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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 8.11.20

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

Uber is losing one of its brightest stars.

Stephanie Smith is leaving her position with the ride-share giant as its Senior Public Policy Manager to become the Director of Government Relations for Anthem, Inc.

Her last day with Uber is this Friday, Aug. 14.

Smith will take on a similar role handling government and policy for Anthem’s Simply Healthcare, a leading managed care firm that works with patients enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare in Florida.

Congratulations to Stephanie Smith, one of the best people in The Process.

While Smith’s departure is a win for Simply Healthcare, it’s a major loss for Uber.

During her five years with the company, Smith oversaw several transformative policy wins.

Smith was an integral part of the Uber policy team, leading efforts to create statewide regulations for ride-share. The battle was oftentimes grueling, with the taxi lobby fighting hard to block regulations it saw as harmful to its business model.

“As someone who has worked hand-in-hand with Stephanie over the last 5 years to improve mobility options in Florida, I can attest she has proved to be one of the most proficient and trusted advocates in the state,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said. “I look forward to working with her in her new role and know Uber now has big shoes to fill.”

When Smith’s exit became official, Uber director of public policy and communications Adam Blinick described it as “bittersweet.”

“There’s no way I can adequately summarize Stephanie’s contributions during her tenure,” he wrote in an email to Uber staff. Blinick described Smith as a “natural leader” and extolled her knack for lobbying.

“To know Stephanie is to know one of the kindest, most professional people one can meet. Rarely have I met someone who so has the respect, admiration, and adoration, not only of her colleagues but of those with whom she engages with externally.”


And then there were three.

And Tallahassee political operative Josh Cooper is one of them. 

After winning top honors in the seafood division at the World Food Championships held in Dallas last November, Cooper’s three-person team traveled to Indianapolis over the weekend to compete with winners in nine other categories at the all-star Final Table Challenge, reports Florida Politics correspondent Rosanne Dunkelberger.

Josh Cooper gets another step toward the World Food Championships Final Table Challenge, but he’s not spilling the beans on who won. 

The winner of the three-round cook-off has already been decided, but because the competition was filmed for the Cooking Channel, the champion — who wins $100,000 — won’t be revealed until the show airs in October. And Cooper signed a nondisclosure agreement, so he’s not spilling the beans.

“It was crazy,” he would say of the whirlwind event. “It was three really exciting rounds,” featuring recipes and dishes with an Indianapolis connection.

In the first round, the 10 teams were required to cook a pork dish — they chose a thick cut of meat stuffed with goetta sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms “and a little bit of Gorgonzola” — with Parisian gnocchi. Cooper credits his wife’s plating and design skills with helping make the cut to the final five. “Even the CEO of the World Food Championships said her platters are the best he’s ever seen,” he bragged about his newlywed wife, Gannon Hunt Cooper. Rounding out the team is pollster David Lee, with Fabrizio, Lee & Associates.

The remaining contestants were then taken to Chef Greg Hardesty’s Studio C restaurant and served a dinner of duck breast, fried wild rice and an egg roll. Before enjoying the dish, however, they had to analyze it, because, for the second-round challenge, contestants would have to recreate the meal the next day — in one hour.

The three finalists were required to cook Sugar Cream Pie, Indiana’s State Dessert. “Everybody did their little spin on it,” Cooper said, saving the details for the television show. “There was a definite spin on ours and we were very happy with it.”

When asked what he would do with the $100,000 if he won the grand prize, Cooper gave a shout out to Disney World, then said he would try to recoup some of the competition costs (“Food sport isn’t cheap.”) and share with charity.



Jon Miller joins Majority Strategies — Marketing firm Majority Strategies is bringing on Jon Miller as its next Managing Director of Advocacy. “Jon brings a wide range of experiences to our growing family,” Majority Strategies CEO Brett Buerck said. “With a background in government affairs, higher education, and health care, plus his time as a former elected official and law enforcement officer, he is a tremendous value-add that our clients will benefit from immediately.” Miller comes to the firm from Keiser University, where he served as the Director of External Affairs and was responsible for overseeing all Federal and State government relations and business development. “It is my honor to join such a distinguished team. Majority Strategies is the industry leader in data-driven metrics, and I am excited to be a part of it,” Miller said.


@realDonaldTrump: The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay

@SenRickScott: Most players want to play. We fans want to watch. University presidents and conferences should ABSOLUTELY NOT cancel college football this year. Athletics play a hugely important role in our national psyche. The schools and the conferences can figure out how to do this safely.

@Jim_Jordan: America needs college football.

@CoachDanMullen: I am so proud of our players. Their commitment to medical guidelines to stay safe has showed their resolve in preparing the right way for the season. They deserve to play this fall. They have worked so hard for this. Let’s fight for them and find a way. #WeWantToPlay

@PaulKrugman: I don’t know if anyone else has said this, but payroll tax cuts are the hydroxychloroquine of economic policy. They won’t do anything to solve the employment crisis, but will have dangerous side effects. Yet [Donald] Trump remains obsessed with them as a cure

@JohnLuxFL: Some people are more fired up and outraged about potentially losing college football than the 5 million+ cases and the 163k+ deaths from COVID-19.

@Brett_McMurphy: What about the Big 12? Sources told @Stadium, it would be “hypothetically hard but not impossible” for Big 12 to play if Big Ten, Pac-12 & others cancel fall seasons. Another Big 12 source: “It would be really hard given what ‘some’ of our medical directors are saying”

@KirkHerbstreit: To be clear regarding @B1Gfootball and their impending announcement-they are looking TO DELAY the start of the season NOT TO CANCEL.

@ESPNRittenberg: #RollTide coach Nick Saban to @ClowESPN: “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home.”

@blakehounshell: When the history of this pandemic is written, I wonder what will be said about the obsession over playing college football versus figuring out, say, how to safely open elementary schools.

@_cingraham: So much of the political response to the virus has boiled down to “I want this thing [schools, football, a functioning economy, etc.] but I am unwilling to do the work necessary to have the thing.”

@JRubinBlogger: Wow. College without college football would be … about education.


 Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 7; Florida Bar exams begin online (rescheduled) — 8; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 8; Regal Cinemas reopen in U.S. — 10; Indy 500 rescheduled — 12; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 13; NBA draft lottery — 14; Rev. Al Sharpton’s D.C. March — 18; U.S. Open begins — 20; Christopher Nolan‘s “Tenet” rescheduled premiere in U.S. — 23; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 25; Rescheduled date for French Open — 40; First presidential debate in Indiana — 49; “Wonder Woman” premieres — 52; Preakness Stakes rescheduled — 53; Ashley Moody’s 2020 Human Trafficking Summit — 56; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 57; NBA season ends (last possible date) — 62; Second presidential debate scheduled at Miami — 65; NBA draft — 66; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 66; NBA free agency — 69; Florida Chamber’s Future of Florida Forum — 70; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 72; 2020 General Election — 84; “Black Widow” premieres — 88; NBA 2020-21 training camp — 90; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 101; “No Time to Die” premieres — 101; NBA 2020-21 opening night — 114; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 180; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 192; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 325; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 346; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 354; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 451; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 549; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 591; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 633; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 786.


Mail-in ballots dwarf early voting” via the News Service of Florida — More than 1.7 million Floridians had voted by mail or at early-voting sites as of late Monday morning. Nearly 90% of the ballots were cast by mail. Early voting started in parts of the state on Aug. 3 and was required to be in place statewide on Saturday. As of late Monday morning, 177,922 people had voted early, including 93,863 Republicans and 73,187 Democrats, according to numbers posted on the state Division of Elections website. Meanwhile, 1,554,816 mail-in ballots had been cast, including 767,327 by Democrats and 554,639 by Republicans. Jefferson County Supervisor of Elections Marty Bishop said a drop in early voting likely stems from the COVID-19 pandemic and a push by most supervisors for people to vote by mail.

Kat Cammack holds double-digit lead in new CD 3 poll” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Cammack is the front-runner in the crowded Republican primary for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, according to a new poll conducted by Meer Research. The survey of Republican primary voters showed Cammack with 25% support in the 10-way race, putting her 10 points ahead of second-place contender Judson Sapp. About one in five voters said they were undecided, however, making that the true No. 2. Physician James St. George came in at 13% followed by Clay County Commissioner Gavin Rollins at 11%. The rest of the pack landed in the single digits: Todd Chase had 6% support; Ryan Chamberlin, Amy Pope Wells had 3%; Bill Engelbrecht had 2%, and David Theus and Joseph Dallas Millado had 1%. “The data shows that Kat Cammack has separated herself from the field in this late stage,” Meer Research’s Ben Torpey said in a news release.

Kat Cammack holds a double-digit lead in the primary to succeed Ted Yoho in Congress.

Assignment editorsCammack will hold a meet-and-greet with voters, 7 p.m., 601 Gulfstream Circle. S., Orange Park.

Byron Donalds issues cease-and-desist letter to Casey Askar campaign” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Running for Congress has drawn scrutiny over Donalds’ arrest record from his early 20s. But he said accusations that he supported President Barack Obama go too far. The Naples Republican sent Askar a cease-and-desist letter demanding he stop accusing him of supporting the Democrat. “We are investigating the many false and baseless statements that you have made about Mr. Donalds in your campaign advertisements,” Donalds’ attorney Todd Allen said. “Most recently, you have accused Mr. Donalds of supporting or voting for President Barack Obama. You have no evidence to support this allegation.” Donalds’ campaign sent the letter via certified mail Friday. But Askar’s campaign scoffed, standing by their assertions Donalds only recently embraced Republican values.

Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone endorse Laura Loomer for Congress” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican Rep. Gaetz and longtime GOP operative Stone are endorsing Loomer as she competes for the Republican nomination in CD 21. “You need her in Washington fighting for you,” Stone said at a Palm Beach County event at Trump International Golf Club. “We need her in Washington to join the band of rebels because she is courageous. She is knowledgeable. She is fearless.” Added Gaetz, “When we find folks who they try to disappear or silence because they chose to speak out, we need to have their back! And that’s why I’m proud to endorse Laura Loomer for Congress.” Loomer is competing five others for the GOP nomination. The nominee will face incumbent Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel in November.


Ray Rodrigues drops half-million and counting, outspending Heather Fitzenhagen nearly sixfold” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Rodrigues has spent more than a half-million dollars running for the Florida Senate. The $503,425 dropped on the race by his campaign represents nearly six times the reported expenditures of Fitzenhagen. While a good chunk of that spending was before Fitzenhagen’s last-minute entry, Rodrigues spent $285,047 between June 13 and the end of July. Fitzenhagen spent $86,042.12 at the same time. Of course, the spending by a candidate’s campaign represents just part of the story. Hundreds of thousands have poured into the race through political committees. It’s all contributed to making the Senate District 27 primary one of the most watchable in Florida.

Ray Rodrigues is outspending Heather Fitzenhagen — sixfold.

Robotext uses Herald story about blood donation to target Shevrin Jones’ sexuality” via Samantha J. Gross of the Miami Herald — Someone has taken a Miami Herald story about state Rep. Jones being turned away from donating plasma Friday and turned it into a campaign tactic to reach voters in Senate District 35, the northern Miami-Dade and southern Broward county district where Jones is competing in a crowded primary. Jones, one of Florida’s few openly gay lawmakers, says he was turned away while attempting to donate his plasma at a OneBlood truck set up in the parking lot of the Pembroke Park church where his father is a pastor. Jones, who went to donate plasma with his father, mother and brother, all of whom recently recovered from COVID-19, said his donation was “deferred” after he answered “yes” to a screening question that asked if he had sex with a man in the last three months.

Shevrin Jones’ attempt to donate plasma turns into a low-road political attack.

—“Donna Barcomb kicks spending into gear as battle with Fiona McFarland draws to close” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics

Roger Lolly goes on HD 78 spending spree” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Lolly dropped nearly $60,000 on a mail campaign ahead of the House District 78 Republican primary. Lolly in recent weeks stopped raising money while spending little ahead of the Aug. 18 vote. After a Florida Politics-commissioned poll showed him trailing Jenna Persons, it seemed an open question if the campaign would press forward. But the latest reports show Lolly spent $58,500 in the last week of July. All of that was through campaign consultant SimWins. About $1,600 went toward internal polling, but the rest all went to print mail. Meanwhile, he’s touted an A-rating from the National Rifle Association and an endorsement from the Everglades Trust. That said, he’s spending out of pocket now. The campaign raised $48,475, and since the start of June cashed just one check, a $1,000 donation from lobbyist Paul Mitchell. He pumped $140,000 of his own money into the race.

Rick Kozell tops HD 82 in latest fundraising reports, as he and Carl Domino spend big” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Kozell is keeping up his status as the best fundraiser in the House District 82 contest, adding nearly $12,000 in the latest one-week financial reporting period. Kozell’s campaign raised nearly $8,000 while his political committee, Rick Kozell for Florida, added another $4,000. Kozell has now brought in close to $450,000 between those two entities this cycle. That allowed Kozell to spend big in his latest report, which covers financial activity from July 25-31. Kozell’s PC spent another $25,000 on media expenses with Mentzer Media. Another $9,600 went toward The Stoneridge Group for direct mail expenditures. Overall, Kozell spent nearly $38,000 during the period. That total was topped only by former Rep. Carl Domino, who burned through nearly $41,000 as he seeks a return to the House.

—“Florida doctors back Anika Omphroy reelection in HD 95” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics 


Alex Penelas internal poll shows him likely to advance to November runoff” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Penelas campaign gives him good odds at advancing to a November runoff in the Miami-Dade County mayoral contest. The poll puts Penelas at 27% support. Daniella Levine Cava received 22% support in the survey, followed by Esteban “Steve” Bovo at 20% and Xavier Suarez at 11%. All three of those latter candidates currently serve on the Miami-Dade County Commission, while Penelas formerly served as county Mayor from 1996-2004. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the Aug. 18 election, a high likelihood in the seven-person field, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff on Nov. 3. Penelas’ lead is within the survey’s margin of error at 5 percentage points. The results differ from a pair of polls released by the Levine Cava campaign. Those surveys put her atop the seven-person field, though also with a lead within the margin of error.

Internal polling puts Alex Penelas in a good position to advance to November.

Poll: Bob Dallari, Lee Constantine with commanding leads headed to Election Day” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Dallari and Constantine seem to be locks for the November ballot according to a new poll. St. Pete Polls surveyed voters in Commission District 1 and District 3, finding both incumbents with double-digit leads. Dallari faces Longwood Mayor and former WWE wrestler Matt Morgan in the Aug. 18 Republican primary. The poll found Dallari with just over 50% support among GOP primary voters while Morgan tracked at 28%. The lead expands to 60%-30% among those who have already voted, about a quarter of the 283 respondents. Among those who have yet to vote, Dallari holds a 46-28% lead with 26% undecided. Dallari leads in every crosstab. He leads 49-27% among men; 51-30% among women; and 53-29% among voters over 70, which make up the bulk of respondents. In District 3, St. Pete Polls found Constantine with a 48-31% lead over former Longwood Mayor and now-Longwood City Commissioner Ben Paris.

Heads of White candidate for state attorney and his Black wife chopped off campaign sign outside Broward early voting site” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A campaign sign featuring life-size pictures of a candidate for Broward state attorney and his wife outside the West Regional Library early voting site was vandalized in a way that carries racist overtones. The heads were chopped off pictures of Joe Kimok, who is White, and his wife, Jordanne, who is Black. The heads were mounted on metal stakes next to the decapitated campaign sign in Plantation. The vandalism was discovered Sunday morning at about 9 a.m. when the second day of early voting began in Broward County, said Kimok campaign manager Phillip Jerez, who provided pictures of the scene. He said the campaign did not report the incident to the police.

Jody Phillips has double-digit lead over Scott Wilson in Duval Clerk’s race” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — With just eight days before the Republican primary, Phillips has a clear lead over Wilson in the three-way race for the GOP nomination for Clerk of the Court, although more Duval voters are still undecided than are supporting a candidate. Phillips, the Clerk of Court’s Chief Operating Officer, has the most support at 33%. Wilson, the former City Council President, is in second, but 11 points behind Phillips with 22% support. Leon Jackson, a current Clerk’s employee, claimed less than 10% support in the poll conducted Aug. 8-9 among 608 likely Duval County Republican voters. More than 35% of likely Republican voters polled in a St. Pete Polls survey released Monday don’t have a preferred candidate yet.


Dueling polls in the Miami-Dade mayoral race disagree on who’s leading the contest but are in lockstep in terms of the top three contenders.

The Aug. 18 primary election will likely lead to a runoff between the top two finishers as no candidate is favored to earn a majority. If these new internal polls are to be believed, former Mayor Penelas will be battling with County Commissioners Levine Cava and Bovo for those top two spots.

Despite what some polling says, the Miami-Dade mayoral race will likely be between Alex Penelas, Daniella Levine Cava, and Esteban “Steve” Bovo.

The Penelas team released a Monday internal poll showing Penelas receiving 27% of the vote, while Levine Cava earned 22% and Bovo secured 20%.

Tuesday morning, the Levine Cava campaign put out a poll of their own, pegging Levine Cava at 25% support. Bovo received 21% support, while Penelas sat at 20%.

Both of those respective leads were within the margin of error for the survey in question. That makes it tough for either candidate to claim a clear lead yet.

If those polls are to be believed, however, all three of those candidates in question can say they’re favored over the remainder of the field.

County Commissioner Xavier Suarez was the only other polled candidate in either survey. He received 11% in the Penelas version and just 9% in the Levine Cava version.

The other three candidates — Carlos Antonio De Armas, entrepreneur Monique Nicole Barley and real estate agent Ludmilla Domond — combined for just 2% in Penelas’ survey and only 4% in Levine Cava’s poll.

The remaining chunk of the electorate was undecided — 16% according to Penelas and 22% according to Levine Cava. How those voters break could determine which candidates move onto November in one of the biggest local races in the state this cycle. A massive $12.1 million in contributions have already been poured into the race.

— 2020 — 

Trump bus tour kicks off in Kissimmee, featuring Eric Trump, Pam Bondi and Jeanette Núñez” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — On a red-hot summer day, Trump’s reelection campaign kicked off a Florida bus tour Monday in one of the state’s bluest counties, with Eric Trump and top Sunshine State Republicans on board. He, former Attorney General Bondi and Lt. Gov. Núñez were outside the Osceola GOP headquarters in Kissimmee as the first stop on a trip that will take the campaign bus to The Villages, Ocala, Gainesville, Miramar and Tallahassee. The outdoor event in the 90 degree-plus heat drew about 100 people to a parking lot on the south side of U.S. Highway 192, across from Osceola Heritage Park where Trump held one of his large indoor rallies four years ago to this week.

The Donald Trump campaign bus tour kicks off in Kissimmee.

How suffering farmers may determine Trump’s fate” via Dan Kaufman of The New York Times — As rural Wisconsin’s fortunes have declined, its political importance has grown. Trump won the state by less than twenty-three thousand votes. If the 2020 election is close, Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania and still win a second term by holding Wisconsin. Trump underperformed in the suburban counties of Milwaukee, the Republican Party’s stronghold while overperforming in the state’s rural areas, where he won nearly two-thirds of the vote. Four years ago, Trump promised to reverse the economic decline of family farmers. In June, as Trump’s poll numbers dropped nationwide, his campaign advisers were losing hope for Michigan and Pennsylvania and would focus on holding Wisconsin.

Joe Biden’s V.P. pick is said to be imminent” via The New York Times —  Biden has told allies he has interviewed every finalist in his vice-presidential search, and his advisers are planning an announcement for the middle of the week, people briefed on the selection process said Monday. In a sign that the choice is now in Biden’s hands alone, the four-member committee that screened his potential running mates is said to have effectively disbanded. Biden’s political team has prepared rollout plans for several of the finalists, and he is expected to announce his decision as soon as Tuesday, though more Democrats expect it to come on Wednesday.


Ron DeSantis says COVID-19 will ‘loom’ over 2021 Session” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis said mapping out budget priorities for next fiscal year will depend on factors such as the use of federal stimulus money and the condition of the state’s economic recovery. “We are using intelligently the CARES Act money in a way that I think will keep us whole,” DeSantis said on the Preston Scott radio show in Tallahassee. “So, as we go into the legislative session, from a budget perspective, I think we’ll probably be OK for this fiscal year. I think the question is, is how robust is the recovery from the coronavirus shutdown? And if it’s robust, that gives us more options. If it’s not, then we may have to make some more tough decisions.”

Coronavirus will loom large over the 2021 Legislative Session, says Ron DeSantis.

Rules require access to long-term care facilities” via the News Service of Florida — DeSantis’ administration issued a pair of emergency rules making clear access isn’t optional. One rule addresses the 693 licensed nursing homes in the state and the other applies to the 3,107 assisted living facilities. The state Agency for Health Care Administration said the rules are necessary “to ensure the health, safety and welfare of residents and staff in Florida’s nursing homes.” In addition to mandating that the facilities allow the Department of Health officials into the buildings, the rules require facility staff members to comply with any COVID-19 testing offered by the Department of Health or its agents, which include the AHCA. The rules take effect immediately and replace a pair of emergency rules that the state issued on May 12.

Coronavirus in a hurricane: Can Florida nursing homes social distance if the power goes off?” via Bailey LeFever of the Tampa Bay Times — Residents of Florida’s long-term care facilities, already under siege from the deadly coronavirus, now face another threat: the height of the hurricane season, when storms bear down on the peninsula, threatening to knock out electrical power. The state Agency for Health Care Administration reports all of Florida’s 693 nursing homes and all but one of its 3,112 assisted-living facilities now have generators — mandated two years ago — to keep frail elders cool during a prolonged power outage. But the state allows homes to use less-powerful temporary generators, which may require moving residents into a single large space.

Gov. DeSantis, FSU players make it clear they want college football played” via Curt Weiler of the Tallahassee Democrat — DeSantis wants to be perfectly clear: He’d like to see college football played this season, specifically in Florida and the South. “My sense is that SEC country is probably going to really want to play the season. I know the Big Ten may go in a different direction, but I do think that people want the season to go,” DeSantis said Monday during a radio interview with Clay Travis on Fox Sports Radio Monday morning. It’s been a troubling few days for college football. On Monday, the Detroit Free Press reported the Big Ten has voted to cancel the 2020 college football season in a historic move that stems from concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


DeSantis praises charter school as Hillsborough delays public school openings” via Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — With the Hillsborough County School District locked in a battle with the state over how soon it must open schools to students, top state leaders toured a Riverview charter school. They praised it for offering families that choice. DeSantis and Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran noted that 66 out of 67 districts were able to come up with plans that met their communities’ diverse needs. Hillsborough submitted a plan as well, which called for both in-person and virtual instruction. After hearing from a panel of medical experts, the Hillsborough School Board reversed its vote from two weeks earlier and decided all school will be virtual until September at the earliest. Corcoran responded Friday with a letter, demanding that Hillsborough either stick with its original plan or indicate, in writing, how it will serve those families who need in-person school.

Ron DeSantis is preparing to battle with Hillsborough County Schools over reopening. Image via USA Today.

What can Richard Corcoran do to the Hillsborough schools?” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — The data from the University of South Florida College of Medicine is here, and the data presented by county health department director Douglas Holt, the is here, clearly showing that even as Hillsborough’s COVID-19 positivity rate comes down, it is still more than twice the 5% threshold that indicates a safe level to reopen. Two other things are not clear, however. First? How many millions of dollars in funding does Hillsborough stand to lose if Corcoran’s department penalizes the district by denying them waivers that were offered as incentives to open school buildings in August? And did Corcoran even have the legal standing to issue his July 6 order? That question is the subject of pending lawsuits in Leon and Orange counties.

Superintendents ask state to address COVID-19 testing issues” via Ana Ceballos of the News Service of Florida — Florida Association of District School Superintendents President Michael Grego told Education Commissioner Corcoran that “state direction is imperative” to ensure school districts have access to rapid test results and school officials know what to do when people show symptoms or test positive for the deadly respiratory illness. “Clear and articulate processes for the role of the Department of Health as the lead in case investigation, contact tracing and quarantine direction, length and implementation are essential and must be consistent across all school districts,” Grego, the Pinellas County superintendent, wrote in a letter to Corcoran. Grego added the availability of tests and rapid results for students and staff members would be “critical” when school campuses reopen.

Orange launches new school year with online lessons, some computer glitches” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel — Orange County’s public schools started classes Monday with all students working online, a school-year launch district leaders said was mostly successful. “For our first day, we thought it went phenomenally well,” said Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, speaking at the Orange County coronavirus briefing Monday afternoon. “We expected some glitches. It will get better as the week carries on.” Some students struggled to log in for their classes in the morning, but by 3 p.m. there had been more than 756,000 launches of the district’s online applications, Jenkins said. “We appreciate the patience and understanding of our students and parents,” Jenkins said, adding that students face no penalties if computer problems kept them from their online classes.

Broward schools to remain online only until at least October” via Scott Travis and Karina Elwood of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — Broward schools will teach students remotely until at least October, and then the district will reassess if conditions are safe to reopen campuses, according to a proposed district plan. School district officials said they are taking steps to be able to quickly pivot to in-person learning when needed even as COVID-19 remains a major threat. The new school year begins Aug. 19 with distance learning. Steps include securing personal protection equipment and social distancing signs, sanitizing schools and buses and hiring extra bus drivers that will be needed as fewer students will be able to travel on each bus.

Children and the virus: As schools reopen, much remains unknown about the risk to kids and the peril they pose to others” via Haisten Willis, Chelsea Janes and Ariana Eunjung Cha of The Washington Post — Pictures of packed school hallways in Georgia and news of positive tests on the first day of classes in Indiana and Mississippi sparked the latest fraught discussions over the risk the coronavirus presents to children and what’s lost by keeping them home from school. Friday brought reports of more infections among Georgia students, with dozens forced into quarantine in Cherokee County, among other places. For months, parents and teachers, epidemiologists and politicians have chimed in with their views on the many still-unanswered questions about the extent to which the virus is a threat to children. Trump has repeatedly maintained the virus poses little threat to children.

5-year-old’s COVID-19 saga has Florida mom saying hell no to in-person school” via Francisco Alvarado of The Daily Beast — For months, DeSantis has waged a public-relations campaign to convince parents that it is safe for their children to return to campus. He has consistently argued that a majority of children are unlikely to get very sick and unlikely to become super-spreaders of coronavirus, statements supported, at least to a degree, by studies and health experts. But those children who end up in the hospital can develop serious, even deadly, secondary complications from the disease, including heart failure, blood clots and acute kidney injury. After seeing what her son went through with appendicitis, Kristen Polacik and her husband decided Marcellus Polacik, who recently turned 6, will be safer at home doing online classes rather than going back to campus as public schools reopen in Okeechobee County this week. The local school district is offering parents the options of sending their children into classrooms full-time, virtual learning, or a blend of both. 

The parents of Marcellus Polacik Baltazar insist he will be safer at home than in school. Image via WPTV.

Martin County schools open Tuesday; over 1,600 petition signatures urge a delay to Aug. 25” via Sommer Brugal of TC Palm — As classrooms prepare to reopen Tuesday, an online petition urging the Martin County school district to delay the first day of the new school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic has gained more than 1,600 signatures. The petition, which launched Wednesday, asks to push back the start date to Aug. 25. Scott Cooper, a Martin County High School teacher, started the petition after he emailed school district officials to express his concerns about returning to school, but received no responses, he said. District officials are aware of the petition and understand teachers’ concerns, but are following orders from the Florida Department of Education, which mandated districts offer in-person learning at least five days a week, district spokesperson Jennifer DeShazo said.

PBC schools, pressured by state, reconsider plan on reopening campuses” via Sonja Isger of The Palm Beach Post — Heeding pressure from the state, Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said Monday that he is seeking to revise the district’s plans that guide the return of more than 174,000 students to classrooms once the threat of coronavirus adequately retreats. The original plan approved by the School Board and submitted to the state last month called for remote learning on Day One and an eventual return to brick-and-mortar that came in waves, with certain pivotal grades returning first. The plan has languished for weeks even as the Florida Department of Education approved dozens of others. This so-called staging appears to be in the crosshairs. In a statement issued Monday, Fennoy said department officials “have offered feedback and requested a modification, which I agree will be in the best interest of our students and parents.”

Walton County schools set to open Monday with COVID-19 precautions” via Jim Thompson of Northwest Florida Daily News — As of Monday, nearly three-quarters of the Walton County School District’s 10,700 students have opted to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms when the 2020-21 school year begins Aug. 17, according to Superintendent Russell Hughes. The remaining students have, or will opt for digital education options that will keep them out of classrooms in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “So we’ve just got to deal with it,” Hughes said Monday, calling the upcoming opening for the new school year “a collaborative effort … a community event.” The actual number of Walton County students who show up for classes Monday may be somewhat higher than the currently projected 73% as the parents of an estimated 1,800 students are making late decisions.

Future of many Catholic schools in doubt amid pandemic” via The Associated Press — As the new academic year arrives, school systems across the United States are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Roman Catholic educators have an extra challenge, trying to forestall a relentless wave of closures of their schools that has no end in sight. Already this year, financial and enrollment problems aggravated by the pandemic have forced the permanent closure of more than 140 Catholic schools nationwide, according to officials who oversee Catholic education in the country. Three of the nation’s highest-ranking Catholic leaders, in a recent joint appeal, said Catholic schools “are presently facing their greatest financial crisis” and warned that hundreds of more closures are likely without federal support. Many Catholic schools have already received substantial federal aid from the U.S. Department of Education and from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Desks were stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. Image via AP.

In college towns and neighborhoods, permanent residents brace for students’ return” via Lauren Lumpkin of The Washington Post — Monitoring the actions of young people in college towns will require collaboration between universities, local officials and law enforcement. While residents worry too many students will crowd their neighborhoods, businesses that operate near schools are concerned there won’t be enough. But college students add more to their communities than their dollars, said Amy Patronella, a rising senior and former resident adviser at GW. “Many of my fellow college students babysit and pet sit for people in D.C., work in D.C. restaurants and stores or are part of D.C. social groups and athletic leagues,” said Patronella, who recently lost her on-campus housing after GW paused the resident adviser program. “And some even run for local office.”

In 2020, back-to-school shopping means frantically searching for other families to ‘bubble up’ with” via Ellen McCarthy of The Washington Post — There’s nothing thrilling or romantic about it. This is about the kids, and the challenge of surviving this nuclear winter of a school year. Quaran-teams, double bubbles, pandemic pods, micro-schools, whatever you want to call them, young families are seeking some friends for the end of the world as they knew it. When schools first shuttered in March, the move was presented as a short pause to suppress the spread of the novel coronavirus. The closure continued through the end of the school year; families muddled through. Now, as the virus has eluded containment and worsened in many states, parents are waking up to the idea that they will be more or less on their own for another six to nine months.


South Florida hospital space begins freeing up as COVID-19 death toll, positivity rates trend downward” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Hospital beds in the South Florida tri-county area are beginning to free up, adding another positive trend in the region’s battle against COVID-19. As of Monday morning, 71% of Palm Beach County’s adult intensive care unit beds were occupied, according to the Department of Health data. That number includes all hospital patients and is not limited to only those admitted for COVID-19. That number was higher in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Broward has 86.5% of its adult ICU beds occupied, while that number is 85.5% in Miami-Dade. However, those numbers had routinely sat near or above 90% in both counties over the previous few weeks. Broward and Miami-Dade still remain above the statewide number, which shows 79% of all adult ICU beds occupied, but Monday’s numbers show the situation improving.

Broward officials encouraged by coronavirus numbers trending down as county opens new testing sites” via Andrew Perez of — Two new coronavirus testing sites opened in Broward County as a downward trend in positive cases continues. Local leaders are encouraged by the improvement but are warning the public not to let their guard down. Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said that the new testing locations are in addition to private and city-sponsored testing sites. “We have about 18 sites across Broward county,” Holness said. County parks across Broward are transforming into clinics. Testing is now available in Coconut Creek and another site in Lauderhill now at the Central Broward Park and Broward County Stadium.

Broward County officials are cautiously optimistic as coronavirus numbers go down. Image via AP.

Mask foes appeal a decision on Palm Beach County mandate” via Hannah Morse of The Palm Beach Post — A group of Palm Beach County residents who are challenging the local mask mandate in court has appealed a judge’s decision to deny them a temporary stop in enforcing the rule. The court action filed Monday comes two weeks after Judge John Kastrenakes sided with Palm Beach County, saying, “After all, we do not have a constitutional or protected right to infect others.” In June, Palm Beach County commissioners unanimously supported a mask mandate in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Following updated guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several counties including Palm Beach have required masks be worn in public to contain potentially virus-laden droplets from being spread while a person is talking, sneezing or coughing.

Hard Rock casinos hiring extra COVID-19 security staff this week” via Ben Crandell of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Dozens of new security personnel will be hired to enforce COVID-19 rules at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood and the rest of Seminole Gaming’s properties in the state. The South Florida hiring event is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 12. Those interested in applying can register at to receive an invitation to attend. Seminole Gaming on Monday announced the wave of hiring as part of an upgrade of its Safe and Sound program designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus at its five properties operating in Florida. The new hires, wearing distinctive uniforms, will focus on guest compliance with Safe and Sound requirements on face coverings, social distancing, crowd control and remaining stationary while eating or drinking, when masks may be lowered.

Will IAAPA Expo happen this year? Some vendors cancel amid safety and travel concerns” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Every year, a group roughly the size of a small city — about 40,000 people from 100 countries — flock to the Orange County Convention Center for what has become the epicenter of the theme park industry. At the IAAPA annual expo, vendors show off new roller coasters or the latest recipe for fried carnival fare. Disney, Universal or SeaWorld executives often announce updates to crowds of bloggers, journalists and industry leaders. But with the countdown to the expo three months away, several well-known ride manufacturers have warned they are skipping it this year over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new open letter signed by Premier Rides, Chance Rides, Great Coasters International and Larson International.

Walt Disney World slashes park hours for fall” via Matthew J. Palm of the Orlando Sentinel — Walt Disney World will cut its theme-park operating hours this fall, with Epcot closing two hours earlier than normal despite hosting the Taste of Epcot Food & Wine Festival. This week, Disney announced the coronavirus shutdown had cost the company $2 billion. The theme-park giant generally reduces its operating hours as tourism slows after the busier summer months, but this year has been far from the normal pattern. Since reopening in July after a monthslong shutdown because of the pandemic, the parks have been admitting only a small percentage of the usual number of visitors. Those guests are now required to make reservations in advance that indicate which of Disney’s four parks they plan to visit, and they may only visit one park on any given day. Under the new fall hours, which begin Sept. 8 after the Labor Day holiday weekend, Epcot will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., reducing the chance for evening dining and drinking at its popular outdoor festival.

SeaWorld delays new roller coasters until 2021 but keeps holiday events on schedule” via Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel — Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker were supposed to be the two newest roller coasters coming to Central Florida this spring, but instead they are the latest fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment plans to push back the opening dates to 2021 the company reported Monday, as it revealed a net loss of $131 million in the second quarter when the theme parks were closed for the majority of the time. The company did not say when in 2021 the rides will open when the Sentinel asked after the earnings call. Construction is about 87% complete on the company’s new rides that are now pushed back to 2021, said Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy, SeaWorld’s interim CFO.


Mayor Kent Guinn vetoes Ocala emergency mask mandate” via Carlos E. Medina of the Ocala Star-Banner — Guinn issued a veto Monday of the emergency mask ordinance passed by the Ocala City Council last week. Guinn announced the veto during an appearance on The Sky 97.3 FM Monday morning. Guinn said the decision came down to the mandate, which would include a fine for noncompliance, being too difficult to enforce. The emergency ordinance, which was set to go into effect Saturday, puts the onus of mask compliance on business owners rather than individuals. Councilman Matt Wardell, who introduced the ordinance, said the requirements are not onerous and include businesses posting a sign that asks customers to wear a mask upon entering, asking those not wearing masks to don one and requiring employees wear masks. Failure to comply could result in a $25 fine.

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn shoots down an emergency mask ordinance.

‘God used him in a great way’: COVID-19 claims Pensacola pastor Michael Johnson” via Kevin Robinson of the Pensacola News Journal — A beloved, longtime Pensacola pastor died Saturday after a battle with COVID-19. The Rev. Michael Johnson, the pastor of the Sixth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, has led the church since 1988. Throughout his life, he was a leader in the local and national faith community, an advocate for the marginalized and underserved, and a guiding force who taught many a love for learning and for the Lord. “Mike has always been a pillar,” said the Rev. Earl Jackson of Damascus Road Missionary Baptist Church, who counted Johnson as his best friend. “An excellent pastor, and an excellent mentor and teacher. … He was just an excellent person.”

Coronavirus: Leon passes 5,000 mark; more deaths in Big Bend counties” via CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — Leon County has passed the 5,000 mark for the number of confirmed local cases of COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health. The capital county’s total number of confirmed cases stands at 5,006 as of Monday. Another Leon resident also has died because of the virus, the department confirmed Monday. An 87-year-old Leon County man has died from COVID-19, the state health department reported Monday. State epidemiologists do not yet know if he had come into contact with someone else with the virus. He is now the 25th death attributed to Leon County’s count, though medical examiner reports for District 2 say at least 80 people have died in Leon because of the virus.

Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood back to work after battle with coronavirus” via Frank Fernandez of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Chitwood is back in the saddle both on his bicycle and at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office after more than a week battling the coronavirus which he said knocked him on his “rear end” with fever and nausea. But the sheriff was on the mend spending 6 ½ hours in the office on Monday, returning to work for the first time since testing positive on July 31 when he decided to get tested after feeling awful when he tried to go on a bicycle ride. Chitwood said he still tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, but he said he was no longer contagious.

Rural Baker County sees explosion of new COVID-19 cases” via Drew Dixon of Florida Politics — Baker County is one of Northeast Florida’s most rural counties. But it is now seeing an unusual increase in coronavirus cases and inordinately high positive test rates for the illness. In the past week, Baker County has more than doubled its total recorded cases of COVID-19 going from 423 cases on Aug. 4 to 932 total infections, according to the Florida Department of Health figures. Another wild statistic is the extreme increase in the positivity rate for infections which started to pick up Aug. 5 at 27.9% and increased to Saturday’s high of 36.9%. Even Monday’s figure showed a 33.8% positivity rate when 25 new cases were added to the count. Baker has held steady at four fatalities due to the illness for several weeks. But Baker County has largely been a footnote in the coronavirus pandemic on the First Coast since the outbreak. The county did gain some state attention when 10 patients at the MacClenny Nursing and Nursing and Rehab Center contracted the illness over a couple-day span in April.

Is contact tracing for COVID-19 infection taking place? Health officials have answers” via Liz Freeman of the Naples Daily News — Southwest Florida officials are questioning whether contact tracing for COVID-19 is taking place and if local health departments aren’t staffed to handle it. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, said government leaders in the region have raised questions about how robust the program is but have not yet asked her to step in to help. “My understanding anecdotally is we have so many positive cases and not everyone has been contacted,” Passidomo said. “We need to find a way to do that that is efficient and effective.” State health officials have gone as far as telling their local counterparts to skip some contact tracing, which may be fueling doubts about how effective the program really is.

Kathleen Passidomo questions the effectiveness of contact tracing efforts.

USF researchers aim to predict when coronavirus cases go bad” via Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times — A new study by the University of South Florida researchers aims to give medical professionals some early warning before COVID-19 patients take a turn for the worse. Study participants who have tested positive for the disease will wear a device to monitor their vital signs. The hope is that the resulting data will tell doctors what signals the body sends before a case of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, becomes more serious. “Coronavirus is kind of weird in that it seriously affects people differently,” said USF College of Nursing researcher Andrew Bugajski. The study will involve up to 150 consenting patients who will wear a noninvasive biometric tracking device for up to 21 days, providing real-time feedback to the researchers.

‘It’s hard burying three people in one week’: Pensacola family reflects on loved ones lost to COVID-19” via Jake Newby of the Pensacola News Journal — In the face of unthinkable tragedy, a Pensacola family is responding with unimaginable strength. Granddaughters Shanaita Kirkland and Rakisha Collins lost their grandmother and two uncles in a span of five days this summer when Voncile, Sylvester and Arthur Rich all died of COVID-19 complications between July 29 and Aug. 2. The mother and two adult sons shared a home on West Strong Street, a home where Voncile had lived for more than 45 years and where she died Aug. 2, surrounded by more than a dozen relatives. Kirkland and Collins, who now vow to see to it that their family is stronger than ever on the other side of this calamity, aren’t the only ones mourning the losses.

13th annual Taste of the Beach canceled due to COVID-19” via the Pensacola News Journal — The 13th annual Taste of the Beach has been canceled over COVID-19 concerns. The event was originally scheduled to take place on the evening of Oct. 9 and all-day Oct. 10. “We’re disappointed to be canceling this annual event, as each year we really look forward to showcasing all the talented chefs, creative cuisines, fresh seafood and amazing dishes that Pensacola Beach has to offer,” said Patty Spradling, director of the Pensacola Beach Chamber, which organizes the annual event. “But the safety of the community remains our top priority.” The chamber expected to host the next iteration of the event in October 2021, according to a news release. Exact dates have yet to be announced.

Fort Walton Beach renovates Camp Walton Schoolhouse” via Devon Ravine of the Northwest Florida Daily News — The City of Fort Walton Beach is taking advantage of a coronavirus-related closure to give a much-needed face-lift to one of its oldest buildings. “The Camp Walton Schoolhouse was the first school built here in then-Camp Walton, back in 1912,” said Michael Weech, program coordinator for the city’s downtown Heritage Park and Cultural Center. The improvements will include all new siding and soffits around the building’s exterior. Weech said the contractor also has plans to rebuild the school’s bell tower and make the bell functional again. Weech said he expects the work to take a few more weeks. “Hopefully sometime after Labor Day all of our buildings will be open for visitors to come by and enjoy,” he said.


Why America’s window of opportunity to beat back COVID-19 is closing” via Helen Branswell of Stat — The United States has a window of opportunity to beat back COVID-19 before things get much, much worse. The bad news: That window is rapidly closing. And the country seems unwilling or unable to seize the moment. Winter is coming. Winter means cold and flu season, which is all but sure to complicate the task of figuring out who is sick with COVID-19 and who is suffering from a less threatening respiratory tract infection. It also means that cherished outdoor freedoms that link us to pre-COVID life, pop-up restaurant patios, picnics in parks, trips to the beach — will soon be out of reach, at least in northern parts of the country. Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of “indoor weather” to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn.

Forty percent of people with coronavirus infections have no symptoms. Might they be the key to ending the pandemic?” via Ariana Eunjung Cha of The Washington Post — Efforts to understand the diversity in the coronavirus are finally beginning to yield results, raising hope the knowledge will help accelerate the development of vaccines and therapies or possibly even create new pathways toward herd immunity in which enough of the population develops a mild version of the virus that they block further spread and the pandemic ends. The coronavirus has left numerous clues: the uneven transmission in different parts of the world, the mostly mild impact on children. Perhaps most tantalizing is the unusually large proportion of infected people with no symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month estimated that rate at about 40%.

Trump considers banning re-entry by citizens who may have coronavirus” via Michael D. Shear and Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times — President Trump is considering new immigration rules that would allow border officials to temporarily block an American citizen or legal permanent resident from returning to the United States from abroad if the authorities have reason to believe the person may be infected with the coronavirus. In recent months, Trump has imposed sweeping rules that ban entry by foreigners into the United States, citing the risk of allowing the virus to spread from hot spots abroad. But those rules have exempted two categories of people trying to return: American citizens and foreigners who have already established legal residence.

Coronavirus cases in children rise sharply in the second half of July, with more than 97,000 infections” via Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post — More than 97,000 U.S. children tested positive for the coronavirus in the last two weeks of July, more than a quarter of the total number of children diagnosed nationwide since March, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. The report cited data from 49 states, New York City, Washington, Puerto Rico and Guam, most of which defined children as younger than 19 years old. As of July 30, there were 338,982 cases reported in children since the pandemic began. Still, that was a relatively small fraction of the total number of coronavirus cases nationally, 8.8%. As of April 14, children made up just 2% of cases nationwide, according to the data.

Cases of coronavirus among children have risen sharply in July.

Hospitals’ COVID-19 policies face religious-rights checks by Trump administration” via Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal — The Trump administration has stepped up interventions in complaints by patients and health workers who say they been victims of discrimination under policies that hospitals and other health organizations have adopted to combat the new coronavirus. One of the interventions involved a medical student who objected on religious grounds that he be required to shave his beard so he could wear a protective mask. Another involved a hospital’s refusal under its no-visitors rule during the pandemic to allow a bedside visit by a priest. As the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has intervened in the complaints, it has been negotiating settlements and issuing guidance to remind health organizations, states and local governments about their responsibilities under federal law. Some legal experts say the agency is overstepping its statutory authority.

Stephen Hahn, FDA chief, is caught between scientists and the President” via Sheila Kaplan of The New York Times — As the coronavirus surged across the Sunbelt, Trump told a crowd gathered at the White House on July 4 that 99 percent of virus cases are “totally harmless.” The next morning on CNN, the host Dana Bash asked Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and one of the nation’s most powerful health officials: “Is the president wrong?” Dr. Hahn, an oncologist and former hospital executive, certainly understood the deadly toll of the virus, and the danger posed by the president’s false statements. But he ducked the journalist’s question. “I’m not going to get into who’s right and who’s wrong,” he said. The exchange illustrates the predicament that Dr. Hahn and other doctors face working for a president who often disregards scientific evidence. But as head of the agency that will decide what treatments are approved for COVID-19 and whether a new vaccine is safe enough to be given to millions of Americans, Dr. Hahn may be pressured like no one else.

When it comes to coronavirus, FDA chief Stephen Hahn is the man in the middle.


Florida’s economy takes $23B hit from empty cruise ships, ports” via Bradley George of WUSF — Tourism in Florida has taken a big hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. The losses are especially bad in the cruise industry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order for cruise ships in March. Major cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian have canceled sailings through the end of October. The Ports Council says the loss of cruises, along with a slowdown in cargo traffic, has led to a $23 billion loss for Florida’s economy. The state’s ports are asking for financial help from Congress, but it isn’t clear if that money will be included in the next round of pandemic relief.

Scars inflicted on travel are looking permanent” via Danielle DiMartino Booth of Bloomberg — And unlike after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the scars inflicted on travel and tourism look to be permanent as companies shift away from massive travel budgets and experiential living becomes a memory. The monthly U.S. employment report made clear that many of those jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever. The massive pullback in business travel is apt to inflict the deepest economic pain. Airline and hotel business models have been designed around the steadfast and relatively price agnostic expense-account traveler. Since its post-pandemic July 4 peak, trips by air have dropped 5% and trips by car have fallen 12%. Travel overall is down by 51%, resulting in $309 billion in lost revenue.

Travel will be bearing the scars of coronavirus for a long time. Image via AP.

Busch Gardens, SeaWorld attendance drops 96% due to coronavirus” via Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times — The company that owns Busch Gardens, Adventure Island and SeaWorld saw nearly 96% drops in attendance and revenue during the second quarter of 2020. SeaWorld Entertainment executives announced the dismal numbers for April, May and June during a conference call with investors, saying the coronavirus pandemic led to a net loss of $131 million at its 12 parks. Only seven of those parks, all in Florida and Texas, were open for a portion of the quarter in June, with Busch Gardens reopening June 10. As a result, quarterly attendance nationwide dropped from 6.5 million in 2019 to 300,000 this year.

Uber ridership has cratered and no one knows when it’ll come back” via Faiz Siddiqui of The Washington Post — The ride-hail industry is experiencing “a tale of 10,000 cities,” Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said during a call with analysts last week. Markets such as Hong Kong and New Zealand, which were hailed as early success stories in fighting the pandemic, exceeded their pre-pandemic ridership. But U.S. ridership has continued to suffer. Lyft has previously said its April ridership was down 75% from April 2019. Recovery has been most prominent in cities such as New York, which bore the strongest early impacts of the U.S. outbreak. But ridership in West Coast cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles continues to be steeply down more than four months into the disruptions.


Many couples are putting pregnancy plans on hold because of the pandemic” via Kate Smith of CBS News — About a third of women say they’re delaying pregnancy or want fewer children because of the pandemic, according to a recent study published by the Guttmacher Institute. It’s a shift in sentiment that could trigger a staggering 500,000 fewer births in the U.S. as soon as next year, a potential 13% decline, according to a recent Brookings Institution study. Pregnancy timing preferences varied dramatically between White women and those of color. Nearly half of Hispanic women and 44% of Black women said they planned to have children later or have fewer children, while just 28% of White women expressed the same preference.

Royal Caribbean floats testing passengers for COVID-19 when cruising resumes” via Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — For likely the first time in Royal Caribbean Group’s 52-year history, the company has gone nearly four months without a passenger cruise. It’s no surprise then, that the company’s second quarter earnings were the worst on record as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps the industry largely paralyzed. In a financial filing Monday, Royal Caribbean Group reported an adjusted net loss of $1.3 billion, or $6.13 per share, for the second quarter, compared to an adjusted net income of $532.7 million, or $2.54 per share, in the prior year. The company estimates its monthly cash burn to be between $250 million and $290 million. Unlike its largest competitor Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean does not have any concrete plans to start cruises again. Carnival Corp. planned to start cruises on its AIDA Cruises ships in Germany on Aug. 5 but pushed back to Sept. 6 after a delay in approval from the ships’ flag state, Italy.

After four months without a cruise, Royal Caribbean is considering testing passengers for COVID-19. Image via AP.

Many landmark restaurants, bars won’t reopen after virus” via Curt Anderson of The Associated Press — Every neighborhood loses something precious when local eateries and hangouts get shuttered, but as infections spread and the economic fallout continues, the loss of iconic establishments like La Tropicana in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood is particularly hard to swallow. Restaurants are traditionally low-margin businesses in high-rent locations, with little in cash reserves. They depend on liquor markups and high cash flow to sustain their overhead, but revenues have plummeted nationwide as fears of infection and public health requirements keep customers away. More than half the nearly 24,000 restaurants that have closed since the pandemic began will not reopen, the Yelp online business review service found in a July 25 economic report.

The iconic La Tropicana in Ybor City is among the casualties of COVID-19. Image via AP.


Trump briefly escorted from news conference after shots fired near White House” via Rebecca Ballhaus of The Wall Street Journal — A Secret Service agent interrupted the President’s prepared remarks about the stock market and told him, “Sir, we’re just going to have to step outside.” “Excuse me?” Trump asked. “Step outside,” the agent repeated. The President returned to the briefing room soon afterward and told reporters he had been taken to the Oval Office out of an abundance of caution. He said law-enforcement officials had shot a suspect. “It seems to be very well under control,” he said. Trump said he felt safe and that the episode “might not have anything to do with me.” He said that he asked to return to the briefing room and that he didn’t believe the perimeter around the White House had been breached.

Talks remain stalled after Trump’s moves on coronavirus relief” via Marianne LeVine and John Bresnahan of POLITICO Florida — As talks between the White House and Democratic leaders on a coronavirus package remain stalled, the Senate will remain in session but with no scheduled votes, according to GOP aides. The vast majority of senators are out of town with a 24-hour notice to return if a vote is scheduled, much like House members. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week he would keep the Senate in session while Democrats and the White House negotiated on a new coronavirus relief package. But those talks collapsed on Friday following two weeks of unsuccessful closed-door negotiations between Democratic leaders and top White House officials. Trump issued a series of executive actions on Saturday that he said would address the ongoing economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic, including a moratorium on evictions, deferring student loan payments and interest, extending federal unemployment benefits at a lower rate and cut payroll taxes. Democrats lambasted the moves as ineffectual and legally dubious.

Talks on further coronavirus relief have stalled after Donald Trump’s recent executive orders.

Spotted — Pro-Trump Congressman Greg Steube “working the refs” during an exchange with Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, in a New York Times article. Steube “darkly hinted that Google was making it difficult for him to find a website he was looking for, The Gateway Pundit.” Complaining vocally is “a tactic the Trump movement has revived and deftly employed against the powerful, befuddled new referees of public debate, Google, Facebook and Twitter.”

QAnon groups have millions of members on Facebook, documents show” via Ari Sen and Brandy Zadrozny of NBC News — An internal investigation by Facebook has uncovered thousands of groups and pages, with millions of members and followers, that support the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to internal company documents reviewed by NBC News. The investigation’s preliminary results, which were provided to NBC News by a Facebook employee, shed new light on the scope of activity and content from the QAnon community on Facebook, a scale previously undisclosed by Facebook and unreported by the news media, because most of the groups are private. The Top 10 groups identified in the investigation collectively contain more than 1 million members, with totals from more top groups and pages pushing the number of members and followers past 3 million. It is not clear how much overlap there is among the groups.

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court agrees to hear lawsuits on suspended election” via Bianca Padró Ocasio and Syra Prtiz-Blanes of the Miami Herald — Amid an unprecedented electoral debacle, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico said Monday it will evaluate claims filed by two candidates from opposing political parties who are calling for all the votes cast at Sunday’s suspended primary election to be counted immediately. The parties involved have until 2 p.m. Tuesday to file their positions to the island’s high court. The joint lawsuits from the two gubernatorial candidates seek to challenge an emergency order from the elections commission of Puerto Rico (Comisión Estatal de Elecciones, in Spanish) to keep ballot boxes sealed and voting machines shut down until next Sunday. The primary was suspended on Sunday afternoon after what elections commission president Juan Ernesto Dávila said was a massive delay in printing ballots at the only ballot-printing facility on the island.


Appeals court sides with transgender student in bathroom battle” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that the district violated the equal-protection rights of recent Nease High School graduate Drew Adams and ran afoul of a federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. Judge Beverly Martin, in a 45-page majority opinion joined by Judge Jill Pryor, wrote that the record in the case “reveals no substantial relationship between privacy in St. Johns County School District restrooms and excluding Mr. Adams from the boys’ restroom” and, as a result, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Transgender student Drew Adams wins his equal-protection appeal based on Title IX rules. Image via AP.

Court backs down on controversial Disney tax ruling” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — A Florida appellate court backed away from a controversial ruling that could have made it much easier for Walt Disney World and other hotel companies to win lower property tax bills. The ruling arose out of a long-running legal battle between Disney and Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh over the value of Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort, a nearly 1,200-room luxury hotel with an annual property tax bill of more than $4 million. In its original decision, handed down in June, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled not only that Singh’s office had overstated the value of the Disney hotel; but that the entire appraisal method Singh had used was illegal under Florida law. The sweeping declaration sent shock waves across Florida, where many property appraisers use the same appraisal method to determine the value of hotels.

Osceola deputies arrest 33 people at weekend house parties” via Katie Rice of the Orlando Sentinel — During a weekend patrol to curb a rash of house parties in west Osceola County, deputies arrested 33 people and confiscated 16 guns and various quantities of heroin and cocaine, agency spokesman Maj. Jacob Ruiz said. Deputies have been conducting “saturation” patrols over the past few weeks as parties have cropped up in vacation rentals. On Friday and Saturday, deputies identified addresses where parties were planned and intervened, stopping many before they began. Eighteen of the 33 arrested face charges of disorderly conduct, resisting an officer without violence, tampering with evidence and possession of marijuana. Seven were arrested on charges of carrying concealed weapons, and others were arrested on various charges, including drug and paraphernalia possession.

Family of Lehigh Acres man alleges excessive force used during Lee County Sheriff’s Office arrest” via Jake Allen of the Naples Daily News — The family of a Lehigh Acres man is accusing Lee County sheriff’s deputies of using excessive force during his arrest last week, including kneeling on the man’s neck and face. But the sheriff’s office denied any wrongdoing and said deputies never put their knee or any other parts of their body on Donavane Karon Cody’s neck. The allegations against the sheriff’s office come after several weeks of protests against police brutality in Southwest Florida and across the country. The protests began after the death of George Floyd.

Panama City to set hearing to collect $1 million in abatement costs for Hurricane Michael-damaged properties” via Jacqueline Bostick of the Panama City News-Herald — The city will vote to set a special meeting for a public hearing Tuesday to consider adopting a non-ad valorem assessment roll to recover about $1 million in property abatement costs for nearly 200 Hurricane Michael-damaged properties. The special meeting is proposed to be set for Sept. 14, followed by the public hearing to be held the next day. The assessment will be placed on about 200 properties, all of which have outstanding code enforcement liens, according to officials. While the list includes some properties that code enforcement has dealt with for about a decade, officials said Monday “a good number” of the properties on the list are related to damage from the 2018 hurricane.

Panama City man refurbishes laptops for students in need; GoFundMe sets funding goal” via Jacqueline Bostick of the Panama City News Herald — As weeks drawdown on an already uncertain start to the school year, Paul Jones knows one thing is certain: students need laptops. Over the past three weeks, the local enterprise systems engineer has repurposed his home into a shop to refurbish laptops to donate to local students in need. As of Friday, 40 laptops had been distributed, with dozens more pending. The list had to be closed due to an overwhelming number of requests. “The need, right now, is 200 laptops,” he said. “My biggest challenge at this point is to keep fundraising going.” Jones has opened a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $15,000 for parts and accessories. As of Friday, only $3,925 had been donated.

Bay County on board to help AMIkids PCMI to create $10 million drone program” via Tony Mixon of the Panama City News Herald — AMIkids Panama City Marine Institute recently got a letter of support from the Bay County Commission for its unmanned drone program. PCMI is applying for a $1.5 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. The total cost for the program will be roughly $10 million. PCMI requested that the commission support the program since Triumph is required to give priority to projects and programs that the commissioners recommend. Triumph oversees the distribution of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil spill settlement money. The grant would help students receive industry-recognized certification training. PCMI targets kids who are disadvantaged students in the Panama City area and the proposed grant will help prepare students in the field of unmanned systems and construction.

Regulators sign off on utility storm agreements” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — The Public Service Commission signed off on agreements involving Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. that deal with long-term plans to try to strengthen electric systems to better withstand storms. Commission Chairman Gary Clark said the plans will reduce power-restoration costs and limit outage times. The utilities reached the agreements with parties including the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues. Public Service Commission member Donald Polmann said the new 10-year storm plans must continue to be watched.

Hurricane Center continues monitoring system with 60% chance of development” via Joe Mario Pedersen of the Orlando Sentinel — The National Hurricane Center is monitoring a storm with a 60% chance of developing into a tropical depression or tropical storm within the next two to five days. The system of showers and thunderstorms is associated with a tropical wave and broad area of low pressure. The wave is about 700 miles southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands. The system has remained static in its growth for the last 24 hours, but environmental conditions are expected to be more favorable for development to occur, forecasters said. A tropical depression is possible to form in the next day or so as the wave moves toward the Western tropical Atlantic region at a speed of 10 to 15 mph.

The National Hurricane Center is monitoring a storm with a 60% chance of developing into a tropical depression or tropical storm within the next two to five days. Image via NOAA.

Saharan dust was Florida’s summer hurricane protector. Now it’s going away.” via Josh Fiallo of the Tampa Bay Times — The Saharan Air Layer was our summer friend, helping disrupt the conditions that develop Atlantic storms. But now our pal SAL is leaving at the worst possible time: the peak of hurricane season. This summer, in the midst of what could turn into a historic storm season, a historic Saharan phenomenon created a 24-day lull of tropical tranquillity in the Atlantic Ocean. Only one storm formed from June 10 to July 4 but never approached land, disappearing in the North Atlantic. Scientists attribute that lull to a massive plume of Saharan dust that floated from Africa to the U.S., sucking up moisture along the way and robbing potential storms of the “fuel” they need to form in the Atlantic.

Lordy, it’s hot! Florida and U.S. on pace for another record-setting year for sizzling temps” via Dinah Voyles Pulver of The Palm Beach Post — Temperatures soared higher than normal across much of the nation in June and through the first six months of 2020, putting the country on track for what could be another one of its warmest years on record. In Florida, the year-to-date average daily temperature on June 30 was 71 degrees, 3.5 degrees warmer than normal. Florida is part of the 48 contiguous states that saw above-normal average temperatures during the first half of the year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in its most recent update on climate conditions in the United States and around the world. The average temperature for the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, from January through June was 50 degrees, 2.4 degrees above normal. It was the eighth-warmest January-to-June period on record.

FSU, FAMU break research records, earning $250M, $60M respectively” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — From advancements in electric ship power systems to studies in reading comprehension to the resilience of coastal communities in the threat of hurricanes, researchers at Florida State and Florida A&M universities broke records in research funding for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Both universities received record-breaking funding despite the disruption of the coronavirus, with Florida State bringing in $250.1 million, and Florida A&M researchers awarded $60.8 million. FSU’s final research dollars shows an increase of more than $16 million higher from its previous record recorded in fiscal year 2019. FAMU’s total, earned through 167 research grant awards last fiscal year, is the largest in its history.


Trump’s inadvertent tax hike” via Catherine Rampell of The Washington Post — Trump’s payroll tax deferral is supposed to reduce taxes and make employees cheaper to hire. It may do precisely the opposite, which Trump would know if he had real tax experts or economists advising him instead of just people who play them on TV. For months, Trump has obsessed, inexplicably, over a payroll tax cut. Democratic lawmakers haven’t been interested, nor have their Republican counterparts, for good reason: It’s expensive and would do little to stimulate the economy right now. Astoundingly, even the White House advisers whose lifelong raison d’être has been cutting taxes somehow failed to realize they may have created a tax hike next year. That’s because of how this policy could interact with other provisions of the tax code


College football turns into a Keystone Kops episode” via Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union — Now it’s apparently up to the SEC, ACC and Big 12 to give this 2020 season the good old college try. The Big Ten sure wasn’t up to the task because it elected to punt over a month before the season-opening kickoff. Look, it’s understandable why a going-nowhere program like UConn or the academic-minded Ivy League would cancel the season. They don’t have much skin in the game. But by the time all the Power Five conferences decide their fate, we still don’t know if zero, one, two or three big-boy leagues will be playing. It’s going to leave the 2020 season with a big, fat asterisk attached to it and a seismic change forthcoming in the sport.


There’s good news to share on the COVID-19 crisis. Florida is reporting almost 4,200 new cases of coronavirus for Monday — the lowest since June 23.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— The Florida Department of Health also reported Monday another 91 fatalities from COVID 19, raising the death toll to 8, 408. Almost half of those deaths — more than 4,000 — were in the past 30 days.

— Gov. DeSantis is facing some tough questions after the Hillsborough County School Board voted to start the school year with remote learning only, holding off on reopening classrooms for another month. The state responded by threatening to withhold money and DeSantis claims kids are safer in school than they are at home.

— And even as they threaten to withhold funding, the Governor and Education Commissioner Corcoran insist they are giving local schools all the flexibility they need … on the condition that they reopen.

— As Congress and the President try to figure out the next move on a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, 200,000 Floridians are still waiting for the first check to arrive. Americans who are married to — or are the children of — undocumented immigrants didn’t get that $1,200 payment that helped the rest of us cope with the crisis.

— A conversation with activist Rep. Anna Eskamani. The Orlando Democrat has been a thorn in the side of the Florida GOP, now she’s going after three of her fellow Democrats in the Florida House.

 — Checking-in with Florida Man, who is accused of attacking his Lyft driver because he didn’t like the plastic shield in his car designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

To listen, click on the image below:


— ALOE —

Skywatchers watch out! Perseids meteor shower to peak this week” via Antonia Jaramillo of the Naples Daily News — Though the novel coronavirus pandemic might have ruined summer plans, don’t fret because a meteor shower peaking this week is sure to lift everyone’s spirits. The Perseids meteor shower will peak from Aug. 11-12 and is considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to the very fast and bright meteors that leave long trails of light and color behind them. The only downside this year will be the moon that will wash out some of the fainter meteors. Yet during its peak, the Perseids can produce anywhere from 50 to 100 meteors per hour so you should hopefully still be able to see some shooting stars.

Stargazers should break out the lawn chairs for peak viewing of this annual event. Image via AP.

Even Netflix gets old, so people are heading for the outdoors, where business is booming” via Matt Soergel of The Florida Times-Union — Turns out there is such a thing as too much Netflix. It seems there are only so many sourdough loaves that you can bake. And after a while, you might even need a break from virtual Zoom cocktail parties. What’s left? Many have decided it’s time to get outside, whether it’s boating, biking, paddling, beachgoing or fishing. “People are tired of sitting in the house,” said Kevin Behm, an assistant manager at B&M Bait & Tackle near Mayport. Sales have been high, he said, and inventory is tough to get as more and more people decide to go out fishing. “It’s a hobby they can do, they can social distance, they’re outdoors. It’s a good time-passer,” Behm said.

Is Halloween canceled? Costumers, candy makers, theme parks face scary realities” via Hugo Martin of the Los Angeles Times — With less than three months before the annual celebration of all things ghoulish and creepy, many Halloween festivities have either been canceled or will be dramatically altered out of fear of the nation’s biggest terror: COVID-19. The likely results: A drop in orders for trick-or-treat candies and Halloween costumes and the loss of big crowds and hefty revenues at theme parks that host Halloween-themed events. In short, another financial blow to an economy already weakened by the business closures and double-digit unemployment rates caused by the pandemic. Halloween is “the holiday that comes second after Christmas as far as spending goes,” said Tom Arnold, a professor of finance at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. “I don’t think it would be wrong to predict that spending gets cut in half, at a minimum.”

Shark Week comes to life for Stuart family who saw great white shark off Jupiter” via Ed Killer of TCPalm — Videos and a photo of Hal Rosenblatt’s sighting of what appears to be a great white shark 20 miles off the Jupiter coast were sent to researchers with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Shark Research Program. This time of year, the program has its hands full with daily fieldwork, tracking and tagging scores of great white sharks that come to New England to feed on seals. John Chisholm of the Shark Research Program said via email his team will review Rosenblatt’s images to see if it is one of the more than 300 cataloged sharks in its database. It stands as the third reported great white shark sighting between Jupiter and Vero Beach in 2020. In May, diver Steve Luongo and son Colby Ventura, both of Vero Beach, saw one in 85 feet of water while spearing fish.

College football’s chaotic Monday reveals a sport without leadership” via Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times — In the early stages of the most critical week in modern college sports history, the President of the United States has said more publicly about the tenuous fate of the fall football season than the President of the NCAA. And that says everything about the chaos, internal tension and complete, utter confusion that has enveloped college football over the past 48 hours. The drama and ridiculousness that captivate the country on autumn Saturdays and populate message boards 365 days a year are now on full display amid the coronavirus pandemic because of one hard-to-believe fact. No one is in charge.

With Mid-American Conference football gone in 2020, expect more conferences (and chaos) to follow. Image via AP.

Florida Theatre’s ‘ghost’ seats will be preserved” via Tom Szaroleta of The Florida Times-Union — The seats have been removed from downtown Jacksonville’s historic Florida Theatre, with more than 500 sold as souvenirs to fans of the venue. But two of the 1,950 seats are being preserved. The theater, which dates back to 1927, has long rumored to be haunted. Two seats in the upper balcony, in particular, have drawn the attention of ghost-hunters over the years. Those two seats — Balcony E1 and E2 — are being shipped to Michigan to be refurbished. “We did not want our ghost to be homeless if his or her seat went away permanently,” said Numa Saisselin, president of the theater. “Hopefully the ghost does not mind being without his or her seat for a few weeks.”


Celebrating today are Brice Barnes, CBS’s Jim DeFedeChris Hart IV and Matt Surrency.


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

Written By

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

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

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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