Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 4.16.20

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Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Fans of The Wire will especially enjoy today’s thinkpiece — “Where is Ron DeSantis’ Carcetti moment?

Right now, we wish Ron DeSantis was a little more Tommy Carcetti.

I also made the argument for no longer requiring Florida students to take the SAT as part of college admission. (The New York Times reports the College Board, which administers the SAT, said on Wednesday that it would offer online versions of the test for students to take at home if secondary schools remained closed in the fall.)

Here are two more hot takes for this morning:

1. After Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday removed economic director Ken Lawson from his post, how poorly has this take from Jordan Kirkland aged after just a few days?

2. Read this article — “Despite exclusions, file a claim now“. Business interruption insurance is important coverage for most businesses to carry. It has a specific purpose, and is almost always written in a manner that requires physical damage to the businesses location to qualify (ie, a fire destroys a storefront). In addition, almost all policies have an exclusion for pandemics. Trial lawyers such as Chip Merlin, an attorney who is known for suing insurance companies, have advised policyholders to file a claim “if you have coverage.” Lisa Miller, who represents insurance companies, offered the same advice as Merlin but took it a step further – she advised to file claims “even though you have language that clearly excludes it.” This is completely contrary to the intent of business interruption policies, the claims process for those types of claims, and her clients’ interests.

Finally, here is a big scoop from FP’s Janelle Irwin that speaks to the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak and how the numbers we are being given by the state do not match the reality on the ground — “Pinellas nursing home hospitalizes dozens of patients after they test positive for coronavirus.

 

— EXECUTIVE SUMMARY —

— Globally, COVID-19 has infected 2 million people and more than 128,000 have died.

— In the U.S., there are more than 639,664 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 30,985 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

— Leaders around the world criticized the Donald Trump administration’s decision to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization. Read more here.

Donald Trump is receiving nearly universal condemnation for calling to end American contributions to the World Health Organization.

— American retail sales fell 8.7 percent in March, the largest drop on record. Read more here.

— Relief payments under the $2 trillion stimulus package have started showing up in Americans’ bank accounts. Read more here.

— The $349 billion rescue fund for smaller U.S. businesses will supposedly run dry on Wednesday, according to unidentified officials familiar with it. Read more here.

— New York City, ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, may lose half a million jobs and $9.7 billion in tax revenue. Read more here.

— TOP STORIES —

Marco Rubio says country must prepare to go back to work and expect more virus deaths” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Rubio cautioned people that they must expect a next phase of the coronavirus crisis to include some limited level of back to work while knowing virus infections and deaths will continue at some level. Rubio said the public policy problem is determining what balance is achievable and acceptable between economic reemergence and reduced, but continued coronavirus pandemic. the country first must achieve levels of testing, isolation, and contact tracing that many believe still are far from reach to make sure the most vulnerable in the population remain protected. More is also needed to ensure hospitals can handle surges, social distancing continues to the greatest extent possible and effective medical treatment is developed.

Marco Rubio warns Americans should prepare to get back to work.

Florida’s broken unemployment system to get new boss, DeSantis says” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — A month into Florida’s historic unemployment crisis, DeSantis is replacing the man in charge of the state’s broken unemployment system. In a stunning admission, DeSantis said during a Wednesday news conference that he still doesn’t have basic information about how many unemployment applications have been processed or how many people have been paid. The department’s current executive director, Ken Lawson, will stay in his job, but oversight of the unemployment system will be handled by Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter. “His mission is very simple: get assistance out as quickly as you can,” DeSantis said. “I hope that Jon can get in there, rattle the cage, and get it.”

Two inmate deaths confirmed at Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Milton” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — Two inmates at a Milton prison have died as a result of COVID-19, the local medical examiner’s office confirmed on Wednesday. Florida Department of Corrections officials have kept the inmate fatalities at Blackwater River Correctional Facility secret for nearly a week, despite numerous questions from The News Service of Florida about deaths at the Santa Rosa County prison. Jeffrey Sand, a 69-year-old inmate, died April 9 from complications related to COVID-19, according to Jeff Martin, the director of the medical examiner’s office that oversees Santa Rosa County. Blackwater inmate William Wilson, 84, died three days later as a result of COVID-19, Martin said. Wilson and Sand appear to be the first two COVID-19-related deaths among the state’s roughly 94,000 inmates.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@ChrisLHayes: Trying to imagine people going around after 9/11 saying “You know, the flu kills 60,000 people a year so not sure what the big deal is here!” and how the people *now* making that same argument would have received it then.

@KirbyWTweets: Anecdotal, I admit. But right now, the @TB_Times Facebook inbox is getting message after message from people who simply cannot get in touch with the state about unemployment benefits. It’s heartbreaking to read.

@AllisonLCarter: Please remember your local newspaper is doing the best it can to cover an insane onslaught of news and most have seen furloughs or layoffs.

@BoMalley: I’m excited to be joining Railroad Consultants, PLLC as Vice President Corporate Development. I’ll be opening an Orlando office to serve freight railroad, passenger rail, transportation and industry customers in Florida and the southeast. railroad-consultants.com

— DAYS UNTIL —

NFL Draft — 7; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 8; Florida Schools reopen (maybe) — 15; New estimated peak for COVID-19 in Florida — 17; Pulitzer Prizes announced — 18; The next supermoon — 21; Gov. DeSantis’ executive order closing bars and restaurants expires — 22; Mother’s Day — 24; TNT’s adaptation of “Snowpiercer” premieres — 31; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 53; Federal taxes due — 90; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 92; “Mulan” premieres — 99; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 123; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 124; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 130; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 141; First presidential debate in Indiana — 166; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 174; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 182; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 183; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 189; 2020 General Election — 201; “Black Widow” premieres — 204; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 215; “No Time to Die” premieres — 223; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 251; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 463; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 470; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 568; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 673.

— CORONA NATION —

Donald Trump is putting his name on stimulus checks. Rubio says he ‘probably wouldn’t have done that’” via Skyler Swisher of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — U.S. Sen. Rubio says he probably wouldn’t have put his name on stimulus checks going out to millions of Americans if he were President, but he doesn’t think most Americans care as long as the money arrives. In an unprecedented move, Trump’s name will appear on the $1,200 paper stimulus checks. Rubio was asked about the report during a Facebook live chat on Wednesday with Democratic state Sen. Oscar Braynon and state Rep. Shevrin Jones. Braynon agrees: “The most important thing is getting that check to people — whoever’s signature is on it. It could be Donald Duck as far as I am concerned.” Citing senior IRS officials, The Washington Post reported adding Trump’s name could slow check delivery by a few days.

Donald Trump insists upon putting his signature on every stimulus check, delaying their distribution a week or more.

Coronavirus destroys lungs. But doctors are finding its damage in kidneys, hearts and elsewhere.” via Lenny Bernstein, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sarah Kaplan and Laurie McGinley of The Washington Post — The new coronavirus kills by inflaming and clogging the tiny air sacs in the lungs, choking off the body’s oxygen supply until it shuts down the organs essential for life. Clinicians around the world are seeing evidence that suggests the virus also may be causing heart inflammation, acute kidney disease, neurological malfunction, blood clots, intestinal damage and liver problems. That development has complicated treatment for the most severe cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and makes the course of recovery less certain. Almost half the people hospitalized because of COVID-19 have blood or protein in their urine, indicating early damage to their kidneys.

U.S. races to stock up on dialysis supplies as kidney failure ravages virus patients” via Sarah Owermohle and Amanda Eisenberg of POLITICO — Hospitals in New York City are seeing a sudden shortage of dialysis fluids as thousands of coronavirus patients develop kidney failure, an unexpected development that could presage the next critical supply shortage nationwide. … Roughly 20 percent of coronavirus patients in intensive care need the kidney treatment, often for weeks, a development that many providers did not see coming. The Federal Emergency Management Agency held a call Monday with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to discuss the possibility of issuing emergency use authorizations to import more dialysis fluid.

COVID-19 checkpoints targeting out-of-state residents draw complaints and legal scrutiny” via Luz Lazo and Katherine Shaver of The Washington Post — When the number of coronavirus cases began to skyrocket, several states, including Rhode Island, Florida and Texas, took the unprecedented step of setting up border checkpoints to stop nonresidents who might be carrying the virus. Law enforcement experts say such broad use of police and in some cases the National Guard to set up roadblocks is extraordinary in the United States. Singling out motorists with out-of-state license plates as a public health measure is irrational, some legal experts say. Doing so assumes that those drivers and passengers are at higher risk of carrying the virus than residents even if they’re coming from the same COVID-19 hot spot. It’s also unconstitutional, some legal experts say.

Nurses suspended for refusing COVID-19 care without N95 mask” via the Associated Press — Ten nurses have been suspended from their jobs at a Santa Monica, California, hospital after refusing to care for coronavirus patients without being provided protective N95 face masks. One of those nurses says the decision was heartwrenching, but after a colleague tested positive for the infection, he felt he had to take a stand. They are among hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care workers across the U.S. who say they’ve been asked to work without adequate protection. Some have taken part in protests or lodged formal complaints. Others are buying — or even making — their own supplies.

California set the tone on coronavirus shutdowns. What’s its next move?” via Thomas Fuller and Tim Arango of The New York Times — California has been ahead of the rest of America in confronting the coronavirus pandemic, locking down its citizens early and avoiding, so far, the worst-case scenarios predicted for infections and deaths. California’s extremely cautious approach toward the virus is a measure of how complicated it will be to restart the country. As America’s premier gateway to China, California was, early in the pandemic, seen as one of the most vulnerable states to the spread of the virus. The state, despite its large, globe-traveling population, ranks 30th in the nation in coronavirus deaths per capita and has a fraction of the mortality rate that New York and New Jersey have suffered. Figuring out why coronavirus has spread much less intensely in America’s most populous state than initially feared will be important in planning the next steps, experts say.

New York state to require masks amid coronavirus as Germany plans to reopen economy” via Talal Ansari, Bojan Pancevski and Chong Koh Ping of The Wall Street Journal — New York tightened its social-distancing measures, and business executives told Trump that a dramatic bump in coronavirus testing was needed before Americans could resume their usual lives, as government and industry leaders weighed the logistics of reopening the economy. Hours later, in a White House briefing, Trump said his administration would detail new guidelines Thursday for reopening the country. He has said he would work with governors to open states in stages. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to gradually reopen the nation from a partial lockdown, as the economics ministry said it expected the country to remain in recession at least through midyear. She predicted a “very long” exit from the health crisis.

New York state is requiring face masks as part of its tightening social-distancing measures. Image via Getty.

Demonstrators in Michigan, in their cars, protest the governor’s social distancing orders” via The New York Times — Thousands of demonstrators, who remained mostly in vehicles, on Wednesday surrounded the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, accusing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of going too far with stay-at-home orders. The orders by Whitmer, a Democrat, are among the strictest in the nation, barring residents from crossing the street to visit neighbors or driving to see friends. The organizers of the demonstration, the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, had asked protesters to honk horns and to display flags and signs.

City leaders to Trump: Help us fight coronavirus by paying your bills” via Dave Levinthal of The Center for Public Integrity — Some city leaders say President Trump should pay bills they already sent his campaign committee months or years ago. Fourteen municipal governments — from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Wildwood, New Jersey — want Trump’s campaign committee to clear a combined $1.82 million worth of public safety-related debt connected to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign rallies. The Trump campaign’s tab is now more than double what Public Integrity first reported in June.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida sees second day of less than 1,000 new coronavirus cases. Death toll passes 600” via Michelle Marchante and Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — Florida saw its second day in a row of relatively low novel coronavirus confirmations. The state has not seen two consecutive days of new reported cases under 1,000 since March 29. The Florida Department of Health confirmed 891 additional cases of COVID-19 and 43 new deaths statewide since Tuesday night. The state’s total confirmed cases is 22,519 as the death toll grew to 614. The drop in the number of coronavirus cases being reported may be due to Florida significantly underreporting the state’s COVID-19 testing backlog, it could hide the pandemic’s size. The state only reports the number of Floridians waiting to hear test results from state labs, not private ones and private labs are completing more than 90% of state tests.

From The Villages to Sarasota, Florida’s oldest counties suffering highest COVID-19 mortality” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — As of Wednesday morning, well over 100 Villagers tested positive for COVID-19. The mortality rate for Sumter County, where most of the retirement community sits, nearly a dozen had died from the disease. The mortality rate in the county was more than triple that of the state. In fact, among those counties with greater than 100 cases of COVID-19, the mortality rate for Sumter County remains the highest in Florida. Perhaps that’s unsurprising considering the Census Bureau lists the county’s population, with a median age of 67, as the oldest in the United States. It’s a stark reminder of how COVID-19 poses a particular risk to those over the age of 65.

The Villages has one of the largest concentrations of seniors in the U.S., the group most susceptible to coronavirus infection. Image via AP.

DeSantis’ coronavirus response ripped again at Joe Biden event” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Florida’s Republican leadership — and by proxy, Trump — were again front and center Wednesday at a campaign event for former Vice President Biden as his campaign continued its online march to the Democratic nomination. From his modified basement studio in his Delaware home, Biden attended a virtual town hall featuring workers across the country struggling to continue with “front line” jobs that require them to go to work in person regardless of personal protection from the novel coronavirus. But the event began with an introduction by guest host Florida state Rep. Jones that was heavy on criticism of DeSantis’ decision-making during the crisis.

Thousands of jobless Floridians lose out on first-week benefit checks” via David Lyons of the Orlando Sentinel — At issue is the traditional rule that requires applicants for unemployment to wait one week before they can receive their first unemployment check. On April 1, DeSantis waived the waiting week for those who apply for benefits between March 29 and May 8 so that “eligible Floridians may receive the support they need to help recover from the current economic impacts of COVID-19.” But the waiver leaves out at least 75,000 who filed for unemployment after losing their jobs during the week ended March 21, and another 227,000 laid off during the week ended March 28. It was during those weeks when employers initiated sweeping layoffs in the face of government-mandated shutdowns driven by the coronavirus.

DeSantis announces panel to advise on restarting economy” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — “Obviously, it is prudent to start thinking of getting people back to work,” DeSantis told reporters at the Capitol, even as the latest numbers showed Florida had 22,519 cases reported by the Department of Health. Saying there has been a recent downturn in positive cases reported, DeSantis said it’s time to bring a diverse group together to “discuss reopening Florida.” He said he wants people from all walks to discuss how to revive Florida’s economy and is “seeking ideas for everything under the sun.” The Governor said he wants to look at small businesses, the tourism industry, even international travel, and “come up with a list of things we need to be thinking about.”

Medical groups say classrooms should stay closed” via the News Service of Florida — Four statewide medical organizations joined with the Florida PTA on a letter to DeSantis. “(We) feel it is illogical to complete a school year in person that is capable of being completed … virtually via distance learning,” the letter said. “The risk of encouraging a second yet equally dangerous secondary spread of the virus does not outweigh any potential reward of saving one month of school.” The letter also went to Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. It was signed by the physician presidents of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association and the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram was one of the first to call on Ron DeSantis to keep campuses closed for the rest of the school year.

Nursing home industry, already granted favors by DeSantis, wants another — this one big” via Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald — A trade group for Florida’s nearly 700 nursing homes is asking DeSantis to extend the state’s sovereign immunity provisions to the industry and other health care sectors during the course of the coronavirus pandemic. If the request is granted, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other providers would be protected against negligence suits. DeSantis is already doing the industry a favor by refusing to name nursing homes and ALFs where positive tests have occurred. In 2001 then-Gov. Jeb Bush recommended a series of reforms that emerged as a compromise between the industry and resident groups and trial lawyers: Nursing home and assisted living facility operators wanted caps on lawsuit damages. Resident advocates wanted higher staffing ratios in an effort to improve care. The higher staffing ratios never were enforced.

AARP to DeSantis: Release the names of nursing homes with coronavirus cases” via David Harris of the Orlando Sentinel — More than 1,200 residents and staff at long-term care facilities have tested positive for the virus. DeSantis’ administration has thus far refused to publicly identify the facilities despite repeated requests. Jack McRay, a lawyer for AARP, wrote in a letter to DeSantis that the names of the facilities should be released. McRay argued that state health agencies are not covered under the HIPPA law which provides privacy for patient medical records. McRay also argued many employees or contractors work in multiple nursing homes and could spread the virus to other facilities or their families, which puts the greater public at risk. Disclosing the names of the facilities, the AARP lawyer wrote, is “necessary to public health.”

State tight-lipped about testing for disabilities workers” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — The Agency for Persons with Disabilities won’t comment about whether staff members at three state-owned facilities in North Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, a respiratory disease that can be deadly to people with underlying medical conditions, including people with disabilities. Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents state employees, alleges the Agency for Persons with Disabilities isn’t screening workers at the Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program before allowing them to enter the facility, as required in an order issued last month by state Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. Union spokesman Kelly Benjamin said that as of Wednesday, staff and visitors were entering the facility without being screened for COVID-19.

‘They rot in the field.’ Florida farmers face destroying surplus crops because of coronavirus” via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida farmers are facing challenges getting their products to customers as measures to combat the virus also harm one of the state’s biggest economic engines. Some farmers face deciding between harvesting, packing and shipping blueberries to sell at a lower price, picking and tossing berries to allow more to grow and have a chance to hit the market in three to five days, or abandoning the plant. Commissioner Nikki Fried has also ordered a suspension of certain labeling and packaging requirements to help get eggs on store shelves faster. As milk dumping has gained national attention, Fried has asked stores to stop customer limits on milk, according to a news release. Her agency is also working to get milk to needed areas and is trying to connect producers and cold storage facilities.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Man threatens mass shooting at Publix over too few people wearing masks” via Tiffini Theisen of the Orlando Sentinel — Robert Kovner, 62, of Sebring was arrested after the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office said it was made aware of a threat posted to Facebook. Kovner was booked on charges of making a written threat of a mass shooting, a second-degree felony. His bond for that charge was set at $25,000. Kovner was also charged with using a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony.

Highlands County Sheriffs arrested Sebring resident Robert Kovner for threatening a mass shooting at a Publix grocery store because ‘not enough people’ were wearing masks. Image via Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

When to use ventilators in COVID-19 cases? Some Miami doctors rethink their approach” via Ben Conarck of the Miami Herald — In recent weeks, propelled by online discussion in the medical community and a letter by a highly influential critical care doctor, some emergency medicine physicians have started rethinking the traditional way of treating acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS., which can occur in severe cases of COVID-19. Instead of automatically putting patients on ventilators, doctors are sometimes trying a method of helping patients breathe that involves placing them on their sides or bellies, and administering oxygen. The traditional approach to treating ARDS is to give supplemental oxygen, which can come in many forms, to anyone who has an oxygen blood rate below 90%. If they get into the 60s or 70s, he said, there is a rush to intubate to stave off death.

Coronavirus pandemic expected to wipe out nearly $300M from Miami-Dade budget” via Douglas Hanks of the Miami Herald — Shutting down much of the economy to slow the spread of COVID-19 will sap nearly $300 million from Miami-Dade County’s budget over the next year. Despite the widespread unemployment and the paralysis of much of the hospitality industry, the budget projections are counting on a relatively quick recovery. The $278 million estimated revenue loss assumes a recovery starting midsummer, cruise ships sailing again by the fall, and travel spending bouncing back at roughly the same pace it did after the 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis.

Stranded tourists moved into empty, rat-infested Miami house. ‘We have nothing.’” via Lautaro Grinspan of the Miami Herald — Four Argentine friends, ages 29 to 34, planned two years for their 10-day beach vacation in Miami. But their early-March holiday has turned into a weekslong ordeal after coronavirus-related travel restrictions made their return to Buenos Aires impossible. The quartet is living in an abandoned, rodent- and roach-infested house in Liberty City. The property is completely empty, save for three mattresses retrieved from the trash. With no refrigerator in the house, the group is keeping the small amount of food they have in plastic Tupperware by the front door. It’s an upgrade from the infested kitchen, where fecal matter covers drawers and cupboards.

Miami superintendent: Return to school this year is ‘not only unlikely but imprudent’” via Colleen Wright of the Miami Herald — The goal posts for when schools should shift from online classes back to in-person, brick-and-mortar learning have been moving almost weekly since all Florida schools shuttered March 13. The recess was supposed to be for two weeks. Then until April 15. Superintendents began publicly doubting the Florida Department of Education’s current timeline to return to schools May 1. And now they’re nearly condemning DeSantis’ recent comments about having students return to schools for a few weeks if the conditions are right. “This year’s last day of school for students is June 3,” Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho tweeted. “High school graduations begin on May 26th. Bottom line, there are between 26 and 33 days of schooling left this school year. A physical return to schools this year is not only unlikely but imprudent.”

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says returning students to school is not only unlikely but ‘imprudent.’

Frustrated with supermarkets and delivery apps, Miami shoppers turn to local options” via Carlos Frías of Miami.com — While grocery stores hustle to keep high-demand items in stock and shoppers inch their way through lines six feet apart, some are finding new ways to shop for groceries while avoiding the coronavirus. Some are ordering meats, eggs and cold cuts directly from distributors that once only sold to restaurants, grocery stores or specialty markets. Others are supplementing their fresh produce from local farms that deliver or offer pickup sites where workers drop bags into their trunks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. And some restaurants even have flipped their model to sell groceries from their purveyors and ready-to-heat meals directly to shoppers, offering delivery and pick up.

Coronavirus spreads at Broward Sheriff’s Office” via Eileen Kelley of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The number of coronavirus cases inside the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has nearly doubled in just a week. Seventy-seven employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, Sheriff Gregory Tony said. Two of those people have since recovered and will return to duty. Just a week ago, the agency had 42 confirmed cases among its 5,400 employees. Veda Coleman-Wright, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the majority of the positive cases have come in the communications department, including emergency dispatchers.

Amid coronavirus outbreak, Liberty County pulls welcome mat” via Bobby Caina Calvan of the Associated Press — For weeks, residents of Liberty County watched as infections spread, reaching into all of Florida’s 67 counties but their own — the state’s least populous — and worried about the devastating effect the coronavirus could have on their 8,300 people. … It’s not that folks in Liberty County aren’t welcoming. In fact, the sign on the edge of Bristol — population not quite 1,000 — seems hospitable enough: “Welcome to our friendly city.” … But the encroaching pandemic has strained their welcoming nature. Some thought it odd when strangers began invading the local market to fill carts with toilet paper and other necessities. Who knew where they were from and what they could be spreading?

State prison in Volusia County reports jump of 7 new inmate coronavirus cases” via Grace Toohey of the Orlando Sentinel — A state prison located in Volusia County saw a spike in coronavirus cases, with seven new inmates testing positive for COVID-19, up from zero such cases the day prior. The seven new inmate cases, along with one new employee case, at the Tomoka Correctional Institution came days after an even larger outbreak at the Blackwater River Correctional Institution in the Panhandle, where 33 inmates have tested positive. The corrections department has refused to answer questions about how many inmates have been tested for COVID-19, only providing information on positive cases. It has also not answered questions about how the prison staff is responding to outbreaks, or the current conditions of the inmates who have tested positive.

— MORE LOCAL —

Central Florida might be at coronavirus peak, Orlando Health CEO says” via Naseem S. Miller of the Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida might have hit its peak for coronavirus cases, Orlando Health President and CEO David Strong said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel editorial board. Like other health systems, Orlando Health has developed its own model, which is updated three times a day with its own data in addition to regional data. On April 8, the health system had 58 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. On Tuesday morning, that number was 32. In addition, the overall number of new cases for the four-county area has been trending down, Orlando Health officials said. “We’re taking good news minute by minute, so that doesn’t mean that we have stopped preparation,” Strong said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor says criticizing DeSantis is a “waste of time” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Castor hasn’t taken the bait, offered by nearly all national media outlets, to bash DeSantis. “Frankly, I think it’s just a waste of time to be critical of others.” She was asked repeatedly by CNN about DeSantis’ performance, but avoided taking jabs, a pattern that’s held up on her other two appearances on the network as well as recent appearances on ABC News and National Public Radio. Castor’s stance isn’t unusual for the Mayor of Tampa. Her predecessor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, maintained cordial relations with then-Gov. Rick Scott, frustrating many Democrats.

Jane Castor says there is not much benefit in criticizing Ron DeSantis.

Lawsuits, petitions, online outrage follow Hillsborough’s nighttime curfew” via the Tampa Bay Times — Whether it’s called social distancing, a stay at home order, or a safer-at-home policy, Hillsborough County leaders say they’ve had the same intent all along. If you’re inside Hillsborough County lines, and you aren’t performing an essential duty like working in a nursing home or buying groceries for your family, you need to stay home. But the isolation was already making people restless. For some, news of a new local restriction — a mandatory 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew approved Monday — was a step too far.

Report: Tampa Bay has the resources to manage the coronavirus peak” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — A new report from the Tampa Bay Partnership shows the region likely has the resources to withstand the worst stretch of the coronavirus pandemic. The most recent models on the outbreak predict Florida will hit its peak on May 6. The Tampa Bay Partnership delved into the public health metrics and found the region has sufficient resources to handle the surge, though some pockets may be at greater risk. More testing data is available for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, possibly indicating undercounting in Manatee, Polk and Sarasota. Still, hospitals have capacity. The region has largely remained above 40% capacity since April 3. ICU capacity has held steady at roughly 35% since April 3.

Erin Andrews donates Beyond Meat burgers to Tampa General Hospital staff” via Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times — The folks at Tampa General Hospital were there to help Andrews’ family when her dad Steve needed medical attention two months ago. To give back, she sent them lunch. About 100 Hardee’s Beyond Meat Thickburgers arrived at the hospital, enough to feed everyone working that afternoon from the trauma center to the COVID-19 unit to the office staff. “I’m so grateful for the work you are doing to keep my hometown of Tampa healthy,” Andrews wrote in a letter to hospital staff. “You are the real MVPs, and we can’t thank you enough. Please stay safe and healthy.” The sports reporter’s father, Steve Andrews, is an investigative reporter at WFLA-Ch. 8. 

Coronavirus face shields rolling off Brevard 3D printers for health, emergency workers” via Rick Neale of FLORIDA TODAY — A bank of 3D printers inside a Florida Institute of Technology engineering laboratory is creating customized face shields, supplying Space Coast health care workers and first responders in the battle against the new coronavirus. Roughly a dozen students and staffers are manning the COVID-19 3D-printing project working as late as 3 a.m. The team also is creating custom-fit N95 face masks, including child-sized models, using design guidance from the Billings Clinic in Montana. One Florida Tech prototype features an ultraviolet mask that generates an electrical charge when the user breathes, drawing in and zapping airborne coronavirus.

State sends team to Clay County to help at long-term care facilities” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — A special state team will work with Clay County’s long-term care facilities to battle the spread of the coronavirus that has fueled 61 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staffs in the county. “We have a state incident management team that is now in Clay County,” county emergency operations director John Ward said. The team includes four management team leaders, 21 nurses who are split up to help with testing at long-term care facilities and three infectious control prevention specialists.

Destin deals with park abusers” via Tony Judnich of the Northwest Florida Daily News — Picnic tables at city parks have taken a beating in recent weeks by people apparently frustrated by the closure of gyms. Since they are not among the types of “essential” businesses listed in the Florida Governor’s “Safer At Home” executive order, gyms must remain closed through at least April 30. Most people in Destin have been obeying the emergency rules and abiding by social distancing guidelines, city Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Firth said. But unfortunately for other park goers, some people “have been utilizing our picnic tables as gym equipment,” she said. For example, Firth said some people have been using the wooden picnic tables to perform CrossFit box jumps, repeatedly leaping onto the benches and tabletops.

Three of Escambia County’s four COVID-19 deaths were at long-term care centers” via the Pensacola News-Journal — Meanwhile, two of the reported deaths in Santa Rosa County were inmates at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Milton. The Florida Department of Health’s report includes, for the first time, how many COVID-19 deaths have been tied to long-term care facilities in each county. It stops short from naming the long-term care facilities, however. With six new cases added since Tuesday evening, Escambia County now has 49 cases of COVID-19 tied to either residents or staff members of long-term care centers, and three deaths.

Farmworkers appeal for field hospital in Immokalee” via Billy Cox of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — With unharvested Florida vegetables rotting because of plummeting demand, a petition initiated by organized farmworkers is appealing to DeSantis to establish a field hospital in rural Immokalee before the coronavirus can sweep their ranks and potentially disrupt the food-supply chain. Coalition of Immokalee Workers co-founder Greg Asbed warned that a clustered working and living environment makes it impossible for field hands to comply with federal social distancing guidelines should the virus strike. “Those conditions, the result of generations of grinding poverty and neglect, will act like a superconductor for the transmission of coronavirus,” he wrote.

Leon joins contingent of counties asking for direct federal funding as city projects $30M hit” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Noting the billions of dollars county governments across the country have expended in their coronavirus response efforts, local officials are urging Congress to show them the money. Nearly 40 organizations representing county governments filed a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asking that money be directly provided to localities that fall under the 500,000 resident requirement in the ”Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or CARES Act. The National Association of Counties sent the April 6 letter with support from around the country, including the Florida Association of Counties. Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox is the president of FAC.

’Doesn’t makes sense’: Leon superintendent urges Governor to keep schools closed” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — In a letter Superintendent Rocky Hanna sent to DeSantis, Hanna said reopening schools would pose a “serious threat” to a “significant number” of the teachers and staff who are considered to be in at-risk demographics for surviving the virus. Hanna also told DeSantis that returning students to the classroom with only a few weeks left to the school year would be “extremely disruptive, if not impossible” to make the switch after the district has already transitioned students to learning remotely. “With only 33 academic days remaining on the school calendar, it simply doesn’t make sense and is not worth the risk,” he wrote DeSantis.

Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hannah is joining the chorus of voices wanting schools to stay closed through the end of the school year.

10 years after BP oil spill, COVID-19 crisis feels like deja-vu” via Kevin Robinson of the Pensacola News Journal — The Casino Beach parking lot was barren. Chairs and tables were stacked in dark restaurants. Waves lapped against an empty shoreline. Most of the world had seemingly retreated to their homes in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Despite the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, there was an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu for beach workers who saw something similar happen 10 years before: the BP oil spill. But speaking on the similarities between the spill and the COVID-19 crisis, Peg Leg Pete’s manager Beeler Gausz simply remarked, “There is no comparison. … The spill was detrimental to business, but they did still allow people to come to use the beach, to get a hotel room, to walk the shore.”

Police work to identify people in planned Easter gathering of more than 100 in Pensacola” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola police are working to identify the people who organized a gathering of more than 100 people at the Attucks Court public housing complex on Easter Sunday. A video of the gathering, streamed live on Facebook, went viral almost immediately as large groups of people ignored social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in violation of an executive emergency order by DeSantis. Officials initially thought the event was spontaneous, but a city news release said Wednesday that it had been planned and promoted in advance by nonresidents. Attucks Court is managed by the Pensacola Area Housing Commission, which is working with the Pensacola Police Department to identify the organizers of the event.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

Banks brace for big loan defaults by U.S., global customers” via Ken Sweet of The Associated Press — The major banks in the U.S. are anticipating a flood of loan defaults as households and business customers take a big financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs raised the funds set aside for bad loans by nearly $20 billion combined in the first quarter. Wall Street expects that figure may go even higher next quarter, a possibility bank executives acknowledged on earnings conference calls. Most economists expect the U.S. to go through a depression. The only question is how severe: Second-quarter gross domestic product is expected to drop from 30% to 40% and the unemployment rate is seen rising as high as 25%.

Factory shutdowns near World War II demobilization levels in U.S.” via Paul Wiseman of The Associated Press — Manufacturing and overall industrial production posted the biggest declines since the United States demobilized after World War II. Manufacturing output dropped 6.3% last month, led by plunging production at auto factories that have entirely shut down. Overall, industrial production, which includes factories, utilities and mines, plummeted 5.4%. Production of autos and auto parts went into free fall, dropping 28%. Factories were running at 70.2% of capacity last month, down from 75.1% in February.

Homebuilder confidence index takes biggest monthly dive ever as coronavirus slams economy” via Diana Olick of CNBC — Builder confidence in the market for single-family homes plunged 42 points to a reading of 30 in April, the lowest point since June 2012. Of the index’s three components, current sales conditions dropped 43 points to 36, sales expectations in the next six months fell 39 points to 36, and buyer traffic decreased 43 points to 13. Homebuilding had been strengthening significantly coming into 2020. New home sales in March hit the highest level since 2007, when the subprime mortgage crisis started to take hold. Construction was deemed an essential business by the federal government during the coronavirus pandemic, but some states have shuttered construction operations.

Homebuilders are quickly losing confidence in the coronavirus economy.

Small-business program intended for quick grants is running weeks behind” via Aaron Gregg, Jeanne Whalen and Erica Werner of The Washington Post — An emergency loan program intended to get money swiftly into the hands of small businesses has all but collapsed under an unprecedented crush of applications and a shortage of funds, overwhelming agency officials and prompting urgent calls for action on Capitol Hill. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, or EIDL, a long-standing program run by the Small Business Administration, is separate from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses that is the subject of a political fight on Capitol Hill. The federal government normally doles out EIDL loans to small businesses hurt by tornadoes and wildfires. The SBA expanded the program to help entrepreneurs hurt by the coronavirus, offering low-interest loans of up to $2 million.

Gig workers struggle to claim unemployment relief” via Megan Cassella and Rebecca Rainey of POLITICO — The $2 trillion rescue package was supposed to help out Uber drivers, freelance workers and other independent contractors who usually aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. But so far, this 23 million-strong group of working Americans is running into dead ends, delays and bureaucracy trying to collect an unemployment check. One reason for the delay is that the Department of Labor didn’t put out its first set of guidelines for the new program until April 5, more than a week after the stimulus passed, leaving state unemployment offices stalled. “We still don’t know how we’re going to survive this,” said Mekela Edwards, a Lyft and Uber driver in California.

Out-of-work apartment tenants putting monthly rent on plastic” via Will Parker of The Wall Street Journal — More Americans are paying rent by credit card during the coronavirus pandemic, a move that is enabling more tenants to make timely payments but potentially pushing some deeper into debt. About 84% of tenants in the U.S. have paid all or partial rent through April 12, up significantly from the first week of April. A rise in credit-card payments is also contributing to a higher rate of rent payments. Entrata Inc., a digital property-management platform that pulls information from more than 20,000 apartment communities, showed a 13% increase in credit-card usage in April compared with the first three months of the year.

Royal Caribbean Cruises sheds 26% of US workers as coronavirus cancellations continue” via Jane Woolridge and Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises is reducing its U.S. workforce by 26%, with more than half those workers in South Florida, the Miami Herald has learned. “We are in discussions with our employees today about the impact of the pandemic on our business,” a company spokesman confirmed. “We want to speak directly with our employees first and will have further comment as details become available.” Most of the reductions are permanent layoffs, though some are 90-day furloughs with paid benefits. Employees at all levels of the company are being let go. A letter went out to employees companywide Wednesday.

Frontier, one of Tampa Bay’s largest cable and internet providers, just filed for bankruptcy” via Colin Wolf of Creative loafing Tampa Bay — Frontier Communications announced that they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In a news release, the company promised remaining customers that its cable and internet services won’t get any worse. “Frontier expects to continue providing quality service to its customers without interruption and work with its business partners as usual throughout the court-supervised process. The Company has sufficient liquidity to meet its ongoing obligations,” said Frontier. Frontier, which is one of two major cable internet providers in Tampa Bay along with Spectrum, filed for bankruptcy in the Southern District of New York. The company says the filing will allow them to “reduce our debt by more than $10 billion.”

— MORE CORONA —

International politics is making it harder to make a coronavirus vaccine” via Henry Farrell of The Washington Post — Trump just announced he was suspending U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, which helps coordinate the “Flu Network” and other initiatives, including vaccine research for the novel coronavirus. The Flu Network gathers virus samples and data all over the world, analyzes them, and helps us make and select the virus strains that go into vaccines. Governments show few signs of collaborating, either to speed up research or to decide on terms of fair worldwide allocation of vaccines. That might sound good if you think your country will develop a vaccine first, but no one knows if or where that will happen.

The industry says we have enough food. Here’s why some store shelves are empty anyway” via Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — A month ago, as the economy began to shut down and Americans started hoarding canned goods and other foods out of fear of shortages, industry giants offered assurance there was plenty of food and no reason for worry. Yet availability remains spotty around the country, some shelves stocked and others empty, with Americans having particular difficulty locating all-purpose flour, yeast and beef. The biggest is that while about half American expenditures for food used to be at restaurants and other such establishments, now almost all meals are being made in the home kitchen, so a distribution system that was built to supply restaurants with bulk items is struggling to adapt to far smaller packaging for home use.

There is plenty of food to go around. So why are the shelves still empty?

SAT tests to move at-home and online if coronavirus forces school closures in the fall” via Nina Agrawal of The Los Angeles Times — High school students will be able to take an at-home, online SAT test if the coronavirus keeps schools closed into the fall, the College Board announced Wednesday. “The College Board would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions,” a news release from the organization said. “Like the pencil-and-paper test, a digital, remote version of the SAT would measure what students are learning in school and what they need to know to be successful in college.” The announcement comes as colleges across the country are making the SAT and ACT standardized tests optional as an admissions requirement for students entering college in fall 2021.

As humans stay indoors, wild animals take back what was once theirs” via Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post — For centuries, humans have pushed wildlife into smaller and smaller corners of the planet. But now, with billions in isolation and city streets emptied, nature is pushing back. Wild boar have descended onto the streets of Barcelona. Mountain goats have overtaken a town in Wales. Whales are chugging into Mediterranean shipping lanes. And turtles are finally getting some peace. But beyond the short-term benefits that human quarantines have brought the animal kingdom, conservationists say the pandemic could be an opportunity to push for more environmental protections and create a safer world for animals. A growing body of research has suggested that the risk of emerging diseases, three-quarters of which come from animals, is exacerbated by deforestation, hunting and the global wildlife trade, particularly in exotic or endangered species.

— THE HUMAN TOLL —

N.J. man with Down syndrome dies of coronavirus on his birthday — days after his mom” via Jorge Fitz-Gibbon of the New York Post — Thomas Martins, a New Jersey man with Down syndrome known for his love of birthdays, died of coronavirus on his 30th birthday, just nine days after the deadly pandemic claimed his devoted mother. Thomas was taken to the hospital on March 23 after developing a cough that worsened dramatically. He was never discharged. While hospitalized, he continued to fret about his upcoming birthday, asking when his party would take place. Just hours before his death, about 20 classmates from the Felician School for Exceptional Children in Lodi gave him a virtual party in his room. 

Carolyn Martins-Reitz died a few days before her son Thomas Martins, who died on his 30th birthday. Both died of COVID-19. Image via GoFundMe.

Brian Miller, whose blindness inspired a career helping disabled students, dies of COVID-19” via Hannah Natanson of The Washington Post — Miller was born with defective retinas and could barely see large text inches from his face. Unable to see what teachers were writing on the board, Miller memorized the content of every lesson beforehand when he was in high school. That way, when called on, her son could give answers just like his peers. That determination led to a career with the U.S. Education Department’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, where he helped students with disabilities like his. Miller started having symptoms, including a fever and cough, in mid-March, shortly after returning from a trip to Jordan that was curtailed by the virus. He entered the hospital March 28, was put on a ventilator the next day and died this week after he began bleeding internally and suffered organ failure.

Lila Fenwick, who broke a barrier at Harvard Law, dies at 87” via Penelope Green of The New York Times — When Fenwick was a student at Harvard Law School in the 1950s, she was doubly invisible. She was a woman and she was black. In 1956, she was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law, and she went on to become a human rights official at the United Nations, a lawyer in private practice and a benefactor. Fenwick died on April 4 at her home in Manhattan. She was 87. She had been suffering from dementia before contracting the novel coronavirus.

The coronavirus is depriving people of the rituals needed to process pain” via Michele L. Norris of The Washington Post — Trust carries special weight in the fight against the virus. Black Americans’ well-documented distrust of the health care system presents a unique challenge for the communities in the path of the pandemic. The skepticism dates to covert experiments such as the Tuskegee study where treatment was secretly withheld from black men so doctors could examine the progression of a deadly venereal disease. A dangerous myth that black people could not catch the virus somehow took root on social media. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has made surprisingly little effort to target warnings to the hardest-hit populations, much less do so in ways that speak to the many diverse parts of those communities.

COVID-19 put her husband in the ICU. She had to be hospitalized next. The state demanded to know: Who would care for their children?” via Topher Sanders and David Armstrong of ProPublica — Laura Whalen was growing sicker by the hour but had no viable plan for taking care of her two children. The usual options for watching them were off the table because the Whalen children were likely infected with a coronavirus. Whalen decided she would bring the children with her to the hospital. If Whalen couldn’t find someone to take the children hospital staff would be forced to call the state’s child welfare agency. Whalen eventually found a family member to take the children.

— ONE GOOD THING —

in a photo that has gone viral, Ben Cayer and Mindy Brock — husband and wife, and fellow nurse anesthetists at Tampa General Hospital — peered lovingly at each other through layers of protective gear. A co-worker took the picture.

After being shared widely on social media, the photo is inspiring people around the globe.

“Everybody’s talking about the photo,” Cayer told The Associated Press. It strikes a chord “because we’re all going through the same thing right now, and it’s a symbol of hope and love.”

Husband and wife nurse anesthetists Ben Cayer and Mindy Brock stick together through the chaos of coronavirus. Image via AP.

“What’s important is that we stick together, we work together, and we always support each other,” Brock added. “And not just Ben and I, but the human race right now.”

The couple shares a home, a profession and a mission — taking on the high-risk duty of placing breathing tubes in surgery patients, many of whom may have COVID-19.

They didn’t think twice about volunteering for Tampa General Hospital’s new “airway team,” Cayer says.

Placing a tube into a patient’s mouth and down into their airway requires close contact — and because the virus spreads in droplets, the highest level of protective gear. To conserve gear and expose fewer health care workers, the hospital pared-down staff to a minimum for intubations before surgery.

As the hospital is now only performing emergency surgeries due to the pandemic, patients have been in car crashes, or needed brain surgery for a ruptured blood vessel. The new COVID-19 procedures — it was Brock’s first day on the new team — were making them both tense.

“We were arguing,” she says. But later, after finding each other between surgeries: “All those trivial things that we were arguing about that morning, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t that important.” 

The photo captured that moment.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Vacancies have hindered the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus” via Joe Davidson — Eighteen nongovernmental organizations are pressing against agency vacancies that can hinder federal action. The lack of appointed agency leadership has been a long-standing problem in the Trump administration, but not one that bothers him. Trump prefers having acting officials instead of those who require Senate confirmation. At the start of the week, Trump had no nominees for 150 of 749 key positions requiring Senate confirmation. In the Department of Health and Human Services, which is a crucial player in the coronavirus fight, 22% of critical positions do not have a confirmed appointee. At the Department of Homeland Security, the secretary, deputy secretary, and two undersecretary positions are without confirmed leaders.

Trump threatens to force Congress to adjourn to allow recess appointments” via Zachary Basu and Sam Baker of Axios — Trump told the Senate to either “fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees” or formally adjourn so that he can make recess appointments, attacking the chamber for using “scam” pro forma sessions in which it convenes briefly. He singled out the government-run media agency Voice of America for its “disgusting” coverage, demanding that the Senate confirm his appointee for CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. “If you look at what they’re doing and what they’re saying about our country — it’s a disgrace the people that are running that. We have somebody that’s really good, really talented, and loves our country.”

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Donald Trump threatens to adjourn Congress so he can make recess appointments. Image via AP.

Trump halt to WHO funding violates same law as Ukraine aid freeze, House Democrats say” via Caitlin Emma of POLITICO — House Speaker Pelosi said Trump’s decision is “dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged,” without elaborating on what specific action might be taken. But a senior administration official contended that language in the most recent spending bill for the State Department and other foreign aid programs gives Trump “broad discretion” in spending money allocated to WHO, including a possible redirection of the health organization’s funding to other international causes after the administration completes a review of the funds in two to three months. Trump announced the review at the same time he said he would halt the WHO funding.

White House snubs Alex Azar, installs Trump loyalist Michael Caputo as HHS spokesperson” via Dan Diamond and Daniel Lippman of Politico — The White House is installing Trump campaign veteran Caputo in the health department’s top communications position. The move is designed to assert more White House control over Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, whom officials believe has been behind critical reports about President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Caputo, whose title will be assistant secretary of HHS for public affairs, said in a text message, “I am honored to serve the President to the best of my abilities in this time of crisis and, in so doing, the American people.”

After Trump falsely claims ‘total’ authority, Rubio says decision will be made locally” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Rubio offered a counter to Trump‘s claim that the federal government will have “total” authority in relaxing social distancing measures established throughout the nation. While Rubio did not name-check the President, he made clear the decision about when and how to reopen the economy will be left up to local and state leaders. “First of all, from a legal standpoint, that decision belongs to states, not to the federal government,” Rubio said. Rubio also repeated remarks made in an earlier Twitter video, arguing things will not be fully back to normal any time soon, but that widespread shutdowns are not sustainable either.

Vern Buchanan pushes for bailout money to support local media” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Buchanan wants to make sure local media have access to federal bailout dollars. “Due to the unprecedented public health crisis and the resulting economic challenges facing our country, many news organizations are on the brink of collapse,” he wrote. Buchanan alluded to a request from the News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association and America’s Newspapers asking that eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program be determined at the local publisher or station level, rather than the corporate level. That would treat individual newspapers in the same way restaurant chains can qualify for benefits for each location. Buchanan endorsed offering the same treatment to media.

Lois Frankel says domestic violence victims are ‘prisoners in their own home’ during COVID-19 outbreak” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Frankel says she’s pushing for additional funding to help victims of domestic violence as many remain trapped at home with their abusers due to social distancing requirements. Frankel also pointed to the additional stresses, including financial woes, being felt by many families, which advocates worry is increasing the potential for domestic abuse. Some Florida abuse hotlines also saw an increase in calls in March. Frankel also detailed federal aid to help address the crisis. “In the latest action by the Congress, the CARES Act, we provided another $45 million for the Family Violence Prevention Services Act and $2 million for the national domestic violence hotline,” Frankel said.

Political consultants sue for access to small business loans” via Brody Mullins and Ted Mann of The Wall Street Journal — A trade association of political consultants is suing the Trump administration, arguing that the Small Business Administration is violating the First Amendment rights of its members by barring pollsters, lobbyists and campaign operatives from receiving emergency loans linked to the coronavirus pandemic. The suit contends that the “government does not have a legitimate interest during this global pandemic in preventing small businesses from obtaining much-needed cash to cover payroll and health insurance for their employees just because these small businesses exercise fundamental constitutional rights.” When Congress approved the new small-business loan program, it didn’t address the SBA’s existing prohibitions on loans to political consulting firms.

Epilogue — Trial for Rudy Giuliani associates slips until after election” via Josh Gerstein and Betsy Woodruff Swan of POLITICO — A criminal trial for several associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Giuliani has been postponed until well after the November election. Prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed on the postponement, in part because of logistical complications related to the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted court proceedings across the country. An indictment returned against the businessmen last year charged them with violating U.S. campaign finance laws by funneling funds from abroad and hiding their source. Giuliani was not charged in the case, and he has denied any wrongdoing.

— STATEWIDE —

New law used against recreational pot proposal” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Lawyers for the Senate and other opponents have argued in recent months that the Florida Supreme Court should block the proposed amendment because it would conflict with federal laws that make marijuana illegal. But in a filing, the Senate ratcheted up that argument by pointing to a part of a new state law that seeks to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives. That part of the legislation calls on the Supreme Court to consider whether proposed amendments are “facially invalid under the United States Constitution.” The filing by Senate attorneys said the law is “relevant” to the broader argument about the recreational-marijuana amendment conflicting with federal laws.

Corps flip-flops on damage from hunt for oil in Big Cypress. ‘Suspicious,’ environmentalists say.” via Adriana Brasileiro of the Miami Herald — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has abruptly changed its mind about the damage a Texas-based oil exploration company has done in the Big Cypress National Preserve. The reversal came just a month after the agency found Burnett Oil Company’s seismic testing had caused “channelization” and done extensive damage to “high-quality wet prairie and dwarf cypress.” The short, four-paragraph letter did not explain the flip-flop. But it essentially means that Burnett can continue to search for oil inside the preserve without the Corps’ oversight.

Toxic blue-green algae bloom at Lake Okeechobee: Could it get into St. Lucie River?” via Tyler Treadway of TCPalm — The bad news: Blue-green algae blooms, at least one of them toxic, are being reported in Lake Okeechobee and the canal leading from the lake to the St. Lucie River. The good news: It’s highly unlikely the blooms will get into the river — at least for a while. “I don’t recall blooms happening this early in the years, not in the 20 years I’ve been chasing the stuff,” said Indian Riverkeeper Mike Conner. A bloom reported April 6 in Lake O at the channel leading to the dam contained the toxin microcystin at a level of 36 parts per billion, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

An aerial photo shows possible blue-green algae blooms along the western end of the C-44 Canal. Image via Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Sea turtle nesting season starts soon on quieter beaches” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — Sea turtle nesting in Southwest Florida runs from April 15 through Oct. 31 and is one of the wildlife highlights of the summer months. Monitoring on Lee and Collier beaches starts Wednesday, although it’s unlikely females will begin to emerge for another 10 days or so. “We really don’t know what to expect,” said Maura Kraus, Collier County’s top turtle biologist. “We never do with wild animals, but we’re excited to start.” Kraus said this summer would be interesting because there will often be more sea turtle tracks and fewer human footprints due to the national emergency, but that could be a good thing for the breeding turtles.

Jeffrey Epstein’s victims left ‘empty-handed’ again by ruling” via John Pacenti of The Palm Beach Post — Even while rebuking federal prosecutors for “appearing to work hand-in-hand” with Epstein’s lawyers, an appellate court has thwarted a victim’s effort to undo the infamous non-prosecution agreement with the now-deceased financier. The federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not apply because federal prosecutors didn’t indict Epstein themselves and instead punted the case back to Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer under the secret deal. So by scuttling their own 53-page sex trafficking indictment for state solicitation of prostitution charges, federal prosecutors weren’t required to inform Epstein’s victims they had cut what some called the “deal of the century.” The deal gave four named co-conspirators and others immunity from prosecution.

Northwest Florida doctors accused of stealing Trump 2020 flag” via WKRG staff reports — Geoffrey Michael Fraiche, 41, Laura Ann Webb-Fraiche, 38, were arrested and charged with criminal mischief, trespassing, larceny and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Fraiche and Webb-Fraiche are accused of stealing a man’s Trump 2020 flag on April 7. Ring surveillance video shows the two driving up to the man’s house on a golf cart with at least two children with them, according to deputies. The report says Fraiche and Webb-Fraiche used a ladder to take down the man’s Trump campaign flag.

Report: Roy Halladay on drugs, doing stunts when plane crashed” via Terry Spencer of the Associated Press — The Baseball Hall of Famer had high levels of amphetamines in his system and was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control of his small plane and nosedived into the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, killing him, a National Transportation Safety Board report said. Halladay had amphetamine levels about 10 times therapeutic levels in his blood along with a high level of morphine and an anti-depressant that can impair judgment as he performed high-pitch climbs and steep turns, sometimes within 5 feet of the water, the report says about the crash off the coast of Florida.

— 2020 —

Bernie Sanders to boost Joe Biden online, but doesn’t plan to raise money for him” via Eliza Collins of The Wall Street Journal — Sanders will use his campaign’s livestreaming platform and social media channels to promote Biden’s presidential bid and help unify the Democratic Party. Still, he said he doesn’t plan to fundraise on the former Vice President’s behalf. Sanders, who raised the most money of any Democratic candidate this cycle, said there had been no discussions about using his powerful email lists to fundraise for Biden. Instead, Sanders said he would use his database of supporters to solicit donations for progressive candidates down-ballot. Sanders didn’t rule out eventually raising money for Biden or the Democratic Party.

Bernie Sanders will support Joe Biden for President, but he will not raise funds for him.

Elizabeth Warren endorses Biden” via Alexi McCammond of Axios — Warren endorsed Biden, adding another high-profile endorsement after Sen. Sanders and former President Barack Obama did the same this week. Warren’s progressive vision for the future and detailed plans could help Biden build a bridge to the Sanders wing of the party he needs to turn out. She’s high on the list of rumored possibilities as the two have discussed policy since she ended her own presidential campaign earlier this year. Biden has publicly committed to selecting a female candidate for his vice president, with people like Sens. Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar likely in consideration.

This is Biden’s biggest moment. Why does he feel so small?” via Ben Terris of The Washington Post — Biden as much as clinched the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. It is unquestionably the most significant thing to happen in his decadeslong career as a public servant, and yet, shrunken down to the size of an iPhone screen or panel in a Zoom chat, the candidate has never seemed quite so small. The coronavirus caused Biden to shrink and pumped even more airtime into the Trump show, allowing the President to vamp, contradict his scientific advisers, and pick fights with the media in front of millions of viewers who tune into his nightly news conference turned campaign rally.

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —

Democrats urge preparations for huge increase in mail-in voting” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Florida Democrats urged both Florida officials and voters to prepare for a huge increase in mail voting for upcoming elections because of the coronavirus crisis, while also cautioning that major logistical challenges await. The Florida Democratic Party said during a panel discussion that Florida should consider preparing for most if not all voters to cast ballots by mail in the August primary, and perhaps even in the November general election, rather than risk coronavirus contagion in crowds at voting centers.

Vennia Francois opens challenge of Val Demings with bigger fundraising haul” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Francois managed to raise more campaign money in the first quarter of 2020 than Democratic incumbent Demings. Francois raised $103,305. Demings, sometimes mentioned as a potential Vice Presidential candidate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Biden, raised just $95,438 for her congressional reelection bid. Francois’ transfer to the contest for Florida’s 10th Congressional District drew immediate fundraising support this winter as the upstart Orlando Republican candidate outperformed the nationally-recognized Orlando Democrat.

Three in a row: Laura Loomer again tops Lois Frankel in quarterly fundraising, but trails in cash on hand” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — It’s the third straight quarter Loomer has topped Frankel. But the incumbent still holds a large cash-on-hand lead. Frankel has more than $1.25 million on hand going forward, while Loomer holds about one-tenth of that, with $126,000. Still, Loomer was able to top Frankel in money raised during the first quarter of 2020. Loomer added nearly $205,000, according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Frankel, meanwhile, added just over $83,000. But Loomer also burned through all but $11,000 during the quarter. Frankel spent just over $18,000, for a net of about $65,000.

Casey Askar TV spot shares immigration story” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Naples Republican Askar went on air with a new biographical ad recounting his immigrant story. It’s the latest move from the most recent candidate to jump into a crowded field in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. He has quickly become a force in the race. “Everything I Have” tells the story of Askar’s family fleeing Iraq on his seventh birthday. “Christians like us were being persecuted,” Askar narrates over footage of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The ad chronicles Askar joining the Marines and becoming a successful fast-food franchisee. Askar attributes his success to immigrating to the U.S.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Anna Paulina Luna adds $223K in campaign to flip CD 13” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Luna is one of several Republicans vying for a chance to go head-to-head with Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist. The new report is the best yet for the Air Force veteran, who entered the crowded field in September. Combined, Luna raised about $147,000 between her fourth-quarter report and another covering the portion of the third quarter after she launched her campaign.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell outraises Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez in Florida 26 race” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Mucarsel-Powell, a first-term lawmaker elected in 2018, raised $742,000. Her total is close to double the haul of Giménez, her likely Republican opponent in the November election. Giménez’s campaign announced he raised $415,000. Mucarsel-Powell also has a significant advantage in cash-on-hand to run her campaign, $2.1 million to Giménez’s $410,000. Michael Hernandez, who has been both a former Democratic campaign consultant for Mucarsel-Powell and a former senior adviser for Giménez, said Giménez faces “an uphill battle” to match Mucarsel-Powell’s fundraising totals throughout the campaign.

Colleen Burton draws Democratic foe” via the News Service of Florida — Lakeland Democrat Jan Barrow opened a campaign account this week to try to unseat Burton in Polk County’s House District 40. Lakeland Democrat Gregory Williams also opened an account for the race last year but has not reported any campaign finance activity since July. Burton, who chairs the House Health Quality Subcommittee, was first elected to the seat in 2014. She had raised $121,100 for this year’s campaign as of March 31, a finance report shows.

— TOP OPINION —

Why Florida’s coronavirus numbers matter” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Floridians need to see accurate numbers so they can judge for themselves how well their collective effort is working to combat the coronavirus pandemic and how well their elected officials are responding on their behalf. The state updates reported cases of the virus and the number of deaths twice a day. It also provides information that some states don’t offer, such as the age and gender of each person with the virus. DeSantis also provides semiregular updates that offer a mix of numbers about testing capacity and the number of tests performed. At least 40 additional people who died from the virus were missing from the state’s count. The Florida Department of Health has been counting coronavirus deaths only for people who claimed residency in Florida, which leaves out the snowbirds.

— OPINIONS —

False Prophet” via McKay Coppins of The Atlantic — On Feb. 28, Donald Trump stood before a crowd of supporters in South Carolina and told them to pay no attention to the growing warnings of a coronavirus outbreak in America. The press was “in hysteria mode,” the president said. The Democrats were playing politics. This new virus was nothing compared with the seasonal flu— and anyone who said otherwise was just trying to hurt him. “This is their new hoax,” Trump proclaimed. Six weeks later, the coronavirus has killed more than 25,000 Americans, the U.S. economy has been crippled— and Trump is recasting himself as a pandemic prophet.

Trump simply doesn’t understand his job” via George T. Conway III of The Washington Post — When he ran a private company, one he owned, Trump could command all its constituent parts to do his bidding and make the rules himself. You’d think by his fourth year in the White House, he would have learned that the presidency doesn’t work that way. But obviously, he hasn’t. He claims the power to force the entire country to back to work, regardless of what state or local officials say. “They can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States.” In our federal system, the states aren’t under Washington’s control. There’s no exception for emergencies.

Stop deporting coronavirus-exposed immigrants” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Trump late Friday signed an order penalizing any country refusing to accept deportations from our immigration detention facilities, which officials have called breeding grounds for infectious disease. Instead of releasing, with screening and quarantine, all those who pose no public-safety risk, he is deporting people to Latin America as if the coronavirus didn’t exist. Coronavirus has been found in many of our immigration facilities, among detainees and officers. Recently, three deportees to Guatemala were hospitalized with coronavirus soon after arrival. But it’s business as usual for this president. One infected person can cause the virus to spread like wildfire. Yet, deportation flights to Haiti and elsewhere are scheduled. Shouldn’t recklessly spreading coronavirus be a crime with serious penalties attached?

Shevrin Jones: COVID-19 crisis underscores need for guaranteed basic income” via Florida Politics — Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, income inequality and volatility were sharply on the rise. People are hurting, and it’s not just those who were experiencing poverty before who are suddenly experiencing economic insecurity. Every sector of our economy is and will be hit by this. These devastating circumstances and how we respond will shape our society for years to come. We cannot afford just to wait for situations to worsen or force people to wait in limbo for weeks or months. This crisis has underscored the need for a guaranteed basic income for all. An unconditional, guaranteed basic income would give people the freedom to make effective decisions as needs arise — from food and transportation, to utilities and rent.

Wrestling with absurdity: DeSantis shuts down most businesses, but gives WWE a pass” via Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel — Say this about Florida: We take our role as America’s classroom dunce seriously. While most of the nation’s COVID-19 news is focused on health care, infection rates and a shuttered economy, Florida is making headlines for allowing professional wrestling events to continue. Many of you can’t go to work or earn a paycheck out of fear that you and your co-workers might stand or sit too close to one another. But it’s OK for sweaty adults to embrace each other and perform pile-drivers for a cast and crew. That, DeSantis has deemed “essential.” When TMZ explained the story, it felt obliged to tell readers it wasn’t making things up: “No joke. This is real.”

Content I have enjoyed instead of essential WWE wrestling” via Stephanie Hayes of the Tampa Bay Times —DeSantis declared WWE an essential business that can continue to film wrestling in Orlando without an audience. “People are chomping at the bit,” DeSantis said. “If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.” It’s true! Studies show that every single American is watching My Name Is Earl. But there is still content available despite the lack of sports.

Keep Florida’s great outdoors open (as much as possible)” via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Hundreds of thousands of acres and hundreds of miles of walking and cycling trails owned by the state and federal governments are now off-limits and out of use for the foreseeable future. Yes, people are being told by the state to stay home as much as possible. But DeSantis’ order makes an exception for “essential activities,” one of which includes, “Participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming …” That becomes less possible each time public land is closed off to Floridians, many of whose lives have been disrupted by unprecedented financial and emotional struggles.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida’s teacher’s union is not the only group asking Gov. DeSantis to keep campuses closed until the start of the new school year. The Florida PTA and four different medical groups are making the same request.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The first inmates have died of coronavirus in the state prison system. The Department of Corrections kept it quiet for more than a week, but the medical examiner has confirmed the fatalities.

— A shake-up at the state unemployment office. Ken Lawson is still running the Department of Economic Opportunity. Still, DeSantis ordered the director of the Department of Management Services to tackle the agency’s computer problems, which is keeping hundreds of thousands of people from applying for unemployment.

— Sens. Rubio and Scott weigh in on the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott wants more testing and blames China for the outbreak. Rubio says it’s up to state and local governments to decide when people go back to work, questioning the wisdom of putting Trump’s name on all those $1,200 stimulus checks

— The statewide lockdown is unwelcome news for victims of domestic violence, often leaving them trapped at home with their abuser. The head of a shelter in Palm Beach County offers some tips for those in a bad place.

— Rep. Jones of West Park goes to bat for Biden and is hosting a virtual town hall meeting with the former Vice President.

— In the latest with Florida Man, who picked the wrong way to remind people to wear a mask in public.

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Disney+ edited ‘Splash’ by covering Daryl Hannah’s butt with long hair” via Frank Pallotta of CNN — Disney+ has a deep vault of content that includes everything from “Star Wars” to Disney animated classics to Marvel. One thing that the streaming service doesn’t have is Hannah‘s butt. A viewer on Twitter pointed out this week that 1984’s “Splash” has a scene in which Hannah’s rear end is covered by what appears to be long, computer-generated hair. The PG-rated film, which is a romantic comedy about a New Yorker who falls in love with a mermaid, stars Hannah and Tom Hanks in one of his first film roles.

People still love Apple’s small iPhone SE, even as the company moves on the bigger things” via Heather Kelly of The Washington Post — Apple is replacing its smallest phone with a new, larger second-generation iPhone SE. Apple stopped manufacturing iPhone SEs in September 2018 and no longer sells it directly, although there’s still a smattering of new SEs and plenty of used and refurbished options online.

Apple is launching a new version of its least expensive iPhone ever: The iPhone SE.

Fort Lauderdale pub removes $10,000 stapled to walls, donates to unemployed staff” via Phillip Valys of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The history of Fort Lauderdale restaurant Hott Leggz is written with magic marker on thousands of dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceiling. “We were like, there’s literally money on the walls, so let’s donate it all to the employees,” co-owner Juliana Sodre says. “We always had a running joke that if something went wrong with the bar, at least we had worst-case-scenario money. Well, this is a worst-case scenario.” Since March 21, Sodre and volunteers have carefully unstuck and cleaned thousands of bills, one by one. One bill, caked in years of bar dust, had 16 staples in it, Sodre says. By unofficial tally, they harvested about $10,000, with stacks of dirty bills stretched across the bar countertop.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to numbers guru Donna Arduin, Senate President Bill Galvano, former U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns and Jeb! alum and comms pro Cory Tilley.

___

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 Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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.



#FlaPol

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 @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Daniel Figueroa, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Mike Wright, and Tristan Wood.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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