Good Wednesday morning. I realize today, with the final polls of the 2020 election cycle having closed less than 12 hours ago and the U.S. Congress meeting in Joint Session to certify Joe Biden‘s victory in the Electoral College, BUT, we have THREE first-in-Sunburn personnel notes to share (this in addition to the scoop sent out via our text message update system that Tyler Russell is the new Chief of Staff at the Department of Children and Families.)
New year, new crew for On 3 Public Relations, which welcomed two new hires this week.
On3PR founder and President Christina Johnson announced Wednesday that former Florida Department of Health communications director Alberto Moscoso and former Department of Children and Families deputy communications director Aly Coleman have both joined the full-service communications firm as vice presidents of accounts.
“Alberto and Aly have honed their skills in public relations and communications while excelling for years in extremely challenging public service roles,” Johnson said.
“They bring a deep appreciation for the importance of speedy, accurate, and deliberate messaging along with a wealth of knowledge gained through extensive close coordination with local, state and federal leaders. Their unique skillsets will make a welcome addition to the On3PR team of professionals.”
Moscoso worked as the comms director for DOH from 2019 through late last year. Before joining the health department, he was the communications director at the Florida Division of Emergency Management and a press secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections.
“On3PR is an acclaimed leader in the field of public relations and have ably demonstrated their abilities time and again across a diverse field of clients,” he said. “I am incredibly excited for the opportunity to join this widely recognized award-winning team in developing top-tier solutions.”
Coleman had worked for DCF since 2019 and previously served as communications director for Volunteer Florida. Before taking on those roles, she was an account coordinator at a Florida public relations firm. She is a 2017 graduate of FSU with a dual degree in political science and public relations.
“On3PR is a well-known organization in the public relations field, recognized for providing outstanding service and high-quality deliverables,” Coleman said. “I am thrilled to be joining the team and look forward to continue pursuing my passion for communications while helping our clients achieve their public relations goals.”
Greenberg Traurig is bringing Samantha Ferrin on board as a director in the firm’s Tallahassee office.
Ferrin brings a wealth of experience to the firm, having most recently served as the interim secretary and chief of staff for the Florida Lottery.
“It is a true pleasure to join Greenberg Traurig’s highly respected Government Law & Policy team. I look forward to serving the firm and its clients by utilizing the full breadth of my experience and knowledge of Florida government to help clients achieve their business goals,” she said. “I believe that the firm’s strong history in the state, and globally, coupled with my experience, will lead to many long-term partnerships.”
Ferrin’s decade-plus in state politics and government will be put to use in the global law firm’s Government Law & Policy Practice, where she will assist clients with businesses in a variety of industries as they adapt to Florida’s ever-changing political environment and help to bridge gaps that may occur between their businesses and the government.
Before joining the Florida Lottery, Ferrin was the deputy director of legislative and external affairs for the Department of Management Services. She has also worked in the offices of the Florida House Majority Leader and Majority Whip, as well as the Attorney General.
She will concentrate her practice on gaming, procurement, and telecommunications.
“Samantha brings unique insight and practical government experience not only to our Florida Government Law & Policy Practice but to our national platform as well,” said Hayden Dempsey, chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Florida Government Law & Policy Practice.
“Having served in various capacities in both the executive and legislative branches of government, she understands how to successfully navigate them for clients that interface often with state officials. Her significant experience will be an asset to both our firm and our clients.”
AARP Florida is bringing on Jamie Champion Mongiovi as its new communications manager.
Mongiovi comes to AARP Florida from the Office of Financial Regulation, where she has served as communications director since 2014. She previously held positions at Core Message, a leading public relations firm in Tallahassee and at the Florida Department of Education, where she rose through the ranks to become an agency spokesperson.
“Jamie brings formidable talents as a communications strategist to our team, and we are delighted to welcome her to the new role,” said AARP Florida state director Jeff Johnson said. “Just as important, her own experiences as a family caregiver prepare her to equip and fight for our members on some of the most important opportunities and challenges they face.”
Mongiovi is a graduate of Florida State University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in International Affairs with a concentration in political science. She lives in Tallahassee with her husband, Joe, and their 15-month-old son.
In her new role, Mongiovi will oversee AARP messaging in a broad range of communications channels, working across paid, earned, social and digital media and within AARP’s publications to equip and fight for older Floridians.
Mongiovi, a lifelong Floridian, will lead a team of five staff and one social media consultant. She also will serve as a member of the AARP Florida management team.
She succeeds Dave Bruns, who is retiring on Jan. 8. Bruns had served as communications manager for the AARP Florida state office since 2005.
Mongiovi’s first day at AARP is Jan. 11.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@realDonaldTrump: The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.
—@realDonaldTrump: If Vice President @comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. Many States want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process NOT approved by their State Legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back!
—@realDonaldTrump: I will be speaking at the SAVE AMERICA RALLY tomorrow on the Ellipse at 11 AM Eastern. Arrive early — doors open at 7 AM Eastern. BIG CROWDS!
—@DaveWeigel: The most revealing question I ask voters is simple: “Who do you think will be President on January 21?” And I have not met a Republican voter who says, “Joe Biden.”
—@WillWeatherford: I could not agree more. It’s sad to see so many people I have admired for years fall prey to political populism and lose their “True North.” Our country’s future success is predicated on Leaders standing up to populist fallacies, not amplifying them!
—@ChrisLHayes: This is obvious, but everyone realizes, [Donald] Trump‘s not gonna stop after Wednesday, right?
—@EWErickson: The general election was not stolen. The election in Georgia was not stolen. If the people coming up with the bullshit conspiracy theories and doctored photos put half as much energy into winning, Trump would have won Georgia. But the financial incentive benefits lies.
—@BSFarrington: 7 p.m. on January 5. I believe this is the moment as a north Floridian that I stop seeing political ads from Georgia.
—@MaryEllenKlas: We thought @had learned but, instead, it’s happening again. He called a press conference to make an announcement but, to avoid pesky questions, he told only select media and designated a ‘pool reporter’ — state-run television.
—@NewsBySmiley: “They think you’re going to be the Republican nominee, that’s why they’re attacking you,” @to @
—@MaggieMargolis: Anyone who thinks work from home forever is a good idea must live in a house. Because after just 1 day of construction in my building and I’d agree to a 12-hour commute
— DAYS UNTIL —
NHL season begins — 7; WandaVision premieres on Disney+ — 9; the 2021 Inauguration — 14; Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 22; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 32; Daytona 500 — 39; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 45; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 59; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 65; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 86; Children’s Gasparilla — 94; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 101; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 106; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 121; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 177; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 185; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 198; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 205; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 230; “Dune” premieres — 268; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 300; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 303; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 345; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 338; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 443; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 485; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 639.
— DATELINE D.C. —
“Republicans turn on Donald Trump after Georgia loss” via POLITICO — Democrats have pulled off at least one Senate win in Georgia, with another likely to follow. And Republicans are pointing a frustrated finger at Trump. With control of the Senate at stake in the state’s two races, the President chose to spend weeks peddling baseless claims that Georgia’s electoral system was rigged, fueling an online movement to boycott Tuesday’s election. He demonized the state’s Republican leaders and fractured the local GOP. He ignored calls from his allies to rally in the state sooner. His support for Sens. Kelly Loefflerand David Perdue mainly came in the form of the occasional tweet and two rallies.
“Mike Pence said to have told Donald Trump he lacks power to change election result” via Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni of The New York Times — Pence told Trump on Tuesday that he did not believe he had the power to block congressional certification of Biden victory in the presidential election despite Trump’s baseless insistence that he did, people briefed on the conversation said. Pence’s message, delivered during his weekly lunch with the President, came hours after Trump further turned up the public pressure on the Vice President to do his bidding when Congress convenes Wednesday in a joint session to ratify Biden’s Electoral College win. Pence does not have the unilateral power to alter the results sent by the states to Congress.
“Trump’s most audacious loyalty test ever” via Michael Kruse of POLITICO — This hinge-of-history week kicked off with the leak of audio of Trump asking Georgia’s secretary of state to illicitly reverse the results of an election that he lost. It continued with a rally he used principally to traffic in conspiracy theories while unabashedly pressuring his own Vice President to side with him instead of the Constitution or even simply facts. Now, on the eve of a no-longer-rote certification of the Electoral College vote, the outgoing President is demanding that Republicans in Congress go on record to say whether they’re more loyal to him than to the nation’s bedrock principles.
“It’s over: Trump stokes a Republican civil war on his way out the door” via Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair — According to a source familiar with the lunch, Trump appeared to be wistful to see Kellyanne Conway back in the West Wing. The source said Trump spent much of the meal nostalgically reliving the thrill of his 2016 campaign. He also insisted that he had rightfully won reelection in November but admitted that his bid to overturn the results was doomed. He even said he would attend Biden’s inauguration. The move to challenge the electors led by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is widely seen as a chance for Republicans with 2024 ambitions to appeal to the MAGA base.
“White House denies reports Trump will be in Scotland during inauguration, after Scottish leader warns golf is not essential travel” via William Booth and David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post — The speculation began with curious activity by U.S. military aircraft reported circling Trump‘s Turnberry golf resort in western Scotland in November. Then the Sunday Post in Scotland reported that Glasgow Prestwick Airport “has been told to expect the arrival of a US military Boeing 757 aircraft, that is occasionally used by Trump, on January 19.” Scotland, alongside Northern Ireland, Wales and England, is in lockdown, with stay-at-home orders, allowing people to venture out only for essential work or shopping, and to get a bit of exercise and attend medical appointments.
“Trump’s final insult” via Kevin D. Williamson of National Review — For my own part, I believe that the Republican Party has been both mutilated and laid bare at the same time. It will be a very long time before it can with a straight face once again call itself the Party of Lincoln, though it may aspire to be that once again. Party of Lincoln? The Republican Party would have to undergo the political equivalent of one of those reality-television makeovers if it wanted to stand so tall as the Party of Gerald Ford. The modern Republican Party, whatever it was, is gone, even if much of the staff and the incorporation papers remain. The next question: What will be built on its ruins?
“Josh Hawley isn’t impressing Trump voters. He’s entertaining them with his humiliation.” via David Von Drehle of The Washington Post — When Hawley goes scraping and sniveling onto the Senate floor Wednesday to present to the world a case he knows to be untrue, he may think that he’s impressing the Trump voters. But all he is doing is entertaining them; they are delighted to see Trump’s power over another hotshot product of America’s elite credentials factory and whatever delicious debasement Trump has in store for his next victim. If he is smart, Hawley may have recognized his mistake the moment Sen. Ted Cruz swept in with a covey of minor colleagues to join him at the ramparts.
“Rick Scott, Marco Rubio remain mum on election certification vote” via Ryan Dailey of The News Service of Florida — Amid increasing pressure from outgoing President Trump, Florida Republican U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott are staying tight-lipped on how they will vote when Congress is set to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. The Florida senators’ stance on Trump’s ongoing effort to overturn President-elect Biden’s victory could have far-reaching political consequences in Florida, a state solidly in Republican control. Presidential electors throughout the country certified their state election results in December, all but dissolving Republicans’ hopes that Trump still had a path to the 270 electoral votes required to win a second term.
“Matt Gaetz won’t predict that Trump election challenge will prevail” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A staunch ally of Trump reiterated his intention to challenge the results of the election that will remove him from office. But he could not bring himself to predict that the challenge would do any good. U.S. Rep. Gaetz, appearing on the Fox News Channel Tuesday, did not predict that the long shot challenge, not even supported uniformly by Republicans, would somehow prevail. “I do believe there will be a second term for Donald Trump,” the Congressman said on Fox and Friends. “I don’t know if it will be in 2021 or 2025.” Gaetz said that the objections would be to “states that didn’t run clean elections” and that “departed from their own laws.”
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants official censure for congressman who advocated election violence” via Anthony Man of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — U.S. Rep. Wasserman Schultz wants a formal congressional censure of U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, who suggested “violence in the streets” might end up being the way to prevent Biden from taking office. Wasserman Schultz, a Broward/Miami-Dade County Democrat, said Gohmert was “pouring rhetorical gasoline onto this smoldering powder keg” and has contributed to a “spiral of destructive behavior with his unconscionable calls and encouragement to political violence.” Censure is appropriate, she said, when “one of its members incites or prods violence … while cynically exploiting and inflaming our nation’s political and societal divisions for their own political gain.”
“The Senators who were expelled after refusing to accept Abraham Lincoln’s election” via Gillian Brockell of The Washington Post — That has critics accusing the lawmakers of sedition and calling for their expulsion. No Senator has been expelled since the Civil War when 14 mostly Southern Senators were kicked out by their colleagues. The fuse had been lit on Nov. 6, 1860. Despite not being on the ballot in 10 Southern states and earning less than 40% of the popular vote, Lincoln won the presidential election. Four days after the election, the first senator bailed; James Chesnut of South Carolina submitted his resignation in a one-sentence note, “accepted enthusiastically” by other lawmakers. As states seceded that December and January, more senators followed their states out the door. Some simply didn’t show up for the next session; others made formal resignations.
“Koch network encourages Congress to certify election for Joe Biden as some of the group’s allies challenge results” via Brian Schwartz of CNBC — The political advocacy organization backed by the billionaire Charles Koch is encouraging Congress to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory. The move comes as several of the network’s Republican beneficiaries in Congress plan to object to the results. “Joe Biden is the President-elect, and we support the process and certification of his election,” Lo Isidro, a spokesman for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement. “Our top priority is building broad support around policies to end the pandemic and put Americans on a path to recover stronger while working against destructive policies sold on empty promises that we know won’t work,” the statement said.
“National Guard activated for D.C. protests, with more restraints than in June, officials say” via Julie Zauzmer, Marissa J. Lang and Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post — The National Guard has been mobilized in the District and every city police officer will be on duty Tuesday and Wednesday to handle protests of the November presidential election, which Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said may include people looking to instigate violence. Bowser has asked D.C. residents to stay away from downtown Washington on both days while members of far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, amass to falsely claim Trump was reelected. Trump has continued to dispute the results, without evidence, and is encouraging his supporters to attend the rallies. He has said he might appear at Wednesday’s demonstration at the Ellipse, just outside the White House, which is timed to coincide with Congress’ vote to certify the election results, a formality that this year will be a fraught and divisive process.
“Lawmakers urged to use tunnels in DC as election debate adds risk” via Billy House of Bloomberg News — U.S. lawmakers are receiving urgent security instructions in advance of potential violence in Washington tied to Wednesday’s joint session of Congress to count Electoral College votes. The precautions distributed Monday to the House and Senate members include guidance to use underground tunnels while traveling between chambers in the Capitol and to nearby office buildings during the day. “Members and staff should expect demonstration activity and street closures” to affect access to the Capitol, the House sergeant-at-arms said in a memo. The instructions to lawmakers also provide emergency telephone numbers for Capitol police and House and Senate sergeants-at-arms. Lawmakers are being encouraged to arrive at the Capitol early on Wednesday and use garages with barricades and security access points.
“Proud Boys leader challenged cops to arrest him, and now he’s banned from the nation’s capital” via Andrew Boryga of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the Miami-based leader of the Proud Boys who was arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic church, is banned from the nation’s capital until June, a judge ruled Tuesday in Washington, D.C. On Dec. 12, a chaotic night in Washington, D.C. that included fistfights with protesters and property destruction, Tarrio lit a historic Black church’s Black Lives Matter banner on fire in the streets, police say. He later issued a challenge to authorities online. Tarrio was arrested for the incident after detectives used videos on Twitter and YouTube, as well as Tarrio’s own statements to reporters and his social media account, to implicate him.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“‘Who’s in charge?’ Ron DeSantis’ hands-off governing sows confusion in vaccine rollout” via Lawrence Mower, Mary Ellen Klas, Ana Ceballos, Kirby Wilson and Allison Ross of The Tampa Bay Times — When DeSantis held a Monday news conference to announce seven “community vaccination sites” run by Orlando Health, he urged elderly Floridians to register at the hospital chain’s website. “To receive a vaccine at one of Orlando health’s locations, you just have to visit vaccine.orlandohealth.com and register online,” he said. “Of course, supply is still limited, so we ask that you bear with us.” His instructions were incorrect. A spokeswoman for the hospital chain later clarified that the online portal DeSantis cited only allowed local front line health care workers, hospital employees, their families and residents and staff of long term care facilities to register, not the general public.
—“DeSantis blames Lee hospital officials for seniors waiting in long lines to get COVID-19 vaccine” via Frank Gluck and Kaitlin Greenockle of the Fort Myers News-Press
Assignment editors — DeSantis and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will hold a news conference, 8:30 a.m. Central time, Olive Baptist Church Pensacola Campus, 1836 East Olive Road, Pensacola.
“Florida National Guard to expand support to vaccine rollout” via Ileana Najarro of The Tampa Bay Times — Sixty-six Florida National Guard members have been assisting in the state’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, with an additional 400 members set to join them, according to a Guard spokesperson on Tuesday. Guardsmen have been working in mobile vaccination distribution teams since mid-December at nursing homes and other sites across the state with high-risk populations. The four-person teams include two guardsmen helping with logistics and two civilian medical providers administering vaccines, said Lt. Col. Caitlin Brown. Logistical work can include setting up signs and transporting equipment.
“Florida’s botched vaccine rollout leaving many in the cold” via The Orlando Sentinel editorial board — The initial reviews are in for Florida’s COVID-19 vaccination program. They are mixed at best. “This is a very difficult logistical operation,” DeSantis said. “I’m not going to say that there’s not been any problems. But I think, all in all, you know, the distribution has gone probably better than what we could have reasonably expected.” Shouldn’t the elderly be spared the humiliation of crouching behind their cars or slinking into the woods to use the bathroom while waiting to get a treasured vaccine? In Florida, that’s expecting too much. What we’ve witnessed is largely a repeat of last spring’s follies, when the virus first arrived. It’s been a ball of confusion, technical meltdowns and poor decisions.
“How a Florida reporter became a one-woman help desk for anxious seniors navigating the COVID-19 vaccine” via Kristen Hare of Poynter — CD Davidson-Hiers woke up to 75 text messages on her work phone. While Davidson-Hiers has covered statewide COVID-19 numbers since the beginning of the pandemic, she picked up vaccine rollout coverage while working over the holiday week. At the end of her piece, she included a line that led to the days of calls, texts and emails: “If you have not heard anything by next week, call or text me. I will do my very best to find answers for you. It’s why I’m here.” Since then, Davidson-Hiers figures she’s heard from more than 150 people.
“Jimmy Patronis advocates for COVID-19 business liability protection in Pensacola trip” via Jim Little of The Pensacola News Journal — Florida Chief Financial Officer Patronis appeared alongside Escambia County’s legislative delegation Tuesday in Pensacola to show support for passing legislation aimed at protecting businesses from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. Patronis stopped in Pensacola at The Fish House restaurant as part of his statewide “Rally at the Restaurant Business Liability Tour” to build support for the idea ahead of the 2021 legislative session. Patronis, whose family owns a popular Panama City Beach restaurant, has used his position on the state cabinet to advocate for policy to shield businesses from COVID-19 liability lawsuits by holding similar events in cities across Florida since December.
“Jacksonville’s attempt to add vaccination sites on hold while waiting for enough doses” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Plans to boost the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in Duval County are getting bogged down by a limited amount of vaccine doses that is far short of the demand coming from residents for the vaccine shots. The city of Jacksonville is ready to open its own city-run COVID-19 vaccination sites but is waiting for shipments of the vaccines in sufficient numbers to make the shots available at two sites the city would use to administer the vaccinations: Mandarin Senior Center and the Lane Wiley Senior Center on the Westside. “If we could get the vaccines in Jacksonville today, we would have city locations vaccinating within 48 hours,” city Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said.
“Hard Rock Stadium will convert to offer COVID vaccinations” via Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens will be the first state-run COVID-19 testing location that will convert into a site where seniors and front-line health care workers can get vaccinated. DeSantis’ office confirmed Tuesday evening that the Miami-Dade site would be the first of several state-supported testing sites that have been identified to become vaccination sites shortly. DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said seniors and front-line health care workers might get inoculated at the site once it is converted. Details on when vaccines will be made available there, or whether people will need to schedule an appointment to get the shot at the site, will be forthcoming, she said.
“FIU wants to be a COVID-19 vaccination site in Miami-Dade. Will it be approved?” via Michelle Marchante of The Miami Herald — Florida International University has applied to be a COVID-19 vaccination site in Miami-Dade County, a university official confirmed to the Miami Herald Tuesday afternoon. Miami-Dade County still doesn’t have any drive-thru vaccination sites. County officials have previously told the Miami Herald there’s a chance to get its first sites soon. Will FIU be one of them? It’s still too soon to say. “We don’t know if or when we will receive approval,” said Madeline Baró, the media relations director. But the school has applied, she said.
“Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson confirms he had COVID-19 over Christmas” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Robinson tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 23 — 12 days ago — he revealed during a virtual news conference. Robinson spoke from his office in City Hall and said the Florida Department of Health had cleared him to return to work on New Year’s Day. Robinson said he believed he was exposed to the virus from his son, who returned home from law school for Christmas break. This was the second time Robinson’s son, Grover Robinson V, had come down with the virus. The mayor also quarantined earlier this year after his son had the virus and recovered.
“With vaccine appointments hard to come by in Sarasota-Manatee, public officials urge patience“ via Zac Anderson and Timothy Fanning of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Limited supply and high demand are making it difficult to secure a coronavirus vaccination appointment in Sarasota and Manatee counties, frustrating many seniors and leading public officials to ask for patience until more doses become available. “The only thing that’s going to resolve that is to get more vaccine on the ground,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler. According to the Florida Department of Health, 6,573 people had been vaccinated in Sarasota County and 4,957 in Manatee County.
“‘Silence is not acceptable’: Polk Co. Commissioners voice frustration over lack of publicized vaccine plan” via Staci DaSilva of WFLA — Frustrations crept into a board of county commissioners meeting in Polk County regarding the lack of a publicized plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to the general public, specifically seniors. “I think it’s time for us to do something to get it widely disseminated,” said Commissioner George Lindsey. Lindsey and other commissioners said they were being criticized because little information has been shared publicly to direct Polk County residents to how and where they can get vaccinated. “We’re just not hearing much,” said Ed Diaz, a Lakeland-based pastor.
“Hillsborough, Pinellas jury trials suspended as coronavirus cases rise” via Kathryn Varn of The Tampa Bay Times — The chief judges in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties announced Tuesday that they’ve suspended jury trials, citing an increase in coronavirus cases. Hillsborough Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta said he was also suspending all in-person hearings and jail inmate transfers to the courthouse in his county. The decisions by Ficarrotta and Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino came after their counties saw steep increases in their weekly virus positivity rates or the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that come back positive. When the positivity rate is too high, it can indicate there isn’t enough widespread testing to capture all mild and asymptomatic cases in a region, allowing the spread to continue.
“Pinellas schools added 500 coronavirus cases over winter break” via Marlene Sokol of The Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas County Schools reported coronavirus cases in unusually high numbers during the winter break, eclipsing the much larger Hillsborough County district and increasing by 50% the case count since students returned in August. Numbers published Monday showed 506 cases in Pinellas, divided evenly between staff and students, during the vacation period from Dec. 19 to Jan. 2. Tests are not administered in school. But, through the county health departments, they are reported to the districts, which post the statistics on their websites after sending notices to the school communities.
“Santa Rosa COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins; Escambia County DOH releases few details” via Annie Blanks of The Pensacola News Journal — A little more than 2,000 people were able to make contact with Santa Rosa County and schedule vaccinations Monday, the same day the county announced it had 2,800 vaccines at its health department it would begin distributing to people 65 years of age and older. The county was still signing up hundreds more people on Tuesday morning. After giving some of the doses to first responders, Santa Rosa County officially reserved all of its vaccines by midmorning Tuesday and put people on a waiting list for the next round of shipments.
“St. Johns County receives more COVID-19 vaccine, to open registration Thursday” via Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — St. Johns County is set to open the second round of COVID-19 vaccination this week, county officials announced Monday afternoon, after receiving an additional allotment of vaccine from the Florida Department of Health. Registration for the new vaccination round, which includes 800 vaccines, will be conducted online beginning Thursday, with new appointments to start Friday. The registration link for the appointments will be released Wednesday, officials said. The county’s initial round of vaccine appointments became fully booked over the weekend. Appointments up until Friday are reserved for those already on the Florida Department of Health’s waiting list.
“Judge photographed at party without mask says he will stay on anti-mask case” via Marc Freeman of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — In another rejection of anti-maskers, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes is shutting down objections over a photo showing him wearing a mask improperly at a holiday party last month. The mask opponents called for the judge to disqualify himself from hearing their lawsuit challenging the county’s mask requirements, arguing that the image is a telling sign that he’s biased against them. But Kastrenakes, in a ruling signed Monday, wrote that the group’s demand was “legally insufficient.” To support his ruling, Kastrenakes cited previous legal rulings in several cases concerning other judges.
— CORONA NATION —
“America has not fixed its deadliest pandemic errors” via Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic — As the pandemic enters its second year, the coronavirus has remade everyday life in the United States. Yet the U.S. is still making the same two deadly mistakes that have defined its response since the pandemic began, our ongoing investigation has found. The nation still does not have enough tests to combat the pandemic. And it is still allowing the virus to rampage through nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities. By our count, the U.S. has conducted more than 248 million tests since the pandemic began, a staggering total. But the virus is now so widespread that if America were meeting that ideal testing target, it would run about that many tests every two and a half weeks.
“The pandemic metric to trust right now” via the COVID Tracking Project — On weekends, some of the people in labs, health departments, hospitals, and medical examiner’s offices who do the work of translating individual illnesses and deaths into data points get to go home. On Sundays and Mondays, when weekend COVID-19 data are reported, we see drops in most of the metrics we compile from states, then higher numbers during the rest of the week. Major US holidays act like supersize weekends: For most metrics, we see big drops followed by equally big spikes — neither of which are likely to be accurate measures of what’s actually happening across the country. Of our four top-line metrics, only hospitalization counts remain relatively stable through holiday data disruptions.
“The mutated virus is a ticking time bomb” via Zeynep Tufekci of The Atlantic — A new variant of the coronavirus is spreading across the globe. Viruses mutate all the time, often with no impact, but this one appears to be more transmissible than other variants — meaning it spreads more easily. There are still many unknowns, but much concern has focused on whether this new variant would throw off vaccine efficacy or cause more severe disease — with some degree of relief after an initial study indicated that it did not do either. All good and no cause for alarm, right? Wrong. Given the stage in the pandemic we are at, a more transmissible variant of COVID-19 is in some ways much more dangerous than a more severe variant.
“Scientists are studying if the Moderna vaccine supply can be doubled by cutting doses in half.” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the drugmaker Moderna are analyzing vaccine research data to see if they can double the supply of the company’s coronavirus vaccine by cutting doses in half, a move that would help alleviate vaccine shortages as the country surpassed more than 21 million virus cases. The research, which also involves scientists from Operation Warp Speed, the government’s vaccine initiative, could take about two months, Dr. John Mascola, the Vaccine Research Center director at the N.I.H., said.
“Polls show increasing trust in COVID-19 vaccine after months of decline” via Aleszu Bajak of USA Today — Confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine is growing, an analysis of dozens of polls and scientific papers shows. In recent weeks, surveys show close to 60% of respondents saying they’d get the COVID-19 vaccine, up from a low of 1 in 2 Americans polled in September. In late November, a survey of 12,648 Americans showed 60% said they’d get the vaccine if it were available today, up from 51% polled in September. The Kaiser Family Foundation noted a similar increase, with 71% of the 1,676 surveyed indicating they’d accept a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 63% in September.
“COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered but are sitting on pharmacy shelves. Longer delays could prolong the pandemic” via Karen Weintraub of USA Today — If the pace of COVID-19 vaccine delivery into people’s arms stays the way it has been for the past few weeks, it could take years rather than months to vaccinate Americans. The outbreak will continue to dominate lives. Federal officials overestimated the speed at which vaccines could be given, making delivery a disappointment in an otherwise successful vaccine development effort. Doses have been distributed behind the government’s initial schedule: 15 million, instead of the 20 million doses promised to be delivered by the end of 2020. About 70% of those doses are sitting on pharmacy shelves and only about 14% of doses destined for nursing home residents and caregivers have been injected.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“IRS relaunches Get My Payment portal for 2nd coronavirus stimulus” via Richard Tribou of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The IRS relaunched a Get My Payment portal for Americans to check the status of their second stimulus checks. The site lets users check when and how to expect the funds that are part of the second round of stimulus passed in December. Direct deposit of some payments began before the new year, but others have yet to receive them. Individuals can receive up to $600 with another $600 for dependents. The first round of stimulus in 2020 paid out up to $1,200 for individuals and $600 for dependents.
“New woes for the unemployed in 2021” via Jennifer A. Kingson of Axios — People who collected unemployment will receive smaller tax refunds this coming year because of a tax law quirk that counts unemployment as taxable income. Tens of millions of Americans who arguably need the refund the most will wind up financially short for yet another year. Countless Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time this year, and many probably didn’t ask the IRS and state tax authorities to withhold money from the payments the way an employer would, nor did they likely file quarterly tax estimates and payments. Come 2021, they’ll have to declare their benefits as income on their 2020 taxes, which could eviscerate any refund.
“U.S. airlines push to slash international travel restrictions, implement universal testing” via Hannah Sampson of The Washington Post — The country’s biggest airlines are asking the Trump administration to institute a “global program to require testing for travelers to the United States” and to scrap many travel restrictions. In a letter to Vice President Pence, the advocacy group Airlines for America said it supported a CDC proposal to implement the universal testing. The organization, which represents airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest, said it also urged the administration to eliminate entry restrictions on people traveling “from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil.” The letter argues that such moves would protect the health and safety of people flying and communities on the ground while also allowing for “essential economic activities.”
— MORE CORONA —
“Large-scale global study to investigate links between COVID-19 and cognitive decline” via Tara Bahrampour of The Washington Post — There is compelling evidence that COVID-19 will have long-term effects on the brains and nervous systems of survivors as they age. On Tuesday, researchers announced a large international study investigating the correlation between the coronavirus and cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementia in later life. Decades of evidence from other respiratory viruses, along with observations of patients in recent months, suggests such infections may increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders, according to a paper announcing the study. The paper called the coronavirus pandemic “a unique — if unwelcome — opportunity” to study the effects of respiratory virus infection on the brains of COVID-19 survivors.
“Young ER doctors risk their lives on the pandemic’s front lines. But they struggle to find jobs.” via Ben Guarino of The Washington Post — Many in this class of emergency medicine physicians are struggling to find full-time employment, even while they work on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients. The dearth of jobs results from a domino effect: Many people stayed away from hospital emergency rooms this past year, wary of contracting the virus. As patient numbers dropped, emergency departments brought in less money. As a result, cash-strapped employers stopped recruiting new doctors. The pandemic exposed many perplexing vulnerabilities in the American medical system, as varied as critical staffing shortages of nurses and inadequate stocks of protective equipment. This is another one.
“Real estate moguls allegedly help rich pals jump COVID-19 vaccine line” via Emily Smith of Page Six — NYC real estate brothers Bill Mack and David S. Mack allegedly personally arranged for a host of their wealthy friends from Manhattan and the ritzy Palm Beach Country Club to get the COVID-19 vaccine at a Florida retirement home. While elderly Florida residents line up overnight for the vaccine, sources say the Macks allegedly “made a list” of one-percenters given the chance to receive the vaccine, and some even allegedly flew in on private jets from NYC for the jab. The vaccine was administered at the not-for-profit nursing home Joseph L. Morse Health Center in Palm Beach, conveniently located on David S. Mack Drive in West Palm Beach, where David S. Mack is the chairman.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Frederica Wilson was in ‘quarantine status’ when she voted in Nancy Pelosi for Speaker” via Alex Daugherty of The Miami Herald — Rep. Wilson cast her vote Sunday for House Speaker Pelosi from inside a new plexiglass enclosure that sprang up on the House floor overnight, a way to keep House members designated as being in “quarantine status” separate from other lawmakers. Wilson sent a letter to the House clerk asking to vote remotely through a proxy, Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, a move that some lawmakers have employed when they have been exposed to COVID-19 or infected. “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency, and I hereby grant the authority to cast my vote by proxy to the Honorable Jahana Hayes,” Wilson wrote.
“Venezuelans would be protected from deportation under Darren Soto’s new bill” via Steven Lemongello of The Orlando Sentinel — The push to grant protected status to Venezuelans fleeing their economically ravaged homeland has been revived in the new Congress. But advocates are optimistic that Biden will unilaterally grant protections without waiting for Congress. The bipartisan Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 would designate Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which would prevent about 200,000 Venezuelan nationals in the United States from being deported. The bill would automatically designate eligible Venezuelans for TPS for 18 months with the option of renewal. Venezuelans would also be granted work authorization.
“Brian Ballard adds Democratic firepower” via Caitlin Oprysko of POLITICO — Ballard Partners is bringing in some Democratic lobbying firepower weeks before the inauguration of Biden. Ballard has tapped Courtney Whitney, a top Democratic fundraiser who was a consultant for the pro-Biden super PAC Priorities USA, as a partner. Whitney also played a role in the election of new Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, where Ballard has an office. Two other Ballard Partners employees, Ana Cruz and Stephanie Grutman, will be joining the firm’s D.C. office as well. He reiterated the firm was already planning to make more hires with congressional ties and planned more Democratic hires no matter who won the White House in November.
“Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is staying put, although her partner will be working more in D.C.” via Charlie Frago of The Tampa Bay Times — Cruz is headed to Washington, D.C. to further her lobbying firm’s efforts in the nation’s capital. But it won’t affect the job status of her partner, Tampa Mayor Castor. Cruz plans to spend a lot of time flying back and forth between Tampa and Washington, catching a flight and returning Wednesday or Thursday many weeks, she said. When news of Cruz’s new gig surfaced, the rumor mill started up in Tampa, with some speculating whether Castor would step down as Mayor, possibly to accept a job with the incoming Biden administration. Castor has no such plans and will continue as Mayor, said her spokeswoman, Ashley Bauman.
— STATEWIDE —
“Clay Yarborough to run for Senate in 2022” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — “After encouragement from family, friends, and supporters, I filed to run for the Florida Senate. With so many challenges facing our state, I am committed to the hard work required to safely return our lives to normal throughout our community,” Yarborough said. The Jacksonville Republican is the first-in candidate for SD 4, which will be an open seat in 2022 due to incumbent Republican Sen. Aaron Bean facing term limits. He is currently the only candidate in the race, but with other Republican legislators and a host of other GOP contenders seeing a rare open Senate seat, he expects an active campaign season.
“Court weighs retaliation suit against ex-lawmaker” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — An appeals court waded into a dispute about whether a former Florida House member should be shielded from a lawsuit filed by a one-time aide who alleges she was fired after reporting that she had been required to perform personal tasks for the lawmaker. House General Counsel Daniel Bell told a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal that the lawsuit against former Rep. Kimberly Daniels should be dismissed because of “qualified immunity,” a legal concept that generally protects government officials from personal liability in cases related to their duties. Bell said ex-aide Karen Riggien was speaking as an employee when she reported the alleged misconduct and that employment grievances do not provide a basis for such a lawsuit.
“Regulators approve Duke Energy solar plans” via The News Service of Florida — State utility regulators backed plans by Duke Energy Florida to build 10 solar plants over the next four years, despite some concerns about size and costs. In a 4-1 vote, the Public Service Commission supported Duke Energy’s “Clean Energy Connection Program” that will allow customers to voluntarily pay more on their electric bills to help finance the solar projects. Customers will receive credits that will result in them getting a “payback” in about seven years. “To the general body of ratepayers, there’s a significant amount of funds that are going to be coming back to them over a long period of time. There’s going to be substantial benefits from the renewable energy perspective,” Commission Chairman Gary Clark said.
“J.R. Kelly resigns as public counsel” via The News Service of Florida — Kelly, who has represented consumers in utility issues as the state’s public counsel since 2007, is leaving his post nine months after legislators approved term limits. Kelly submitted his resignation to Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Dec. 30. Kelly’s resignation is effective on Jan. 14, the letter said. “Even though I am eligible to apply for another term, I believe the Legislature has made clear its preference that no person should serve in the position longer than the 12-year limit adopted in the statute,” Kelly wrote. “I have decided that now is the time for me to step down to facilitate a transition to a new public counsel on March 1, 2021.”
“Dianne Hart has sight set on inmate rights as 2021 Session approaches” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Hillsborough County Rep. Hart has her sights set on championing inmate rights in the upcoming Legislative Session. Through a series of new and refiled bills, Hart is focusing on the rehabilitation and conditions of inmates within Florida’s criminal justice system. One bill Hart is refiling is optimistically titled “Oversight of Correctional Facilities,” which seeks to provide independent oversight over correctional centers across the state. The measure would establish a council made up of former inmates and industry professionals and rely on leadership appointments in the Florida Legislature.
“Senate environmental panel to look at ‘resiliency’” via News Service of Florida — The state Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection and the Chief Resiliency Officer position are slated to be reviewed Monday by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The resiliency officer position is among Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein’s duties, who has had the responsibility since early last year after Julia Nesheiwat left for a job in the Trump administration. Nesheiwat, a DeSantis appointee, was the first person to hold the title of chief resiliency officer. The committee is also scheduled to review septic-to-sewer conversion efforts and implement the “Clean Waterways Act,” which was approved by the Legislature in the 2020 session.
“Toll roads on radar of transportation panel” via News Service of Florida — A series of controversial toll road projects will get attention next week from the Senate Transportation Committee. The committee, which will meet on Jan. 12 for the first time in advance of the 2021 Legislative Session, is scheduled to receive an overview from the Department of Transportation that will include information about the three projects dubbed Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES. Critics have questioned the need for the roads, the potential economic impacts, and the potential to create sprawl in rural communities. The roads have been backed by groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Ports Council and the Florida Trucking Association.
Happening today: Pre-Session meetings — The Broward County Legislative Delegation and the Broward County School Board will workshop and hold a public hearing. Sen. Perry Thurston chairs the delegation with Rep. Mike Gottlieb as vice-chair, workshop at 10 a.m.; public hearing at noon, Broward County Public Schools main board room, 600 S.E. Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. The Clay County Delegation — Sen. Jennifer Bradley; Reps. Sam Garrison and Bobby Payne — will meet, 3:30 p.m., Clay County Administration Building, 477 Houston St., Green Cove Springs. The Osceola County Delegation — Sen. Victor Torres; Reps. Josie Tomkow, Fred Hawkins and Kristen Arrington — meets, 9 a.m., Osceola County Commission Chamber, 1 Courthouse Square, Kissimmee.
“Ex-DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo to work on career education initiatives in new state job” via Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel —Piccolo, a longtime GOP operative who most recently served as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokesman, will focus on workforce education issues when he joins the Florida Department of Education on Wednesday. Piccolo will earn $120,000 in his new job working for the department’s division of colleges. He has been tapped to help state colleges and other department divisions “elevate” programs related to career and adult education, key needs as Florida looks to recover economically from the pandemic, said Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for the education department.
“Chester Spellman returns to Florida after top AmeriCorps leadership” via Florida Politics — Spellman is returning to Florida after more than three years leading the nation’s top service program. Spellman doesn’t yet have a new gig lined up in the Sunshine State, but that’s likely to change quickly as he returns his two decades of nonprofit leadership experience to Florida. “I am tremendously excited to return to Florida and give back to the state that I love. I’m looking for just the right fit so I can apply my skills and what I’ve learned at the national level to help Florida gain the most from the opportunities that lie ahead,” Spellman said. Trump appointed Spellman to the AmeriCorps top job in 2017 after Spellman spent more than five years as CEO of Volunteer Florida, a statewide service and volunteerism nonprofit similar to AmeriCorps.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown can’t avoid prison while appealing convictions, judge says” via Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Former Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown cannot stay out of prison while appealing their fraud convictions unless an appeals court says so, a judge has decided. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard this week denied requests to remain free the two made in November but said they could also ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where their appeals have been filed. In October, Howard sentenced Katrina Brown to 33 months in prison, and Reggie Brown to 18 months, for dozens of counts centered around their efforts to get money from a federally backed loan Katrina Brown’s family had taken out to build a barbecue sauce factory.
“Marco López sworn in as 1st Hispanic Osceola sheriff” via Cristóbal Reyes of The Orlando Sentinel — A crowd of hundreds, including reporters, supporters and law enforcement leaders, gathered Tuesday in front of Historical Courthouse in Kissimmee, where López was sworn into office as the first Hispanic elected to run the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. Standing behind him were the incoming command staff of his administration, a few of whom are holdouts from his predecessor, Russ Gibson, who he defeated in an upset in August’s Democratic primary. In the first 100 days in office, he expects to form a review board in response to nationwide uprisings against police brutality and systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a now-former police officer.
“Visit Orlando reveals $395,000 salary for new CEO. Now reveal everything else” via Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel — Over the holidays, Visit Orlando announced it had hired a new CEO with a salary of $395,000. Not bad for a taxpayer-funded nonprofit. That compensation package is actually down from the $650,000 package the previous CEO had. Just for comparison’s sake, the Second Harvest Food Bank CEO makes less than half that. Still, I give Visit Orlando credit for sharing the new CEO’s salary with the taxpayers who largely fund this agency. In the past, the agency has refused to do even that. But if newly hired CEO Casandra Matej really wants to build public trust, she will usher in a new era at Visit Orlando by vowing full disclosure at this agency, which spent more than $60 million in public money last year alone.
“Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association names new CEO” via Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal — The central Florida region’s major hotel association, the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, has named Robert Agrusa as its future president and CEO. Agrusa, who most recently was president and CEO of the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce, will take over the helm of the association in February from Rich Maladecki, who announced his retirement last year. CFHLA represents nearly 80% of the region’s 125,500-plus hotel rooms in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, and nearly 500 supplier organizations that support the hospitality and tourism industries.
Frederick Aschauer named shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker — Aschauer is now a shareholder at Lewis, Longman & Walker, the law firm announced Tuesday. Aschauer joined LLW in 2017 after serving as general counsel for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In private practice, Aschauer specializes in litigation of federal and administrative environmental permit challenges, environmental permitting, defending clients in enforcement actions brought by environmental regulatory agencies, and the legal issues associated with the remediation of contaminated property. Aschauer served in the U.S. Army from 1993-1997 and earned his law degree from Florida State University. He is a member of the Florida Bar, the Florida Brownfields Association, the Florida Association of Environmental Professionals and is a past board member of the Alzheimer’s Project.
— TOP OPINION —
“Failures of leadership in a populist age” via Yuval Levin of National Review — For many years now, an important segment of the Republican electorate has been increasingly frustrated with the elites who lead our core institutions. The political outlook of these voters has come to be defined by that frustration: a sense that people with power and privilege in American life routinely abuse that power and privilege for personal gain and ideological advantage, that they lie to the public, look down on everybody else’s ways of life, and actively threaten the religious and cultural foundations of American society. Calling out that elite corruption and fighting back against it has become for this growing group of voters the most important purpose of their political engagement.
— OPINIONS —
“Congress shouldn’t be able to steal an election” via Noah Feldman of Bloomberg — Republicans in the House and Senate are poised to defy reality and try in vain to reverse the presidential election results. Congress will meet on January 6 to certify the election results in what is normally a predictable ritual. A dozen Republican senators and several members of the House have said they plan to object. When they do, it’s going to be a dark day for U.S. democracy. That’s true even though Biden will still ultimately be recognized as the winner of the 2020 election. I wish I could say it’s only political theater by Republicans who know it won’t matter, and hence not a big deal. But I can’t. The truth is both more serious and more painful.
“We must stop calling Trump’s enablers ‘conservative.’ They are the radical right.” via Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post — You hear the word “radical” a lot these days. It’s usually aimed like a lethal weapon at Democratic office-seekers, especially those who want to unseat a Republican incumbent. Sen. Kelly Loeffler rarely utters her challenger’s name without branding him as “radical liberal Raphael Warnock.” Such is the upside-down world we’ve come to inhabit. These days, the true radicals are the enablers of Trump’s ongoing attempted coup, the media, and Congress members who plan to object to what should be a pro forma step of approving the electoral college results that Biden can take office peacefully on Jan. 20.
“Just imagine if Republicans had done this 11 months ago” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — Americans should find some of the recent statements from Republicans who refuse to overthrow the will of the people both heartening and infuriating. Their newfound willingness to stand up to Trump and put country before party is lovely and 11 months late. Consider an extract of the 21-page memo from Rep. Liz Cheney: “By objecting to electoral slates, members are unavoidably asserting that Congress has the authority to overturn elections and overrule state and federal courts. Such objections set an exceptionally dangerous precedent …”
“COVID-19 vaccination rates will increase” via Alex M. Azar II for the USA Today — Operation Warp Speed’s unprecedented partnership between the federal government and the private sector produced 20 million first doses of FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine for jurisdictions to order by the end of 2020 with second doses on hand to ship at the right time. This delivers on our projection to have enough doses by the end of the year for 20 million Americans, and it is a historic accomplishment. But we all know that vaccines sitting on shelves or in refrigerators isn’t the end of the effort; shots in arms are what’s needed now. The federal government has already provided considerable assistance to state, local, territorial and tribal public health jurisdictions: a federally created vaccination playbook, provided in September, that the CDC has used to work with states on their vaccination plans nearly every day since then.
“The politics of COVID-19 just got even more hellish” via Tyler Cowen of Bloomberg Opinion — A new strain of COVID-19, more contagious than previous strains, is now circulating in dozens of countries. Other new strains, such as one first detected in South Africa, will almost certainly emerge. Aside from the challenges these mutations pose to public health, they will also test our moral and political principles. Preliminary data indicate that the new strain in the U.K. allows the virus to spread from one person to another more easily. The practical upshot is that even the strict lockdowns of early 2020, such as the one just ordered in the U.K. by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, may not be enough to reverse the spread of the virus.
“Eddie Farah: COVID liability protections are denial of justice” via Florida Politics — Special interest groups promoting this protectionist legislation tell us it’s good for consumers and employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic because it will help keep small businesses open and keep paying their workers. Business interests hate to be sued — even when they have caused harm — so they deflect attention by accusing injured parties and their attorneys of being greedy. Now they want lawmakers to let them hide behind a legal shield — so they won’t have to answer for their mistakes. Blocking citizens from seeking legal redress over the harm caused by others erodes our system of justice. A bad idea posing as a good new law actually victimizes innocent people being locked out of the courthouse.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Florida’s Department of Health is reporting 100 fatalities and 15,431 new cases of COVID-19. That’s the second-highest number of cases in a single day since the pandemic began.
Also, on today’s #Sunrise:
— As schools reopen across the state, teachers and other school personnel who come into contact with children every day are wondering when they’ll be able to get their vaccinations.
— However, the Governor says the only teachers who can get shots now are the ones who are 65 and older. He claims data is driving the decision, but it could also be retribution for the teachers’ union that sued over his forced reopening of schools back in August.
— Speaking of retribution, a state appeals court hears the case of a legislative aide fired after reporting her boss … former Rep. Daniels … was making her run personal errands on the taxpayer’s dime.
— Although Daniels was voted out of office last year, the Florida House is still defending her. They are asking to dismiss the suit because lawmakers have immunity.
— Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz is accusing Texas Republican Gohmert of encouraging Americans to engage in violence in an attempt to overturn the election of Biden.
— And finally, a Florida Man celebrated the new year by driving an airboat through his neighborhood while setting off fireworks and mowing down garbage cans.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Ohio State reportedly has COVID-19 issues, but title game is still on as scheduled for now” via Jordan McPherson of The Miami Herald — Could the College Football Playoff national championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Alabama Crimson Tide at Miami Gardens’ Hard Rock Stadium be postponed? Nothing is official yet and the plan, for now, is for the game to go on as scheduled Monday at 8 p.m., but there have been discussions of postponement because of COVID-19 issues in the Ohio State program. The College Football Playoff had previously established Jan. 18 as the makeup date should the title game need to be postponed. Teams are scheduled to arrive in Miami on Saturday.
“Long-running ‘Taste of the NFL’ Super Bowl party going virtual for 2021” via Jay Cridlin of The Tampa Bay Times — Taste of the NFL, a charity food event featuring chefs and players from each NFL city, will not take place in person during Super Bowl LV week in Tampa this February. Instead, “Taste of the [email protected]” will take place on Super Bowl Sunday with celebrity chefs like Andrew Zimmern, Carla Hall and Tim Love preparing game day tailgate eats live from a stage outside Raymond James Stadium. Tickets go on sale Wednesday for the livestreamed event, which promises appearances by players and celebrities. They will benefit GENYOUth, a charity that fights food insecurity in schools by sending children emergency meals.
“The polar vortex is splitting in two, which may lead to weeks of wild winter weather” via Andrew Freedman of The Washington Post — A dramatic spike in temperatures is occurring at high altitudes above the North Pole, where the air is thin and typically frigid. Known as a sudden stratospheric warming event, experts say it’s likely to have potentially significant repercussions for winter weather across the Northern Hemisphere for weeks to possibly months. This unusually strong event may profoundly influence the weather in the United States and Europe, possibly increasing the potential for paralyzing snowstorms and punishing blasts of Arctic air. The United States is slightly more of a winter wild card, for now, experts say, with individual winter storms tough to predict beyond a few days in advance.
“Cold sweat: Gyms test winter workouts during the pandemic” via Hilary Potkewitz of The Wall Street Journal — COVID-19 forced gyms to get creative with their offerings in 2020, moving workouts online and outdoors. As the pandemic stretched into winter, renewed lockdown measures across the Northern U.S. are leaving some gym owners and members with no place to go but back outside.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are former House Speaker José Oliva, Bryan Anderson of HCA, Dr. Ray Arsenault, Kyle Simon and former Rep. John Tobia.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.