In an update to Senators on the chambers’ COVID-19 precautions for the upcoming Legislative Session, Senate President-Designate Wilton Simpson said Tampa General Hospital is developing a safety plan in collaboration with Senate staff.
That plan will encompass all Senate areas, including offices, the Senate Chamber, committee rooms and other public areas, according to the incoming Senate leader. In collaboration with TGH, he hopes to give Senators, staff and visitors confidence in their safety measures.
“We are actively seeking expert advice, we will make informed decisions, and we will work together to implement the best approach on how to keep everyone safe,” Simpson said.
His staff has been working with the Department of Health, universities and hospitals to explore their options. At the President-Designate’s request, outgoing Senate President Bill Galvano authorized a contract with TGH.
“While we don’t have all the answers right now, I will continue to communicate with you as we gain an understanding of the specific strategies for the Senate,” Simpson said.
Plans would also be made in collaboration with the House of Representatives.
The hospital, in partnership with USF Health, has created a strike-team-like program connecting infection prevention team members with its own infectious disease experts and those from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. That team has already consulted for businesses including the Florida Aquarium, TECO, the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’re dedicated to safeguarding the health and well-being of the citizens of Florida, and that includes creating a safe environment for our elected officials to work,” said John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, calling it an honor for the hospital and school to collaborate with the Senate. “I know our elected officials have work to do, and with the Tampa General and USF Health strategies in place, they can safely focus on the policies that affect our state.”
COVID-19 outbreaks became public in Florida in March over the final weeks of the 2020 Session. After lawmakers extended the Session one week to finalize their vote on the state budget, which was abruptly reworked to consider the pandemic’s impacts, lawmakers implemented safety measures to keep voting running as usual.
In what was supposed to be the Session’s final week, some lawmakers from both chambers were briefly quarantined after news broke of positive tests at conventions they had recently attended. No lawmakers developed symptoms then, some tested positive over the summer, including Rep. Randy Fine, incoming-Sen. Shevrin Jones and outgoing-Sen. Rob Bradley.
“When we were last together in Tallahassee more than six months ago, I am certain none of us could have imagined the impact COVID-19 would have on our state, our nation, and the world,” Simpson said. “While our primary focus as Senators is serving the constituents of our districts as they deal with the challenges caused by COVID-19, we also need to plan for Organization Session, Committee Weeks, and the 2021 Legislative Session.”
Lawmakers had previously denied that the Legislature would hold a Special Session to address further budget concerns. But last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis teased the possibility of a Special Session to take up Republicans’ anti-violent protest proposal and liability protections.
Simpson and House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls said they could take up the protest legislation in a Special Session. With possible meetings taking place after the Organization Session, health plans would likely be in place already.
Simpson’s office will not release the interim calendar until after November, which he added is in line with normal practice.