Assignment editors — Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to meet with President Donald Trump at The White House at 11 a.m.
I hate you, Coronavirus — “Disney Cruise line cancels all sailings until at least late June” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — An update to the cruise line’s website said Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, which sail out of Port Canaveral, have canceled cruises that depart through June 18. Disney Magic, which was scheduled to go to Europe for the summer, had all sailings canceled until mid-July. At the same time, Disney Wonder, which was slated to be in Alaska, won’t sail until Canada opens its ports up after July 1. The next scheduled cruise for Disney Fantasy is now June 20, Disney Dream is now June 21, Disney Wonder is July 6 and Disney Magic is July 13. The line is offering either a full refund or the option to use funds on a future cruise credit for up to 15 months from the original sail date.
I realize this poll only deals with the sentiments of Pinellas County residents, but given its results, I believe it’s worth sharing.
Last month, the Pinellas County Commission closed all public beaches and public beach parking to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Today the board is expected to decide whether to re-open beaches and public pools.
Polling also found that 69% of respondents favor a countywide order requiring people to wear masks in public. Only 27% oppose such an order while 5% are undecided.
On the issue of reopening nonessential business, Pinellas County voters are split. A slight number of voters, 46%, favor lifting the closures while 44% want those businesses to stay closed — within the 1.6% margin of error. The remaining 10% of respondents are undecided.
Keep these numbers in mind as you see folks clamor for anything but a go-slow approach.
— EXECUTIVE SUMMARY —
— Global COVID-19 confirmed cases passed the 3 million mark. Read more here.
— Grim milestones passed on Monday: more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. and more than 200,000 around the world. Read more here.
— The Donald Trump administration is reviewing new federal plans designed to guide restaurants, schools, churches and others as states look to lift their coronavirus restrictions gradually. Read more here.
— The government plans to provide enough to all 50 states to screen at least 2% of their residents, a White House official said. Read more here.
— New York may open some parts of the state in May after reporting steady hospitalizations and lower intubations. But New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said his stay-at-home order would “remain in effect in its entirety until further notice.” Read more here.
— New Zealand will begin to reopen tomorrow after saying transmission of the virus had been “eliminated” in the country. Read more here.
— A vaccine could be available as early as this year for vulnerable groups such as health care workers, according to a coalition funding nine projects. Read more here.
— TOP STORIES —
“Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported” via John Burn-Murdoch, Valentina Romei and Chris Giles of Financial Times — The death toll from coronavirus may be almost 60% higher than reported in official counts. Mortality statistics show 122,000 deaths over normal levels across these locations, considerably higher than the 77,000 official COVID-19 deaths reported for the same places and periods. If the same level of underreporting observed in these countries were happening worldwide, the global COVID-19 death toll would rise from the current official total of 201,000 to as high as 318,000.
“‘We are ready to open’: Health experts join Ron DeSantis as reopening nears” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Health experts at Tampa General Hospital are in lockstep with DeSantis on whether Florida is ready to reopen. DeSantis has faced criticisms from Democrats for the composition of his Re-Open Florida Task Force, which leans heavily toward business interests. Tampa General Hospital’s president and CEO, Dr. John Couris, is the only health expert on the task force’s executive committee. didn’t give Democrats what they wanted to hear. Rather, he advanced the reopening rhetoric a step farther. “We are ready to open,” Couris said. “And I’m not only speaking for Tampa General Hospital but probably speaking for every hospital across the state.”
“Unemployment: 35% of Florida claims processed, 20% paid” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — By Sunday, Florida processed more than 281,000 claims and verified and paid unemployment benefits to nearly 220,000 more people than it had by Friday, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. With a downward revision in the number of total claims submitted [because of duplicate claims identified,] that means the state of Florida now has managed to process more than a third of all the 1,880,343 re-employment assistance claims it has received since the start of the coronavirus economic crisis on March 15. In another way to measure the state’s progress, 824,297 applicants have been confirmed as unique claims. Of them, 79% have been processed, and 47% have been paid.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@RealDonaldTrump: Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat-run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?
—@Kristin_Wilson: Sen Rick Scott: Senate is coming back next Monday: “That’s what [Mitch] McConnell said … he didn’t say how long we’re coming back, but he said we’re coming back.” 86 Senators are 50+ years old 39 in their 60s, 22 in their 70s, 6 in their 80s All flying in from all over the country
—@PeterKrupa: it’s been interesting to see Americans start to realize that what they think of as a small business (the coffee shop down the street) and what the law describes as a small business (chain of McDonald’s franchises with 1,000 employees and $35 million in revenue) are not the same.
—@GwenGraham: The lies and deception being spread by @# cases and deaths in Florida. And, in order to honestly say that the “curve is flattening, the number of tests per day must increase SIGNIFICANTLY.is deadly. @ is significantly undercounting the number of
—@ShevrinJones: If our reasoning for opening back up in Florida is because we want to scapegoat paying the unemployment claims, not only is it a bad idea, it’s also dead wrong.
—@JoyAnnReid: It’s still really, really hard to get tested for coronavirus. And we are now four months into the official start of this crisis. This reality — these deaths — are completely unacceptable. For Christ sakes it’s 2020, not 1920.
—@Langstonitaylor: Idk why we can’t be more straightforward … FL ranks 3rd among states in total tests conducted, but 22nd in tests per capita. It’s tested 1 of every 60 people so far, but its per-day testing is only half of what a med school dean who appeared with DeSantis today says we need to.
—@MikeVasalinda: If Lawton Chiles came back from the grave, he would likely say the states re-employment assistance program was a bad dog with a good name.
—@JimRosicaFL: A federal lawsuit to strike down Amendment 13, passed in 2018 & which outlaws greyhound racing in the state, today was thrown out by Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida.
— DAYS UNTIL —
World Press Freedom Day — 5; Pulitzer Prizes announced — 6; The next supermoon — 9; Gov. DeSantis’ executive order closing bars and restaurants expires — 10; Mother’s Day — 12; TNT’s adaptation of “Snowpiercer” premieres — 19; NASCAR season resumes — 26; English Premier League soccer to restart — 41; PGA Tour resumes — 44; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 45; Father’s Day — 54; Federal taxes due — 78; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 80; “Mulan” premieres — 87; TED conference rescheduled — 89; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 111; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 115; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 118; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 129; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 130; Rescheduled date for French Open — 145; First presidential debate in Indiana — 154; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 164; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 170; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 171; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 177; 2020 General Election — 189; “Black Widow” premieres — 192; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 203; “No Time to Die” premieres — 210; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 239; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 451; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 458; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 556; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 654; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 696; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 739; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 892.
— CORONA NATION —
“The known death toll in the U.S. exceeds 50,000.” via The New York Times — More than 50,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States, which has seen more confirmed cases and deaths than any other nation in the world, according to a tally by The New York Times. And as the outbreak spread, the nation’s total number of confirmed cases continued to climb toward one million. The bleak milestone offered yet another sign of how the virus has upended life in America, taking lives, destroying families, and causing more than 26 million people to lose their jobs in the past five weeks. The tally does not include more than 5,200 people in New York City and smaller numbers in other places who died and are believed to have had the virus.
“U.S. deaths soared in early weeks of pandemic, far exceeding number attributed to COVID-19” via The Washington Post — In the early weeks of the coronavirus epidemic, the United States recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths, nearly two times as many as were publicly attributed to COVID-19 at the time, according to an analysis of federal data conducted for The Washington Post by a research team led by the Yale School of Public Health. The excess deaths — the number beyond what would normally be expected for that time of year — occurred during March and through April 4, a time when 8,128 coronavirus deaths were reported.
“Donald Trump raises his virus death toll projection to up to 70,000 in U.S.” via Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO — More than 56,000 have already died, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. “So, yeah, we’ve lost a lot of people,” Trump said during a news briefing in the Rose Garden. “But if you look at what original projections were, 2.2 million, we are probably heading to 60,000 to 70,000.” Trump had previously seized on the estimate of 50,000 to 60,000 because of his administration’s preference for a model developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The latest forecast from that model showed a much lower death toll than earlier projected, as well as a much lower number of fatalities than many other epidemiological models.
“White House is reviewing expanded guidance on reopening society” via Lena H. Sun and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — The White House is finalizing expanded guidelines to allow the phased reopening of schools and camps, child care programs, certain workplaces, houses of worship, restaurants and mass transit. It represents the most detailed guidance to date on the administration’s plan to gradually reopen key sectors of society and comes as business groups lobby to lift stay-at-home orders and protesters flock to state capitols to demand their end. Although Trump was highly critical of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for reopening already, he also has prodded governors to open by May 1 and has tweeted citizens should “liberate” states whose leaders have ordered people to stay home.
“Trump cuts U.S. research on bat-human virus transmission over China ties” via Sarah Owermohle of POLITICO — The Trump administration abruptly cut off funding for a project studying how coronaviruses spread from bats to people after reports linked the work to a lab in Wuhan, China, at the center of conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins. The National Institutes of Health on Friday told EcoHealth Alliance, the study’s sponsor for the past five years, that all future funding was cut. The agency also demanded that the New York-based research nonprofit stop spending the $369,819 remaining from its 2020 grant, according to emails obtained by POLITICO. “At this time, NIH does not believe that the current project outcomes align with the program goals and agency priorities,” Michael Lauer, the agency’s deputy director for extramural research, wrote in a letter.
“Riots, escapes and fear as coronavirus hits juvenile centers” via Margie Mason and Robin McDowell of The Associated Press — As more and more state and local officials announce the release of thousands of at-risk inmates from the nation’s adult jails and prisons, parents along with children rights’ groups and criminal justice experts say vulnerable youths should be allowed to serve their time at home. But they say demands for large-scale releases have been largely ignored. Decisions are often not made at the state level, but instead carried out county by county, with individual judges reviewing juvenile cases one by one. Such legal hurdles have resulted in some kids with symptoms being thrown into isolation for 23 hours a day, in what amounts to solitary confinement, according to relatives and youth advocates.
“Searching for answers in a pandemic” via Stef W. Kight of Axios — A detailed new analysis of how Google searches changed since January traces Americans’ real-time scramble to get ahead of the pandemic as new information surfaced. The project shows how searches became more specific as infections spread across the United States, documenting Americans’ urgency as questions shifted from the general to practical ones about how to protect themselves and how to get tested. This data gives an intimate look at how individuals have reacted to the uncertainty as the virus cases have risen. The search trends also signal how widely people are heeding (or at least hearing) the advice from public health officials, who early on urged Americans to wash their hands, and more recently to wear masks in public.
“Under pressure to reopen this fall, school leaders plot unprecedented changes” via Laura Meckler, Valerie Strauss and Moriah Balingit of The Washington Post — From the White House podium to harried homes, pressure is building to reopen the nation’s schools. But the next iteration of American education will look far different from the classrooms students and teachers abruptly departed last month. Many overwhelmed school systems remain focused on running remote education that was set up on the fly. Others, though, are deep into planning for what they see coming: an in-between scenario in which schools are open but children are spread out in places where they are normally packed together.
“For a glimpse at what reopening looks like, head to Waffle House” via Gerald Porter Jr. Michael Sasso of Bloomberg — Waffle House has a reputation for hardiness, so it surprised no one familiar with the restaurant chain that it would be among the first to embrace Georgia Gov. Kemp’s plan to reopen the economy. Georgia’s plan was designed by a 20-person committee that includes Waffle House Executive Vice President Joe Rogers III. At a suburban Atlanta Waffle House, staff placed plastic bags over the backs of four of the six stools at the front counter to keep people apart, while sealing off certain booths with red tape. The traditional place-mat menus with their lists of smothered hash browns, eggs and biscuits aren’t on tables anymore, though customers can get paper ones or request the plastic variety. Every location will enforce its own capacity limit that will depend on its layout, with signs posted on the door for customers’ reference.
“A ‘new normal’, as Georgia restaurants allowed to reopen” via Kate Brumback and Russ Bynum of The Associated Press — With tables wide apart and staff wearing masks, some Georgia restaurants reopened for limited dine-in service Monday as the state loosened more coronavirus restrictions, but many eateries remained closed amid concerns that serving in-house meals could put employees and customers at risk. Gov. Kemp issued 39 requirements that restaurants must follow if they reopen, including observing a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet and ensuring that all employees wear face coverings all the time. Movie theater ushers were ordered to enforce social distancing.
“Texas, the nation’s second most-populous state, moves to reopen.” via The New York Times — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Monday announced the reopening of the state’s businesses in phases starting Friday and said he was allowing the stay-at-home order he put in place this month to expire as scheduled on April 30. Abbott had previously lifted some restrictions, including on retail shopping and state parks. But his announcement on Monday brought the country’s second-most populous state to the brink of a complete reopening. His move gave Texas one of the shortest such orders in the country: It will have been in effect for 28 days when it expires on Thursday. “That executive order has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19,” Abbott told reporters at the State Capitol on Monday.
“People across the country are delivering groceries free. It’s ‘solidarity, not charity.’” via Cathy Free of The Washington Post — Delivery networks have sprung up from Seattle to Portland, Maine, giving those who are isolated a much-needed boost, and providing relief from the fees, long wait times and out-of-stock notices for those wrangling with the complications of buying groceries online. When somebody needs groceries, that person sends a list of what they need to the network, then a shopper will buy the items and drop them off, no fee required.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“State had fewer new cases and fewer deaths last week than week before” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun Sentinel — Florida is nearing the end of April with fewer new cases of coronavirus — and a lower weekly number of deaths. The total number of Florida deaths, 1,088, the state reported Monday is 299 more than the state reported on April 20. In the previous week, 319 people died. The increase in the total number of cases is also smaller in the last week than in the week before. The state reported 32,138 coronavirus cases as of Monday — 5,478 higher than it had on April 20. In the previous week, the number of cases increased by 6,059.
“Florida will reopen in ‘baby steps,’ DeSantis says in Tampa” via Steve Contorno and Justine Griffin of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida, and Hillsborough County especially, is slowing the coronavirus outbreak better than anyone could have expected, DeSantis said. He cautioned that a quick restart of Florida’s economy is unlikely. Speaking from Tampa General Hospital, DeSantis reiterated what he has emphasized for more than a week: Florida is flattening the curve. Hospitals here are far from overwhelmed, he said, as the end of the state’s stay-at-home approaches Thursday. A state task force is expected to deliver recommendations this week on how and when to lift restrictions. “This phase one is a baby step,” DeSantis said.
“Governor ‘bullish’ on phased reopening, says Travis Cummings” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Cummings, a member of the Governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force, expressed confidence that Gov. DeSantis is “bullish” about getting Florida back to work. “There are certain businesses that are lower-risk or moderate-risk that need to be put back to work,” Cummings said. “I think the Governor in the next couple of days is going to weigh in for sure.” DeSantis has been touring hospitals around the state, with doctors backing his narrative of flattening the curve. DeSantis has mused openly about moving beyond “essential” and “nonessential” businesses for restrictions going forward, questioning the need to keep “low-risk” businesses closed past the end of the month.
“Partisanship grips Florida as state plans new normal” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Planning for a post-coronavirus new normal is deepening Florida’s political divide, with Democrats portraying Gov. DeSantis as Trumpian and overly partisan while the governor takes a victory lap for bringing the coronavirus outbreak under control despite early predictions to the contrary. Tensions are flaring over the speed at which the economy will reopen, how to address the state’s boondoggle of an unemployment system, and the emergence of the Republican governor as a Trump mini-me determined to follow the White House script.
“Florida releases data on number of COVID-19 cases in each nursing home, assisted living facility” via Allison Ross, Zachary T. Sampson and Rebecca Woolington of the Tampa Bay Times — Nearly 400 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have had at least one confirmed case of the highly contagious virus, according to the state’s list. Health officials had previously provided a roster of such facilities but had not included the number of infections in each location. The data say 2,225 residents have tested positive for the virus. The list does not include those that are no longer positive, said Katie Strickland, a spokeswoman with the Agency for Health Care Administration. It also does not include how many coronavirus-related deaths those facilities have seen. The list also shows 1,130 staff members who have tested positive. That would put the total current known cases in such facilities at 3,355.
“Health experts worry about reopening without better testing” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Florida’s coronavirus outbreak has been reined in enough to slowly start reopening the state if the proper public health measures are in place to keep the virus contained, but testing and contact tracing remain inadequate, experts say. “We have done an excellent job in terms of bending the curve, in terms of slowing down transmission,” Dr. Glenn Morris, the director of the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, said Monday. The lockdown order issued by DeSantis to contain the coronavirus expires on Friday. DeSantis currently is weighing whether to lift the lockdown and reopen all or part of the state. Morris said he worries about reopening until testing improves, something he hopes could be achieved in a matter of weeks.
“More than 200,000 Floridians deemed ineligible for unemployment this weekend, many of them jobless due to coronavirus” via Chabeli Carrazana of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida did send out more payments, but in the process it marked a wave of Floridians as “ineligible” for benefits with no explanation, thrusting families across the peninsula into complete uncertainty. More than 40% of all processed applicants were told they were ineligible for unemployment as of Sunday, the most recent figure the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has put out. That’s an additional 203,699 claimants whose applications were added to the ranks of the unemployment ineligible in just three days, since Thursday, before the CONNECT website that processes the applications went down over the weekend. That number is the largest jump yet in ineligible applications, and it follows a big jump in application processing, too.
“Florida promised an unemployment site for gig workers. It’s still not open” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Independent contractors and gig economy workers in Florida are still unable to apply for unemployment assistance amid the coroaovirus pandemic one month after President Donald Trump and Congress expanded benefits to include $600 a week for workers previously excluded from state-based unemployment systems. The state announced April 16 that it would create a new unemployment benefits system for gig workers within 10 days, after Florida’s regular unemployment system was overwhelmed with applicants, but late Monday, no new site had been opened.
“Florida’s economy could lose $859 million from school closures, says report” via the News Service of Florida — Florida’s economy could take an estimated $859 million hit as a result of school campuses being closed for six weeks during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Florida Council of 100 business group. A 12-week school closure could cost the state’s economy about $1.7 billion, according to the Council of 100 report. A survey commissioned by the organization found that 41% of employed parents with minor children said Florida’s school closures or a lack of child care have “somewhat” hurt their ability to fully perform their jobs during the pandemic, while 23% of working parents said they had been “greatly” impacted.
Private colleges seek slice of education stimulus — Florida’s private colleges and universities want a piece of the education stimulus the state is expected to dole out in the coming weeks, Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida reports. Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida President Bob Boyd said the association’s 30 members could a combined $1 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Half the expected loss has already been realized through a drop in institutional endowments. Through mid-April, when Boyd first asked DeSantis for CARES Act funding, ICUF schools had refunded $60 million for room and board and $90 million for canceled summer courses. Fall could bring further financial troubles. “I can’t image the enrollment numbers would be good given the uncertainly of all this,” Boyd said.
“With ticket sales cratered, Florida arts advocates spotlight critical role of state grants” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Performing artists aren’t normally known to be shy. But with state grants under scrutiny, Florida Cultural Alliance President and CEO Jennifer Jones is reminding arts organizations they must speak up to be heard. During a conference call with advocates from around the state, Jones encouraged nonprofit and cultural leaders to contact lawmakers and continue advocating for projects, just as they would normally after a Legislative Session. Jones expressed some frustration at a lack of arts and culture representatives on the Re-Open Florida Task Force. But she noted the state has encouraged participation in task force discussions through an online portal.
“Could Disney World ‘beta test’ COVID restrictions?” via Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider — The idea is that Disney would reopen one of its parks to a select number of guests — likely cast members and then annual passholders — to visit under new restrictions put in place to support social distancing. Health screenings might also be part of the new procedures to be tried. Universal Orlando earlier this month surveyed its passholders and previous visitors about proposed operational changes, to gauge potential public reaction to them. But talking about hypothetical changes is one thing, seeing actual reactions to those changes in practice provides far more useful feedback. An in-person test also would allow cast members to make on-the-fly adjustments to the new procedures to see how they would affect operations, in real-time.
“Lenny Curry says Jacksonville restaurants, retail and lodging should start planning for reopening” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — Curry said that businesses in the fields of retail, dining and lodging should start making plans for how they will handle more customers when the city eases the Safer at Home restrictions that were established to battle the spread of the coronavirus. Curry did not announce a specific target date, but he said Jacksonville needs to move toward a more normal life while coexisting with the continued presence of COVID-19 in the community. Curry said the city will continue to promote testing with sites around the city. He said the latest figures show 4.6% of tests have come back positive, which is down from a high point of 6.3% on April 6.
“Jacksonville City Council approves $159 million relief package” via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a $159 million relief package that will give $1,000 to 40,000 Duval County households that have lost wages to the pandemic-induced closures and open six new testing sites that could administer a combined 1,200 tests per day. The relief package, which is funded by the federal government, also includes money to waive developer fees, bankroll a previously approved small business loan program and award grants to organizations that operate city-owned facilities.
“State data shows COVID-19 outbreak in Clay, Duval care facilities” via David Bauerlein and Clayton Freeman of The Florida Times-Union — Two Clay County nursing homes are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks that affected dozens of residents and staff members, according to state data. Heartland Health Care Center-Orange Park currently has 43 residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Thirty-two of those residents are at the facility for treatment and 11 were transferred elsewhere for care. Heartland also has 14 staff members who have tested positive, making it one of the hardest-hit long-term care facilities in the state.
“Parks, golf courses and boat ramps to open Wednesday across South Florida” via Lisa J. Huriash, Susannah Bryan, Austen Erblat and Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — South Florida will reopen county parks and several other destinations for outdoor fun Wednesday, although the beaches will remain closed. Golf courses, marinas, tennis courts and, in some cases, community pools also will reopen, but will require the public to stick to keeping apart to keep safe from the spread of the new coronavirus. “There will be stiff penalties if people don’t abide by rules,” said Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner. “We will continue to be in an emergency state in Palm Beach County and throughout the stat. We have a long, long way to go.”
“Coral Gables residents clamored for COVID-19 testing. A site will open Friday.” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — At a virtual commission meeting last Wednesday, Coral Gables City Manager Peter Iglesias said his administration had looked at “every single way” to bring COVID-19 testing to the city, with no success. But after the commission responded to residents’ cries for testing by directing Iglesias to create a plan for a drive-thru site, the turnaround was swift. On Monday, six days after the meeting, the commission approved the manager’s plan for a free drive-thru testing site for Coral Gables residents. It will open on Friday. The city is partnering with BioCollections Worldwide to administer and process the nasal swab tests at a city-owned parking lot off LeJeune Road near the Shops at Merrick Park.
“PBSO mandates masks for county jails” via Hannah Winston of The Palm Beach Post — By the end of April, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said all individuals housed in its two county jails should expect to receive two cloth masks, made at the West Detention Center, to wear in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This move comes after a recommendation for jails and prisons from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection at the end of March and after the Florida Department of Corrections said it began having inmates manufacture masks. Those masks in the state prisons first were released to staff employees and then to inmates.
“Storm shuts down corn festival, rips through testing site” via Emily Sullivan and Allen Eyestone of The Palm Beach Post — A mighty thunderstorm trudged through Palm Beach County on Sunday afternoon, bringing winds and hail, pulling down wires and shaking up the biggest scheduled event of the day. The winds also tossed tents and traffic cones at a primary coronavirus test site for Palm Beach County. The Sweet Corn Fiesta at the South Florida Fairgrounds was ringing in its 20-year anniversary with a drive-thru version of its usual antics — selling six ears of corn for $2 and crates of corn, filled with dozens of ears, for $15. There also were tomatoes, green beans and donated sugar.
Assignment editors — Reps. Anthony Rodriguez, Daniel Perez, Vance Aloupis, Ana Maria Fernandez, and Juan Fernandez-Barquin will take part in a Feeding South Florida Distribution, 9 a.m., Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th Street, Miami. Drive-through distribution of fresh produce and other foods will be provided on a first-come first-served basis.
— MORE LOCAL —
“Orange County announces testing in hot ZIP codes, as region awaits Governor’s decision on stay-at-home orders” via Ryan Gillespie, Martin E. Comas and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel — As Central Florida governments and businesses prepare for what could be a weekslong restart of the economy, Orange County officials emphasized the importance of testing, announcing plans for coronavirus testing in two neighborhoods that have led the county in positive cases. The new test sites at Ventura Elementary and South Orange Youth Park, the first sites in the hardest-hit 32822 and 32824 ZIP codes, will open on Wednesday and run through Friday. By late Monday, those two ZIP codes had 180 confirmed positives, according to state data.
“Jane Castor tells Fox News that Tampa is crushing the curve” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Tampa Mayor Castor has become a fixture on national cable news since the pandemic began in March. Her latest appearance on “Fox and Friends” might have been her largest audience yet, perhaps including President Donald Trump, who is known to be a frequent viewer of the news network’s morning show. Asked about her opinion of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen the state, Castor noted, as she has several times in recent weeks, that she hasn’t spoken to the governor, but believes from his comments that they share the same goal: to reopen Florida slowly and safely.
“St. Pete, Pinellas test for coronavirus in underserved communities” via Caitlin Johnson of the Tampa Bay Times — The pop-up testing site was a one-day partnership among the Florida Department of Health and St. Petersburg city and fire officials to make testing available to those who may find it harder to get — minorities, people without a car, and anyone lacking health insurance, said Maggie Hall, spokeswoman in Pinellas County for the Department of Health. One reason for the special opportunity: Concerns that the African American population is underrepresented in state and county counts of coronavirus cases, said Gina Norris, assistant director of nursing in Pinellas County with the Department of Health.
“One Escambia County nursing home has 87 coronavirus patients – most in state” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Southern Oaks Care Center currently has 87 residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus. An additional five patients have been transferred out of the facility for treatment. Fifteen staff members are also positive. The nursing home has the largest number of cases of any single facility of any kind in Escambia County, and the most COVID-19 patients of any other nursing home in the state, according to new information released from the Florida Department of Health. Officials for Southern Oaks were not immediately available for comment Monday.
“Indian River County reopening guarded beaches Tuesday; St. Lucie may, Martin will not” via Joshua Solomon of TCPalm — One month ago, Treasure Coast leaders closed beaches. It was a unified front from local officials to present clarity for their region. With pressure heating up over when to reopen the beaches the three counties are taking different paths. Indian River County plans to open its guarded beaches Tuesday, with social-distancing restrictions. St. Lucie County has drafted an order to open all of its beaches. Martin County, closest to the coronavirus hot spot in Palm Beach County, plans to hold steady and keep beaches closed.
“Indiantown may become first on Treasure Coast to require face masks in public” via Joshua Solomon of TC Palm — The village is set to become the first on the Treasure Coast to require people in town to wear a face mask in public. The Village Council will hold an emergency public meeting, scheduled virtually for 5 p.m. Tuesday. Village officials announced the meeting Monday afternoon. Indiantown has 33 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which makes up 18% of reported cases in Martin County. The village has less than 4% of the county’s population.
“Pensacola taking phased approach to reopening, beginning with city parks on Friday” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal — Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson announced on Monday the city would take a phased approach to reopen the city safely while also preventing a resurgence of the coronavirus. During a virtual press conference on Monday, Robinson said he believes phase one of the plan to reopen dubbed “Recover Pensacola” would begin on Friday with the city reopening playground equipment, basketball and tennis courts at city parks. Under the plan, once a 14-day trend of decreased COVID-19 cases and flu-like symptoms reported by the local Florida Department of Health are confirmed, other businesses will be allowed to reopen following social distancing guidelines. The city is still working on details for each phase of the plan.
“Fifth inmate dies of COVID-19 at NW Florida prison” via Samantha Gross of the Miami Herald — A 72-year-old inmate at a Northwest Florida prison has died as a result of COVID-19, the local medical examiner’s office confirmed. He was the fifth inmate incarcerated at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility to die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. All the inmates who have died were over 65. Dana Peterson, who had begun a 27-year sentence in 2018, died April 27 of complications related to COVID-19 at the Santa Rosa Medical Center, according to Jeff Martin, the director of the medical examiner’s office that oversees Santa Rosa County. The first inmate deaths weren’t acknowledged by the Florida Department of Corrections for six days — and only after a news organization revealed them.
“‘No issues’ as Sarasota County beaches reopen” via Timothy Fanning of the Herald-Tribune — The announcement last week that the county’s beaches would open Monday to walkers, joggers, swimmers and paddlers met with praise from those advocating a swift end to the pandemic shutdown. The announcement also brought a swift rebuke from others who thought the beaches should remain off-limits until Florida saw a two-week downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases. For that reason, the city of Sarasota decided to keep Lido Beach closed. In Sarasota County, parking lots remained closed in an effort to reduce the congregation and large crowds. Still, people were more than willing to risk a ticket by parking at nearby restaurants.
“Lack of access to tests hampers care in Tallahassee’s poorer neighborhoods” via Nada Hassanein — When Jewel Brown‘s 11-year-old daughter Jaaliyah had a 103-degree fever, she worried and took her to the hospital. There, they were told the child couldn’t get tested for COVID-19 unless she had a doctor’s referral. Moreover, Brown has an underlying autoimmune disease. She later got sick, too. They live in the underserved Frenchtown neighborhood, where local leaders are concerned about disparities amid coronavirus cases. And those disparities are not just in the ZIP codes with spikes in coronavirus cases, like 32304, but in other high-poverty areas where cases go unreported.
“Burnette, Rivers donate 10,000 protective masks to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Tallahassee business duo Kim Rivers and John “J.T.” Burnette donated 10,000 KN95 masks to help Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare during the coronavirus outbreak. TMH CEO Mark O’Bryant thanked Rivers and Burnette in a Friday letter, saying the masks are increasingly in limited supply and are essential in the hospital’s efforts to provide high-quality care to COVID-19 patients. Rivers is CEO of Trulieve, Florida’s largest purveyor of medical marijuana, with locations around the state and operations in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Burnette is a local developer, entrepreneur and hotel owner. He is under indictment in federal court.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Gears jammed again during relaunch of small-business relief program” via Mark Niquette and Hannah Levitt of Bloomberg — The relaunch of a government relief program for small firms got off to a rocky start Monday, with lenders reporting being shut out of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s system amid a flood of applications for loans. The SBA said that “unprecedented demand” was slowing down its loan-processing platform and there were double the number of users accessing the system compared with any day during the initial round of funding that ended April 16. The SBA said in a statement that it had processed more than 100,000 applications from more than 4,000 lenders as of 3:30 p.m.
“Virus is expected to reduce meat selection and raise prices” via David Pitt of The Associated Press — Meat isn’t going to disappear from supermarkets because of outbreaks of the coronavirus among workers at U.S. slaughterhouses. But as the meat plants struggle to remain open, consumers could face less selection and slightly higher prices. Industry leaders acknowledge that the U.S. food chain has rarely been so stressed and that no one is sure about the future, even as they try to dispel concerns about shortages. On Sunday, the meat processing giant Tyson Foods ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and other newspapers outlining the difficulty of producing meat while keeping more than 100,000 workers safe and shutting some plants.
“How Fed intervention saved Carnival” via Matt Wirz of The Wall Street Journal — It was mid-March and the vultures were circling the largest cruise-line operator in the world. The company, forced to virtually shut down by the coronavirus outbreak, needed billions of dollars fast. With financial markets frozen, executives were forced to consider a high-interest loan from a band of hedge funds who called themselves “the consortium.” The group included Apollo Management Group, Elliott Management Corp. and other distressed-debt investors that sometimes take over the companies they lend to, people familiar with the matter said. That all changed on March 23 when the Federal Reserve defibrillated bond markets with an unprecedented lending program.
“Lakers got money from loan program, returned it” via Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN — The Los Angeles Lakers have returned approximately $4.6 million that they received from a federal government program intended to help small businesses weather the economic burden caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Lakers, one of the NBA’s most profitable franchises, applied for relief through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, and were among the companies and nonprofits granted loans during the first round of distributions. But after reports that several large or highly capitalized entities were securing aid from the program’s initial $349 billion pool, while hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses were shut out, the Lakers said they returned the money.
“SeaWorld, other big companies preparing to borrow money from taxpayers” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — SeaWorld Entertainment is hoping for a hand from taxpayers. The Orlando-based marine park owner says it is “actively engaged and working on” a potential loan from the federal government through a new pot of money Congress has set aside to help larger companies struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. SeaWorld is one of a number of big companies — from department store retailer Kohl’s to adult-arcade chain Dave & Buster’s Entertainment — that have signaled potential interest in the larger government lending programs, according to regulatory filings.
“Miami-based movie theater chain files for bankruptcy amid coronavirus economic crisis” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — CMX Cinemas, which acquired Cobb Theatres in 2017, operates about a half dozen movie theaters throughout South Florida has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid the economic crisis caused by the novel coronavirus. “We are in a state of complete uncertainty as to when we can reopen our theaters and when our customers will feel safe and secure in returning to them given that there is presently no vaccine against the virus,” a company representative wrote in a statement. “We cannot forecast when — if ever — customer numbers will return to precrisis levels.”
— MORE CORONA —
“Doctors find more cases of ‘COVID toes’ in dermatologic registry. Here’s what they learned.” via Adrianna Rodriguez of USA Today — The American Academy of Dermatology has compiled a registry of skin manifestations associated with COVID-19. About half of the more than 300 total cases on the dermatologic registry consist of COVID toes. COVID toes are pinkish-reddish “pernio-like lesions” that can turn purple over time. Pernio, also called chilblains, are skin sores or bumps that occur on a patient’s feet when they’re exposed to cold temperatures. While experts can’t confirm why COVID toes appear, they have some educated guesses. One could be inflammation in the toes’ tissue, which is similar to pernio. Another hypothesis is inflammation of the blood vessel wall, medically known as vasculitis. And finally, it is possible COVID toes could be caused by small blood clots that form inside the blood vessel.
“Why Apple and Google are moving away from the term ‘contact tracing’” via Richard Nieva of CNET — Apple and Google announced a major joint project to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Health authorities would build contact tracing apps for the tech giants’ mobile platforms, which would use signals from people’s phones to alert them if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. Apple and Google have been met with scrutiny and pushback over the privacy implications of such a system. Critics worry about the possibility of abuse or spying. The shift is in a sense a rebranding effort, but it’s more than cosmetic. Ditching a term like “tracing,” which could have ominous connotations of surveillance, may go a long way in getting consumers to use the tools.
“Internet crimes investigator says social distancing may help combat digital exploitation of children” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — In March, the FBI warned that school closures could up that risk. But Detective Michael Joo of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) unit offered a different take. “We are relying heavily on the internet to make sure that our children are getting the education that they need,” Joo said in a digital conference with Sen. Lauren Book. “It’s a little more difficult to get away and hide in your bedroom or go to the park or the library to get away from your parents’ watchful eye. Now, everyone’s at home. Dad and mom aren’t at work and you aren’t at school. Any little nuances or changes in behavior might be a little more observable.”
— THE HUMAN TOLL —
“Death of Palm Harbor nursing home resident ‘just doesn’t seem fair,’ son says” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times — Clayton Snare lived many lives over 95 years. A meteorologist in the Navy during World War II. The president of two banks. An avid golfer and churchgoer. A family man who once held his great-granddaughter with a smile so bright it was as if he’d won the lottery. The elder Snare was a resident of St. Mark Village, a Palm Harbor retirement community that last week reported a flare-up of COVID-19 cases among residents and staff. Snare became the first St. Mark resident to die since the outbreak was discovered.
“‘It didn’t have to be that way:’ Daughters question info from Seminole nursing home after mom dies” via Kathryn Varn of the Tampa Bay Times — Tango Jessee moved into Freedom Square of Seminole in 2016. In that facility, Eight residents have died. Jessee, 92, was one of them. Jessee’s daughters have joined a growing chorus of Freedom Square residents and their family members scrutinizing the facility’s management of the outbreak. Several have said they were left in the dark as the illness spread through the facility.
— ONE GOOD THING —
Jessiah Lee was enjoying his own private parade.
A fire truck blared its sirens. Police cruisers flashed their lights. Dozens of families in cars decorated with balloons honked horns, raised handmade signs, and yelled: “Happy birthday, Jessiah!”
While none of them knew this 6-year-old boy, they all showed up for his special day. According to The Associated Press, the surprise drive-by birthday party in Arlington, Virginia, was organized on social media by Ashley Johnson, an accountant who met Lee while volunteering at a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C., four years ago.
Despite the shelter closing and Jessiah’s family finding a home, the relationship didn’t end there. Johnson took Jessiah to museums, parks and on a trip to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
This year, she was planning on a Lego-themed party — but COVID-19 thwarted those plans.
“Birthdays are such a big thing at any age,” Johnson told the AP. “It’s such a celebration, life is so fragile, and so I felt I couldn’t accept the defeat of ‘we’ll do nothing.’”
The inspiration for the drive-by birthday celebrations were the ones seen all across the U.S. during the quarantine.
Johnson wanted something similar, but bigger.
Recalling his love of firetrucks, she passed by a fire station and asked for help. No response.
Then the day before the day set for Lee’s party, the phone rang. A firefighter on the other line — Johnson calls him “her angel” — asked if his station could join the parade.
With only one day to plan, she went on Nextdoor, the neighborhood social media site, and asked other people to join.
“In need of a MAJOR favor from all who are willing!” she wrote in an April 9 post, which was also shared on Facebook. “I have a sweet, sweet kid I met while volunteering … His sixth birthday is today, and sadly I didn’t get to host a party this year, BUT I just got a last-minute reply from the fire station, and they’re willing to do a drive-by and lead the way for a mini birthday parade …”
The next day, at 5:29 p.m., the fire truck, police cruisers, and dozens of cars turned the corner. Some neighbors shook pom-poms; others offered gifts, all from a safe distance.
Lee’s favorite? A man who played “Happy birthday” on an accordion.
“E-veryyyybody came!” he said.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Trump leans against state bailouts as Governors cry foul” via Quint Forgey and Anna Gronewold of POLITICO — “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat-run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?” The President’s social media post inflamed an already fierce debate over further federal assistance to states expending vast financial resources to battle a highly infectious outbreak. During his daily news conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo charged that scolding states and cities seeking federal help is antithetical to the ambition of a national rebuild that will require a wide distribution of funds across the country.
“Mitch McConnell’s rejection of federal aid for states risks causing a depression, analysts say” via Robert McCartney of The Washington Post — McConnell would rather see states declare bankruptcy than give them federal aid to deal with the economic collapse triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s a recipe for turning a potentially short recession into a prolonged depression. The question of whether Congress and the White House should provide relief funding to state and local governments, as the feds have done already for private business, is about to reach a showdown in Washington. Nancy Pelosi says the next bill must include state and local aid, but Trump has sent mixed signals about whether he will support it. McConnell and many other Senate Republicans are resisting.
“Big-government conservatives mount takeover of GOP” via Ryan Lizza of POLITICO — Congressional Republicans in 2020 have embraced $2 trillion — and counting — in stimulus with almost no resistance. The two most notable politicians crafting stimulus policy for Trump to sign are Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Before the coronavirus crisis, both Senators had taken stabs at articulating a new kind of policy populism for the GOP that was self-consciously anti-libertarian, skeptical of Big Business, and more comfortable with Big Government. Before the crisis, Rubio, Hawley and their fellow Republican populists (the term applies more to Hawley than Rubio) seemed to amount to little more than a small group of legislators, a tight network of D.C. policy wonks, and some right-leaning opinion columnists.
“As PPP round two begins, Marco Rubio prioritizes underserved communities” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Rubio wants to ensure funds from the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program end up in the hands of financial institutions backing minority-owned businesses. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Jovita Carranza, head of the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Florida Republican urged the two to expedite approvals for funds headed to Community Development Financial Institutions and minority depository institutions. The administration began processing new loan requests Monday. “We have the opportunity to make sure that counted in the hundreds of thousands of businesses receiving PPP loans in this round of funding are those independent contractors, self-employed, and small businesses in underserved communities,” he said.
“Charlie Crist calls on two more stimulus payments for Americans” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Crist is calling on two additional stimulus payments in the upcoming legislative packages known as CARES 2. Crist did not specify how much the checks should be. The first round of checks has already gone out to many Americans and provides $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child for qualifying individuals and families. Crist is also calling on Congress to fix a drafting error that left college students and children with disabilities unable to receive their stimulus. It’s unclear when, or if, another stimulus package would go through for Americans.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz says feds should compel additional PPE production” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Wasserman Schultz called on Trump to compel the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid reports of shortages in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. “We write to express profound concern over your failure to fully implement the Defense Production Act to meet the growing demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) across the nation’s public health systems, as well as the largest integrated health system, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),” a letter to Trump reads. The letter was signed by Wasserman Schultz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
“Census says restart to field operations will be in phases” via Mike Schneider of The Associated Press — The U.S. Census Bureau’s return to field operations for the 2020 national headcount will take place in phases based on a region’s lockdown orders and the availability of protective gear against the new coronavirus. The bulk of the field operations in which hundreds of thousands of census takers knock on the doors of homes where people haven’t yet answered the questionnaire isn’t starting until August after the pandemic forced a delay from a May start.
— STATEWIDE —
“Medicaid expansion backers battle Senate on new law” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Saying the Legislature “moved the goalposts,” backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand Medicaid coverage argue a new law should not block a key review of the initiative by the Florida Supreme Court. Barry Richard, an attorney for the political committee Florida Decides Healthcare, filed a brief disputing a contention by the state Senate that the controversial new law should scuttle the Medicaid proposal. The law increased a petition-signature requirement for supporters of proposed constitutional amendments to trigger Florida Supreme Court reviews of the initiatives.
“Ben Diamond urges Rubio, Rick Scott to back ‘State Stabilization Funds’” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Rep. Diamond sent a letter to Republican U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott asking them to support $500 billion in funding to shore up state governments struggling during the global pandemic. The National Governors Association made the appropriations request. U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, are co-sponsoring a bill that tracks with the NGA’s plan. Diamond, a Democrat who represents St. Petersburg in the Florida House, said Florida’s state budget could be among the hardest hit when the dust settles on the COVID-19 pandemic because tourism, and by extension sales tax revenues, make up the backbone of Florida’s budget.
“Miami feds seize $450 million — cash, condos, horses — in Venezuelan corruption cases” via Jay Weaver and Antonio Maria Delgado of the Miami Herald — Since targeting Venezuelan corruption in 2017, South Florida federal authorities have seized $450 million in bank accounts, luxury properties, show horses, high-end watches and a superyacht that belonged to more than a dozen government officials and business people in Venezuela, all charged with laundering billions of dollars into the United States, Switzerland, and other countries. Alejandro Andrade, Venezuela’s former national treasurer, wrote several checks totaling $250 million to the U.S. government last fall. That payment was counted toward a $1 billion forfeiture judgment against him.
“New JEA board sends message to employees: JEA is not for sale” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — The newly confirmed JEA board will have plenty on its plate, but the board is making clear in a message to employees that a repeat of putting the utility up for sale won’t happen on its watch. The open letter to JEA employees is part of the packet for the new board’s first meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday when action items will include kicking off the search for the next CEO. “We are committed to doing everything within our power to make sure that you have the tools you need to perform the duties of your individual and collective jobs, and the most important tool we can give you today is peace of mind: JEA is not for sale,” the letter says.
“Lee, state cut watering day to one a week to help combat drought conditions” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — Lee County and state water managers agreed to implement one-day-a-week irrigation restrictions for all of the county starting Saturday. “These irrigation restrictions are necessary to protect the water resources in the aquifer needed by all users and our environment,” said South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith. Southwest Florida is now in a moderate drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Nearly all of Florida is in some level of drought, but this region is one of the driest in the state.
— 2020 —
“USA Today/Suffolk Poll: Six months out, Joe Biden jumps to lead over Trump amid coronavirus concerns” via Susan Page of USA Today — Six months before Election Day, the coronavirus pandemic has done what impeachment did not: Cost Trump his advantage over Biden in the 2020 campaign. A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll shows the former VP leading Trump nationwide by 6% points, 44% to 38%, a shift from Trump’s 3-point lead in the survey as the House was impeaching him in December. In a contest without a third-party contender, Biden’s margin jumps to 10 points, 50% to 40%. The findings underscore the challenge the deadly pandemic is posing to the president’s political standing, which has proved durable through investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a Senate impeachment trial over his dealings with Ukraine and other controversies.
“All coronavirus and no campaign rallies. Does Trump have a Florida problem?” via David Smiley and Francesca Chambers of the Miami Herald — Throughout April, with the economy, campaigns and society in general upended, polls have found Trump falling behind former Vice President Biden and struggling to win the trust of voters in his home state. Surveys also suggest Trump is losing ground with senior citizens — a conservative-leaning demographic that is most vulnerable to the severest symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Strategists expect the race for Florida to be a nail-biter once again come November. But it’s unclear when or whether Trump will be able to return to the campaign rallies and Mar-a-Lago fundraisers. And dissatisfaction with the president’s performance during the pandemic could do lasting damage in a state Trump’s campaign has treated as a must-win.
“Biden calls for more virus testing, public health jobs corps” via Tyler Pager of Bloomberg — Biden called on the Trump Administration to vastly expand the country’s testing capabilities for the coronavirus, including launching a new public health jobs corps of 100,000 people to assist with the testing and contact tracing, as he laid out his vision for safely reopening the economy. Criticized the president’s inaction on testing and detailed how the country should expand its capabilities to catch a spike in infections before it spreads. The former vice president’s proposals include creating a pandemic testing board, modeled after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s War Production Board, to scale up production of diagnostic and antibody tests.
“New York nixes Democratic presidential primary due to virus” via The Associated Press — New York has canceled its Democratic presidential primary scheduled for June 23 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Democratic members of the State’s Board of Elections voted Monday to nix the primary. New York will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on June 23. New York Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs has said that the cancellation of the state’s presidential primary would mean a lower expected turnout and a reduced need for polling places.
“Democrats see Senate suddenly within reach, boosted by Biden’s ascent” via Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post — Biden’s unexpectedly rapid consolidation of the Democratic presidential nomination has upended calculations in both parties about the U.S. Senate landscape, with Democrats hopeful that Biden can actively help with close races and Republicans increasingly nervous about losing their 53-47 majority. Biden’s ascent has dented GOP plans to paint Democratic candidates as left-wing extremists, something they were eager to do had Sen. Bernie Sanders emerged as the nominee. Instead, the Democrats now have a more moderate standard-bearer who is keenly aware of how Senate control could affect his potential presidency. Even in Alabama, one of the most conservative states, underdog Sen. Doug Jones stands an outside chance of an upset, a fact that Jones attributes in part to Biden besting Sanders.
— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —
“A major trial for voting rights in Florida is happening on video chat” via Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times — Only the judge and a couple of his staff members were in the courtroom when he called the trial to order. The plaintiffs, witnesses and lawyers were at home in front of webcams, awaiting their turns to speak. The most unusual of trials got underway in Florida on Monday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the virus, the participants could not safely travel to the federal courthouse in Tallahassee, the state capital. But the question at hand was too important to put off in an election year: Should people with felony convictions have to fully pay back court fines and fees before regaining their right to vote?
“Six Florida campaigns recognized by Kevin McCarthy’s GOP Young Guns program” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Three Republicans running for Congress in Florida were added to McCarthy’s Young Guns program. Another three were promoted to “Contender” status. While no Florida candidate has graduated to the highest “Top Gun” recognition, the newest additions show confidence in multiple candidates’ ability to pick off Democratic incumbents. The list of “Contender” candidates now includes Leo Valentin, William Figlesthaler and Carlos Giménez. Meanwhile. The program identified Anna Paulina Luna, Byron Donalds and Casey Askar as “On the Rader” campaigns.
“Anna Eskamani, Amy Mercado draw election opponents” via the News Service of Florida — Two Orlando Democrats have drawn new election opponents. Republican Kevin Miles Morenski opened a campaign account to try to unseat Rep. Eskamani in Orange County’s House District 47. Orlando Republican Jeremy Sisson also opened an account for the race in December. Eskamani had raised $113,122 for her reelection bid as of March 31, a finance report shows. Meanwhile, Democrat Anthony Tsonis opened an account last week to challenge Rep. Mercado in Orange County’s House District 48. Mercado had raised $26,319 as of March 31.
“Tampa legislative candidates resort to gathering petitions electronically, but they don’t love it” via Mitch Perry of Bay News 9 — One of the basic tenets of retail politics — knocking on doors — isn’t happening in our current COVID-19 environment, which means it’s a bit more challenging for candidates running for the state Legislature this year. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee made an emergency order earlier this month to change the law and allow signed petitions to be collected “without person-to-person contact.” That means through the internet. “It’s been a challenge,” says Florida House District 60 Republican Jackie Toledo, who needs to get 1,262 verified signatures submitted to the Division of Elections office is less than two weeks. Toledo says she can easily afford to write a check to qualify, but that’s not the way she rolls.
“Roger Lolly surpasses petition threshold to qualify for ballot in HD 78” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Lolly has already submitted enough petitions to qualify as a state House candidate. Running to succeed Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen in House District 78, the owner and president of the If I Can Dream Foundation and of AllCare National has submitted more than 1,300 signed petitions. Like many campaigns, Lolly’s organizing efforts were impacted by social distancing guidelines that made the normal petition gathering process more difficult. But ultimately, the campaign passed the required threshold and put a cushion of extra signatures to account for any rejected petitions.
“State Attorney candidate takes aim at foe” via the News Service of Florida — Just hours after a qualifying deadline, a candidate to become state attorney in part of North Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to knock his only opponent off the ballot. Republican Brian Kramer filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court contending that his Democratic opponent, Beverly McCallum, did not meet an eligibility requirement to serve as state attorney. Kramer and McCallum are running to replace outgoing State Attorney Bill Cervone in the 8th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties. The lawsuit names as defendants the Florida Department of State and elections supervisors in the counties.
“Racial slurs, Nazi imagery interrupt Zoom event, Miami State Attorney candidate says” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — Melba Pearson, The lawyer challenging Miami-Dade’s longtime state attorney, said she reported the incident to the FBI, as well as Zoom. The incident happened Friday night during an online event, which was simultaneously broadcast on Facebook. Cybersecurity has become a major issue for Zoom, the popular video conferencing site that has skyrocketed in use as the coronavirus pandemic has forced huge swaths of the world’s labor force to work from home. The technology has become particular vital for the public sector.
— TOP OPINION —
“College campuses must reopen in the fall. Here’s how we do it.” via Christina Paxson for The New York Times — Across the country, college campuses have become ghost towns. Students and professors are hunkered down inside, teaching and learning online. University administrators are tabulating the financial costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. As amazing as videoconferencing technology has become, students face financial, practical, and psychological barriers as they try to learn remotely. This is especially true for lower-income students who may not have reliable internet access or private spaces in which to study. Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half our revenue.
— OPINIONS —
“Ruth’s Chris political backlash” via The Wall Street Journal editorial board — After public criticism, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Shake Shack and other restaurant chains are returning loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The economy is still locked down, but already the political backlash against business has begun. We’re referring to Treasury’s guidance late last week to exclude many public companies from the PPP. Those that have received loans have until May 7 to return the money or face penalties. “Although the CARES Act suspends the ordinary requirement that borrowers must be unable to obtain credit elsewhere,” SBA guidance says, borrowers must still certify the loan is necessary, “taking into account their current business activity and their ability to access other sources of liquidity.”
“Don’t threaten our freedoms to fight virus” via Jamie Grant for the Tampa Bay Times — The lasting consequences of this global pandemic remain to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the constitutional rights which guarantee against the government taking individual liberty and personal freedom are being challenged daily by governors and mayors across this country in the name of protecting the American people from themselves. We have watched the rapid repeal and impulsive suspension of the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights as guaranteed by our Constitution — 80 percent of the Bill of Rights has been, in one way or another, trampled on across our country.
“Florida should proceed with caution in reopening” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — The Pinellas County Commission will consider a recommendation by County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to reopen the beaches and some pools with appropriate social distancing. That would be another reasonable decision that could be reversed if the public fails to follow the rules, or there is a surge in coronavirus cases. This is uncharted territory, and it remains difficult to balance protecting public health and restarting the economy. Florida and Tampa Bay should move slowly as they take tentative steps this week toward reopening public life — and officials should be prepared to shut it down again if residents and businesses fail to follow the rules or there is a new surge in coronavirus cases.
“There’s a reason why DeSantis called Florida ‘God’s waiting room’” via Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post — Somebody needs to defend DeSantis for referring to Florida as “God’s waiting room” during a briefing. “Florida is ‘ground zero’ for the nursing home,” DeSantis said Sunday. “We’re God’s waiting room. We have a huge number of facilities, a huge number of residents.” Immediately, he was attacked for what was seen as a failure in humor. Calling Florida “God’s waiting room” is such an overused line that it doesn’t qualify as a joke anymore. It’s something everybody has heard a thousand times. So, If DeSantis were trying to make jokes about Florida’s elderly population, he’d have gone with better material.
“COVID-19 a crisis on the Treasure Coast, but let’s keep it in perspective” via Gil Smart of TC Palm — The idea first dawned on me when I went — fully masked, a bottle of hand sanitizer in my back pocket — to Winn-Dixie for supplies. I noticed something else, too: the people, the employees in red shirts. It was the same crew I’d always seen, faces I recognized from four years of shopping at this store. Even as COVID-19 rampaged across the globe, they were still on the job — and bless them for it. For theirs must be one of the highest-risk situations around, with hundreds or even thousands of shoppers passing through daily. Still, that we know of, one grocery store employee on the Treasure Coast has fallen sick ever since this virus crisis began.
— TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Florida has mailed out more unemployment checks, but the state also rejected a record number of jobless claims. One applicant with the rejected claim says he was able to reach a human being at the Department Economic Opportunity, and told it was a massive computer glitch.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— Gov. DeSantis takes his coronavirus roadshow to Tampa General Hospital, where he says there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
— Florida Democrats tee off on the Governor again, saying it’s time to fix not just the unemployment website, but the entire compensation program. When it comes to unemployment benefits, Florida is one of the stingiest states in the country. They blame former Gov. Scott for creating a flawed system and DeSantis for failing to fix it.
— A federal judge in Tallahassee is presiding over a trial that could shift the balance in Florida politics. The issue is the constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to former felons, as well as the bill passed by Republican lawmakers that would keep 700,000 of those ex-felons from having their rights restored because they can’t afford to pay all their fines and court fees. Sunrise takes a deep dive, hearing some of the opening arguments in the trial.
— Checking in with Florida man, who is keeping law enforcement officers busy during the lockdown.
To listen, click on the image below:
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Tokyo Olympics: Questions, few answers in face of pandemic” via Stephen Wade of The Associated Press — The Tokyo Olympics were postponed a month ago. But there are still more questions than answers about the new opening on July 23, 2021, and what form those games will take. IOC President Thomas Bach has already said there is “no blueprint” in assembling what he called this “huge jigsaw puzzle.” Many scientists believe an Olympics with spectators can’t happen until a vaccine is developed. That is probably 12-18 months away, experts say, and then there will be questions about efficacy, distribution, and who gets it first. Japanese organizers and the IOC have said they are “assessing” the added costs. They have not ventured an estimate, at least not publicly.
“NBA pushes plan to reopen facilities until May 8 at earliest” via Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press — The NBA has pushed back the possible reopening date of some team practice facilities for at least a week until May 8 at the earliest. The extra time was needed in part to make sure player training options would be safe and controlled to try to mitigate the threats caused by the coronavirus pandemic. When those facilities reopen, the rules will be strict. A person with knowledge of the league’s plans said players would have to wear face masks inside facilities except when working out, that any staff members present would have to wear face masks and gloves, and that a minimum distance of 12 feet would be required as a buffer between players and staff members working with them.
“Apple delays mass production of 2020 flagship iPhones” via Yoko Kubota of The Wall Street Journal — Apple Inc. is pushing back the production ramp-up of its flagship iPhones coming later this year by about a month, according to people familiar with the changes, as the coronavirus pandemic weakens global consumer demand and disrupts manufacturing across Asia, the heart of the consumer electronics supply chain. Apple is forging ahead with plans to release four new iPhone models later this year, people familiar with its plans say. The phones, some with 5G connectivity, will vary in price and come in three sizes.
What Ryan Smith is reading — “‘The Rise of Skywalker’ to hit Disney+ on May 4” via The Associated Press — “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” will begin streaming on Disney Plus on May 4, about two months earlier than scheduled. “The Rise of Skywalker” will land on the streaming service timed to what’s referred to as “Star Wars Day” after the slogan of “May the Fourth be with you.” The release will give fans the option of streaming the full nine-part saga on the annual “Star Wars” holiday. Disney has diverted several of its titles to its streaming service early for housebound viewers. It also sent “Frozen 2” and “Onward” to Disney Plus early, and plans to premiere “Artemis Fowl” on the streaming platform in May in place of a theatrical release.
“Lin-Manuel Miranda just did an awesome thing for a young ‘Hamilton’ fan who makes masks” via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — Even in quarantine lockdown, Miranda is a busy guy. But he is not too busy to help those, especially little people, grappling with the pandemic. He even reached out to a young girl/huge “Hamilton” fan in Hollywood, who is making face masks for her Mitzvah Project. The 12-year-old’s original idea was to collect beauty supplies for hospitalized kids, but the pandemic made that “impossible,” she wrote. A few weeks ago, Zucker heard Elliana fan-singing “Dear Theodosia” while busy sewing and decided to reach out to Miranda through his website. To her surprise, his reps responded, asking for the family’s address.
“Undefeated, high schoolers head online for isolation proms” via Leanne Italie of The Associated Press — High schools and cheer teams have thrown virtual proms of their own as social media has filled up with sweet moments among families. Dads have taken their dressed-up daughters for living room spins for a dance or two, and teens have organized home proms among parents and siblings. The site expects about 5,000 teens to attend its virtual prom May 16, on Zoom. Organizers are working with high schools around the country to set up separate rooms so kids can be with their friends as celebrity co-hosts pop in, and DJs get busy.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Happy birthday to the great Jenn Ungru of Dean Mead.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.
U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang
The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.
“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.
Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.
“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.
In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”
While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.
“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”
The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.
British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”
She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.
“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.
Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.
“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”
(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)
Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings
Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.
In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The charity later walked away from the contract.
Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.
Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.
Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.
No fines or penalties were levied.
Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.
Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.
In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.
In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”
The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.
($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)
EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June
The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.
Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.
Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.
The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.
Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.
Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.
EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.
“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.
The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.
Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.
“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.
More details were not immediately available.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)
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