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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.31.20

Florida politics and Sunburn – perfect together.

It was another tough day in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. Most disheartening, beyond the loss of life and the economic impact, might be the news that Florida schools will remain closed until May.

I’m not so sure some parents can make it another day much less another month.

Let’s try to start the day on a positive note …

Welcome to the world — Ron DeSantis, wife Casey announce birth of baby Mamie” via Kelli Kennedy and Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — DeSantis and his wife Casey announced Monday on Twitter the arrival of their third child, a girl named Mamie. DeSantis was not in the delivery room for Mamie’s birth. Instead, he chose not to take up necessary personal protection equipment that hospitals need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Casey tweeted a picture of the baby, and Gov. DeSantis tweeted his wife and children are “doing great.” The tweets did not say when the baby was born, and the Governor’s office wouldn’t reveal any additional details, saying it was a personal matter.

Congratulations to the Ron DeSantis family, which has now grown by one.

And here is some good news about a good person —Personnel note: Crystal Wagar joins LSN Partners” via Florida Politics — LSN Partners is bringing on Wagar as a Senior Adviser to the firm and an Of Counsel attorney to Llorente & Heckler, PA. Wagar’s public sector experience includes serving as interim city manager for the Village of El Portal, and chief policy aide and chief of staff to a Miami-Dade County Commissioner. In addition to being a well-respected attorney, Wagar’s resume also includes some front-and-center political experience — in 2019, she was elected Mayor of Miami Shores. Her victory marked the first time in Miami Shores’ 89-year history that an African American woman was elected to the office. “Our clients are the real winners, as they will directly benefit from Crystal’s knowledge and experience,” said Marcelo Llorente, comanaging partner of LSN.

— EXECUTIVE SUMMARY —

— President Donald Trump on Monday defended his decision to extend restrictive social distancing guidelines through the end of April, while bracing the nation for a coronavirus death toll that could exceed 100,000. Read more here.

If America can keep the coronavirus deaths to under 100K, it would be a ‘win’ for Donald Trump.

— As of Monday afternoon, at least 156,391 people across the country had tested positive for coronavirus, and at least 2,897 deaths are linked to it. Read more here.

— Roughly three out of four Americans are, or will soon be, under instructions to stay indoors.

— Data analysis finds that more than a third of counties across the U.S. still haven’t reported a positive test result for infection across what are predominantly poor, rural areas. Read more here.

— Macy’s, Kohl’s and Gap Inc. all said they would stop paying tens of thousands of employees who were thrown out of work when the chains temporarily closed their stores and sales collapsed as a result of the pandemic. Macy’s said the majority of its 125,000 employees would be furloughed this week and that it is transitioning to an “absolute minimum workforce” needed to maintain essential operations. Read more here.

— Globally, more than 36,000 are dead and 770,000 infected with the coronavirus.

— Officials in Spain called for a national period of “hibernation,” imposing strict new limits on movement that will last at least until April 9. Spain reported more than 812 new deaths on Monday.

— The Tokyo Olympics have been rescheduled for July 2021

— TOP STORIES —

Officials report 11 coronavirus deaths in Florida monday” via Florida Politics staff reports — State officials reported 11 deaths involving the coronavirus Monday, raising Florida’s death toll to 71. That includes eight deaths not reported in Monday’s morning update, which counted 63 deaths among 5,473 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. Now, the state counts 5,704 confirmed cases in 5,489 Florida residents. At least 715 people have been hospitalized, up from 633 Sunday night. Overall, officials reported 754 new cases Monday after confirming 912 Sunday. Of the confirmed cases, 646 individuals had traveled, 832 had interacted with a confirmed case and 418 and had done both.

Florida deaths projected to hit 6,766 by August” via Zac Anderson of the Tallahassee Democrat — Florida currently has just 63 COVID-19 deaths, but a disturbing new report predicts the death toll will rise to 6,766 by Aug. 4 and that Florida will face a peak shortage of 843 intensive care unit hospital beds. The number of COVID-19 deaths per day in Florida is projected to peak on May 3 at 174, and then taper off. The ICU bed shortage is projected to begin on April 16 — just 17 days from now — and last until May 16. A positive for Florida is that the state is not expected to face a shortage in the overall number of hospital beds.

DeSantis corrects himself on stay-at-home order — 3 ½ hours later” via Samantha J. Gross of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis announced Monday morning that those living in Southeast Florida should stay home until mid-May to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. He would sign an executive order, he said, urging those in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties to stay home. The Republican Party of Florida even issued a statement from Sarasota Sen. Joe Gruters, who doubles as the party chair, noting the mid-May date. Then, three-and-a-half hours later at the press conference in Palm Beach County, DeSantis clarified that he meant April 15, not mid-May, for an end date to what he called the “safer at home” order for millions of residents.

Crowded beaches, confusion amid coronavirus orders as DeSantis won’t mandate statewide lockdown” via Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel — As DeSantis has resisted calls from health officials and elected leaders in coronavirus hot spots like South Florida to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, a hodgepodge of rules has emerged from local governments, causing widespread confusion and conflicting messages. And in some cases, there has been an outright disregard for the social distancing suggestions DeSantis has preached. DeSantis brought some uniformity to four South Florida counties by issuing a “safer at home” order Monday, requiring residents to stay at home except for trips to get food or medical care. But Democrats have hounded DeSantis to broaden restrictive measures to apply statewide. They argue that encouraging social distancing without the force of law behind it allows for large gatherings of people that will spread the disease more rapidly.

Crowded beaches in Florida are sending mixed messages.

DeSantis urges patience amid criticism of jobless system” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis repeated calls for people to be patient as the CONNECT claims system within the Department of Economic Opportunity has been inundated with new applications for benefits. “We are working on it, but this is not just zero to 60. This is like zero to 120 trying to do it,” DeSantis said while at West Palm Beach. Daily claims have grown from 500 to 900 a day at the start of March to more than 25,000 a day. The state has expanded call-center hours, reassigned 35 Department of Economic Opportunity employees to help handle claims, is hiring 100 more people, and is bringing in an outside vendor to further assist with the increased workload.

Florida schools to remain closed until May” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — The day after Trump extended his social distancing guidelines through April 30, Florida’s Education Commissioner called on school districts to remain closed until May 1. The move applies to district and charter schools. In-person classes already had been called off through April 15, with all spring testing canceled. Distance learning began in earnest for most schools. By midafternoon, Commissioner Richard Corcoran was on the phone with superintendents telling them that he was recommending the closure be extended. The state does not have the formal authority to shut down schools, which are constitutionally operated by school boards. “I think it’s pretty clear that when he makes a recommendation, that’s what he wants,” said Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning.

Tampa Bay Times to furlough employees, cut print distribution to twice weekly” via Janelle Irwin of Florida Politics — The Tampa Bay Times will temporarily reduce its print edition frequency to two-times per week beginning next week, the paper announced Monday. The Times is also implementing eight-week furloughs for some staff members whose work has been affected by the virus and the resulting economic fallout, though the paper did not say which positions would be affected. Delivery personnel and workers at the paper’s print shop would likely take a hit. “In the last two weeks, retailers have cancelled more than $1-million in advertising they had already scheduled. Until ad revenues recover, we must sharply reduce the costs of producing and delivering an edition in print,” Times CEO Paul Tash wrote in an email to subscribers. Subscribers will receive the paper on Wednesdays and Sundays, the paper’s two largest circulation days. Papers will be delivered and available for purchase on news stands on those days.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@ScottGottliebMD: More data suggesting that New York could be approaching a peak in new cases. Over the next 7-10 days, they could peak and start slowly turning the corner. Mitigation is working in New York

Tweet, tweet:

@JaredEMoskowitz: Hi @3M. I’m your new Troll. I’m the Director of Emergency Management for the State of Florida @FLSERT. Please send us N95 masks directly to our hospitals, first responders and the state. How many brokers and distributors do we have to negotiate with only to find empty warehouses?

@JoshSCampbell: My Mom’s a nurse and just tested positive for COVID-19. The caregiver is now the patient. Stay home for all the brave nurses out there. And for their worried daughters and sons.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@NoahPransky: We’ve had to shut down businesses because we basically can’t rely on people to keep themselves safe. Ever wonder what would happen if we applied the same logic to the traumatic brain injury experiment known as the NFL?

@TheWilderThings: Strange how the weekend doesn’t feel good anymore but Mondays still feel inherently bad

@SoVeryBritish: March is no longer a month, it has been reclassified as an era

— DAYS UNTIL —

Quibi launches — 9; Third-season premiere of “Killing Eve” — 12; Easter — 12; Florida Schools reopen (maybe) — 15; First quarter campaign reports due — 18; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 22; NFL Draft — 23; Gov. DeSantis’ executive order closing bars and restaurants expires — 38; Mother’s Day — 40; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 69; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 87; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 103; Federal taxes due — 106; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 108; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 140; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 146; First presidential debate in Indiana — 182; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 190; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 198; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 205; 2020 General Election — 217; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 231; “No Time to Die” premieres — 239; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 479.

— CORONA NATION —

As Donald Trump declared coronavirus under control, local leaders faced confusion and chaos as cases piled up” via Nicole Dungca, Jenn Abelson and John Sullivan of The Washington Post — Trump once declared of the coronavirus pandemic in an interview “We have it totally under control.” Many local authorities were left in the dark during that time, which slowed the response to the pandemic. Leaders such as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot were caught off guard with several unanswered questions, such as where to quarantine travelers or how to pay for the response. In some cases, the lack of coordination left leaders giving out incorrect information. Significant events, such as Mardi Gras, were still held as the virus spread unchecked. Meanwhile, countries in Asia were shut down in response to the virus.

Donald Trump proclaims coronavirus is ”under control.’ Not everyone is convinced. Image via Getty.

Despite pushback, Trump suggests testing no longer an issue” via The New York Times — Trump told Governors on a conference call that he “hasn’t heard about testing in weeks,” suggesting that a chronic lack of kits to test people for the coronavirus is no longer a problem. But Governors painted a different picture on the ground. Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, a Democrat, explained that officials in his state were attempting to do “contact tracing” — tracking down people who have come into contact with those who have tested positive — but they were struggling because “we don’t have adequate tests,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. “Literally we are one day away, if we don’t get test kits from the CDC, that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana,” said Bullock.

The contrarian coronavirus theory that informed the Trump administration” via Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker — According to The Washington Post: “Conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials have been circulating an article by Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institution, titled ‘Coronavirus Perspective,’ which plays down the extent of the spread and the threat.” Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law, published the article on the website of the Hoover Institution, on March 16th. In it, he questioned the World Health Organization’s decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, said that “public officials have gone overboard,” and suggested that about five hundred people would die from covid-19 in the U.S. Epstein later updated his estimate to five thousand, saying that the previous number had been an error.

Nancy Pelosi aims to move fast on next rescue package” via Sarah Ferris, Andrew Desiderio and Marianne LeVine of POLITICO — Pelosi told reporters that Democrats are in the early stages of drafting another major bill that will not only shore up health systems and protect front-line health care workers but could include substantial investments in infrastructure. “Our first bills were about addressing the emergency. The third bill was about mitigation. The fourth bill would be about recovery. Emergency, mitigation, recovery,” Pelosi said on a conference call. “I think our country is united in not only wanting to address our immediate needs — emergency, mitigation, and the assault on our lives and livelihoods — but also, how we recover in a very positive way.”

Coronavirus slowdown in Seattle suggest restrictions are working” via Mike Baker of The New York Times — Deaths are not rising as fast as they are in other states. Dramatic declines in street traffic show that people are staying at home. Hospitals have so far not been overwhelmed. And preliminary statistical models provided to public officials in Washington State suggest that the spread of the virus has slowed in the Seattle area in recent days. While each infected person was spreading the virus to an average of 2.7 other people earlier in March, that number appears to have dropped, with one projection suggesting that it was now down to 1.4.

The U.S. military’s role in the coronavirus response is likely to grow” via Lindsay Cohn and Jim Golby of The Washington Post — Last week, Trump activated the National Guards of California, New York and Washington in support of the novel coronavirus pandemic relief effort. Trump used the authority under Title 32, which means the federal government will pick up the bill while governors retain operational control. By March 26, governors from the other 47 states and three U.S. territories, as well as the mayor of the District of Columbia, had also called up National Guard members under their control using state funds, bringing the total of National Guard personnel involved in response to nearly 12,000, in addition to thousands more active-duty personnel and reservists. These mobilizations prompted rumors and conspiracy theories.

Restrictions are slowing coronavirus infections, new data suggest” via Donald McNeil of The New York Times — New data offer evidence, in real-time, that tight social-distancing restriction may be working, potentially reducing hospital overcrowding and lowering death rates, experts said. The company, Kinsa Health, which produces internet-connected thermometers, first created a national map of fever levels and was able to spot the trend within a day. Since then, data from the health departments of New York state and Washington state have buttressed the finding, making it clear that social distancing is saving lives. As of Wednesday, the company’s live map showed fevers holding steady or dropping almost universally across the country, with two prominent exceptions. The company’s live map showed fevers holding steady or dropping almost universally across the country, with two prominent exceptions.

Nurses die, doctors fall sick and panic rises on virus front lines” via Michael Schwirtz of The New York Times — A supervisor urged surgeons at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan to volunteer for the front lines because half the intensive-care staff had already been sickened by coronavirus. “ICU is EXPLODING,” she wrote in an email. A doctor at Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan described the unnerving experience of walking daily past an intubated, critically ill colleague in her 30s, wondering who would be next. Another doctor at a major New York City hospital described it as “a petri dish,” where more than 200 workers had fallen sick. Two nurses in city hospitals have died.

Inside G.M.’s race to build ventilators, before Trump’s attack” via Neal E. Boudette and Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times — While much of the U.S. economy has ground to a halt because of the coronavirus outbreak, several dozen workers in orange vests and hard hats were hauling heavy equipment on Sunday at a General Motors plant in Kokomo, Ind. The crew was part of a crash effort to make tens of thousands of ventilators, the lifesaving machines that keep critically ill patients breathing. The machines are in desperate demand as hospitals face the prospect of dire shortages. New York state alone may need 30,000 or more. Trump on Friday accused G.M. and its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, of dragging their feet on the project and directed his administration to force the company to make ventilators.

A General Motors plant in Kokomo, Indiana, where G.M. and Ventec Life Systems plan to produce critical care ventilators designed by Ventec. Image via General Motors.

Coronavirus’ next casualty: The nation’s biggest story could devastate news industry” via Jessica Guynn and Michael Braga of USA TODAY — During the nation’s struggle with the coronavirus, the outlook for news organizations — whether legacy newspapers with robust online operations or digital-only outlets — is precarious. Last week, in a bid to avoid layoffs, BuzzFeed said it would cut employees’ pay by as much as 25%, and CEO Jonah Peretti would forgo pay during the coronavirus crisis. The pain is felt across the industry. The Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s biggest newspaper, will deliver only twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays, starting next week — a move that should help it offset a 50% drop in advertising, according to publisher Paul Tash. “This isn’t the new and permanent normal,” Tash said. “But we hope people will find it an acceptable substitute.”

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Ron DeSantis under pressure to improve unemployment compensation system” via John Kennedy of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis drew heightened pressure Monday to improve the state’s unemployment compensation system, whose already challenging online application process has been overwhelmed by thousands of suddenly jobless Floridians. DeSantis appears to have made fixing the benefits system a low priority in the state’s fight against coronavirus. DeSantis has downplayed Florida’s problems as part of a nationwide “shock to the system,” saying many states are dealing with a massive upsurge in people seeking unemployment compensation. The problem comes into even sharper focus since Congress approved a relief package that requires those unemployed to first have applications approved by the state before receiving $600 weekly federal supplements that are soon to be issued.

DeSantis doesn’t want cruise ship to dock in state” via Kelli Kennedy and Terry Spencer of The Associated Press — DeSantis doesn’t want the people on a cruise ship, Holland America’s Zaandam, where four people died, and others are sick to be treated in Florida, saying the state cannot treat outsiders as the coronavirus outbreak spreads. The Zaandam left Argentina on March 7 and has not been allowed to dock for more than two weeks. The Zaandam had four doctors and four nurses to treat 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members. About 130 onboard have symptoms. Port Everglades officials said Holland American must submit a plan before arrival that addresses a long list of requirements for entry into the port.

Holland America’s Zaandam is not granted permission to dock in Florida.

DeSantis to let retired disaster personnel return to work for coronavirus response” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — DeSantis will sign an order allowing recently retired state law enforcement and health care personnel to return to work to increase manpower in the state’s coronavirus response. Current law prohibits workers who returned in the last six months to return. “You could have somebody that gets exposed to the virus, and they have to isolate, their contacts have to self-isolate,” he said. “That creates a potential manpower issue.” Allowing retirees to return to work helps alleviate this problem. DeSantis is also issuing a “safer at home” order spanning four South Florida counties that’s modeled after the one issued by Miami-Dade county.

Demand for coronavirus tests spikes even as more tests become available” via Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — DeSantis said the state has completed 50,000 coronavirus tests, mostly in the past two weeks. Contrast that with the 330,000 calls that came in just six hours on Monday from people seeking tests at the new Palm Beach County site, and it quickly becomes apparent that the demand for testing far outstrips the supply, and the supply, say experts, needs to grow by a lot. Testing capacity has grown. Up to March 15, the state was completing only about 200 tests for the new coronavirus a day. By March 30, that number was closer to 7,000. But only .002% of Florida’s residents have been tested for a virus that, according to DeSantis, may have been present in Miami as early as the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

Jared Moskowitz says private market for protective masks is a ‘Ponzi scheme’” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — “The President said in the Rose Garden yesterday that the state of Florida and the Governor [are] being extremely aggressive. And we are being aggressive,” Moskowitz said, regarding the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE). “We’re specifically being aggressive when it comes to PPE, which is why I feel compelled to tell you what is happening in the private market when it comes to N95 masks. The N95 private market right now is like a Ponzi scheme.”

Assignment editors — Sen. Oscar Braynon joins Reps. Anna Eskamani and Shevrin Jones, as well as Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana and Coral Springs Commissioner Joshua Simmons for a virtual news conference to call on DeSantis to issue a moratorium on evictions throughout Florida, 9:30 a.m., zoom.us/webinar/register.

Time to count the paper clips? Damage to Florida budget is still uncalculated” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — While there’s speculation that legislators might have to redo the 2020-21 budget that takes effect July 1, which includes pay raises for teachers and state workers, no one has stepped up to prepare for shortfalls in the current fiscal year, even in the face of an economic downturn that promises to hit harder than the financial collapse of 2008. “Who’s looking at this dead stop in our economy?” said Alex Sink, who was Florida’s chief financial officer when the Great Recession hit. State officials should be considering imposing widespread spending freezes now, she said. During past downturns, Florida governors put the brakes on spending, imposing hiring freezes and holding back a portion of the quarterly payments made to agencies. That’s not the case so far this time. And the Republican-led government is moving ahead with more than $543 million in corporate income tax refunds this spring that are due thanks to a two-year-old law enacted after the federal tax overhaul.

Rocky start to Florida schools’ first official day of online learning during pandemic” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — Monday felt like the first day of a new school year for Sheryl Munoz. One by one, the veteran educator greeted her students with an excited hello as they pinged into her pre-K classroom — a virtual classroom, that is, broadcast from the front porch of her Hollywood home. Just like they would at Gulfstream Early Learning Center, Munoz’s class recited the “Pledge of Allegiance.” They went over the ground rules, like raising your hand to talk and being a good listener, all over a video chat. It is the new normal for her students and all students in Florida’s public schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Originally set to be using online distance learning until April 15, schools will likely stay online until at least May 1.

Patchwork of coronovirus laws challenge Florida cops. Cite church gatherings or not?” via Charles Rabin and Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — With the rules of public engagement in constant change, police across Florida are beginning to step up enforcement of a rapidly expanding array of directives to combat coronavirus. The only thing consistent so far is that nothing is consistent. The sheriff in Hillsborough County drew a hard line in the sand on Monday, ordering the arrest of a pastor who defied a 10-person gathering limit and promoted services at his Tampa Bay megachurch on Sunday. But in South Florida, full parking lots Sunday at places of worship like the Miami Shores Christian Church and the Haitian Emanuel Baptist Church in Little Haiti drew some social media criticism but no public warnings from law enforcement — despite similar crowd limits imposed in Miami-Dade County.

AARP seeks answers about COVID-19 infections” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — AARP Director Jeff Johnson sent a letter to Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew asking the state to provide any federal guidance it is relying on to withhold the names of the facilities that housed 66 long-term care residents who have tested positive for the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease. “What we do not know, and what Floridians with family members in long-term care facilities or who have interplay with those facilities are desperate to know, is which facilities have reported cases,” Johnson wrote in his letter to Mayhew, whose agency is charged with regulating nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew is getting pressure to explain the federal guidelines that protect the names of nursing homes impacted by coronavirus. 

As coronavirus breaches juvenile justice staff, even judges kept in the dark” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — When a boy from Fort Lauderdale’s juvenile lockup appeared in court wearing a protective mask and exhibiting symptoms of the flu, judges and public defenders wanted to know what precautions, if any, Florida juvenile justice administrators were taking to ensure that youthful offenders have not been exposed to coronavirus. In what has become a familiar pattern, state leaders would offer little information or comfort. Then the Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed that an employee of another DJJ facility in Broward had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by exposure to the virus. When asked whether youths incarcerated at the Broward Youth Treatment Center, where the employee was “confirmed positive,” had been tested, a DJJ spokeswoman refused to answer.

Twelve prison workers infected with COVID-19” via the News Service of Florida — Three of the employees diagnosed with the highly contagious respiratory disease work at Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa County, according to The GEO Group, the company that runs the Panhandle prison. A fourth person works at Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, officials with the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed. The latest count of infected workers is a jump of four over the number of cases reported by the corrections department late Friday. Employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus will not be allowed to return to work until medical professionals have cleared them, agency officials said in a statement posted on the Department of Corrections’ website.

Foster care workers fear children isolated by the coronavirus are more at risk” via Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Bay Times — Eyes on the child is a bedrock principle for foster care workers who routinely go into troubled homes to see that children are safe. But amid the coronavirus, the safety of Florida’s most at-risk children is often being assessed through computer screens as agencies comply with DeSantis’ order limiting face-to-face contact for state agencies. The pandemic has affected virtually every part of Florida’s child welfare system. Only essential court hearings are taking place, and children who need therapy for issues like trauma are mainly relying on telemedicine. With schools closed, foster parents have had to switch to being full-time caregivers. Agencies are also trying to figure out if they can license new foster homes based on virtual walk-throughs.

State expected to give Florida Virtual School a $4M boost — The state Board of Education is expected to direct more funds to Florida Virtual School this week so it can handle millions more students. As reported by Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida, the expected $4.3 million infusion would boost FLVS from its current 170,000-student capacity up to 470,000 by mid-April, and then to 2.7 million students by early May. The funding comes as more students are expected to utilize FLVS in response to school closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic. About $3.8 million of the extra funding would be used to purchase software licenses and additional hardware, while $340,000 would be used for server capacity and $288,000 would be used for data storage.

Florida loves its toilet paper and booze during hard times” via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — In tough times, we love toilet paper, guns and booze. Those are the obvious takeaways from the past few weeks. TP remains elusive enough that an overanxious Publix shopper elbowed me and the man in front of me to grab a 12-pack of the soft stuff on the weekend. Gun shops report a brisk business, so brisk that popular calibers of ammunition are being rationed. And then there’s alcohol. Apparently, shelter-in-place is a lot more palatable with a bottle of Jack Daniels — or three. Sales at stores nationwide were up nearly 28 percent for wine, 27 percent for liquor and 14 percent for beer in the week that ended March 14, according to Nielsen, which compiles data on what consumers watch and buy.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Lenny Curry restricts Jacksonville hotel bookings” via Christopher Hong of Florida Times-Union — Curry issued an executive order that will restrict hotels and other hospitality businesses from accepting reservations from any nonessential guests. Curry said the executive order will go into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday and will limit bookings to essential guests, a list of nearly two-dozen groups that include health care workers, first responders, residents who have been forced from their home. Curry has said he wouldn’t issue a stay-at-home order because enforcement would be too taxing on local police. Still, he said his office would consider adopting components of DeSantis’ “safer-at-home” executive order that codified all local restrictions issued in a four-county area in South Florida.

Lenny Curry hits the pause button on hotel bookings.

Nassau County, Fernandina Beach will keep full closure of beaches” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Nassau County beaches will remain completely closed as government leaders decided Monday it’s not the right time to loosen restrictions on access to the county’s miles of sandy shoreline. “They just don’t think now is the right time to do it,” county government spokeswoman Sabrina Robertson said. She said officials are sympathetic to residents who want to use the beach for morning strolls to watch the sunrise. But for now, the county is urging people to stay home as much as possible. There is no estimated date the beaches will reopen.

Miami-Dade continues to lead state, surpasses 1,700 coronavirus cases” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Miami-Dade County now has more than 1,700 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. The county hits that benchmark just two days after it recorded its 1,000th case. The number of positive tests has increased 70% during that two-day span. The recent increase in positive tests in the region is driven in part by efforts to ramp up testing capacity. Broward County has seen 1,137 positive tests according to state officials. Palm Beach County has recorded 463 confirmed cases. Ron DeSantis said about 30% of the beds in the state of Florida remain available right now with a higher percentage available in both Broward and Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade wants businesses to mark off six-foot coronavirus gaps for customers” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade businesses allowed to remain open during the coronavirus emergency must make “reasonable efforts” to make sure customers and workers maintain social distance as recommended by the CDC. Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced the planned measure Thursday night. “All pickup and takeout areas, along with employee break rooms and common-use areas, should have markings on their floor or some other visible means of alerting people that they must stay six feet apart.” Earlier this week, Giminez warned of stepped-up enforcement and said he would close pickup windows popular for selling Cuban coffee if people kept gathering too closely at them.

Jackson Health’s CEO is self-isolating after testing positive for novel coronavirus” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — The CEO of Jackson Health System, Carlos Migoya, tested positive last week for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In a statement released on Monday afternoon, Migoya, who is head of Miami-Dade County’s public health system, said he has no symptoms of any kind but was tested at the discretion of Jackson Health physicians, “based upon positive cases to whom I was exposed.” Migoya has been at the forefront of the Miami hospitals’ response to the pandemic, forming a consortium with other local hospitals and speaking at press conferences with DeSantis at Jackson Memorial Hospital and the state-run COVID-19 testing site at Hard Rock Stadium.

After years of focus on profits, South Florida hospitals face biggest challenge in a generation” via Cindy Krischer Goodman and David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The battle with coronavirus comes as a reckoning for South Florida’s hospitals after years of cost-cutting, understaffing and an emphasis on high-profit procedures. On the heels of a decade of competition and cutbacks, South Florida hospitals now face the greatest health threat in a generation, and many on their front lines say they are far from ready. During the last five years, health care systems in Florida poured money into acquisitions of other hospitals and treatment facilities. Where hospital systems did not invest was in additional beds, a decision that may be understandable given the trends in usage. Staff and supplies were kept as lean as possible.

Coronavirus pandemic reaches Publix in Miami-Dade as an employee tests positive” via Monique O. Madan and David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — A Publix employee in Southwest Miami-Dade has tested positive for the coronavirus, the supermarket chain confirmed Monday. The store at 9420 SW 56th St. has since completed a “disinfection-level deep cleaning in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in addition to our daily cleaning and sanitation protocols,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in an email to the Miami Herald. Brous’ email continued, “As part of Publix’s general response to COVID-19, the company has implemented a heightened disinfection program focusing on high-touch surfaces like touch pads, door and drawer handles, phones and computers.”

Bal Harbour orders visitors from 13 states to quarantine, asks other cities to follow” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Bal Harbour Village on Monday ordered visitors from 13 states to self-quarantine for two weeks after they arrive in the village and asked a group of cities in northern Miami-Dade County, including Miami Beach, to consider similar measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The village is now requiring visitors to self-quarantine not only after arriving from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as DeSantis has ordered, but also from 10 other states: California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. Those 13 states, village officials said in an emergency order, are “areas of documented substantial community spread” of the novel coronavirus.

New drive-thru coronavirus testing site to open in Palm Beach at 8 a.m.” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — A new drive-thru testing site will open in Palm Beach Tuesday morning to test patients for the novel coronavirus. But according to Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner, all appointments for the site are filled through Thursday. Those appointments can be made by calling the Health Care District of Palm Beach County at 561-642-1000. DeSantis announced on Friday that the National Guard would be setting up a new testing site in Palm Beach County. The drive-thru site will be located at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Palm Beach is opening a drive-thru coronavirus testing station.

Evidence of community spread of virus in The Villages” via the News Service of Florida — University of Florida health experts say they see “initial” community spread of the novel coronavirus in The Villages. The findings are predicated on the results of 2,280 people who were tested last week by UF Health Medical professionals at a testing site at the sprawling retirement community in Central Florida. In all, 25 people tested positive, including two who were asymptomatic. “These results show evidence of initial community spread; however, it does not appear to be widespread, at least so far. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely,” Michael Lauzardo, a doctor and deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, said in a prepared statement.

— MORE LOCAL —

Orange County with 4 new COVID-19 deaths, but state doesn’t count them” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Orange County’s official coronavirus information says that there have been four deaths from COVID-19 but there were four more over the weekend. The difference is counties are not counting non-residents who die in the Florida Department of Health data, and the four most recent COVID-19 deaths in Orange County all were non-residents. Orange County officials highlighted the four non-residents deaths at a press conference Monday at which they continued to implore residents to stay home, and for non-essential businesses to close. Through Monday morning, Orange County had 300 cases, including 56 patients in the hospital.

Orange Mayor Jerry Demings says he will likely extend and toughen stay-at-home order says he’s frustrated by ‘partisan’ state response” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County Mayor Demings will likely extend and toughen a “stay-at-home” order beyond April 9 and called on DeSantis to infuse more leadership and fewer politics into the state’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Demings said Florida, along with the rest of the nation, was caught unprepared for the crisis evidenced by unacceptably low levels of virus tests and sample-collection kits as well as not enough masks and other equipment for front line medical workers. “I believe with full candor that political partisanship has played a role in the ineffective response to this pandemic during the early days,” Demings said Monday during a videoconference with the Sentinel’s Editorial Board.

Despite the confusion on the state level, Jerry Demings will continue the stay-at-home order. 

Raymond James Stadium to reopen for testing” via Caitlin Johnston of the Tampa Bay Times — People who are symptomatic and meet other criteria will once again be able to get tested for COVID-19 at Raymond James Stadium once the county reopens its drive-thru testing site Wednesday. Hillsborough County secured an additional 1,500 test kits and nasal swabs from the state, allowing officials to operate the drive-thru site for three more days — Wednesday through Friday from 8 to 11 a.m. People cannot just drive to the site and request a test. Similar to last week, they must first call a county call center at 813-272-5900 and preregister after meeting state and national requirements. The call center will be open Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman warns: social distancing or citation” via Josh Solomon of the Tampa Bay Times — Kriseman has issued this warning to residents who have not been abiding by social distancing guidelines in city parks: You will be cited. Kriseman began a Monday afternoon news conference broadcast via Facebook Live to lambaste those who misuse the parks. The parks, he said, remain open for walking, jogging, running, cycling, and to soak up some sun. They do not, the Mayor said, remain open for pickup football games or for playing volleyball. People have been bringing volleyball nets to courts to replace the ones the city has taken down, the Mayor said. “If 10 or more of you are together, you will receive a municipal ordinance violation,” the mayor said. “The easiest way to not get one is just don’t do it.”

Scientology stays open, but says its virus prevention is the best ‘on Earth’” via Tracy McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — As medical experts and government officials warn that staying home is the best strategy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Church of Scientology deployed its own response. Every parishioner staying in church retreats or going into a facility in Clearwater has their temperature taken before entering, spokesman Ben Shaw said in a statement. All food consumed at the downtown headquarters is sanitized with a newly installed ozone water system, which Shaw said: “kills any pathogen including viruses.” Members of the Sea Org were still packing buses as they moved from living quarters to church buildings. Shaw said each bus “is completely wiped down” with decontamination7, a powerful cleaning agent, after each use.

Losing big sports events cost Tampa Bay some $360 million in economic impact” via Matt Baker and Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times — The coronavirus pandemic wiped out five major sporting events in the Tampa Bay area — March Madness, WrestleMania, the Valspar Championship golf tournament, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the final days of spring training. The empty seats stood to mean fewer tourists to stay in hotels, dine at restaurants and shop at stores. The total in lost economic impact: somewhere between $290 million and $390 million. The reason for the large economic impact is that most of the attendees would have been from out of the Tampa area, meaning outside revenue is lost.

This pro-Trump coastal community in Florida, hit early by virus, sits at emotional nexus of national debate over reopening economy amid health crisisvia Cleve Wootson of The Washington Post Fort Myers was the first city on the Eastern Seaboard to report a death from the virus, a woman who had traveled overseas and died on March 5. Many in Fort Myers want to agree with Trump’s view that portions of the country should reopen soon to help revive the economy. At the same time, local leaders are inching toward closing beaches, encouraging locals to remain inside, and even stronger lockdown orders. Many individuals and businesses are fighting to keep things normal and to stay open. Residents and leaders are working to figure out when the cure for the pandemic outweighs the cost. The answer is not clear.

Hurricane Michael helped BDS prepare for COVID-19” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — Hurricane Michael struck Bay County on Oct. 10, 2018, displacing families and causing damage to residents’ mental health. “The hurricane taught us we can definitely survive starting school over during the school year, and we learned that we can do school in places that we hadn’t considered before,” said Bill Husfelt, Bay District Schools superintendent. Schools learned during the hurricane fallout to use technology to close the gap when facilities were not ready to resume normal classwork. Administrators are hopeful they can use what they learned to ensure students continue to get an education.

Hurricane Michael gave Bay District Schools the preparation for coronavirus.

Delray dining fans start ‘socially distanced supper club’” via Liz Balmaseda of the Palm Beach Post — Real estate broker John Brewer, whose daily Facebook Live videos have made him the face of the supper club, says it was his friend Iain Paterson who came up with the idea to spotlight specific Delray Beach restaurants for designated takeout days in hopes of bringing the establishments a planned surge of business. “He says to me, ‘It’s kind of like we’re flash-mobbing a restaurant.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Brewer. “Think of a massive fire. We can all lineup, 20 feet apart, and try to put it out. Or we can get together and point our hoses at one area and try to put the fire out faster.” Brewer is no stranger to the restaurant business. He worked as general manager at Max’s Social House and Ceviche Tapas Bar, two now-closed Delray Beach concepts.

Hundreds continue to visit Ginnie Springs amid COVID-19 outbreak” via WCJB staff — Ginnie Springs remains open for visitors, and they’re making the most of the opportunity, even amid worries of the coronavirus. Hundreds of people came to the springs, but visitors say it’s still less crowded than usual. Most visitors say they’ve seen good examples of social distancing, but many also seemed not to be worried at all about keeping 6 feet apart. Visitors to the springs maintain that the park should stay open as a morale booster in these turbulent times. Many of the visitors were from other areas of Florida. The park is operating under normal hours.

Lee County won’t issue stay at home order right now” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Despite a higher-than-average mortality rate for COVID-19 patients, Lee County has yet to implement a stay-at-home order. “None of this is an excuse to stop doing anything anybody is doing as far as social distancing,” said Commissioner Brian Hamman. “Limiting contact is the most effective tool any of us have to fight COVID-19.” Commissioners at an emergency meeting chose instead to approve a resolution supporting Surgeon General Scott Rivkees’ recommendations on social distancing and urging all residents 65 and older or with underlying health conditions to stay home. County Manager Roger Desjarlais said the stay-at-home orders approved by many Florida communities and allowable under Florida law have so many exceptions he cannot recommend approving one in Lee County right now.

‘Overwhelmed’ by COVID-19: Treasure Coast could become like NYC, Cleveland Clinic exec warns” via Joshua Solomon of Treasure Coast Newspapers — The president of Cleveland Clinic Martin Health issued a dire warning Monday if residents ignore stringent social-distancing guidelines. The Treasure Coast could become as overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases as New York City, he said. “If we do not do a good job,” Rob Lord told the Martin County Commission, “we will overwhelm the healthcare system, not only here but everywhere.” The warning came amid an emergency County Commission meeting, where some residents called for enacting a stay-at-home order, like some South Florida communities already have done, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. ”I would beg our community to take this very, very seriously,” Lord said.

—”Another suspected, another confirmed COVID-19 case at Collins Aerospace in Melbourne” via Florida Today

—”Escambia County coronavirus cases double during day. Bellview, Perdido Key see first cases” via the Pensacola News Journal

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Carnival, MSC, Norwegian, Disney extend cruise cancellations amid COVID-19 pandemic” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line all said Monday they would cancel additional cruises due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carnival is canceling cruises through May 11, MSC through May 29, Norwegian through May 10 and Disney through April 28. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. previously announced it was extending its suspension across all of its cruise lines through May 11, and through June 30 for cruises in Alaska, Canada and New England. All major cruise companies agreed to suspend new cruises on March 13 for at least 30 days in response to the pandemic.

Coronavirus killed Florida’s peak season and we’ll have to grapple with the aftermath” via Sara DiNatale of the Tampa Bay Times — Coronavirus has stalled the world. And in Florida, the measures taken to slow its deadly spread ended Tampa Bay’s peak season before it could peak, and many businesses are losing business that would normally keep them going during slow times. Sales tax revenues are being hit hard by the ongoing economic stall, destroying local budgets. Businesses that have closed are uncertain if they will be able to open again, while others that have weathered crises before don’t know how to handle the current one. Many companies that rely on tourists anticipate they’ll have to shift to depend more on locals once life starts to return to normal.

Survey finds 99% of Florida lodging businesses are suffering” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A full 99% of Florida’s lodging businesses see bookings drop because of the coronavirus crisis, according to a new survey commissioned by Florida’s destination marketing advocacy group Destinations Florida. Hotel occupancy was at 23% this week, as compared to 82% occupancy in the same week last year. One in three tourism businesses laid-off employees. Destinations Florida pushed for support for the visitor-generated sales tax revenue, for funding VISIT FLORIDA and for protecting current uses of local tourism taxes. Robert Skrob, executive director of Destinations Florida, stated in a news release, “Once the threat of COVID-19 has abated, we will need VISIT FLORIDA, local tourism promotion organizations and local tourism taxes now more than ever …”

Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the state’s hotel industry.

Gas is cheap, but for many motorists there’s nowhere to go” via The Associated Press — U.S. gasoline prices have dropped to their lowest levels in four years, and they are almost sure to go lower as oil prices plunge. Price-tracking services put the national average Monday around $2 a gallon. Some stations were spotted charging under a dollar. But don’t expect a stampede to the pumps. Demand is weak because so many Americans are under shelter-in-place rules, and businesses have been shuttered because of the coronavirus outbreak. Prices have plenty of room to keep falling — may be below $1.50, according to analysts.

Florida Times-Union employees face pay cut of 25 percent as parent company furloughs staff” via Anne Schindler of First Coast News — The Florida Times-Union’s parent company Gannett announced companywide furloughs, delivering a 25 percent pay cut to local newspaper employees. The company announced the furloughs Monday. A memo from the company’s president of news said reporters and editors who earn more than $38,000 annually would be scheduled to take an unpaid week off each month through June. Reporter Andrew Pantazi, the co-chair of the Times-Union Guild, the paper’s union, says they are demanding the company negotiate with employees about the planned cuts. While there are provisions that allow companies to elude collective bargaining agreements in exigent financial circumstances, Pantazi says employees deserve to see the data. “We want Gannett to prove they’ve met every possible measure first,” he said.

FPL says it will reduce residential bills as Floridians deal with effects of COVID-19 virus” via Florida Politics staff reports — Florida Power and Light (FPL) says it is cutting bill rates for residential customers as Floridians are impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. The company is offering a one-time rate slash of more than $20 more to help with the impact of the pandemic, instead of spreading out cost savings over the remainder of the year. That price cut would go into effect on May 1 and is driven by a drastic drop in fuel prices. “Everyone at FPL understands how critical it is to continue to provide reliable electricity and to keep as much money as possible in our customers’ pockets,” said Eric Silagy, the company’s president and CEO.

Gulf Power customers could get break on bills” via News Service of Florida — Hundreds of thousands of Northwest Florida residents and businesses could get a break on their electric bills in May, after Gulf Power Co. announced a plan Monday to pass along savings from lower-than-expected natural gas costs. Utilities are required to pass along savings to customers when power-plant fuel costs drop, but those savings typically show up on bills over a series of months. Gulf would lump together fuel savings this year into one-time bill reductions in May. Gulf customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see their bills go from the current $140.43 a month to $84.04 in May, according to a company spokeswoman. Such bills would return to $140.43 a month in June.

Disney executives Bob Iger forgoes salary during coronavirus pandemic; other execs get pay cuts” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Disney paid Iger a base salary of $3 million during the company’s most recent fiscal year. However, his total compensation package was significantly higher, at $47.5 million because of bonuses, stock awards, and other incentives. Disney paid Iger a base salary of $3 million during the company’s most recent fiscal year, although his total compensation package was significantly higher at $47.5 million because of bonuses, stock awards and other incentives. Several other executives are getting pay cuts that take effect April 5, including senior vice presidents and executive vice presidents whose pay will shrink by 25% and 30%.

Macy’s is furloughing most of its 125,000 employees amid prolonged coronavirus shutdown” via Abha Bhattarai and Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post — Macy’s is furloughing most of its 125,000 employees because coronavirus-fueled store closures have caused its sales to all but disappear. The nation’s largest department store chain, which shuttered its 775 Macy’s, Bloomingdales and Blue Mercury locations on March 18, said the outbreak continues to take “a heavy toll” on its business. “We have lost the majority of our sales due to the store closures,” it said in a statement Monday. The company said it would keep “the absolute minimum workforce” for streamlined operations, with a focus on its digital business, distribution centers, and call centers. Furloughed employees will continue to receive health insurance at least through May.

Wall Street is quietly telling companies not to draw their loans” via Michelle Davis and Paula Seligson of Bloomberg — The biggest U.S. banks have been quietly discouraging some of America’s safest borrowers from tapping existing credit lines amid record corporate drawdowns on lending facilities. For Wall Street, it’s not an issue of liquidity so much as profitability. Investment-grade revolvers — especially those financed in the heyday of the bull market — are a low margin business, and some even lose money. The justification is that they help cement relationships with clients who will, in turn, stick with the lenders for more expensive capital-markets or advisory needs. That’s fine under normal circumstances when the facilities are sporadically used. But with so many companies suddenly seeking cash anywhere they can get it, they’re now threatening to make a dent in banks’ bottom lines.

— MORE CORONA —

Sheldon Adelson ships two million masks to U.S. hospitals” via Jacob Kornbluh of Jewish Insider — Adelson, a casino mogul, has procured approximately two million face masks to counter the shortage of the much-needed protective gear at hospitals across the United States, a source close to the billionaire informed Jewish Insider on Monday. The masks were produced in China at Adelson’s expense and are being shipped to first responders and hospitals in New York and Nevada that are fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the source said. Of the masks donated by Adelson, 250,000 will go to the Trump administration’s coordinated effort to assist health workers. On Sunday, the first planeload of health care supplies arrived in New York City from China through a public-private partnership called Project Airbridge, the White House said.

These days, even a Michelin star chef has to sell take out” via David Yaffe-Bellamy of The New York Times — For nearly three years, the chef T.J. Steele refused to offer delivery at Claro, his Michelin star restaurant in Brooklyn. He ignored the constant entreaties from online delivery companies like GrubHub and DoorDash, which were sometimes sent to his personal email address. Creating a delivery operation would have required a time-consuming overhaul of the menu. It just wasn’t worth the effort. But because of the coronavirus, Steele has had to make some compromises to stay in business. He has signed up with GrubHub and Caviar, another delivery service. He has created a menu that eschews complex, hard-to-deliver items like tuna tostada in favor of homey offerings like chicken — a food he never thought he would serve.

Michelin star chef TJ Steele has turned to GrubHub to keep afloat.

Century-old vaccine investigated as weapon against coronavirus” via Jason Gale of Bloomberg — The bacillus Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, shot has been used widely for about 100 years, with a growing appreciation for its off-target benefits. Not only is it common immunotherapy for early-stage bladder cancer, but it also seems to train the body’s first line of immune defense to better fight infections. With an immunization specifically targeted against the pandemic-causing COVID-19 disease at least a year away, the World Health Organization says it’s important to know whether the BCG vaccine can reduce disease in those infected with the coronavirus, and is encouraging international groups to collaborate with a study led by Nigel Curtis, head of infectious diseases research, at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.

The social-distancing culture war has begun” via McKay Coppins of The Atlantic — For a brief moment, it seemed as if social distancing might be the one new part of American life that wasn’t polarized along party lines. Schools closed in red states and blue; people across the political spectrum retreated into their homes. Though Trump played down the pandemic at first, he was starting to take the threat more seriously suit. Those who chose to ignore this guidance appeared to do so for apolitical reasons. The consensus didn’t last long. Trump, having apparently grown impatient with all the quarantines and lockdowns, began last week to call for a quick return to business as usual. Some of the more brazen departures from public-health consensus have carried a whiff of right-wing performance art.

Organizers finalize new dates for Tokyo Olympics, beginning in July 2021” via Tom Schad of the USA Today — Less than a week after announcing that the Games would be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers decided Monday on a new start date of July 23, 2021. The closing ceremony will be held on Aug. 8. A postponement of roughly one year had long been thought to be the most logical and likely outcome, given the logistical hurdles involved with the alternatives. The question now is whether a one-year postponement will be long enough. Experts have warned that setting the new dates for the Olympics too early in the future could put them in jeopardy of being postponed again or canceled.

School shutdowns raise stakes of digital divide for students” via The Associated Press — The pandemic launched a massive, unplanned experiment with distance learning that has created extraordinary hurdles for schoolchildren left behind by the digital divide. School districts and governments are now racing to give the millions of U.S. students without home internet a chance of keeping up. The disadvantaged students are more likely to be students of color, from low-income families or in households with lower parental education levels. The nation’s largest school districts are spending millions of dollars to provide devices and internet connections for students. Smaller districts are finding ways to boost wireless internet in school parking lots and distribute hot spots. Still, others are sticking with paper assignments and books because the digital equity issues are too much to overcome.

Families scramble to find baby formula, diapers and wipes” via Jessica Grose of The New York Times — The National Diaper Bank Network, which is a haven for those who cannot afford baby essentials, is seeing its supplies dwindle and demand skyrocket with more Americans out of work and seeking assistance. Joanne Goldblum, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, said that supplies have gone down in part because some diaper banks are no longer accepting open packages because of virus concerns, and diaper banks cannot hold drives because of social distancing measures. “Our need has gone up immensely,” said Holly McDaniel, executive director of the Austin Diaper Bank in Austin, Texas. “We typically serve about 20,000 diapers a week to Central Texas. Now we’re surpassing 50,000 diapers each week.

— THE HUMAN TOLL —

‘I don’t want to get sick. But if I die, I die’: Florida retirees grapple as coronavirus cases soar” via Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times — Life at many of Florida’s retirement villages has come to a standstill, with complaints from some and calls for additional safeguards from others. Because there is no statewide shutdown order, senior communities have to navigate local restrictions and their own heightened health concerns in deciding how to battle the virus. Some retirement communities have stayed open while increasingly curtailing services and dealing with an exodus of the snowbirds, headed home early to their cooler northern climes. Some residents aren’t leaving their homes, while others are living an adapted lifestyle.

Grandma’s not here: Coronavirus keeps kids from older family” via Lindsay Whitehurst of The Associated Press — For grandparents all over the world, being protected from the pandemic has meant a piercing distance from their loved ones. While children don’t seem to be getting seriously ill as often, they can be infected and spread the virus. It’s been a jolting change for many and a necessary one because of seniors’ susceptibility to coronavirus. Seniors are far more likely to get seriously ill after contracting the virus. For grandparents who live alone, hunkering down during the crisis can increase their isolation, often an ongoing problem for seniors.

Prince Charles is out of self-isolation after testing positive for coronavirus” via Anika Reed of the USA Today — Prince Charles, who tested positive for coronavirus and was displaying mild symptoms last week, is now out of self-isolation after seven days, Clarence House confirmed. Those in the UK who have symptoms of coronavirus need to self-isolate for seven days, according to the U.K.’s National Health Service. The standard quarantine period is 14 days in the United States, and the term “quarantine” is reserved for those believed to have been exposed to a disease but who are not symptomatic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— ONE GOOD THING —

It was that March 18 tweet by Michael Wells that became a call-to-action for scientific researchers to join the fight against coronavirus. Wells’ plea came on the same day the pandemic forced his lab to close temporarily.

“Help me in creating a national database of researchers willing and able to aid in local COVID-19 efforts,” he added. “This info will be a resource for institutions/(government) agencies upon their request.”

Neuroscientist Michael Wells works on the COVID-19 Pandemic Shareable Scientist Response Database in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image via AP.

What the 34-year-old neuroscientist at the Broad Institute and Harvard University did not know at the time was that he launched a national effort to marshal scientists to volunteer in the fight against the virus.

Less than 10 days later, The Associated Press reports that more than 7,000 scientists had joined Wells’ database. Organizations and governmental departments throughout a dozen states, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have tapped into the information.

Wells is also working with EndCoronavirus.org, a project of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a research-based group that is helping to maximize the volunteer scientist support he assembled.

As health care workers risk their own well-being to treat patients and scientists to work toward a vaccine, Wells’ database is an option for science professionals looking to join the fight. The idea is to match specific training of volunteers with potential needs in battling the disease, including experience with RNA viruses such as coronavirus.

“Scientists are a tremendous resource for this country. And it’s not something that should just be confined to the coasts,” Wells told the AP. “It’s something that everyone should be able to benefit from.”

— D.C. MATTERS —

Trump says he wants to restore tax deductions for business meals” via Josh Wingrove and Mario Parker of Bloomberg News — Trump said he wants to restore corporate tax deductions for business meals as restaurants reel from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Trump’s 2017 tax law eliminated deductions for most business entertainment expenses and limited deductions firms could take for providing meals to their employees. Trump said he’d asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to “to immediately start looking into the restoration of the deductibility of meals and entertainment costs for corporations.” Among the businesses that could benefit from such a move would be Trump’s family operation, which includes hotels, golf clubs and resorts, often with high-end restaurants on site.

Donald Trump is floating the idea of restoring tax breaks for business meals.

Kushner firm built the coronavirus website Trump promised” via The Atlantic — On March 13, President Donald Trump promised Americans they would soon be able to access a new website that would ask them about their symptoms and direct them to nearby coronavirus testing sites. He said Google was helping. That wasn’t true. But in the following days, Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described. A team of Oscar engineers, project managers, and executives spent about five days building a stand-alone website at the government’s request, an Oscar spokesperson told The Atlantic. The company even dispatched two employees from New York to meet in person with federal officials in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson said. Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped. The site would not have helped many Americans even if it had launched. Today, more than two weeks after the president promised a national network of drive-through test sites, only a handful of such sites have opened, and fewer than 1 million Americans have been tested.

Justice Dept. investigates at least one lawmaker’s stock trades before coronavirus spike in U.S.” via Devline Barrett of The Washington Post — The Justice Department is investigating stock trades made by at least one member of Congress as the United States braced for the pandemic threat of coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the matter. The investigation is being coordinated with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and is looking at the trades of at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As head of the powerful committee, Burr received frequent briefings and reports on the threat of the virus. He also sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which received briefings on the pandemic.

Rick Scott demands more coronavirus tests immediately” via Fox News Radio — Scott called into the Brian Kilmeade Show and urged the state and federal governments to work together to get more testing kits to the state of Florida as soon as possible, saying Florida could have as many as 7 or 8 times the number of coronavirus cases as has been reported. “The one thing we’ve got to do in Florida, we’ve got to get more testing. If we had as many tests done as New York’s had done … we probably would have 30 or 40,000 cases now,” he said. “We need them now. We need our labs to be faster.”

Scott, Ted Yoho, Darren Soto look to help first responders with personal protective equipment bill” via Kevin Derby of Florida Daily — Scott, Yoho and Soto are working on a proposal to help ensure first responders and health care workers have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they need as they deal with the coronavirus crisis. The bill would have Homeland Security have a “Strategic National Stockpile of PPE” which would include “gowns, helmets, gloves, face shields, goggles, face masks (surgical masks) and respirators (like N95) or other equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or the spread of infection or illness” and “disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, ventilators and respirators.” Scott sponsors the bill. Yoho and Soto are sponsoring a companion bill in the US House.

Vern Buchanan wants Florida passengers off infected cruise ship ‘yesterday’” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rep. Vern Buchanan wants all Floridians off two cruise ships with symptomatic passengers and places safely into quarantine. The Sarasota Republican said he’s been told 49 cruise passengers live in this state but remain trapped on vacation vessels. Four of those passengers hail from Florida’s 16h Congressional District, represented by Buchanan. Gov. DeSantis made clear today he wants the cruise ship, which is heading to a South Florida port, to dock and have patients treated on the boat. The Governor stressed the ship includes a number of foreign nationals, and he wants beds in South Florida reserved for Florida patients.

Assignment editors — Congresswoman Kathy Castor will hold a virtual news conference to roll out a coronavirus resource tool kit as a resource for direct cash assistance, expanded unemployment insurance, relief for local governments and small businesses, and investments in hospitals and health systems, 2 p.m., email Rikki.Miller@mail.house.gov for the Zoom conference link.

— STATEWIDE —

Air DeSantis is ready for flight from Tallahassee” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — The state purchased a new $15.5 million Cessna Citation Latitude business jet, which has arrived in Tallahassee. DeSantis has been moving about the state in an aging King Air plane bought in a 2016 surplus sale. The plane has, at times, had mechanical problems, such as days after DeSantis’ inauguration in 2019, when a mechanical problem forced the plane to make an emergency landing. The state also needed to buy a new jet also because former Gov. Scott, the wealthiest Governor in state history and now a U.S. Senator, eliminated the two airplanes it had for official travel and used his own private jet to travel the state at his own expense.

Ron DeSantis’ plane is ready to take flight.

Ashley Moody fires back over domestic violence coalition” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — Attorney General Moody is asking a circuit judge to reject an attempt by former Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence CEO Tiffany Carr and a foundation that supports the organization to undo an order putting the coalition under the authority of a receiver. Carr and the foundation are “nothing but kibitzers, seeking to insert their views into a matter that does not concern them,” Moody’s lawyers wrote. Leon County Circuit Judge Ronald Flury issued an order March 12 appointing Jacksonville-based lawyer Mark Healy as receiver over the coalition, which for decades administered millions of dollars in state and federal funds meant for Florida’s 42 domestic violence shelters.

Jimmy Patronis orders workers’ comp for coronavirus-infected state employees” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Florida will start processing workers’ compensation claims from public servants who contract the novel coronavirus on the job. CFO Patronis ordered the Division of Risk Management on Monday to review those claims submitted by “frontline state employees” who are required to interact with potentially infected individuals. The division has received 36 claims for COVID-19 since the virus was first reported in Florida. “If we’re going to ask our public servants to fight this pandemic on our behalf, they have to know we’ve got their backs if they get sick,” Patronis, who doubles as the State Fire Marshal, said in a statement.

Jackie Toledo calls for a pause in negative credit reporting amid coronavirus financial worries” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Rep. Jackie Toledo is calling on Patronis to work with the Federal Trade Commission to postpone negative credit reporting. Her request came after Florida’s unemployment application filings spiked 1,000% in just one week. “The long-term burden of this crisis should not be on the backs of the people who are doing the right thing.” More people filed unemployment claims in Florida last week than ever have before in the state, and the situation is widely expected to get worse. “Thousands, and potentially, millions of Floridians are depending on us to act.”

Florida’s online notary law is allowing more business to get done during COVID-19” via Bill Bortzfield of WJCT — Every year, millions of documents — such as real estate transactions and citizenship forms — require a notary to witness and authenticate legal instruments. Historically, that has required in-person human interaction. But Florida is one of a handful of states that allows virtual notarization for most transactions for homeowners, title companies and real estate agents, mortgage brokers, business owners and others. Notarize is one of the companies that offer virtual notarization. Notarize CEO Pat Kinsel said his company had seen its real estate volume increase by 400% over the last month nationwide. “It’s doubling almost every week,” Kinsel said. “I think Florida is actually growing at a faster clip.”

Happening today — The Florida Public Service Commission meets to consider several issues, including an extra area code for the Tampa area, 9:30 a.m., Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Tallahassee. Because of the coronavirus, the meeting is not open to the public but is available on The Florida Channel or the PSC website.

Orange County bans e-scooters and e-bikes over safety concerns” via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Electric scooter and bike rentals, which proved wildly popular in Orlando and at UCF, won’t be allowed in the I-Drive area or any other pockets of unincorporated Orange County after April 3. County commissioners voted unanimously to impose the moratorium last week, saying a closer look at the rented mobility devices is needed. The action was endorsed by the International Drive Business Improvement District in the tourist corridor. The ban does not affect e-scooter rentals in Orlando or at UCF, which have adopted their own rules, though the novel coronavirus pandemic has idled many of the rental machines. Four of Orlando’s five e-scooter vendors recently suspended operations, a city spokeswoman said. Rentals declined sharply as the pandemic grew.

Tiger King hype prompts Hillsborough Sheriff to re-up Don Lewis disappearance investigation” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — As Americans everywhere are obsessing over the new Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is reviving the question: What the heck happened to Jack “Don” Lewis? Lewis’ disappeared in 1997, and his case has now become famous as Tiger King fans speculate how he went missing and whether he was actually murdered. Lewis was married to Carole Baskin, the owner and operator of Big Cat Rescue. Baskin plays a major role in the Tiger King series as Joe Exotic’s nemesis. Chronister is asking anyone with potential leads to call the Hillsborough Sheriff’s office at 813-247-8200.

— 2020 —

Joe Biden points to Ebola experience in pitching coronavirus plan” via Sabrina Siddiqui and Warren P. Strobel of The Wall Street Journal — Biden says his work on that crisis shows how he would combat and contain a lethal and highly infectious disease if elected president. Interviews with former Obama administration officials found Biden wasn’t at the center of the response to Ebola, which was overseen by Barack Obama personally. The 2014 Ebola outbreak differed from the novel coronavirus in key respects. The Ebola virus is transmitted via contaminated bodily fluids and not in droplets through the air, and coronavirus is far more contagious than Ebola. There were only four cases of Ebola in the U.S.

Joe Biden is blasting Donald Trump for his weak coronavirus response. Image via AP.

Biden admits ‘frustration,’ demands urgency from Trump on virus” via Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg — “If I see something that’s not happening, I think it’s my obligation to step up and say ‘this is what we should be doing,’” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The former Vice President said that if he were in office, he would be using the Defense Production Act far more broadly than Trump has. He said he would not only compel General Motors to build ventilators, but increase the production of personal protective equipment for health care workers. “The coronavirus is not the president’s fault, but the slow response, the failure to get going right away, the inability to do the things that needed to be done quickly, they are things that they can’t continue,” Biden said.

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —

How will we vote? Outbreak revives debate on mail-in ballots” via The Associated Press — As the coronavirus pandemic knocks primary election after primary election off schedule, Democrats argue the outbreak shows the country needs to move toward one of their longtime goals — widespread voting by mail — to protect the November election. But Democrats’ hopes for using the crisis to expand voting by mail face firm Republican opposition, as well as significant logistical challenges. In some states, it would amount to a major revamp of their voting system just eight months before an election. But Democrats in Washington say they will keep pressing the issue, pointing to the increasing number of states that are shifting to mail-in voting for primaries as evidence that the time is right.

Panhandle House candidate calls on Governor to suspend tolls” via Florida Politics Jonathan Tallman, a Republican candidate seeking the HD 4 seat, sent a letter to DeSantis calling on his fellow Republican to temporarily lift all tolls on state roads. In his letter, Tallman said he is “extremely impressed” with DeSantis’s handling of the crisis in Florida thus far. He said the economic crunch on workers in the state could be eased by lifting all tolls. “The tolls currently are being put back into the coffers of government and could be put back into the pockets of our hardworking families during and after this crisis when many in our community will be trying to get back on their feet,” Tallman wrote.

— TOP OPINION —

Trump’s narcissism has never been more dangerous” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — House Speaker Pelosi, a California Democrat, hit the nail on the head. “Well, first of all, let me just say how sad it is that, even since the President signed the bill, the number of deaths reported has doubled from 1,000 to 2,000 in our country,” she said in a CNN “State of the Union” interview. “This is such a very, very sad time for us. So, we should be taking every precaution. What the president — his denial at the beginning was deadly. His delaying of getting equipment to where — it continues — his delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly.”

— OPINIONS —

What kind of person calls 100,000-plus dead a ‘very good job’?” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — Trump’s public health advisers said that even with strict countermeasures, deaths from the coronavirus in the United States could be between 100,000 and 200,000 and a spectacular failure of leadership for a president who claimed “we have it totally under control.” Trump gives the impression he’s playing politics with medical supplies. Democrats were sufficiently concerned that Trump would spend stimulus funds on his own business to add a provision blocking him. Trump directed his administration to begin work “immediately” on restoring tax breaks for corporate meals and entertainment. That would do nothing to help with the current crisis.

What governors need from Washington during this health emergency” via Larry Hogan and Gretchen Whitmer of The Washington Post — Zachary Meckstroth and four friends arrived in Peru with their sights set on hiking to the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Instead, due to the outbreak of coronavirus there, the 28-year-old Tampa native turned Orlando resident, and his buddies are quarantined inside a Cusco, Peru hostel where two occupants have been diagnosed with the disease. Not even a decree from the Peruvian government and the U.S. Embassy in Peru, granting the 28-year-old permission to fly home, swayed the military guarding the hostel.

New Yorkers need America’s back, not Florida’s cold shoulder” via Bob Liff of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — DeSantis seems to think that we New Yorkers are “seeding” coronavirus outbreaks in Florida, so he’s asked law enforcement to stop us at the airports — and the state line — with orders to self-quarantine or else. DeSantis claims we are “packed like sardines” in subway cars, then hopping on planes to infect Floridians. I have recently ridden the subways for emergency outings … Three or four people per car does not constitute sardine packing. It’s not just New Yorkers the Governor wants to stop from traveling to Florida. He also wants to stop people from Louisiana … And he wants to block the cruise ship Zaandam. At the risk of falling back on clichés, it appears the virus was out of the barn before DeSantis tried to slam Florida’s door shut.

How retailers and other small businesses can survive coronavirus pandemic” via Rana Florida of the Miami Herald — The economy has long been in a transition to online-based life, leading to many businesses to shutter and others to flourish. In these turbulent times, restaurants could beef up their takeout options. Rana Florida offers several suggestions. Bars could open a virtual bar, where regulars could keep each other company while drinking at home. Retailers should take advantage of Instagram to showcase products. Self-care and nail salons could issue their own line of products. Caterers could expand services to include sheltering-in-place parents.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Some happy news for a change: Gov. DeSantis and the First Lady have a brand-new baby girl. But the Governor wasn’t in the delivery room because of coronavirus.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The Florida Department of Education has extended school closures through May 1 (at least) due to the coronavirus pandemic. The expected news came during a conference call. Florida has now confirmed 5,704 cases of coronavirus, including 71 fatalities.

— A minister in Hillsborough County is facing criminal charges for holding services where hundreds of people attended in person — violating common sense and health regulations during a pandemic

— A cruise ship loaded with sick passengers — and four dead bodies — is headed for Broward County; DeSantis wants to stop it.

— The head of Florida’s emergency management agency says the hunt for N95 masks (to protect health care workers) is fraught with fraud and price gouging. He calls it’s a “Ponzi scheme.”

— The head of the Florida branch of the AARP is asking state officials to explain why they won’t release the names of nursing homes and ALFs with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

— DeSantis is still refusing to issue a statewide lockdown because of the virus, but he’s joining the Mayors of four South Florida counties for a new program called “Safer at Home.” It’s like a lockdown, but without the curfews.

— And checking in with Florida Man, who does his best to spread fear and panic amid the pandemic.

To listen: click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

As MLB ponders post-virus season, players worry about health” via The Associated Press — As Major League Baseball and the players’ union contemplate various ways to create a schedule for whenever the coronavirus pandemic subsides, Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart raised a concern that is surely shared by others around the sport: Could trying to cram in games, and maybe extend the season into late November or December, lead to injuries? That involves how many off-days are salvaged in 2020, how many times teams are told to play in any given week and how 2021 could be affected if there is a shorter-than-usual offseason. Speaking more generally about the effect an altered season could have on guys around the majors, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon said: “This is a unique situation. We’re going to have to be careful health-wise.”

What will a post-virus MLB season look like? Image via AP.

Stuck at home craving Girl Scout Cookies? Now you can order them online” via Alaa Elassar of CNN — Girl Scout Cookies are now available to buy online, the organization announced Friday. Girl Scout troops across the country have been donating cookies to nurses at local hospitals — and even sewing masks for hospital staff. “To protect girls and communities in the wake of COVID-19, Girl Scouts have suspended door-to-door sales and cookie booths,” the Girl Scouts said on their official website. When ordering Girl Scout Cookies, you can either have them delivered to your door or donate them, and the Girl Scouts will distribute them safely to first responders, volunteers and local causes.

Sesame Workshop enlists Elmo, Cookie Monster on hand washing” via the Associated Press — Elmo, Rooster and Cookie Monster are doing their part to help keep kids safe as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on. The beloved Sesame Street Muppets are featured in some of four new animated public service spots reminding young fans to take care while doing such things as washing hands and sneezing. One of Elmo’s signature songs, the toothbrush classic “Brushy Brush,” has been updated to “Washy Wash.”Rooster pops up in another of the 30-second spots to remind kids to “wash hands now” before eating, playing sports or using the bathroom. The new content on SesameStreet.org/caring builds on last week’s launch of Sesame Workshop’s Caring for Each Other initiative to help families stay physically and mentally healthy during the health crisis. The overall project ranges from messages of comfort to learning activities in reading, math and science.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

to two great Floridians, Eric Edwards of U.S. Sugar and Dave Mica, Jr.

___

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 Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also 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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