Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.21.20

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Florida politics and Sunburn — perfect together.

If the number of claims flowing into the state unemployment system didn’t make it clear Floridians are struggling, a new poll from the University of South Florida and Nielsen does.

The survey, conducted last month, found more than two-thirds of Floridians are experiencing income loss or work disruption, be it a loss in hours (27%), a temporary furlough (18%), a pay cut (13%) or a layoff (12%).

The sudden and near-total economic destruction has left many shellshocked. Three in five respondents said they’re worried they won’t be able to cover their bills at some point in the next three months. Another third said their savings weren’t enough to hold them over.

If the sheer number of unemployment claims didn’t prove Floridians are hurting, new polling does.

While the pandemic has affected every Floridian over the past couple of months, it has hit low-income and minority Floridians the hardest. Black Floridians were almost twice as likely as white Floridians to have had their hours slashed or a pay cut. Hispanic Floridians, meanwhile, were doubly likely to have been given the boot.

Still, not all of the new normal is negative.


The pandemic has led to a boost in videoconferencing and telephone conversations — about half of respondents said they were using those technologies more today than they were before the new coronavirus arrived in the Sunshine State.

And they don’t just bust out the webcams for social calls. A third of those polled said someone in their household had either made a complete (23%) or partial (10%) transition to teleworking


Lockdown delays cost at least 36,000 lives, data show” via James Glanz and Campbell Robertson — If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers. And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83% — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated. Under that scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.

Apple, Google release their coronavirus exposure notification tech via Ina Fried of Axios — Apple and Google said on Wednesday that they have finished the initial version of their exposure notification technology and are making it available to health authorities to build their apps. Android and iOS are both getting updates today to enable the technology. The Bluetooth-based technology is designed to augment human contact tracing and offers a way for people to find out when someone they have been near tested positive for COVID-19. The critical question now is how broadly people will adopt the apps that use the technology. Apple and Google have sought to maximize privacy, in part to get the critical mass of users necessary to make the technology effective.

Apple and Google release their respective virus contact-tracing apps.

As Mike Pence stands by, Ron DeSantis unleashes on former health official via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — DeSantis blasted Rebekah Jones, who was fired from the Florida Department of Health after she raised doubts about the veracity of testing data on the DOH COVID-19 dashboard. “She’s not a data scientist. She is somebody that has a degree in journalism communication and geography,” DeSantis told reporters in Orlando, growing animated. “She is not involved in collating any data, she does not have the expertise to do that.” DeSantis criticized Jones professionally and noted her pending legal issues. “She is also under active criminal charges in the state of Florida for cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment. I asked the Department of Health to explain to me how someone would be allowed to be charged with that and continue.”

Where does DeSantis go to get his apology? via Rich Lowry of The National Review — The conventional wisdom has begun to change about Florida, as the disaster so widely predicted hasn’t materialized. It’s the opposite of the media narrative of a Donald Trump-friendly Governor disregarding the facts to pursue a reckless agenda. DeSantis and his team have followed the science closely from the beginning, which is why they forged a nuanced approach, but one that focused like a laser on the most vulnerable population, those in nursing homes. An irony is that at the same time DeSantis was being made into a villain, New York governor Andrew Cuomo was being elevated as a hero, even though the DeSantis approach to nursing homes was obviously superior to that of Cuomo.

Florida made $283 million in deals because it feared COVID-19” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times — Gov. DeSantis has chastised the media for quoting public health modelers who predicted the state would run out of hospital bed space if he didn’t issue a statewide stay-home order in April. But the governor’s emergency managers, using those same models, were so concerned they would run out of space that they signed $283 million in no-bid deals to build alternative hospitals to hold the overflow. The deal to use Children & Family Hospital was brokered by Alex Heckler, Democratic Party operative and close friend of Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.


@GovRonDeSantis: Thank you to Vice President @Mike_Pence for visiting Florida today to get a firsthand look at our Safe. Smart. Step-By-Step. Plan to reopen the state for business. The people of Florida appreciate your continued support!

@EvanAxelbank: One moment from today’s roundtable was when Gov DeSantis told VP they allowed for alcohol delivery during all this and VP pretended he never said it and just kept going.

@ScottTParkinson: Proud of my former boss, @GovRonDeSantis, for pushing back against partisan journalists and defending Florida! This video will go viral.

@ChrisMZiegler: I have now heard from about a dozen big timers in Trump Orbit (2016 & 2020 consultants/surrogates) that this clip may bumped @GovRonDeSantis into Top Tier 2024. Might end up being a “Santelli on Chicago Mercantile Exchange Floor” moment.

@CrowleyReport: One hopes that after his rant today, DeSantis feels better. He is not all wrong in his comments, but his style, penchant for keeping secrets, and unwillingness to be bipartisan hurt him more than it helps.

Tweet, tweet:

@NewsBySmiley: The demographics in Florida, with so many conservative Cuban-Americans, are going to consistently lead to better numbers for Trump among Hispanic voters. It’s about the margins.

@SenPizzo: Today makes 30 days in Tallahassee (and my 44th birthday) — my wife asked me what I wanted, and I told her a PEUC link

@AdamSchefter: Florida is now home of nine of the Top 10 NFL jersey sales.


English Premier League soccer to restart — 11; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 18; PGA Tour resumes — 21; Father’s Day — 31; Apple to hold Developer Conference — 32; Federal taxes due — 55; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 57; “Mulan” premieres — 64; TED conference rescheduled — 66; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 88; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 92; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 95; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 106; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 107; Rescheduled date for French Open — 121; First presidential debate in Indiana — 132; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 142; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 147; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 148; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 154; 2020 General Election — 166; “Black Widow” premieres — 169; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 180; “No Time to Die” premieres — 187; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 216; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 428; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 437; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 533; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 631; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 673; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 716; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 869.


Americans harbor strong fear of new infections via Thomas Beaumont and Hannah Fingerhut of The Associated Press — Strong concern about the second wave of coronavirus infections is reinforcing widespread opposition among Americans to reopening public places. Support for public health restrictions imposed to control the virus’ spread is no longer overwhelming. It has been eroded over the past month by a widening partisan divide, with Democrats more cautious and Republicans less anxious. 83% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections, with 54% saying they are very or extremely concerned that such steps will result in a spike of COVID-19 cases.

Jason Godbey hangs a banner over the entrance of Madison Chop House Grille as they prepare to shift from takeout only to dine-in service in Madison, Georgia. Image via AP.

“’We’ve been muzzled’: CDC sources say White House putting politics ahead of science via Robert Kuznia, Curt Devine and Nick Valencia of CNN — CDC officials say their agency’s efforts to mount a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been hamstrung by a White House whose decisions are driven by politics rather than science. The result has worsened the effects of the crisis, sources inside the CDC say, relegating the 73-year-old agency that has traditionally led the nation’s response to infectious disease to a supporting role. Now, mid- and higher-ranking staff members within the agency are starting to voice their discontent. “We’ve been muzzled,” said a current CDC official. “What’s tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money.”

Thousands of nurses say they still have to reuse masks while treating coronavirus patients via Stephanie Baer of BuzzFeed News — Of the nearly 23,000 nurses who responded to the survey conducted by the union National Nurses United between April 15 and May 10, 87% reported that they’ve had to reuse what should be single-use, disposable N95 respirators or surgical masks when treating a COVID-19 patient due to ongoing mass shortages of personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, 27% said they were exposed to patients who tested positive for the disease while they didn’t have appropriate PPE. And, the nurses said, they still had to return to work within 14 days of their exposure. N95 respirators and surgical masks should only be used once, according to their manufacturers.

Different approaches to a coronavirus vaccine via Jonathan Corum, Knvul Sheikh and Carl Zimmer of The New York Times — Scientists are developing more than 100 coronavirus vaccines using a range of techniques, some of which are well-established and some of which have never been approved for medical use before. Most of these vaccines target the so-called spike proteins that cover the virus and help it invade human cells. The immune system can develop antibodies that latch onto spike proteins and stop the virus. A successful vaccine would teach people’s immune systems to make antibodies against the virus without causing disease. Many experimental coronavirus vaccines don’t deliver whole viruses. Instead, they provide genetic instructions for building a viral protein. The protein can then stimulate the immune system to make antibodies and help mount other defenses against the coronavirus.

Donald Trump fans gobble up his favorite, unproven COVID-19 drug — Some are even trying to cook it themselves via Will Sommer of the Daily Beast — Trump’s allies are seeking out hydroxychloroquine and even trying risky substitutes for the anti-malaria drug as it has become an emblem of the President’s unorthodox approach to fighting coronavirus. The FDA doesn’t recommend using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent COVID-19 outside of hospitals or clinical trials. A Veterans Affairs study of hydroxychloroquine found that the drug has no effect on COVID-19 and may actually increase mortality rates for patients. That hasn’t stopped Trump fans.

If Trump wants to ban travel to prevent COVID-19, why does he target Latin America and not Europe? via Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald — Regardless of Trump’s excuses for his erratic response to the coronavirus crisis, here are the facts: First, the United States, with 4.2 percent of the world’s population, has more than 28 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. At the time of this writing, 91,845 of the 322,861 COVID-19 deaths in the world have been in the United States. Second, if we measure COVID-19 deaths as a percentage of the population, some countries — mostly in Europe — have a higher fatality rate than the United States does. But the United States is high on the list of COVID-19 deaths worldwide and much higher than any Latin American country.


Florida knew a COVID-19 pandemic was likely. State leaders didn’t warn the public. via Sarah Blaskey and Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald — While the public was kept in the dark, top Florida health officials were scrambling to come up with a plan for a crisis they knew was upon them. Records show that on Feb. 13, DOH assembled an emergency response team. The team’s mission: “Contain the spread of the virus.” It also began preparing for N95 mask shortages and privately providing pandemic protocols to long-term care facilities, warning them about the risks the virus posed to elderly residents. The state was also monitoring hundreds of people, far more than anyone outside state government knew at the time. DOH memos marked “confidential” show that by Feb. 18, more than 500 people in Florida had been flagged for monitoring for possible exposure.

Apparently, Florida officials knew what was coming with coronavirus, but did not let the public know. Image via WLRN.

Florida adds 44 coronavirus deaths, as Tampa Bay fatalities surpass 300 via Rebecca Woolington of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida on Wednesday recorded 44 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the state’s total death toll to 2,173. Deaths continue to increase in long-term care facilities across the state. As of Wednesday, 968 coronavirus deaths involved either a resident or staff member of a care center. That’s the equivalent of roughly 45 percent of all deaths attributed to the virus. Confirmed cases jumped by 527 on Wednesday, as the state’s total count of confirmed infections rose to 47,471. The average growth rate of new deaths has flattened in recent days, while newly reported cases have been trending slightly upward. Statewide, 772,669 people tested for the virus. About 6% of overall tests have come back positive.

As COVID-19 cases and deaths rise, Florida prisons boss says ‘major facilities’ dodged spread via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — The Department of Corrections has said in statements that it has ramped up health services, reviews of medical equipment, routine temperature checks and medical isolation measures for inmates with symptoms. Visitation remains suspended through June to prevent carriers from bringing in the disease. “We have successfully prevented community spread of COVID-19 at the majority of our major facilities,” Secretary Mark Inch said in a statement.

Prison COVID-19 cases continue increasing via the News Service of Florida — Florida corrections officials reported 72 new COVID-19 cases among state prisoners, bringing the total number of inmates who have tested positive for the respiratory illness to 1,191. The largest jump in cases came at South Bay Correctional Facility, which has 106 confirmed cases among prisoners, saw an increase of 38 new cases since Tuesday. Three other prisons with outbreaks saw their cases increase: Hamilton Correctional Institution, which has 142 inmate cases; Apalachee Correctional Institution, which has 95 inmate cases; and Blackwater River Correctional Facility, where 66 inmates have tested positive, and seven others have died from complications of COVID-19. Two more corrections workers also have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total confirmed cases among staff members to 241.

Answers sought on COVID-19 in disability facilities via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Disability Rights Florida Legal Director Peter Sleasman sent an email to state Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer outlining concerns that the state hasn’t done enough to protect residents with disabilities. The email asked the agency, whose duties include operating Sunland Center in Marianna, to provide details about its plans or to call him about the issues. The state began testing hundreds of residents and staff members last week at Sunland after two residents were found to have COVID-19. In a statement, Agency for Persons with Disabilities spokeswoman Melanie Etters said the agency was working on a response to Sleasman’s request. Etters didn’t say whether the agency would respond by the end of the day.

Florida lags in paying pandemic unemployment assistance to the self-employed via Graham Brink and Richard Danielson of the Tampa Bay Times — As an independent contractor, Rich Brown is eligible to collect $600 a week in emergency federal assistance. But Florida has struggled to get the benefit to independent contractors and self-employed workers, running far behind many other states. It took weeks for Florida to set up a separate system to distribute the federal money, and even now, applicants say the process is difficult to navigate and frustratingly Byzantine. Brown and other independent contractors who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times said they first had to apply for state benefits, even though independent contractors aren’t eligible. Only when the state officially declares them ineligible will the website let them apply for the federal benefits, they said. Two months after first applying, Brown is still waiting.

Unpaid for weeks, Disney workers push back on Ron DeSantis via Christopher Heath of WFTV — DeSantis defended the unemployment system’s rejection rate, suggesting user error. There is one group that should be immune from error but are not: Disney cast members. Dozens of Disney cast members who have reached out to ABC Channel 9 Investigates after the state auto-enrolled them in unemployment and have since had their claims denied. “It said that I was denied due to insufficient income,” says Laura Colt. “On the bottom where it says employer info is was just zero, zero, zero.”

Craig Fugate talks hurricane effects on schools in COVID-19 era via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — During The Southern Group’s virtual education conference, the former head of FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM), Fugate, shared how the global pandemic will affect school campuses, primary sheltering sites, during and after hurricanes. “Anytime we move people from one area of the state to another, anytime we’re interacting with the public, all the things we’re going to see in a disaster, one person in the wrong circumstances spreading COVID-19 could cause a blowup,” Fugate said. “And in a disaster, it would be even worse because of the impacts to health care and other already stressed industries.”

Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate talks COVID-19 and its effect on schools. 

Kelli Stargel: Education funding still an unknown amid pandemic via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Obvious logistical questions emerged as schools were forced online during the COVID-19 pandemic, but education funding remains in limbo for the 2020-2021 school year. With gutted tourism and depressed spending, the state is seeing less tax revenue. That’s on top of tax cuts dealt to corporations in crisis during the pandemic, all weighing down the budget the Legislature passed before knowing COVID-19’s full economic effect. State and federal funding mechanisms will need the flexibility to account for whether schools are on campus, virtual, or in a blended learning environment. With a constrained budget, including out of the Legislature, only the priorities get funded. That’s put technological advancements on the back burner until the COVID-19 crisis subsides.

How to safely reopen ‘closed communities’ such as Florida’s universities via Dr. William Greenough of the Tampa Bay Times — Having missed the early opportunity to contain the spread of the coronavirus scourge, we were forced to use the blunt instrument of shutting down our economy. As Florida begins to reopen, we have tools to use to prevent the virus’ spread: quick tests to identify who has the coronavirus and, this is key, then rely on members of a community to locate those who might have had contact with the ones who test positive. This process can work in relatively closed communities such as universities that are less at risk.


City of Jacksonville closes Prime Osborn testing site via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — The City of Jacksonville announced it is closing its drive-thru coronavirus testing site at downtown’s Prime Osborn Convention Center, saying that residents have access to testing at other public sites and dozens of private medical facilities. The location was the first drive-thru testing center when it opened in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak on March 20. The center administered 3,700 tests as of May 14. Free testing is still available at TIAA Bank Field and the Legends Center, as well as by appointment with the Florida Department of Health.

Duval School Board votes in favor of providing PPE to all students, staff via Joe McLean of News4Jax — The Duval County School Board voted Tuesday evening in favor of the purchase of 143,000 reusable face masks to distribute to all students, faculty and staff in the district. The vote was 6-1. The school board will next review the mask policy after Dr. Diana Greene — the school superintendent — and staff review CDC protocols for returning students to face to face instruction. A spokesperson for the school district noted that the board voted on a recommendation to purchase the masks, but not to require students and staff to wear them. The spokesperson added that no policy or decisions had been made regarding that or the reopening of schools.

Duval County School Superintendent Diana Greene and her staff are reviewing CDC protocols for returning students to school.

Will reopening reignite pandemic? Tests of poop at Miami-Dade sewage plants may be first clue via Adriana Brasileiro of the Miami Herald — The biggest fear for Miami-Dade County and every other Florida community now easing into reopening parks, shops and restaurants are doing too much too soon and triggering a dreaded “second wave” of COVID-19 infections. The first warning of that might not come from rising 911 calls or hospital visits but from a surprising place — human poop piped to county sewage plants. Since late March, Miami-Dade’s Water and Sewer Department has been sampling the flow of untreated waste and sending it to a specialty lab in Boston as a possible way to broadly estimate infection rates in the population. But, perhaps more important, the sampling could potentially detect early indicators of another infectious surge.

Miami-Dade diners return to restaurants as dining rooms reopen amid COVID-19 via Carlos Frias of the Miami Herald — Wine Wednesdays over Zoom just weren’t the same. After 62 days in separate quarantine, friends Natalie, Valeria and Monique raised a frosty glass of golden beer in person on the front porch of Flanigan’s Seafood Bar and Grill in Kendall as traffic zoomed by. They toasted over plates of fried chicken wings and baby back ribs on the first day Miami-Dade County restaurant dining rooms were allowed to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. They wore masks until they were seated. Tables on either side of them were kept empty to ensure at least six feet of separation as restaurants are limited to no more than half capacity. When the masked server approached, she handed them disposable menus.

Miami restaurants fight their insurance companies over coronavirus losses via Izzy Kapnick of the Miami New Times — After two months of empty tables and dwindling bank accounts, many Miami restaurants still haven’t been able to recover any insurance money for their losses from the coronavirus-spawned shutdown. Delayed and denied claims on their commercial insurance policies have left them with a cash shortfall. Many policies come with clauses that exclude viral and bacterial outbreaks, which have become commonplace since the 2003 SARS outbreak and are often written into commercial policies to protect insurers against having to pay out claims on a mass scale during pandemics. It’s likely to take years for Florida courts to sort out how much of that vaporized revenue should be reimbursed by insurers.

Can South Florida’s climate change adaptation programs survive coronavirus costs? via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — South Florida cities were already struggling to cover the high costs of adapting to climate change, even before the coronavirus. Now, shutdowns and spiraling expenses associated with the global pandemic are wreaking havoc on government budgets. Although the full impacts of the financial crunch won’t be known for a while, setting aside money for problems years or decades away will likely be a growing challenge for many communities — and their political leadership. Just months into the COVID-19 crisis, the chipping away has already begun on some signature South Florida climate programs. Miami spent a good chunk of its new climate action plan brainstorming ways to pay for adaptation. Now its resilience office is taking a $30,000 budget hit, part of a $16.5 million reduction citywide.

Hotels reopen, roll out red carpet of safety rules for guests via Alexandra Clough of The Palm Beach Post — On May 15, Palm Beach County allowed hotels to begin accepting leisure guests. The county’s decision to reopen hotels for leisure guests is a crucial first step back for the industry, experts say. The move came on the same day Gov. DeSantis announced that Florida would move into its “full Phase One” plan to reopen the state. Those going out and about in the coming days and weeks will encounter new rules designed to minimize the spread of the virus and make guests feel safe. These changes include the heavy use of technology, social distancing in public spaces, and masks and gloves worn by hotel personnel. Guests also will notice the increased use of outdoor spaces.

Palm Beach Kennel Club, opening Friday, offers glimpse of how poker will be played via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — When the Palm Beach Kennel Club reopens on Friday, its poker room will have a drastically different look — and could share a glimpse of what table games might look like as casinos grapple with coronavirus concerns. After being closed for over two months, the West Palm Beach facility will resume business with a lengthy list of new precautions. If you’re planning on visiting, you’ll have to wear a facial covering, sign a waiver, and receive a temperature check before entering the building. With table games becoming a tricky issue for casinos due to chips frequently changing hands and the proximity of players, the Palm Beach Kennel Club is instituting several new guidelines.

Palm Beach Kennel Club is reopening, offering a glimpse of things to come for poker rooms across the nation.

F-16s to roar over South Florida. Here’s how to see them. via Austen Erblat of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Floridians will have a few opportunities to watch Air Force jets and Coast Guard aircraft flying this weekend. The U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard will fly a variety of aircraft, including F-16 Falcons, over 34 South Florida hospitals in a “salute flight” to health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers. On Saturday, the F-16s will start at the Truman Medical Center in Key West about 11:35 a.m. and make their way north, reaching Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center at 12:22 p.m. Then, they’ll head south, ending their flyover over Homestead Medical Center at 12:44 p.m. Around the same time, a U.S. Coast Guard MH65 helicopter and C-144 plane from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami will fly over 16 South Florida hospitals.

Assignment editors — Democratic Sens. Randolph Bracy and Linda Stewart will hold a virtual news conference to discuss obstacles still barring applicants from successfully obtaining unemployment benefits, 3 p.m., Zoom invite link:; meeting ID: 740 236 8654; password: 698095.


Mike Pence in Orlando: Florida’ leading the way to open up America again’” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times — Sitting alongside DeSantis, Pence praised Florida’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and suggested the state’s approach to restarting business activity amid a public health crisis was a pacesetter for the rest of the nation. “This state is really leading the way to open up America again,” Pence said. DeSantis called Orlando “a bright spot” that would “launch our return.” The region did not see the kind of deadly outbreak that many expected. Nevertheless, closures here paralyzed the local economy, which thrives on theme park traffic. Other businesses that don’t have the financial reserves of Disney or Universal warned of more hardship ahead if tourists don’t soon fill Central Florida’s vacant hotel rooms and empty attractions.

Mike Pence praises Orlando (and Florida) for showing what reopening America should look like. Image via Jimmy Patronis/Twitter.

“‘Orlando is suffering,’ tourism officials tell Pence via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — Theme park executives, restaurant owners, and hoteliers told the Vice President at a roundtable discussion that the damage caused by shutdowns from the virus was unprecedented in a $86 billion industry that survived travel declines after the 9/11 attacks and the recession a dozen years ago. Pence’s visit coincided with the limited reopening of an entertainment complex at Walt Disney World, the area’s biggest tourist destination. “If we don’t get people back to work quickly, it’s all over,” central Florida hotelier Harris Rosen said. “Orlando is suffering. Orlando is struggling. The hospitality industry is in deep depression.” Before meeting with tourism officials, Pence visited the Westminster Baldwin Park senior facility in Orlando, where he signed a box of personnel protective equipment and praised the facility for not having a single case of the coronavirus.

Universal Orlando will present plans to Orange task force tomorrow as first step to reopening via Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — Universal Orlando will be the first major theme park to present reopening plans Thursday to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ Economic Recovery Task Force. The plan is expected to include a projected opening date, county spokeswoman Despina McLaughlin said. She said she did not know when Disney and SeaWorld would present their plans, contradicting earlier information provided by the county that said all three theme parks would present on Thursday. Executives from all three theme parks serve on Demings’ task force. County approval of a reopening plan was outlined by DeSantis recently as the first step for the theme parks to swing their gates back open and begin to reignite Florida’s tourism-dependent economy.

Disney Springs open again and here’s what we are seeing via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — There are new rules in play today as Disney Springs reopened to masked visitors, who trickled into the sprawling shopping and dining complex beginning at 10 a.m. to find old favorites mixed in with new rituals. Walt Disney World welcomed back the public as it began the first phase of getting back to business with 44 establishments opening their doors. Here’s what we saw at Disney Springs today. The first hour of post-pandemic Disney Springs was a relatively quiet one. Visitors trickled into the Orange Garage and had minimal waits for their temperature checks before walking into the shopping complex. At first, the scene mostly consisted of live-streamers and window shoppers. News helicopters hovered. The usual Disney Springs piped-in music blared.

SeaWorld CEO tells Vice President Mike Pence park could reopen in June” via Steven Lemongello and Mark Skoneki of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida tourism leaders called for a quicker reopening and more government help in a roundtable with Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis in Orlando. DeSantis urged theme park companies to open up their water parks. Universal Orlando said it would be the first major theme park to present reopening plans Thursday to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings’ Economic Recovery Task Force. Marc Swanson, interim CEO of SeaWorld, was the only theme park representative to give any kind of estimate as to when the parks could reopen.

Visit Orlando, Experience Kissimmee cut international teams as coronavirus changes travel industry via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — Central Florida tourism agencies have slashed international marketing teams and will instead target domestic travelers as the coronavirus pandemic ends and the industry begins to bounce back. Visit Orlando’s international team went from 15 to three, while Experience Kissimmee let go of five of its seven international staff members. Experience Kissimmee, which had a projected operating budget in 2018-2019 of $19.3 million, had already reduced staff hours from 40 to 32 per week, resulting in a 20% payroll reduction. Visit Orlando, too, has based its post-recovery plan on domestic travel. Its budget was $100 million last year.

Bar owners, workers protest in Clearwater against orders that keep them closed via Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times — Since DeSantis ordered bars and nightclubs to close on March 17 to slow the spread of coronavirus, Mastry’s bartender Marcia Geary has gone through all of her savings. She immediately filed for unemployment benefits, but the funds have still not shown up, no matter how many times she checks her bank account. Geary says the shutdown has affected more than her livelihood. Regulars who are used to seeing her daily, as well as older customers who depend on their afternoon cocktail for socialization, have been calling her at home just to have someone to talk to. “It’s not even all about the alcohol, people need to talk to other people,” said Geary, who has worked at Mastry’s in St. Petersburg for seven years.

Derby Lane spectators’ comfortable’ with safety precautions in return to the track via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times — In what already is an odd year at Derby Lane given the Dec. 31 state-legislated end of greyhound racing, Wednesday marked a return to normal operations, with some requisite changes. Temperature readings were taken at the entrance. Plastic sheeting hung at the top of the betting and concession windows. Staff wore masks and gloves, except in a few specific cases. “I got nothing but compliments all day just for being open again, and I didn’t hear of any problems at all,” Derby Lane CEO Richard Winning said. It was good to have the employees working and have the dogs running in front of a live audience.” And, just as during the previous 94 years, to the joy of a few with the winning ticket and the angst of most others.

Tampa Bay Partnership rolls out platform to track local coronavirus cases, hospital beds and more via Veronica Brezina-Smith of the Tampa Bay Business Journal — The Tampa Bay Partnership introduced its COVID-19 Regional Re-Opening Dashboard, a comprehensive dashboard that tracks data county by county, which can be used to help guide leaders when making decisions about reopening, and could also show if Tampa Bay would experience a second wave. “We have taken the benchmarks and created a real-time dashboard that measures this in the eight counties,” Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans said on a virtual call. The areas of data being tracked are benchmarks the governor indicated as the most critical to know in his recovery plan.

With Lido Beach open, a bright spot for St. Armands businesses via Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The majority of Sarasota city commissioners advocated for weeks to keep Lido closed because of COVID-19 hot spots within city limits. City leaders finally gave way, leaving businesses on St. Armands hopeful that bluer skies are coming. Several restaurants reopened Tuesday. Some companies on St. Armands were hit particularly hard in recent months. That’s partly because rents are higher on St. Armands Circle than elsewhere, with some monthly bills going as high as $30,000 a month. Retail shops and restaurants are only allowed to open at 50% capacity. A spike in positive cases could force local and state leaders to tighten certain restrictions.

Lido Beach is now open, giving some St. Armands businesses hope for recovery. Image via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

15 new COVID-19 cases bring total in Escambia and Santa Rosa to 920 via Pensacola News Journal staff reports — Fifteen new cases of coronavirus were reported between Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, growing the total in both counties to 920. Santa Rosa County’s total increased to 197 with the addition of 11 new cases, while Escambia County added four more cases to reach 723. The death toll remained at 30 as no further deaths were reported in either county. Escambia County has reported 21 deaths since the start of the outbreak, including 15 tied to long-term care facilities. Santa Rosa County has reported nine deaths.

“‘COVID-19 robbed me of my mama’: The last days of TDC nursing assistant Theresa Edwards via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Edwards was getting weaker and weaker, but she didn’t want anyone to know just how sick she’d become. She started feeling bad around April 7, a few days after she worked an overnight double shift at the Tallahassee Developmental Center. She hadn’t been given a mask to protect herself from the novel coronavirus, first detected in Tallahassee a few weeks earlier. After being admitted to the hospital, Theresa went on a ventilator but deteriorated quickly. On April 25, doctors called to say she had suffered a stroke and appeared to be brain dead. The family made the tough call to end lifesaving measures.


Survey shows effect of virus on food scarcity, rent payments via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — More than 10% of U.S. households in a survey said they could not get enough of the food they needed some of the time or often, and almost a quarter of respondents said they would have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage or will defer payments. The survey showed that around 40% of respondents said they had delayed seeking medical care as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and a little under half of the households surveyed last week had some loss of job-related income. Almost 100% of respondents with kids in school had education plans disrupted by school closures.

Jim Boutwell, of Paducah, works as a meat-cutter at Hughes Market and Meat Processing in West Paducah, Kentucky. Image via AP.

We’re all poorer now. Nothing the government does can fix that. via Megan McArdle of The Washington Post — The government’s tools for dealing with crises all work to give individuals and businesses either money or hope or both. The money helps keep the unemployed fed and warm, and staves off cascades of insolvency, which can set back an economy by years. No amount of government aid is going to persuade many people to buy work clothes they don’t need, eat at a recently shuttered restaurant, enjoy an exercise class wearing a mask or take a long trip. Alternatives haven’t replaced that spending; it’s just gone. Until we get the virus under control, we are all going to have to learn to live with a lot less than we’re used to.

Retailers phaseout coronavirus hazard pay for essential workers via Jaewon Kang and Sharon Terlep of The Wall Street Journal — Some of the biggest U.S. retailers are ending the extra pay they gave to front-line workers as coronavirus-related costs pile up and the ranks of jobless Americans surge, tipping the labor market in employers’ favor. Workers and unions are pushing back, saying they still face additional risk at work. For retailers, labor has already become expensive as minimum wages climbed in recent years. Adding to costs are new needs, such as securing protective equipment for staff and spending more to sanitize stores and distribution centers.

Royal Caribbean reports $1.4 billion loss amid coronavirus pandemic via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. released earnings results showing the Miami-based company lost $6.91 on a per-share basis. Its stock is down 68% since Jan. 1. The company is the parent to Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea Cruises, including the world’s four largest cruise ships that sail out of Port Canaveral, PortMiami and Port Everglades. The earnings release said the company’s revenue for the quarter ending March 31 was $2.03 billion compared with $2.44 billion in 2019.

Food prices soar to highest one-month increase since 1974; price of eggs up 16% in April via Susan Selasky of USA Today — Grocery store bills shot up April, showing the biggest monthly increase in nearly 50 years. While overall, the April CPI declined 0.8%, consumers, on average, paid 2.6% more for groceries. It’s the largest one-month increase since February 1974. Price increases in the meat, poultry, fish and egg category were the steepest. Disruptions in the food supply linked to meat processing plant closures and slowdowns, along with a shift in production from restaurants and institutions to retail, led to increases.

Darden Restaurants reopens nearly half its dining rooms; employees to return to Orlando headquarters via Austin Fuller of the Orlando Sentinel — Darden Restaurants said 49% of its dining rooms had reopened as of Sunday, and it expected more than 65% of them to open with limited capacity by the end of the month. As of Feb. 23, Darden had 1,812 restaurants, meaning about 890 have reopened. The company also plans to reopen its Orlando headquarters. Employees there will wear masks in common areas, be socially distanced throughout the headquarters, and encouraged to take their temperatures at home.


The pandemic may forever change the world’s cities via Ishaan Tharoor of The Washington Post — With many companies probably downsizing their physical footprints and demand for commercial real estate slowing, the skyscrapers that shape skylines from Manhattan to Mumbai may start to look more like white elephants than symbols of financial might. Cities may conduct a new wave of experimentation that may range from the benign such as shutting down streets to car traffic and expanding public outdoor seating, pedestrian- and bicycle-only spaces. Or it could be more sinister such as new technologies of surveillance and contact tracing that may come to dominate urban life even after the pandemic.

The COVID-19 lockdown in Las Vegas is taking a massive toll on the city’s entertainment and hospitality industries, with hundreds of thousands out of work. Image via AP.

The handshake will return. It’s too much a part of who we are. via Robin Givhan of The Washington Post — We’ve long known that for all its convenience and worth, a handshake was a bobbing petri dish of germs and grime. But the ick factor didn’t matter because we relied on the handshake to keep Western civilization humming along, one gentleman’s agreement, one political campaign, one lesson in good sportsmanship after another. It’s doubtful this pandemic will permanently obliterate what previous outbreaks did not. Even Anthony Fauci believes our commitment to shaking hands may ultimately be unshakable. Besides, could anything replace this deeply meaningful gesture? To forgo the handshake forever is akin to asking humans to cease trying to one-up one another or to stop seeking a kindred spirit. It means erasing centuries of cultural and social data points.

NCAA weighs moratorium amid push to offer fall sports via Steve Megargee of The Associated Press — The NCAA Division I Council debated whether to let a moratorium on voluntary workouts on campus expire at the end of the month as a growing number of college leaders express confidence that fall sports will be played in some form. The topic was on the agenda for the council for Wednesday, though it was not clear a decision would be made. Several schools have announced plans to reopen their campuses for the fall semester, and conferences have begun setting up plans for how to play football amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many questions remain, including specific safety protocols and whether fans would be allowed if games proceed.

Researchers: Nearly half of accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely bots” via Bobby Allyn of NPR —Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University culled through more than 200 million tweets since January and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans. It is too early to say conclusively what individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing divisions in America. Among misinformation disseminated by bot accounts were tweets that conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or connecting the spread of the coronavirus to 5G wireless towers, a notion that is patently untrue.


Trump threatens funds for states easing voting in pandemic via Nicholas Riccardi and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press — Trump threatened to hold up federal funds for two election battleground states that are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. The President’s tweets targeting Michigan and Nevada marked an escalation in his campaign against voting by mail, a practice that he has publicly worried will lead so many people to vote that Republicans will lose in November. Even though the CDC recommends mail voting as a safe option during the pandemic, Trump has opposed the spread of the practice. Trump later made a similar threat against Nevada.

Donald Trump is threatening to withhold funds to states that relax voting rules during the pandemic.

Assignment editors — Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Charlie Crist, Darren Soto, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will hold a joint virtual news conference to discuss the problems in the Florida unemployment system, 10 a.m. Eastern time, Zoom link RSVP at [email protected].


State begins factoring COVID-19 into hurricane response costs via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — Plans are underway to establish more staging areas to reduce crowds of relief workers, shift to single-serve packaging of food and revamp sleeping arrangements for restoration crews working remotely, as utilities look to prevent the spread of the virus. Part of the anticipated increase in costs could come from having to draw additional internal support as assistance from utility crews in other states might not be as large as in past years. No one said the changes would slow restoration efforts. The most significant and expensive change this year could come from housing workers. Instead of single staging areas for regions where up to 1,500 to 2,000 logistics workers meet and sleep under giant tents, separate locations that can handle 500 at a time are being planned.

Florida is starting to figure COVID-19 into its hurricane costs.

Final grades are due soon. How lenient or tough should teachers be right now? via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — Hillsborough County school district leaders could see the problem a mile away: students falling off track while learning at home during the coronavirus pandemic, and heading for a crash landing at report card time. So they crafted a blueprint for schools and teachers, right down to lists of students who needed help and sample letters to parents. The notice included this sentence: “The final grade is determined by the teacher.” It is a question schools are facing everywhere during the pandemic: Is it better to give out a passing grade, even if a student hasn’t earned it, to avoid being punitive after two months on lockdown? Or should teachers grade the way they usually do, and risk some demoralizing consequences?

Suspended JEA executive, now under investigation, refuses to resign via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — JEA’s chief administrator Herschel Vinyard, who was hired by the utility’s now-fired leader Aaron Zahn and is now on paid leave, has refused a demand for his resignation and is being investigated by the Office of General Counsel. Vinyard’s lawyer, Hank Coxe, instead accused a city attorney of threatening his client with a “prearranged investigation” to extort his resignation. General Counsel Jason Gabriel and the attorney who told Vinyard he would be investigated if he didn’t resign, responded to Coxe in a letter, writing his “selective” quotations of last week’s meeting were “inaccurate, incomplete, and presented out of context.”

Court backs FPL in Irma nursing home case via the News Service of Florida — A state appeals court Wednesday rejected a lawsuit that alleged negligence by Florida Power & Light when residents of a Broward County nursing home were stuck in sweltering conditions after Hurricane Irma in 2017. A three-judge panel upheld a circuit court decision that dismissed the allegations made against FPL by Christine Cooper, who was a resident of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. The hurricane knocked out power to the nursing home’s air-conditioning system for three days, with authorities attributing as many as 12 resident deaths to conditions in the building. Cooper’s lawsuit alleged that FPL was partly responsible for the situation. But the appeals court focused on whether FPL had a legal “duty of care” to Cooper and concluded that it did not.

No charges after voting fraud probe via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released records tied to an investigation into Democratic Party members altering election forms at the tail end of the 2018 election cycle, which was dominated by three statewide recounts. Investigators found “no evidence of fraudulent intent to use the altered forms” on April 20. They handed the case over to the Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution to determine if there were enough evidence and information to file charges. “It is closed now, so prosecutors have determined no charges,” Jessica Cary, a spokeswoman for FDLE, wrote in an email. Florida Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox said there was a “lack of sufficient evidence to support prosecution” in the case.

Miami Herald’s editor and publisher is named to co-chair Pulitzer Prize Board via the Miami Herald staff — Aminda Marqués González, executive editor, president and publisher of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, has been appointed co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board. Marqués has been a member of the board since 2012. She is the first Hispanic to serve as a Pulitzer board chair. During her tenure as executive editor, the Miami Herald has won two Pulitzer Prizes and has been a finalist five times. She will serve as co-chair with Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief of ProPublica.

The Miami Herald’s Aminda Marqués González has been named as a co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Nick Hansen, veteran political strategist, launches PPE delivery for the average Joe via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Hansen launched a website selling personal protective equipment (PPE) to anyone who needs it. The site,, has stock and is delivering supplies throughout the nation. Unlike many suppliers that require minimum orders unsuitable for families or small businesses, his website offers three-ply face masks in orders of 10 or more, rather than high-quantity boxes. Google doesn’t allow companies like his to advertise, leaving marketing to email and word-of-mouth. Hansen launched the website with a $20,000 personal investment used to purchase initial inventory, build a website and market products.

— 2020 —

“‘A moonshot mission’: Trump campaign eyes a return to mega-rallies via Gabby Orr of POLITICO — Trump has questioned why he’s avoiding campaign events if it’s safe for him to travel in his official capacity. Before the end of this month, the Trump campaign hopes to organize a series of virtual events featuring the President, who has eschewed the digital campaign trail while others involved with his reelection court voters and train supporters during nightly livestreams and online briefings. Trump campaign aides said the need for traditional campaign rallies has become more pronounced as the President has shifted his focus to reopening the economy with hope for a third-quarter resurgence.

Lincoln Project blasts lavish spending by Trump campaign manager — A new video from the staunchly never-Trump Lincoln Project takes aim at Trump 2020 reelection campaign manager Brad Parscale, noting that since working for the President, he now owns a multimillion-dollar house, two condos worth over $1 million each and even a yacht. The 47-second spot suggests that Parscale might just be ripping Trump off, and wonders if he is “worth every penny.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:


Despite Trump’s criticisms, elections supervisors say mail-in ballots are safe via Laura Cassels of Florida Phoenix — “Voting by mail is a safe way to go. It’s a secure process in Florida. In my 26 years of elections experience, I’ve seen no cases of fraud,” said Tammy Jones, longtime elections supervisor in Levy County and immediate past president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections. Trump’s widely reported condemnation of voting by mail — calling it “dangerous” and “corrupt” — is itself a fraud, according to at the Annenberg Public Policy Center: “There is no evidence to back up Trump’s blanket claim that ‘mailed ballots are corrupt.’ Voting experts say the President is exaggerating when he says mail ballots are ‘fraudulent in many cases.”

Lawsuit aims to make it easier for Floridians to mail in votes via James Call of the USA Today Network — A retired police captain who helps the elderly, an Ocala minister and a Miami man confined to his home have banded together as lawsuit plaintiffs to take Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley to court. The goal is to make vote-by-mail the default choice for Florida’s 13.7 million registered voters. The plaintiffs argue that fear of COVID-19 threatens to rob the vote of Floridians who are part of high-risk groups like themselves, and similar people to whom they assist and minister.

Florida’s long-running voter fraud probe ends with no charges via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found no proof that Florida Democrats tried to commit voter fraud when they altered voting forms. Instead, investigators concluded party officials and volunteers were altering the forms in preparation for what they hoped would be a judge’s favorable ruling in the lawsuit the party had filed challenging a deadline for fixing flawed mail-in ballots. “The Florida Department of Law Enforcement got this right,” said Alex Morash, a spokesperson for the Florida Democratic Party. “We appreciate the hard work of the FDLE in investigating this matter.” The investigation arose amid speculation by then-Gov. Rick Scott that voter fraud was hurting his close race against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

FEC questions Mark Foley about lingering cash in ‘zombie’ campaign account via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Foley is again facing questions from the Federal Election Commission regarding nearly $900,000 still sitting in his congressional campaign account. Foley previously said he was keeping that account open for a potential congressional run once reapportionment occurs following the 2020 Census. Foley was one of several former House members to receive similar letters from the FEC. This isn’t the first time the FEC has sought additional information about Foley’s account. Foley’s expenditures came under scrutiny in recent years, including for a new computer in 2015 and a 2016 trip to a Republican presidential debate.

New Jason Brodeur video calls for putting politics aside and ‘find the right answer’ — Brodeur’s latest 30-second video, titled “Old Sayings,” reflects on words from John F. Kennedy: “Let us not seek the Republican or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” “Finger-pointing and partisan politics aren’t going to solve this crisis — real problem-solving will,” Brodeur says, adding that he is running for Senate to be a “problem solver fighting for us.”

To view the video, click on the image below:

José Oliva comes to Randy Fine’s defense in primary feud via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Brevard County Rep. Fine and Marcie Adkins are squaring off in a nasty Republican primary battle. Adkins’ campaign claimed to have a video of Fine with prostitutes — a video that Fine says is nonexistent — and one of her campaign consultants, Robert Burns, taunted Fine’s mother by offering to show it to her. On Mother’s Day. House Speaker Oliva said enough is enough and issued a statement admonishing the Adkin campaign for the rhetoric and the candidate for allowing it to occur: “Outright lying about your opponent and harassing their family is beyond the pale and Ms. Adkins and her campaign should be ashamed.” He said he would support Fine’s reelection campaign “to the fullest extent possible.”

HD 120 candidate Alexandria Suarez says GOP rival should drop out over donation drama via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Suarez is calling on her GOP rival, Rhonda Rebman Lopez, to withdraw from the House District 120 contest. Suarez released a statement hammering Lopez for holding on to a donation from Interamerican Consulting, a consulting firm that signed a $50 million contract with the Venezuelan government. “Anyone’s willingness to do business with [Nicolás] Maduro’s state-run companies is deeply troubling,” Suarez said. Rivera is arguing he took the cash to aid the Venezuelan opposition to Maduro, but that explanation has not been verified.


Geraldine Thompson on the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery via Orlando Weekly — As I follow developments surrounding the shooting of Arbery, I think about other young African American men whose lives have been taken because people shoot first and ask questions later. My son had several experiences including being called the “N” word by two boys next door, not being invited to a pool party because the parents of a good friend said people like him couldn’t swim in their pool and countless times when he was followed as he visited the mall or shopped in stores. These experiences caused me great pain and prompted me to explain to him some of the ugly realities in our society.


Val Demings’ rise makes her a viable running mate for Joe Biden” via the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board —Biden does not plan to announce his vice presidential nominee until July, but the guessing game is in high gear. A lot of people are guessing it might be Val Demings. That’s a testament to how far the Orlando congresswoman has come in a short time. Just six years ago, Demings couldn’t muster enough support to stay in the Orange County mayoral race. Two years earlier, she lost her first congressional race to Daniel Webster.

Rick Scott’s selective memory on a ‘blue-state bailout’” via Randy Schultz of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — DeSantis gets to proclaim that the largest swing state is almost ready for business as usual, even if the public health metrics don’t bear that out. Scott cannot do that and instead must audition for Trump’s base in 2024 with a different script. So he rails against a “blue state bailout,” money from another COVID-19 relief bill that would provide money to states. Scott wants to rewrite the two years before he became governor, the two years that enabled him to claim credit for reviving Florida’s economy.

Firing DOH employee sends the wrong message via Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat — The latest self-inflicted credibility wound to our state government is the firing of Jones by the state Department of Health. As a Geographic Information Systems manager at DOH, she had created a COVID-19 Data and Surveillance “dashboard” to provide researchers and ordinary Floridians a real-time look at the status of the disease. Jones confirmed to television station CBS-12 that she was fired for refusing to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen” many Florida businesses in the process DeSantis has been touting. Her firing sends a message that others at DOH might want to consider their job security, when compiling data.

What are the implications of COVID-19 on turnaround schools? via Adrianna Harrington of ExcelinEd — What do at-risk students need? To ensure students are receiving the supports they need, leaders should be asking: What’s different? What specific issues are students facing right now that look different from a few months ago? The three buckets of instruction, wraparound services, and funding are central elements for states to prioritize in considering how to address school turnaround support — traditionally through the implications of COVID-19. How do we help provide Tier I instruction and remediation for students who are already behind? And for students who may be falling further behind? How do we ensure continuity of learning with the digital divide? How do we support teachers in shifting the way they think about instruction to a focus on mastery?

For JEA exec, a prolific job cutter, shoe is now on the other foot via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — In 2012, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, led by Herschel Vinyard, suspended its top wetlands expert and investigated her after she refused to issue a permit for a well-connected applicant. The employee was eventually reinstated, and a judge later vindicated her decision, finding she was pretty much the only person involved in the process to have actually done her job to protect the environment. Now Vinyard is on the chopping block. His fingerprints are all over JEA decisions throughout the past year, including the controversial cash-for-stock bonus plan that precipitated former CEO Aaron Zahn’s rapid fall from grace as CEO.


Gov. DeSantis faces more backlash over claims that his administration is manipulating the official stats for COVID-19 and unemployment claims.

 Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Democrats in the Legislature are dismissing the Governor’s claim that the unemployment system is now working — and that it has paid 97% of valid claims.

— They’re also demanding an investigation into the firing of the woman who worked on the state’s digital dashboard that tracks coronavirus cases, after raising concerns about hiding data from the public.

— More prison inmates are testing positive for COVID-19, with nearly 1,200 confirmed cases in the Florida corrections system.

— A new COVID-19 scam is making the rounds. Con artists claiming to be contact tracers for the health department are trying to get your personal information.

— Florida teacher unions were NOT invited to participate in the Governor’s reopening task force; the state education commissioner ignored their request to create separate committees on the reopening of schools. So, the Florida Education Association and the United Faculty of Florida have set up their own committees, meeting for the first time today. FEA Vice President Andrew Spar talks about the details.

— Sen. Marco Rubio about coronavirus, giving a view from the chair the Senate Intelligence Committee.

 — The latest on Florida Man, who just got out of prison and is already back behind bars after he was found in a stranger’s kitchen without a shred of clothing.

To listen, click on the image below:



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We’re very blessed to announce the birth of our daughter 🍼🎀 Abigail Grace Renner 5/18/2020 8lbs 6oz 20in

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— ALOE —

Where are you dreaming of going post-coronavirus? Airbnb guests crave faraway trips via David Oliver of USA Today — Internal data from Airbnb shows where tourists may head to cure their wanderlust. Guests are adding homes to their Airbnb wish lists from all over the world. The Top 10 most wish-listed homes, from March to early May, include stays in Indonesia, Brazil and Greece. Data from the past 60 days shows a swath of keywords indicating guests might be looking to re-create special occasions. In early May, U.S. users increasingly searched for cabins. Cabins are likely of interest to travelers, given the private settings and proximity.

NBA in serious talks to restart season in Orlando, Disney World the front-runner via Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic — Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort is the clear front-runner to become the NBA’s playing site to resume the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA is in serious discussions with Disney about the property, which has gained clear momentum over cities such as Las Vegas. It remains unclear when the games would begin. Still, multiple sources say the prospect of players fully training in mid-June and playing by mid-July has been the most popular and possible scenario discussed. While the league has explored the possibility of holding games in multiple cities, it appears likely that Orlando would be a sole host.

The hp Fieldhouse at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World could be used to finish the NBA season. Image via

With no fans in the seats, do sports remain must-watch TV? via Jeré Longman of The New York Times — As mainstream sports begin to return during the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing will be vital. Filling a stadium to capacity would be reckless and probably lethal. At the same time, that barren game five years ago raises doubts about whether sports can fully sustain our devotion, or maintain their television audiences, if played for many weeks or months in front of empty seats. Sure, social media, gambling and fantasy leagues stir fan interest. But without live spectators for an extended period, traditional games risk being reduced to mathematics with trading cards, especially once the novelty of sports’ return wears off. For those watching on television, spectators are necessary surrogates.

Slosh! Slurp! Welcome to the ‘Walktail’ party via Mike Seely of The New York Times — With both bars and gyms closed, such drinking and walking — or “walktailing” — has been occurring at a seemingly unprecedented rate. It’s not legal to saunter down sidewalks with open containers in the vast majority of American cities. Still, police have recently chosen to look the other way when it comes to issuing citations. “That has just not been a primary enforcement focus for us,” said Lauren Truscott of the Seattle Police Department. “We’re really trying to limit exposure between officers and citizens, so I think that would fall into that nonemergent category where people aren’t harming themselves or other people.”


Celebrating today are Sen. George LeMieux, James Blair, and Speaker Tom Feeney.


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

Peter Schorsch

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


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.

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