirus pandemic, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay’s parent company, Euclid Media Group (EMG), announced layoffs at each of its seven newspapers. In Tampa, seven staffers across editorial, production, events and sales were let go along with a part-timer in editorial. Remaining employees — including Editor-In-Chief Ray Roa and Digital Editor Colin Wolf — are taking 10% pay cuts and taking on additional roles effective immediately. An official at EMG told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that editorial staff for at least three other EMG’s six other papers was also dramatically reduced. EMG offered no severance to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay employees laid off.

— “Kionne McGhee proposes state-funded endowment for journalism amid layoffs, coronavirus spread” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics

— 2020 —

More Democrats voted in Florida’s 2020 primary than in 2016” via Alex Daugherty and David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Election Day turnout in Florida was down significantly from 2016, as a lack of a competitive GOP primary, surging vote-by-mail totals, and the coronavirus all kept voters away from the polls. But the total number of votes in the Democratic primary between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders beat 2016 numbers as Florida Democrats voted by mail in record numbers. By 10 p.m. Tuesday, 1,711,881 Democratic votes had been cast in the 2020 primary, surpassing the 1,709,183 Democratic votes that were cast in the 2016 primary.

How Joe Biden flips Arizona” via Laura Barrón-López and Marc Caputo of POLITICO — Biden has won with black voters, he’s won in white suburbs, and he’s won with noncollege-educated white voters so far in the Democratic primary. But Biden hasn’t yet demonstrated similar strength among Latinos — and he’ll need to solve that problem to build on his Arizona primary win and grab the first-in-a-generation chance Democrats have to flip the state. The longtime Republican bastion suddenly looks like a top Democratic target in 2020, after electing a Democratic senator for the first time in decades during the midterms. Though Biden swept nearly every county in the Arizona and Florida primaries, Democratic operatives and Latinos in Arizona said the former vice president needs to amp up his persuasion efforts targeting Latinos ahead of November.

Joe Biden is going to need to bring his A-game to get support from Latinos in November. Image via AP.

“‘Refuting the narrative.’ Biden’s results in Arizona and Florida show Latino support” via Bianca Padró Ocasio, David Smiley and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — For all the talk of Biden’s weakness with Latinos, the former Vice President deeply wounded his rival and tightened his grip on the Democratic presidential primary Tuesday night by successfully competing with Sanders for Hispanic voters in Arizona and Florida — two crucial battleground states. Biden’s clean sweep in Tuesday’s primaries, which also included Illinois, revealed his gains among Latinos. And yet, as Sanders reassesses his campaign and Biden begins to set his sights on beating Trump in November, the results also underscored the front-runner’s challenges in a crucial general election demographic. Data emerging from the Florida and Arizona primaries show that Biden trounced Sanders in Florida among Hispanic voters.

Bernie Sanders will ‘assess his campaign’ after recent losses, campaign manager says” via Quint Forgey of POLITICO — “The next primary contest is at least three weeks away. Sen. Sanders is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign,” Faiz Shakir said in a statement. “In the immediate term, however, he is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable,” Shakir added. The announcement from Sanders’ top staffer represents the starkest signal yet that the progressive icon is considering ending his presidential campaign after losing the most recent round of nominating contests in Arizona, Florida and Illinois to his Democratic rival, former Vice President Biden.

Democratic groups to spend millions hitting Trump over coronavirus response” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — A Democratic super PAC said Tuesday it would spend $5 million on digital advertising flaying Trump for his response to the novel coronavirus. The campaign from Pacronym — a political action committee affiliated with the nonprofit group Acronym — represents the first major pivot to coronavirus-related advertising fewer than 250 days from the election. It is a bet that the pandemic, which is also causing a deep economic downturn, will be the defining issue of the campaign. “This is a public health issue and a national security issue, but it’s also a public policy issue and thus a political one,” said Tara McGowan, the founder and chief executive of Acronym.

Joe Biden wants a woman as his running mate. Val Demings could be the one.” via Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post — “If what happened on Super Tuesday is any indication of what will happen in Florida’s primary, I think that we’re gonna be in really good shape,” Rep. Demings said. She was right. Despite disruptions due to the coronavirus, Florida saw record turnout that powered the 40-point victory of former vice president Biden, whom Demings endorsed.


Coronavirus could change the way Florida holds august election” via Stephanie Colombini of WUSF — Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic dampened voter turnout across the state of Florida for Tuesday’s presidential primary election. With federal health experts warning the country may not turn a corner on containing this virus until the summer, some election officials are preparing for an August election that involves nobody going to the polls. Hillsborough County is reporting about 31% turnout in this election, which factors total votes, not just those who visited the polls Tuesday. But that’s down from about 43% in 2016.

Republicans love Donald Trump — except for 4,425 of them in his new home county” via Anthony Man of the Orlando SentinelRepublicans love Trump, but it’s not universal. Trump received an overwhelming vote of confidence from Florida Republicans, with unofficial returns showing he received 93.8% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary. That represents 1.16 million votes. But there were three other candidates on the Republican ballot, and their presence showed some pockets of party members’ opposition to Trump.

A coronavirus recession would hurt all kinds of Republican candidates — not just Trump” via Justin de Benedictis-Kessner and Chris Warshaw of The Washington Post — Using election returns over the past five decades and economic data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, we compared election-year economic performance and votes for Presidents, Governors, Senators and members of the House of Representatives. Growth or loss in average wages per worker and increase or decrease in the incumbent president’s party’s share of the vote are correlated during presidential election years. When wages increase, the President’s party tends to do better at all four levels. On average, over the past 45 years, a 1% change in wages is associated with about a 1-percentage-point change in votes for the incumbent President’s party. Over the past five decades, voters hold the president’s party accountable for the economy.

Donald Trump will not be the only Republican hurt by a coronavirus recession. Image via AP.

Congressional candidates call for DeSantis to extend petition deadline” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Six Democratic candidates for Congress in Florida called on Gov. DeSantis to extend the deadline to qualify by petition. “The current outbreak of COVID-19 and the mounting health concerns for the global community is making this task of collecting signatures a near impossible venture,” a letter from the candidates reads. The request comes from candidates Adam Christensen in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, Kimberly Walker in the 12th Congressional District, Allen Ellison in the 17th Congressional District, Cindy Banyai in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, and Sakina Lehtola and Christine Olivo in the 24th District. All are running in Republican-held districts and are largely underfunded. But such grassroots efforts are the ones who rely on the petition method of qualification the most.

Candidates: Voluntarily halt campaigns, fundraising during coronavirus crisis” via Ron Sachs for the Tallahassee Democrat — Let’s pause to reflect on what really matters now. It’s tone-deaf to the harsh realities of the threat to public health for political candidates to take their focus off the public interest by shifting attention to their own political lives now. Let’s recognize that this is not a good time to fundraise or campaign for local, state and federal positions. No fundraising events, emails, texts or brochures are needed or welcomed now. Republicans, Democrats and independents have an opportunity to appear united in purpose to protect public health and safety over any personal political position.


Coronavirus crisis — no bailout for big business, help those first who need it most” via Rick Scott for FOXBusiness — Let me be clear: we should not bail out large corporations that have enjoyed years of growth and prosperity. I won’t support it. The people that need help the most are small businesses, hourly workers, people who rely on tips, and gig economy workers. Here’s how I would help them. First, we should significantly increase federal assistance to state Unemployment Insurance programs. Second, we should impose a 60-day moratorium on mortgages, rent, fees and utilities for both individuals making less than $75,000 a year and small businesses with less than 250 employees. The federal government should Be a safety net for those who need it most. But even in times of crisis, we can’t forget about fiscal responsibility.


Three issues Florida should think about on coronavirus” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — 1. Putting the jobless to work. Throughout Florida and Tampa Bay, workers are being laid off from bars that are closed for 30 days, restaurants with reduced hours and businesses that have limited operations. 2. Clearer messaging from state and local officials. These are confusing, anxious times for everybody, and Floridians are glued to their televisions, computers and phones looking for reassurance. 3. Expanding coronavirus testing. It’s welcome news that drive-through coronavirus testing is ramping up in Tampa Bay, with BayCare preparing to open more than a half-dozen sites. The challenge here and elsewhere is to keep making available more tests so more people can get tested.

Gov. DeSantis, South Florida cries for more leadership on coronavirus” via the Sun-Sentinel editorial boardIt’s a stunning sight to almost everyone who flies into Florida at night: A virtually unbroken blaze of lights from the Keys to Jacksonville and from Naples to Tampa Bay. Seeing that view is to appreciate the futility of trying to cope city by city — and county by county — with the existential threat of a new disease that, if not fought vigorously, will overwhelm our hospitals and kill tens of thousands of Floridians. Tallahassee needs to take charge, far more so than Gov. DeSantis has done so far.

Floridians are stocking up on toilet paper — and guns” via Lucy Morgan of Florida Phoenix — Toilet paper I can understand.  No one wants to run out. But guns? Hopefully, we aren’t going to shoot each other to death, but it’s the uncertainty that is probably provoking much of this. Folks around the state are loading up on ammunition and more guns — shotguns and handguns, according to news reports. With thousands of cases of the coronavirus in the United States and around the world — this mess is far from over. (COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can be fatal and is caused by the new coronavirus.) I had in mind more jigsaw puzzles and a few good movies and maybe taking on a closet or two that needs to be cleaned out. Or finishing work on our taxes. But guns never occurred to me. We have tossed logic out the window.


Florida lawmakers are back in town to approve the budget and finally put an end to the 2020 Session — and not everyone is pleased. They’re worried that all those people coming in from every corner of the state could spread the coronavirus.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida takes a big jump, nearly 100 in a single day, including another fatality.

— Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is getting pushback on his plan for dealing with coronavirus. Some critics call it an illegal power grab.

— Officials in South Florida predict a tsunami of unemployment claims resulting from businesses that are shutting down for coronavirus. Florida has the worst jobless benefits in the country, but the Governor can change that with an executive order.

— The state’s “event industry” has taken a huge hit from the virus and want to be a part of any upcoming bailout.

— In 2020, there were winners and losers — here are some of the high-profile bills that went down in flames during Session.

— And the latest in Florida Man, who felt the best way to deal with an auto crash was to get naked.

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— ALOE —

Spring arrives Thursday night. Here’s what the ‘spring equinox’ is.” via Matthew Cappucci of The Washington Post — Most years, the spring equinox falls between March 20 and 22. But for those in the United States, not this year. In fact, reports that the March 19 equinox is earlier than any in the past 124 years. Perhaps the early equinox is fitting in a year during which springlike weather arrived weeks in advance in many parts of Lower 48. The USA National Phenology Network, which tracks the timing of plants, reported that trees were leafing up to three to four weeks early in many parts of the southern and eastern United States due to the mild weather, starting in February.

It’s ‘quarantini’ time. People say cheers to video happy hours when they’re stuck at home.” via Heather Kelly of The Washington Post — Unable to go to bars or restaurants, people throughout the country are instead finding ways to drink together, alone, online. Raising a glass virtually is taking off as people are discouraged from leaving their homes or gathering in large groups because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Amid physical “social distancing,” friends and co-workers are instead turning to video chats to socialize at a time when friendly faces and breaks from nonstop news can be hard to find. They are getting together with their regular happy hour crew, or with family members and people they haven’t seen in ages. Some are finding new friends to bond with over their shared unshakable sense of dread and a fondness for mezcal.

The perfect quarantini is a lot like a martini — you just drink it at home while video chatting with friends.

Penguins toured an aquarium that closed because of coronavirus concerns. The videos were exactly what we needed.” via Antonia Noori Farzan of The Washington Post — With much of Chicago under self-imposed quarantine, it was time for the penguins to take over. The inquisitive birds wandered down the darkened hallways of Shedd Aquarium, checking out exhibits about the Amazon rainforest and southeast Asian streams. They inspected giant tanks holding stingrays, dolphins and red-bellied piranhas, turning their heads to look in every direction like miniature tuxedo-clad security guards. Then, they waddled over to the empty information desk, ready to assume the job of greeting visitors whenever the crowds returned. That might take a while: With 105 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Illinois, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has banned gathering in groups of more than 50 people.

Social media trend has people putting up Christmas lights to spread cheer during COVID-19 outbreak” via Alex Hider of WFTS — In recent days, several people on social media have said that they or their neighbors have turned on Christmas lights to lift the spirits of quarantined neighbors. The trend appears to have begun with Milwaukee Brewers radio broadcaster Lane Grindle. On Sunday, Grindle suggested that putting up Christmas lights would make a fun activity for families while still maintaining proper social distancing. In recent days, it appears many have followed suit. The push for Christmas lights is just the latest holiday push to spark some cheer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday in the Cleveland area, a man held his own St. Patrick’s Day parade to spread Irish cheer to his neighbors.

From delivering books to board games, Tallahassee biz scene gets creative amid coronavirus” via Nada Hassanein of the Tallahassee Democrat — A socially distanced community doesn’t have to be bereft of a bookstore visit — that is, when the bookstore comes to you. While the Midtown Reader’s aisles are still open for perusing bookworms, the Thomasville Road boutique is offering to deliver books to customers’ doorsteps amid coronavirus social distancing advisories. Patrons can place orders for the latest page-turner at the bookshop’s website and choose “free home delivery” at checkout. If an order is made by noon, staff can deliver the same day, depending on supply. Books at the store’s warehouse may take a few extra days for delivery, according to the shop’s e-newsletter.

Tom Brady deal could make Bucs relevant; ticket demand spikes” via Fred Goodall of The Associated PressThe Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter free agency with expectations of signing Brady and bolstering a defense that will be one of the keys to helping the six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback be successful with his new team. There’s been no official announcement on Brady joining the Bucs after 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. However, there’s already an increased demand for tickets.

Apple updates iPad, MacBook Air with new keyboard” via Sarah Needleman and Tripp Mickle of The Wall Street JournalApple introduced a new keyboard for an upgraded MacBook Air, another sign that it is abandoning the problematic butterfly keyboard it introduced in 2015 that required extended repair programs. The company also unveiled an updated iPad Pro with an ultrawide camera, high-quality microphones, motion sensors and a scanner. But it didn’t announce a refresh or successor to its entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, which would be priced between the Air and the expensive 16-inch MacBook Pro.


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

Peter Schorsch

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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