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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Serve, protect, repeat

Survivors of COVID can ‘pay it forward’ to save others who are fighting the disease.

Serve, protect, repeat

When those essential workers who vow to “protect and serve” are felled by COVID-19, what happens?

In the case of three Florida law enforcement officials, they get better, get back to work and give back again.

A prosecutor, FBI agent and Sheriff’s deputy appearing at a video news conference for the OneBlood Blood Centers earlier this week told stories of how they became sick and — after they recovered — paid it forward by donating their “convalescent” plasma, used to treat hospitalized coronavirus patients.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe — as well as his wife, four sons and two daughters-in-law — were diagnosed in late June after visiting his son who was receiving medical treatment in Charleston, South Carolina.

As a COVID survivor himself, Larry Keefe urges people to ‘pay it forward’ by donating plasma for COVID-19 patients.

“I read about convalescent plasma from COVID survivors and that it could potentially help those who are seriously ill,” he said. “I called the hospital here in Tallahassee that had tested me and monitored my recovery, and I offered to donate my plasma as a sort of ‘thank you’ or salute to them.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas, based in Jacksonville, said her office began addressing the pandemic from its beginning. “We can’t stop; we’re 24/7. We have to still serve the public,” she said. “We came up with creative ways to do that by creating rotating work shifts, teleworking, workplace solutions, lots of Lysol, lots of wipes.”

Despite the precautions, Rojas developed an earache one day and the next morning lost her senses of taste and smell.

“I’m one of him the people in the office that sprayed Lysol up and down and sideways on every single door handle and elevator button, and I still got it, even with the precautions,” she said. “Here I am, almost two months-plus later with no taste and no smell, which is a struggle. It definitely gave me a wake-up call.”

Rojas said the donation process is painless and she’s able to donate every 28 days. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, so I’m not going to pass it up,” she said. “I’ve read that I can continue to contribute plasma over the next several months.”

Despite an aversion to needles, Leon County Sheriff’s Deputy Paul Salvo was already a frequent blood donator when he came down with the virus and was sick for 12 days. He heard about the value of convalescent plasma via social media and signed up to donate for the first time in August. “And I plan on going back a third or fourth time. As long as I have the antibodies, it’s going to help save lives. It makes sense for me to do it.”

Dr. William Geers, medical director for the hospitalist doctors at Capital Regional Medical Center in Tallahassee, said this virus is “completely different.”

“It’s really nothing that anybody in the United States has had a lot of experience dealing with,” he explained. “We have very few tools in our kit to treat this virus.” Convalescent plasma is “something we reach for right away.”

While there is an ongoing need for people with antibodies to donate plasma, the pandemic has caused blood donations to drop off and Susan Forbes, a senior vice president for OneBlood, is calling on those who have not become ill to consider donating.

OneBlood is there for Floridians to donate plasma to help combat COVID-19.

“It is a challenge to ensure ready blood supply on a good day, let alone in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “We aren’t able to roll up the Big Red Bus just anywhere like we used to.” Many businesses aren’t operating at full capacity, she said, and high schools, colleges and universities aren’t having blood drives.

Everyone who donates will have their blood tested for COVID-19 antibodies, with results available within a few days.

To find a OneBlood center to make a donation, visit oneblood.org.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Foreclosure moratorium expires — Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed a statewide stay-on-eviction executive order to expire. The directive first went into effect in April, intended to suspend evictions and foreclosures against those economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Centers for Disease Control order from President Donald Trump’s administration still protects renters directly impacted by COVID-19, but that does not protect homeowners. DeSantis the past several months has issued extensions, usually shortly before the order was set to expire. The Governor’s office said the order was ultimately allowed to lapse to avoid confusion with the federal direction.

Transportation calls toll roads into question — Draft task force reports released by the Department of Transportation could not reach conclusions on the need for the M-CORES toll road projects, which would create new roadways connecting from Naples nearly to the Florida-Georgia line. That includes expressing a desire for a “no-build” alternative to any particular road route. Senate President Bill Galvano, who championed the road plan in the 2019 Legislative Session, defended the plan and said halting the roads would hinder economic prosperity and technological advances in rural areas expecting new highways, along with broadband internet service and sewer utilities.

School COVID reports released — The Florida Department of Health this week began releasing details on COVID-19 cases tied to schools and colleges, though the agency does not provide a cumulative caseload for the entire state. It does provide the information listed by county and then by campus. The report will be updated weekly. Individual school districts in many cases have released information, and families are notified of infections and exposures that could impact students individually. Florida officials have pushed back against the release of data and discouraged local health departments from providing the isolated information as well.

Local governments review mask mandates — When DeSantis announced Florida entered Phase Three of reopening since the beginning of the pandemic, he said his administration would preempt local fines and punishments associated with regulations. That most notably included controversial mask mandates. But local governments offered different reactions to the move. Some like Manatee County fully repealed face-covering requirements in the jurisdiction. But Palm Beach and Miami-Dade leaders said they intend to leave their ordinances in place. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said the shift from the Governor will delay requests for collections but violations will remain second-degree misdemeanors.

Job report shows low unemployment — Department of Labor statistics show the unemployment rate dropped to 7.9%, down from 8.4% in August. However, the addition of 661,000 jobs in September also marked the third straight month of slower hiring. Economists say that shows the economy could remain weaker at the time of the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, and that it has only recovered slightly more than half the 22 million jobs wiped out since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation remains down 10 million jobs, more than were lost in the Great Recession. Disney notably announced it would soon shed 28,000 jobs at its resorts in Florida and Orlando.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 703,212 FL residents (+15,556 since Sept. 25)

— 8,592 Non-FL residents (+361 since Sept. 25)

Origin:

— 5,864 Travel related

— 258,278 Contact with a confirmed case

— 6,183 Both

— 432,887 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 44,489 in FL

Deaths:

— 14,730 in FL

‘Operation Corrupt Collector’

Attorney General Ashley Moody this week announced Operation Corrupt Collector, a state and federal law enforcement effort against abusive debt collection tactics.

The effort against the abusive debt collections is being carried out by more than 50 federal and state law enforcement partners.

“In a time when many are struggling with financial uncertainty and challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is reprehensible that some debt collectors harangue consumers through unlawful threats, harassment and fraudulent attempts to collect nonexistent debt,” Moody said. “These forms of predatory debt collection practices must end now, and I am confident that through federal and state cooperative efforts such as Operation Corrupt Collector, we will successfully fight for consumers and hold these companies accountable.”

Ashley Moody has joined with several other states to crack down on abusive debt collection tactics.

Thus far, Moody has already sent two warning letters to businesses who are believed to have engaged in “abusive, deceptive, or unfair debt collection practices,” Moody’s office said.

Moody also offered several tips to help Floridians protect themselves from abusive debt collectors.

She encouraged Floridians to gather the collector’s name and company, validate any owed debts before payment and check with original creditors before payment.

Moody also warned Floridians to not respond to threats.

More debt collection tips and information can be found online.

Hall of Famers

Four agricultural giants are getting inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced this week that Bobby McKown, John Stitt, Reggie Brown and Dr. Wayne Smith as the inductees for 2021.

The quartet will be officially welcomed to the Hall of Fame with an induction ceremony at the Florida State Fair’s Agricultural Hall of Fame Banquet on Feb. 16.

“Florida agriculture is at the core of our state’s rich cultural history, impacting the lives of millions of Floridians each day. It’s a great honor to recognize the achievements and the global impact our 2021 Agricultural Hall of Fame inductees have had on this industry and fair trade practices,” Fried said.

Four new inductees to the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame will be celebrated at the annual banquet on February 16 at the Florida State Fair.

“Their commitment proudly exemplifies the best of Florida agriculture, and their leadership paves the way for thousands of growers, ranchers, and educators to cultivate innovative practices and groundbreaking research throughout the nation.”

McKown spent his career championing and defending the Florida citrus industry’s health and well-being, serving as the CEO of the Florida Citrus Mutual.

Stitt was instrumental to the development of the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

Brown’s contributions are in the tomato industry — he has served as executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange while at the same time leading the Florida Tomato Committee and the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

Smith’s contributions to Florida agriculture encompass his lifelong devotion to education and research and forestry passion.

Escargot away

The United States has recorded its first horntail snail sighting after a gastropod enthusiast found the invasive species in Coconut Grove.

The enthusiast sent the unusual snail to the University of Florida for identification. Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Plant Industry confirmed UF’s findings.

The invasive horntail snail could cause serious health problems in Florida.

The horntail snail is a well-known pest in India that feeds on commercial crops including lettuce, beans, yams and chrysanthemums. FDACS noted the snails are “voracious feeders” that are most active at night and after rainfall.

A program to survey, control and eradicate the federally regulated pest was immediately put into action to stop the spread of this pest.

“The horntail snail is an invasive pest with the potential to cause serious health implications for Floridians,” Fried said. “Our Division of Plant Industry and essential industry partners are continuing to monitor this threat and working toward a plan to stop the horntail snail’s spread into other areas of Florida.”

Following investigations, the division identified multiple positive sites in Miami-Dade County. The division is treating all properties within the affected areas and continues to trace the snail’s origin and movement to protect Florida’s agriculture industry.

The horntail snail is named for the pointed fleshy protrusion, called a caudal horn, at the tip of its tail.

Experts advise using gloves when handling the snail., which prefers damp locations like under pots or in moist soil. Like other terrestrial snails in Florida, the horntail snail has the potential to be an intermediate host of rat lungworm, which can cause meningitis in humans.

Instagram of the week

 

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President Trump arrived on Friday at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is expected to stay for “the next few days” and undergo tests. Earlier in the day, Trump received a promising experimental drug to treat Covid-19, according to a memo from his doctor. The president walked to Marine One on the White House Lawn, wearing a blue suit and tie and a mask and showing no sign of difficulty. “President Trump remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms, and has been working throughout the day,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, and at the recommendation of his physician and medical experts, the President will be working from the presidential offices at Walter Reed for the next few days. President Trump appreciates the outpouring of support for both he and the First Lady.” The president, who said early Friday that he had tested positive for the virus, has a low-grade fever, nasal congestion and a cough, according to two people close to him. His wife, Melania Trump, also tested positive for the coronavirus and reported mild symptoms. Tap the link in our bio for the latest in this developing story. Photo by @nytmills.

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

The week in appointments

Florida Council on Arts and Culture — DeSantis appointed Patricia Frost, Lisa Burgess, Frank Gromling, Richard Forsyth, Tara Forman and Carroll Hanley Goggin to the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. Frost, of Miami Beach, is a former Principal with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and a longtime supporter of the arts. Burgess, of Fort Lauderdale, is President of New River Fine Art, Inc., a fine art gallery. Gromling, of Beverly Beach, is the owner of Ocean Art Gallery of Ormond Beach. Forsyth, of Tampa, is the Owner, President and CEO of Wendover Art Group, a domestic manufacturer of artwork and mirrors based in Largo. Forman, of Sea Ranch Lakes, is a former Real Estate Consultant with Ropes Associates and an avid art collector. Hanley Goggin, of Winter Park, is the vice president and chief financial officer of DBG Promotions.

Bridge biz

This week, the first Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan was approved for a business impacted by Hurricane Sally.

The loan, provided by Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was received by Bluewater Bay Marina owner Brett Hinley in Niceville, Florida.

DeSantis in a statement said he was pleased to provide the loans in an expedient fashion.

Bluewater Bay Marina in Niceville is the first to receive a Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan for Hurricane Sally.

“Supporting businesses and helping employees get back to work is an important step toward helping Florida families, businesses and communities recover from the impacts of Hurricane Sally,” he added.

Hurricane Sally made landfall along the Florida/Alabama border on Sept. 16. The Category 2 storm poured roughly 30 inches of rain and caused dramatic flooding across portions of the Florida Panhandle.

The short-term, interest-free loans are designed to help impacted businesses while they work to secure other available loans and insurance payments.

Small-business owners with two to 100 employees in Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties are eligible for up to $50,000.

“Our team will continue to do all we can to help small businesses and families recover,” said Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Dane Eagle.

The application period ends Nov. 14, or until the $5 million allotment is exhausted.

Rural grants available

The Department of Economic opportunity is making $8.6 million available for rural counties to generate jobs through infrastructure projects and to diversify their economies.

The department will release those funds through the Rural Infrastructure Fund grant program.

“Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature continue to champion programs that help Florida’s rural communities generate sustainable economic growth through infrastructure, which will attract businesses and support a highly-trained workforce,” DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle said. “Our team looks forward to working with Florida’s rural communities to help improve the lives of Floridians by investing in and transforming local economies.”

DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle is putting a special emphasis on grants for rural communities.

Funding is available for specific job-creation or job-retention opportunities, including public infrastructure for industrial or commercial sites, broadband access and services, upgrading or developing public tourism infrastructure, and planning and preparing infrastructure. Awards from the grant program may cover up to 50% of a project’s total cost.

Local governments in Calhoun, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties have access to the first $5 million. Those six counties, which were impacted by Hurricane Michael, have until Nov. 30 to apply for project funding.

The remaining $3.6 million is available to other rural counties through June 20, 2021.

Reducing recidivism

U.S. Attorney Keefe announced this week that North Florida will receive a $2.6 million grant to help reduce recidivism in area communities.

The money will be used to help communities address the challenges of reentry and recidivism. It will be used to support reentry services for juveniles and incarcerated parents with children under 18 years old.

“The key to reducing crime is preventing offenders from committing further crimes, and the best way we can do that is by helping them succeed as they return to their communities and establish law-abiding lives,” Keefe said in a statement.

North Florida will receive a $2.6 million grant to help reduce recidivism, Larry Keefe announces.

Additionally, the money will help fund research to help further understand the reoffenders.

North Florida’s $2.6 million is only a portion of a $92 million Department of Justice grant program looking to address recidivism nationwide.

“Former offenders are ultimately responsible for their own successes and failures, but our criminal and juvenile justice systems have an important role to play in preparing them for the obstacles that lie before them,” said Office of Justice Programs Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan.

The grant was awarded to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Florida Department of Corrections, DISC Village and Florida State University.

Grants awarded

Florida Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter announced that $860,000 in grants were awarded this week for rural counties to bolster their Enhanced 911 programs.

The counties snagging funds: Citrus, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Sumter, Walton, and Washington. The grants ranged in size from a $29,000 award to Walton County to a $370,000 award for Sumter County.

“The E911 State Grant Program and the Rural County Grant Program help counties make the necessary investments they need to enhance their local 911 systems,” Satter said. “These grants are an even more critical resource for rural counties in disaster-impacted areas to build effective and reliable public safety communication systems for their communities.”

Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter is awarding $860,000 in grants to enhance rural 911 systems.

Before this week’s announcement, DMS had awarded more than $5.3 million in E911 grants to 33 Florida counties, including 25 rural counties.

All counties are eligible to apply for funding through the E911 State Grant Program, and counties with populations of less than 75,000 are eligible to apply for additional funding through the Rural County Grant Program.

The next deadline for counties to apply for the E911 State Grant Program is Nov. 20. The deadline for counties to apply for the Rural County Grant Program was Oct 1.

Grants applications and a listing of past award recipients are available online.

‘Senate Champion of the Year’

New Smyrna Beach Sen. Tom Wright this week was awarded the Senate Champion of the Year award from Small business Pharmacies Aligned for Reform (SPAR).

SPAR is an organization dedicated to lowering the cost of prescription drug prices and protecting Florida pharmacy owners from “bad actors” within the prescription drug supply chain.

The award is among the first presented by the group.

Tom Wright is a ‘Champion of The Year’ in the effort to protect Florida pharmacy owners from ‘bad actors.’ Image via Colin Hackley. 

“I am very passionate about this issue because the patient gets left out of the conversation far too often, and we need to ensure that their medicine is affordable, and their local pharmacy is accessible,” Wright said. “I am honored to accept this award and thank my legislative colleagues for helping tackle this issue of growing importance.”

In a news release, SPAR said Wright has prioritized lowering prescription drug prices since first taking office in 2018. SPAR also credited Wright for taking on “bad actors” within the drug chain in the 2020 Legislative Session.

“Independent pharmacists in Florida have been taken advantage of by bad actors for years and can no longer absorb the losses they continue to incur,” said Sen. Wright.

More information about SPAR can be found online.

‘Credentials Matter’

A year ago, ExcelinEd and Burning Glass Technologies launched “Credentials Matter.”

This first-of-its-kind research and accompanying interactive website explored the industry-recognized credentials students earn, the credentials demanded by employers, and the impact of credential attainment on long-term student outcomes.

Now, the project is taking the next step.

“Credentials Matter Phase 2” brings a new design and expanded scope to CredentialsMatter.org.

It also provides more information than ever through the release of two new reports — Credential Matter Phase 2: A 2020 Update and Credentials Matter: COVID-19 Case Study.

The ’Credentials Matter’ program seeks to align the necessary qualifications to what employers require.

The first explores the credentials earned by both K-12 and — for the first time — postsecondary students. Additionally, it analyzes whether those credentials are aligned with employers’ demands.

It found that most states collect quantitative data K-12 credential attainment, but that most states don’t do the same in for postsecondary students. It also revealed that no state that submitted data is highly aligned in terms of supply for credentials earned by students and the demand for those credentials in the job market.

The case study examines short-term changes in credential demand based on the economic ramifications of COVID-19.

Between a comparable time period from March through May 2020, there was a 41% decline in overall weekly job postings in the United States compared to a 29% increase in 2019. Still the study found that the pandemic-related decline in demand was not uniform, with some occupations proving more stable than others during the crisis.

Techazord

A majority of Florida’s technology associations have signed an agreement to collaborate on strengthening the state’s technology sector.

Eight organizations have banded together for the plan, which will be open to tech-focused associations, chambers and councils across the Sunshine State.

Leaders from several organizations believe a consortium of tech leaders could help continue the state’s job growth as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Florida Technology Council CEO James Taylor outlined the group’s desires.

“By joining forces, we are able to bring individual strengths from our state’s top tech-focused associations, chambers and councils under one united umbrella,” he said. “This significant networking initiative is being crafted to help ensure interoperability and operational effectiveness by assisting active organizations in communication, education, training and day-to-day operations.”

The seven other organizations are TalTech Alliance, Jacksonville IT Council, South Florida Technology Alliance, SouthWest Florida Regional Technology Partnership, TechLauderdale, French-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida Miami and French Tech Miami.

“Past collaborations have repeatedly proven that working together drastically increases efficiency, efficacy and success,” said Wendy Norfleet, CEO of Norfleet Integrated Solutions and President of the JITC. “We are excited to play a strong role in expanding our collaborations statewide.”

‘Working together drastically increases efficiency, efficacy and success,’ says Jacksonville IT Council President Wendy Norfleet.

TechLauderdale CEO Cecil Kidd said tech councils, associations and chambers largely face identical challenges.

“Our organization does an excellent job supporting South Florida members, however, in today’s world of virtual meetings and ever-threatening cyberattacks, it is more important than ever to have a diverse layer of support,” Kidd said. “Working as part of a collective open to all regional tech associations, we are far better positioned to tackle Florida’s challenges and raise organizational value for our members.”

Sal Nuzzo, VP of James Madison Institute, said such a collaboration could help organizations education lawmakers and state and local agencies.

“The advanced level of support provided by our partner organizations, like the Florida Technology Council, is one of the reasons Florida continues to attract high-tech establishments,” he said.

Expand the court

Florida TaxWatch is advocating for the Legislature to expand Early Childhood Courts following its report this week on the system’s benefits.

TaxWatch also urged lawmakers to a dedicated revenue source for funding to offer more protections for young and vulnerable Floridians and improve the lives of families. The court competes with other drug-solving courts, like drug and mental health courts, to receive funding.

“Early Childhood Courts are a proven success that not only work to protect Florida’s most vulnerable children, but better serve the long-term interests of our communities,” said TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro.

The state spending watchdog group on Tuesday released a report, Expanding Early Childhood Courts in Florida, showing that expanding the courts could improve child health outcomes, increase successful family reunifications and save taxpayers $100 million each year.

Several child advocacy groups joined TaxWatch’s call for more spending, including the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services and its president and CEO, Stacy Gromatski.

Dr. Mimi Graham is Director for the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy and a champion for Early Childhood Court. Image via Twitter.

“Early Childhood Courts have a proven record of generating positive outcomes for the children and families who need it most,” Gromatski said. “Increasing access to and investment in these courts will not only save lives but ensure thousands of kids have the opportunities they deserve to live happily, learn, and grow.”

Florida Coalition for Children CEO Kurt Kelly said his organization has “seen firsthand the benefits of a multidisciplinary approach to solving issues in the child welfare system and the positive outcomes that evidence-based treatment provides.”

FSU Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy Director Dr. Mimi Graham also joined in support.

“We have known that Early Childhood Courts are effective in saving families and breaking the multigenerational cycle of maltreatment,” Graham said. “Now we know from Florida TaxWatch that it’s not just good policy, it saves money too. It’s less expensive to do better for kids.”

New boss

Michele Watson has been named CEO of the Florida Children’s Council.

The Council, an association for local children’s services councils and leader in childhood advocacy, announced the pick Thursday and said Watson would take over the position immediately.

“After a thorough search, the board unanimously concluded that Michele Watson is the best candidate to lead the Florida Children’s Council into the future,” said David Heaton, Executive Director for the CSC of Martin County and chair of the Council’s Board of Directors.

Michele Watson is the newly named CEO of the Florida Children’s Council.

“Few individuals have the expertise, legislative experience and technical understanding of CSC operations as Michele. She steps into this role with a level of understanding that will ensure a smooth transition and propel the organization forward.”

Watson has been involved with the Council for years, utilizing her expertise in data analysis and system development in the areas of education, policy and finance.

She previously served as Policy Chief for Florida’s Office of Early Learning after a career in Polk County as an educator. In 2012, Watson founded Watson Policy Solutions to focus on helping organizations identify systemic issues, develop new processes, and create system improvements.

“I have long been inspired by the tremendous impact of children’s services councils and it is an honor to step into this role,” she said. “This is a proven model that exemplifies the importance of partnerships and sustained focus on improving outcomes for children and families. I am excited for the opportunity to deepen my contributions to the mission.”

Watson succeeds Matt Guse left the leadership post to join the Florida Sports Foundation.

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