Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 3.26.20

Executive summary:

— There are 1,977 total Florida cases, as of 6 p.m. last night. That number represents an increase of 510 cases since 6 p.m. Wednesday. There are currently 1,867 positive cases in Florida residents and 110 positive cases in non-Florida residents. One person died Wednesday who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Globally, cases topped 460,000; deaths surpassed 20,800 and more than 113,600 have recovered. In Europe, Spain had its deadliest day yet, but Italy reported a decline in new infections and fatalities. Read more here.

Spain now has the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths. Image via Sky News.

— U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released Thursday are expected to shatter the old record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession. Read more here.

U.S. loan applications for buying and refinancing homes plunged 29.4% last week, the most since early 2009. The average contract rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage increased to 3.82%, despite Fed easing. The decline in applications is an early sign suggesting home sales will slow and that refinancings are coming off a spike. Read more here.

— Senate leaders were rushing to unravel last-minute snags and win passage of unprecedented emergency legislation to rush sweeping aid totaling some $2 trillion to businesses, workers, and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic. Read more here.

— The pandemic is also touching remote areas spread across rural America, including people living in communities where “working from home” can mean driving a tractor alone through an empty field. Tiny towns tucked into Oregon’s wind-swept plains and cattle ranches miles from anywhere in South Dakota might not have had a single case of the coronavirus. Still, their main streets are also empty, and their medical clinics are overwhelmed by the worried. Read more here.

— The coronavirus is waging a war of attrition against health care workers throughout the world, but nowhere is it winning more battles at the moment than in Italy and in Spain, where protective equipment and tests have been in severely short supply for weeks. Read more here.

— TOP STORIES —

Donald Trump’s Easter goal in war on virus a nod to faith, business” via Jill Colvin and Elana Schor of The Associated Press — Trump’s “beautiful” idea to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter Sunday and pack church pews that day was dreamed up during a conference call among business leaders desperate to get the country back up and running. But his target date is another outstretched hand to a group he has long courted: evangelical Christians. Trump had already been eager to ease federal guidelines aimed at halting the spread of a virus that had infected more than 55,000 Americans when about a dozen business leaders convened a conference call. “There was a concern — not unanimity, but consensus — that you had to have a reopening of the economy at some point soon,” said Stephen Moore, a conservative economist and informal Trump adviser.

Donald Trump speaks about the as Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listen. Image via AP Photo/Alex Brandon.

Joe Biden blindsides Donald Trump’s Florida ally” via Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon of POLITICO — Biden lauded seven governors — drawn from both parties — by name, praising their leadership during the coronavirus crisis. He singled out one for sharp criticism: DeSantis. After images of drunken spring-breakers partying amid a contagion were broadcast nationally, DeSantis — a protégé of Trump — was thrust into the vanguard of Republican governors balking at issuing a broad shelter-in-place order to limit the spread of the virus. As the state’s coronavirus caseload has increased, so has the criticism of DeSantis, making him an inevitable target for Biden in a state Trump must carry in order to win the White House.

Ron DeSantis won’t shut down Florida. Here’s who he’s talking to about that.” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Some of the state’s largest business groups, which donate millions to Republican candidates each year, have been lobbying DeSantis and his staff to keep the state open. The Florida Chamber of Commerce have spoken frequently with the governor and his staff, urging him not to take drastic measures that might shut down the state’s economy. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has been asking for ways to help their industries stay afloat. Their message: don’t let the cure be worse than the disease. “We’re recommending that the governor continue to do what he’s doing,” said Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson. “I don’t think the data says we need to do a statewide shutdown.”

The coronavirus isn’t mutating quickly, suggesting a vaccine would offer lasting protection” via Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post — The coronavirus is not mutating significantly as it circulates through the human population, according to scientists who are closely studying the novel pathogen’s genetic code. That relative stability suggests the virus is less likely to become more or less dangerous as it spreads, and represents encouraging news for researchers hoping to create a long-lasting vaccine. It looks pretty much the same everywhere it has appeared, scientists say, and there is no evidence that some strains are deadlier than others.

Warm, humid weather could slow coronavirus, new research finds” via Andrew Freedman and Simon Denyer of The Washington Post — The novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands, sickened more than 350,000 and sent major economies into a tailspin may be slowed by the upcoming changing of the seasons, several preliminary studies suggest. However, the research on how the novel coronavirus behaves in various temperatures and humidity levels is only just getting underway.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@realDonaldTrump: The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!

@GGreenwald: The idea of not broadcasting what the President says in a crisis is absurd. Document his lies; counter his disinformation; investigate his claims; report the truth: that’s journalism. But suppressing what leaders say, even if false, is not journalism. It matters what he says.

Tweet, tweet:

Tweet, tweet:

@Scontorno: RE: Trump’s Easter “reopening,” Sen. Marco Rubio says it will be determined by “capacity vs. infection” and not just economic factors. “I don’t know how much longer this goes on. I think that should be based on how long it takes to build up hospital capacity.”

@ErinMDurkin: We should anticipate that half of New York City residents will be infected with coronavirus, @BilldeBlasio says.

@HelenAguirreFerre: According to @HealthyFla 21, counties do not have a single case of #COVID19, 40 counties have 10 or fewer, while 51% of all cases are in Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Given this data, it makes little sense to shutdown the entire state.

@SenDuckworth: So today I didn’t realize I was off mute and told the Democratic Caucus (including a couple of recent presidential candidates) that “ … mommy is working honey; please go potty and wash your hands then mommy will come downstairs.” How’s your working from home going?

@AMartinezNY: My mom is a housekeeper for 4 different people in Manhattan, naturally they all canceled her indefinitely, without pay. I am certain that none of them lost their income, but her income just went to zero. If you hire a housekeeper, please pay them, it’s the decent thing to do!

— DAYS UNTIL —

Walt Disney World scheduled to reopen — 5; Quibi launches — 14; Easter — 17; Florida Schools reopen (maybe) — 20; First quarter campaign reports due — 20; Universal Orlando rescheduled to open — 24; Last day of federal candidate qualifying — 27; NFL Draft — 28; Mother’s Day — 45; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 74; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 92; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 108; Federal taxes due — 111; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 113; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 145; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 151; First presidential debate in Indiana — 187; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 195; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 203; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 210; 2020 General Election — 222; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 236; “No Time to Die” premieres — 244.

— CORONA NATION —

Trump bets that voters are as impatient as he is” via John F. Harris as POLITICO — Trump’s vow that he would “love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” less than three weeks from now, was the clearest signal yet of the political logic he hopes to follow in a presidential campaign shadowed by a global pandemic. He is eager to own the only good thing about a crisis that has paralyzed the country and left millions of people in housebound despair: The reality that life will at some point slowly lurch back to normal. He is determined to make other people — specifically, Governors and public health officials — own everything else, including the reality that massive shutdowns will continue long after the Christian holy day on April 12.

Donald Trump is betting that America is getting impatient.

Slow response to the coronavirus measured in lost opportunity” via David E. Sanger, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Ana Swanson of The New York Times — When Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, announced that the carmaker would team up with General Electric to build ventilators, he tempered the good news with a note of caution: “We’re talking about early June.” That was just one of several examples that underscored the price of the Trump administration’s slow response to evidence as early as January that the coronavirus was headed to the United States. Ford’s timeline suggested that if the administration had reacted to the acute shortage of ventilators in February, the joint effort between Ford and General Electric might have produced lifesaving equipment sometime in mid- to late April. A month later, the administration still does not appear to have a streamlined response to the pandemic.

Coronavirus could be FEMA’s biggest disaster ever, and it threatens to swamp the agency” via Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — The coronavirus pandemic has hit the FEMA with the most sprawling, the complex crisis it has ever faced, a disaster that isn’t knocking down buildings or flooding streets but threatens to swamp the government with cascading breakdowns and supply shortages, current and former FEMA officials say. Trump has placed FEMA in charge of coordinating the federal response to the outbreak. While U.S. health authorities remain in the lead on the medical front of dealing with the virus, FEMA has been tasked with handling almost everything else. FEMA’s struggles with the coronavirus were on display Tuesday morning. During an interview with CNN, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor unexpectedly announced that the Trump administration had invoked its authority for the first time under the Defense Production Act, compelling private companies to make 60,000 test kits.

Scramble for medical equipment descends into chaos as U.S. states and hospitals compete for rare supplies” via Jeanne Whalen, Tony Romm, Aaron Gregg and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post — The market for medical supplies has descended into chaos, according to state officials and health care leaders. They are begging the federal government to use a wartime law to bring order and ensure the United States has the gear it needs to battle the coronavirus. So far, the Trump administration has declined. “I can’t find any more equipment. It’s not a question of money,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is battling the nation’s worst outbreak. “We need the federal help, and we need the federal help now.” At best, Cuomo said, his team has secured enough protective gear for health workers to last a few weeks.

From New York City to St. Augustine, fever charting shows social distancing may be ‘breaking the chain’ of coronavirus infections” via Jayne O’Donnell of USA TODAY — Early evidence suggests closing bars, restaurants and other businesses to keep people apart in places including New York City, has slowed the incidence of fevers that are an early indicator of coronavirus, according to a new analysis of fevers and symptoms across the U.S. Data from health technology company Kinsa, which did the analysis using its digital thermometers, show the number of people with flu-like illness — atypical fever and symptoms — began dropping almost immediately after mandatory social distancing measures were implemented in some areas. The company downloads fever readings from more than 1 million thermometers in use around the U.S.

Red, itchy eyes may be another symptom of coronavirus infection, experts say” via Mark Price of the Miami Herald — Red, itchy eyes and tears could be an early symptom of coronavirus infection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. As a result, the academy is warning ophthalmologists to be wary of patients with conjunctivitis (pink eye), combined with “fever and respiratory symptoms, including cough and shortness of breath.” All are symptoms of the potentially fatal COVID-19 virus (along with diarrhea), which can be transmitted by close contact with an infected person or by touching objects they touched, experts say. The academy first reported “coronavirus may cause pink eye” on March 10 but said it was considered a rare occurrence.

Coronavirus patients exhibiting new symptoms, Ohio health director says via WFLA — Patients who contract COVID-19 are showing new symptoms that were not previously associated with the virus, according to Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton. Acton said some of the data, particularly out of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, show patients exhibiting gastrointestinal upset, more fatigue, and sometimes not showing a fever — in addition to the previous flu-like symptoms. She stressed the importance of staying home to minimize the spread of COVID-19, which will, in turn, lower the number of people who need to go to the hospital. “My best advice to everyone is if you don’t feel well in any way, stay home and make that call,” she said.

What Jose Oliva is reading — University of Florida epidemiologist: COVID-19 pandemic deaths to peak in U.S. in 2-3 weeks” via John Haughey of The Center Square — Dr. Ira Longini‘s timetable matches about the same time Trump has targeted for a relaxation of some coronavirus restrictions. By mid-April, “most of the damage will be done” and it may be possible to better isolate the vulnerable while allowing those less at-risk to return to work and schools, Longini, a biostatistics professor and co-director at the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute’s Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases, told CNN. Longini has analyzed Ebola, influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, dengue fever, Zika, malaria and plague for the World Health Organization (WHO) and is a mathematical/statistical modeler and adviser with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Trump says he’ll stop using the term ‘Chinese virus’” via Karen Leigh of Bloomberg — “I don’t regret it, but they accused us of having done it through our soldiers, they said our soldiers did it on purpose, what kind of a thing is that?” Trump said in an interview. “Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it. I think I made a big deal. I think people understand it.” Trump cited the Ebola virus and Lyme disease as other illnesses named for their location of discovery. He also said that he maintained a “very good” relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that China had been though “a lot.”

The U.S. has an ugly history of blaming ‘foreigners’ for disease” via Alexandre I.R. White and Katrina Quisumbing King of The Washington Post — Trump has doubled down on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus,” after earlier calling it a “foreign virus.” These terms may help him increase political support for closing U.S. borders, but they also reflect a much longer history of racist and xenophobic responses to infectious epidemics. Here’s what you need to know. In 2015, the World Health Organization put regulations in place for naming a novel disease. One regulation attempts to correct previous patterns of using geographic descriptions for the disease. The 1918 H1N1 influenza, for example, was generally called the Spanish flu. More recently discovered diseases have also been named for the places they were first discovered, in ways that the WHO now prohibits.

Anthony Fauci becomes a fringe MAGA target” via Tina Nguyen of POLITICO — The far-right’s most zealous Trump supporters have set their sights on Dr. Fauci. To the vast majority of Republicans, the entire medical community, and the country at large, Fauci is the government’s leading infectious disease expert, respected for providing Americans with consistent, factual information about the coronavirus pandemic — even if it means contradicting Trump while he hovers feet away. But to a vocal minority of right-wing blogs and pro-Trump pundits, Fauci is the embodiment of the establishment forces that have been arrayed against the president since he came to Washington. And those voices are getting louder amid rumblings about Fauci’s standing with Trump as the president itches to get the economy restarted in the coming weeks.

How Andrew Cuomo, once on sidelines, became the politician of the moment” via Jesse McKinley and Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times — New York Gov. Cuomo awoke before dawn on Tuesday, emerging after a few hours’ sleep to board a helicopter to New York City for the coronavirus briefing that has become a daily ritual for him and the millions of people now watching. But this event would be different. The outbreak was moving faster than he had expected, with the number of confirmed cases doubling every three days, and he decided he needed to show people — including the White House — how desperate the situation had become. The Governor repeatedly assailed the federal response as slow, inefficient and inadequate, far more aggressively than he had before. Mr. Cuomo was once considered a bit player on the national stage … But now, he is emerging as the party’s most prominent voice in a time of crisis.

Andrew Cuomo speaks against a backdrop of medical supplies at the Jacob Javits Center that will house a temporary hospital in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Image via AP.

‘We are your future’: Will all of America become like New York?” via Ben Schreckinger and Amanda Eisenberg of POLITICO — With officials warning of medical shortages and tabloids reporting horror stories like a 39-year-old coronavirus victim found dead on her kitchen floor, much of the nation is looking at New York City with fear and foreboding. “We are your future,” New York Gov. Cuomo told the country during a briefing on Tuesday morning. “New York is the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “New York is going first. We have the highest and fastest rate of infection. What happens to New York is going to wind up happening to California, and Washington state, and Illinois. It’s just a matter of time. We’re just getting there first.”

Worker at NYC hospital where nurses wear trash bags as protection dies from coronavirus” via Ebony Bowden, Carl Campanile and Bruce Golding of the New York Post — A stunning photo shared on social media shows three nurses at Mount Sinai West posing in a hallway while clad in large, black plastic trash bags fashioned into makeshift protective garb. One of them is even holding the open box of 20 Hefty “Strong” 33-gallon garbage bags they used to cloak themselves. “NO MORE GOWNS IN THE WHOLE HOSPITAL,” the caption reads. Meanwhile, staffers at the hospital near Columbus Circle tied the lack of basic supplies there to the death of assistant nursing manager Kious Kelly, who tested positive for coronavirus about two weeks ago. Kelly, 48, was admitted to Mount Sinai’s flagship hospital on the Upper East Side on March 17 and died Tuesday night.

‘The whole city laid off’: US jobless claims climb sky high” via Rebecca Santana and David A. Lieb of The Associated Press — Barely a week ago, David McGraw was cooking daily for hundreds of fine diners at one of New Orleans’ illustrious restaurants. Today, he’s cooking for himself, at home — laid off along with hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. in a massive economic upheaval spurred by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released are expected to shatter the old record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession — and more than in the aftermath of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

As numbers mount, Ron DeSantis tours ‘massive medical operation’” via Jeff Schweers of the Tallahassee Democrat — While DeSantis continues to defend his decision not to shut down the entire state, local communities are moving on their own to close nonessential businesses, impose curfews, and make people stay home. Orange and Leon counties are among the most recent to enact stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of businesses, and other local governments have put similar orders on their agendas. Meantime, the number of people who tested positive for the coronavirus rose nearly 15 percent or by 215 overnight, to 1,682. The number of deaths increased by two to 22 and were in Pasco and Sarasota counties. DeSantis and several top administrators visited the state logistics response center in Orlando this morning to demonstrate how the state is preparing for a potential surge in patients with the coronavirus.

Ron DeSantis says Florida is ready for a surge of coronavirus patients. Image via AP.

DeSantis’ coronavirus dilemma: health vs. economy” via Tamara Lush of The Associated Press — DeSantis has been walking a tightrope for weeks during the coronavirus crisis, trying to protect both residents vulnerable to the virus and the cratering economy in a state of 21 million people. His dilemma is a clear example of the conundrum facing the president of the United States and governors across the nation: His state has both an enormous population and a thriving economy whose collapse could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Critics say DeSantis is relying too heavily on how his actions could reflect on the president — or affect his relationship with Trump. “I don’t think Ron DeSantis makes decisions without consulting with the president, or those close to the president,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.

South Florida vs. the rest of Florida? Geographic split emerges on calls for stay-at-home order” via Anthony Man of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A majority of the Democrats in Florida’s congressional delegation urged DeSantis to issue a stay-at-home order to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus. But there were some notable holdouts. The congressional Democrats’ letter was circulated to his colleagues by U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat who represents South Florida. Three Democratic members of Congress declined to sign the letter calling for a stay-at-home order: U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, who represent Tampa Bay, and U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, whose district runs along the state’s northern border.

CDC says coronavirus is dangerous for people with asthma or AIDS. Florida doesn’t even mention it.” via Rafael Olmeda of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The warning on the website for the Florida Department of Health could not be more clear: The disease caused by the new coronavirus is especially dangerous for the elderly and people with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. It’s also clear that two groups of at-risk patients are not mentioned at all on numerous pages dedicated to the state’s monitoring of the coronavirus — those who struggle with asthma and those with compromised immune systems, including those who have HIV or AIDS.

See how Florida hospitals could be overrun by coronavirus — and which are most vulnerable” via Sarah Blaskey, Ryan Callihan and Ben Wieder of the Miami Herald — As cases of COVID-19 increase across the state, Florida hospitals are bracing for a spike in patients that experts project will leave them scrambling for available beds. In Florida alone, at least 688,000 people over the age of 18 are projected to need hospitalization from the disease, according to an analysis by the Harvard Global Health Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Although the outbreak is currently concentrated in Broward and Miami-Dade County, the greatest threat to hospital resources could be in different areas. These potential hot spots include the rolling hills of Ocala’s horse country, Silver Springs, home of the “world-famous glass bottom boat”; Floral City, known for its moss-draped tree canopy and Heritage Days festival; and Tallahassee, home of the state government.

Wave of claims swamps Florida’s unemployment agency. ‘It is impossible to get through’” via Alex Harris and Lawrence Mower of the Miami Herald — Frustrated applicants have flooded social media to report a slew of problems: getting kicked off the website by errors, getting locked out of accounts and failure at reaching a human being on the phone — no matter how often they call. Anthony White, a bartender at the Nautilus Hotel in South Beach, said he sets his alarm every morning so he can call the unemployment office the moment it opens. It’s still not early enough. White is one of the tens of thousands turning to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency in charge of Florida’s unemployment benefits. Many are finding an agency that’s understaffed and unprepared for the onslaught.

Laws shut Uber, GrubHub, other gig workers out of Florida unemployment benefits” via Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel — Like lots of other employees across Florida, many of the workers who make the emerging “gig economy” possible have seen their incomes shrivel as businesses close and people isolate at home in the effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Unlike other lots of other employees across Florida, many of those Uber drivers and Handy home-repair men and women are frozen out of the state’s unemployment insurance system — thanks to laws that fast-growing technology companies have lobbied for, both in Florida and across much of the country. In 2015, for instance, the administration of former Florida Gov. Rick Scott ruled that a former driver for Uber Technologies Inc. was ineligible for state unemployment insurance.

 Florida’s move to pull in its welcome mat may draw court challenge” via Arek Sarkissian and Tanya Snyder of POLITICO — DeSantis‘ move to secure his state border against the coronavirus invader is an invitation to a legal challenge that could rise as high as the Supreme Court because it may violate the Constitution. The Governor’s action has drawn praise from some quarters, including the White House. But it’s one thing to keep people from China or Italy out of the United States. It’s quite another, legally, to keep New Yorkers out of Florida.

75,000 Florida college students petition for pass/fail grading, citing coronavirus” via Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay Times — Pass/fail grading, also known as S/U grading, allows a student to take a course and receive either an S, which means satisfactory, or a U, which means unsatisfactory. The petitions are asking that the application process be open to all students. As of Tuesday afternoon, a combined 75,000 students had signed petitions for six of the state’s largest schools: the University of South Florida, the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. Biomedical science sophomore Lea Baddoura, who organized the petition at USF, said she hopes administrators side with students as they grapple with the unprecedented challenges brought on by the virus.

Neither hurricanes nor 9/11 caused as big a surge in gun sales as coronavirus” via Linda Robertson of the Tampa Bay Times — Fear and uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic are motivating people to buy guns and ammunition as they seek protection. “Our sales are up 80 percent, with a huge increase in first-time buyers who are worried about martial law, economic collapse, unemployment, shortages, delinquents roaming the streets,” said Alex Elenberg, manager of Charlie’s Armory on West Flagler Street. “If you can’t defend your house and your family, what good are you?” In Florida, the number of background checks which closely correlates with the number of gun sales statewide has risen to unprecedented levels, up nearly 500 percent on Friday alone, with 13,192 checks recorded compared to 2,646 on the same date last year.

Do abortions fall under elective surgeries? Some Florida Republican leaders want them stopped.” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — An executive order issued by DeSantis has suspended elective surgeries while the state’s medical infrastructure stretches thin. Some Republican activists want to know why abortion clinics are still running. The issue was a concern raised multiple times in a Republican Party of Florida Republican Executive Committee conference call. One REC member said she didn’t understand why those surgeries had been allowed to continue. But to confirm it was happening, she checked a Pensacola abortion clinic’s website and found procedures were still being scheduled. Joe Gruters, RPOF chair and a state Senator, said he’s received numerous calls on the issue. “It’s my number one issue,” said Gruters, who has filed pro-life legislation every year he has served in the Legislature.

Florida ranks number one in complaints about ‘covidiots’ — a rising pop-culture term for people flouting social norms during the coronavirus outbreak — according to Twitter data. Health and fitness site Fitbug used geotagged data in tweets since March 1 to track text and hashtags about hoarders, people ignoring social distancing, and those dismissing COVID-19. The site tracked more than 200,000 tweets. While Florida ranks number one, California surprisingly comes in ninth. Washington and New York round out one and two, respectively. From most to least, Vermont, Delaware, Maine, Oregon and New Mexico tweeted more about covidiots than California, and Pennsylvania finished the Top 10. Spring Breakers are likely some of the culprits drawing the ire of Floridians.


— CORONA LOCAL —

Broward Superintendent expects remainder of school year to be conducted remotely” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie is anticipating the remainder of the 2019-20 K-12 school year in Broward County will be conducted via remote learning. And he hinted the impact could even bleed into the 2020-21 school year as well. Runcie made those comments in a virtual conference with Rep. Shevrin Jones of House District 101. The duo discussed the school district’s handling of the COVID-19 virus spread in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the state announced all K-12 school campuses would be closed until April 15. Runcie has said the Broward School District would institute remote learning efforts on March 30, following the end of spring break.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie expects the rest of the school year to be remote learning.

Gun sales skyrocketing in South Florida amid coronavirus outbreak” via The Miami Herald — Gun shop owners have never seen such a surge in sales — not after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, not in reaction to mass shootings, not even when Category 5 hurricanes threatened to flatten South Florida. Fear and uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic are motivating people to buy guns and ammunition as they seek protection from possible doomsday disintegration into lawlessness, with home invasions, looting, runs on banks, and fights over food, medicine, hospital beds and shelter across the land.

’They’re going to be hurt.’ Coronavirus strikes at heart of Miami’s small-business economy” via Rob Wile and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — The dead stop to tourism and hospitality commerce — Florida’s economic backbone — instantly cost tens of thousands of jobs. Brick-and-mortar retail, which had remained more robust in South Florida than in most of the U.S., now has been shuttered. Exacerbating the problem is the region’s dependence on small and even microbusinesses, with fewer than five employees. More than half of Miami’s economic output comes from companies with fewer than 500 employees, according to a Florida International University study. Unlike large corporations, small firms are less likely to have access to lines of credit and are also less able to exert leverage over a landlord to relax lease terms.

Coronavirus could push Miami’s homeless into temporary shelter or isolation in hotels” via Joey Flechas and Alex Harris of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade’s homeless population could be moved to makeshift shelters to maintain social distancing and prevent a concentrated COVID-19 outbreak among those living on the streets and in crowded shelters. As escalating emergency orders from the county government and the city of Miami urge people to stay home and stay out of public spaces, those without a home face limited options. Government agencies who work with the homeless could convert a former Costco in North Miami into a 135,000-square-foot temporary shelter that would allow more space for people to maintain distance. For those who have symptoms and have been tested for the coronavirus, the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust is looking to use more hotel rooms to isolate individuals.

Assignment editors — Feeding South Florida will be holding a drive-thru distribution of fresh produce and other food items on a first-come-first-served basis beginning Friday, 9 a.m., 10901 SW. 24th St., Miami. On hand to help will be Reps. Vance Aloupis, Juan Fernandez-Barquin, Daniel Perez, Ana Maria Rodriguez and Anthony Rodriguez. If you do not receive food, please contact clientservices@feedingsouthflorida.org or visit feedingsouthflorida.org/covid19 and use the agency locator to find a pantry open near you.

Miami commercial developers: Video chats, planning and stress relief rule the day” via Rebecca San Juan of the Miami Herald — Like much of their staff, CEOs are often working remotely, relying on the conference calls and video chats that have largely replaced in-person meetings. We asked three to describe their current workday, and got these reports from Malcolm Butters of Coconut Creek-based Butters Construction, Tony Cho of the Edgewater-based Metro 1 and Michael Mandich of the North Miami Beach-based Mandich Real Estate Advisors. “It’s been manageable. Surprisingly,” Butters said. “People adapted to technology [before COVID-19], and that’s allowed us to adapt well during this time.” “We’re out in nature, where there are [fewer] distractions, and I can focus better,” Cho wrote.

Miami building unveils massive LED flag to salute those working on coronavirus spread” via Florida Politics — A Miami skyscraper is paying tribute to those working to combat the COVID-19 virus outbreak by unveiling a giant LED flag in view of the city. The Paramount Miami Worldcenter tower in downtown Miami displayed the LED flag Tuesday night, the same evening the city of Miami announced a stay-at-home order would go into effect. “This vivid patriotic presentation is a signal to all Americans that we, as a nation, shall remain steadfast and will overcome adversity,” Paramount CEO-Developer Daniel Kodsi said on his motivations for displaying the flag. The nearly 700-foot building will continue showing the flag each night through the end of March.

A massive LED flag in Miami pays tribute to the health workers fighting the COVID-19 outbreak. Image via AP.

 

Boca Raton officials explain why they shut down the city” via Alexandra Clough of the Palm Beach Post — Boca Raton’s emergency order affects a number of businesses not deemed essential. This includes hair salons, pawnshops, massage and tattoo parlors, spas, and nonessential retail stores. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other food purveyors are exempt from the order. So are financial institutions, banks, physician offices and laundromats. But even essential businesses must limit groups to no more than 10 people and stand 6 feet apart from each other. Other businesses can stay open only if they employ five or fewer people and also maintain social distancing guidelines, the order said. Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer said the move was necessary to protect the city’s citizens and follows measures taken by Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Gulfstream Park continues racing, denies threatening Hallandale Beach with legal action” via Adam Lichtenstein of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Racing continued at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday, with the horse track owners citing the need to care for the horses, and Hallandale Beach city officials exploring whether the park’s activities violate Broward County’s executive order to close nonessential businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bill Badget, the Executive Director of Florida Racing Operations for The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park, said in a statement Wednesday the track did not threaten legal action against Hallandale Beach.

Jupiter animal rescue pairs social distancing seniors with foster pets” via Jodie Wagner of the Palm Beach Post — Volunteer work has kept Barbara Fiore busy in the months since she lost Sophie, her 16-year-old canine companion. But after coronavirus halted her work in the thrift shop at Jupiter Medical Center, the 75-year-old Jupiter resident has been looking for another way to fill her time while staying close to home. An 18-pound, 10-year-old Dachshund mix named Gigi was exactly what she needed. When Fiore heard that Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch in Jupiter was starting a program that gives seniors who choose to self-quarantine because of coronavirus concerns the opportunity to foster an older dog or cat, she was first in line to volunteer.

Florida Keys leaders want more control over how coronavirus information is released” via David Goodhue of FlKeysNews.com — Emergency Management and Monroe County leadership was particularly exasperated after news outlets, including the Miami Herald/FLKeysnews.com broke the news that checkpoints were going up on the 18 Mile Stretch of U.S. 1 and on County Road 905 Friday to keep tourists out of the Keys. The county issued a news release about the checkpoints about a half-hour after the story was posted. And the message was starkly different from the one given by the county’s top elected official earlier in the day that there were no plans to erect checkpoints. Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers told reporters that officials deemed the checkpoint idea too intrusive a move to residents and people from the mainland who work in the Keys.

— MORE LOCAL —

Orlando hotel room occupancy rate falls 75% because of coronavirus” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel — Hotel room occupancy in Central Florida plummeted 75% during the third week in March compared with last year, a new report shows, as the region’s top industry continues to take a beating from the coronavirus pandemic. In the tourism-driven Orlando economy, the report reveals that nearly 100,000 hotel rooms in Central Florida have been left unoccupied during the pandemic, which has so far killed 22 people in the state.

Ride openings could be delayed as SeaWorld, Disney and Universal endure the coronavirus pandemic” via Gabrielle Russon and Dewayne Bevil — The Ice Breaker roller coaster at Sea World Orlando has its trains placed on the track, but no employees are testing it. The new ride was supposed to open sometime this spring until the coronavirus pandemic shut down the theme park. At Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, another roller coaster was set to open this spring. It’s called Iron Gwazi. Its status is also unclear. New Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando attractions could be affected, too.

The opening of Busch Garden’s Iron Gwazi may be delayed due to coronavirus.

Osceola County, joining Orange, tells residents to stay at home to help stop spread of coronavirus” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel — Osceola County told its residents to stay at home starting Thursday, following a similar measure put in place by its Orange County neighbors to the north. The order is slated to start tomorrow evening and lasts two weeks to fall in line with Orange County’s guidelines. It allows residents to make essential medical appointments, go shopping for groceries, at pharmacies and other businesses deemed essential. Within one 24-hour period, the two counties with a combined population of at least 1.7 million people will have ordered residents to stay home.

Sarasota-Manatee economy to take $2.3 billion hit, study says” via John Hielscher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Local job losses will be measured in the tens of thousands, according to the StratoDem Analytics data firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That dire forecast comes as White House and U.S. Senate leaders announced an agreement on an unparalleled, $2 trillion emergency bill to rush aid to businesses, workers, state and local governments, and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic. Sarasota County is forecast to see a 25% decline in GDP during the April-June period, StratoDem said. That translates to an estimated $1.3 billion economic loss, or about $6,300 per household, primarily due to fewer people generating economic output at work.

Ringling Bridge lights up in patriotic sign of solidarity against COVID-19” via Fox 13 — Sarasota city staff and Commissioner Hagen Brody asked for the colors of the bridge to be changed to show solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. As of Wednesday night, 32 people in Sarasota County had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and one died from it.

Rick Kriseman blasts Pinellas County ‘safer at home’ ‘donut hole,’ but won’t implement his own policy … yet” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman expressed frustration with a newly-approved Pinellas County safer at home resolution he says is too relaxed. But speaking during a news conference, Kriseman said he would not establish his own order to impose harsher restrictions, at least not yet. “I have an order that if I need to enter it, we’ll enter it,” Kriseman said. But he wants to avoid confusion by having a patchwork of regulations at the city and county level. “I do believe it would be unwise to add another layer of confusion to this,” Kriseman said. “The county’s actions will apply to St. Pete for now.”

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Dow’s rise caps its first back-to-back gain since February” via Akane Otani, Caitlin Ostroff and Frances Yoon of The Wall Street Journal — U.S. stocks rose in frenetic trading after lawmakers and the White House reached an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package. Investors have been eager to see the government commit to further aid for the economy as the growing coronavirus pandemic has shut factories, sent students home from universities and upended travel for millions of Americans. The pending legislation is likely to include direct financial payments to many Americans, as well as loans to businesses — reassuring some who have been worried about the economic fallout from the pandemic. But lingering nervousness about the economy has kept many traders on edge.

Coronavirus triggers record drops in U.S., European business activity” via Harriet Torry, Paul Hannon and Megumi Fujikawa of The Wall Street Journal — The U.S. and Europe saw record declines in business activity in March, as economic activity slowed around the world due to measures aimed at containing the new coronavirus. Data firm IHS Markit said its composite purchasing managers index for the U.S. — an aggregate measure of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors — dropped to a seasonally adjusted 40.5 in March from 49.6 in February. That was a record low for the 10½-year-old series, which started after the 2007-2009 recession. The comparable index for the eurozone fell to 31.4 from 51.6 in February, its lowest level since the surveys began in July 1998.

Coronavirus layoffs disproportionately hurt Black and Latino workers: ‘It’s almost like doomsday is coming’” via Deborah Barfield Berry of USA TODAY — Opal Foster went to work last Wednesday at a small printing company in Rockville, Maryland. By lunchtime, the graphic designer had been laid off. The company’s main customers — private schools, entertainment venues and national museums — had closed because of the coronavirus outbreak, so business had nearly come to a halt. The single mother, who has a son with Down syndrome, will rely on some freelancing to help make ends meet and turn to family and area food banks to help fill her cupboards. “For the short-term, that’s the Band-Aid on the wound,” said Foster, 45, who is African American. “But that doesn’t pay my car note. That doesn’t pay my rent.”

Coronavirus layoffs are hurting people of color the most.

How 3M plans to make more than a billion masks by end of year” via Bryan Gruley and Rick Clough of Bloomberg Businessweek — Andrew Rehder, manager of 3M Co.’s respirator mask factory in Aberdeen, South Dakota, got the call. He gathered about 20 managers and supervisors into a conference room, where they sat, unworried, less than 6 feet apart. Rehder told them that a new virus was spreading rapidly in China and that 3M was expecting demand for protective gear to jump. The Aberdeen plant had already ramped up production of respirator masks in response to demand from first responders battling wildfires in Australia and contending with a volcano in the Philippines. Now, Rehder told his charges, Aberdeen would shift to “surge capacity.” “We knew it wouldn’t be a two-week blip, it would be longer,” Rehder says. “But I had no idea.”

Inside American Airlines’ scramble as virus grounds jets by hundreds” via David Gelles of The New York Times — On Monday morning, American Airlines Flight 1 departed John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, bound for Los Angeles. It had six passengers. The flight usually is one of the airline’s busiest and most profitable. Now it is a money pit, a cross-country symbol of how thoroughly the coronavirus pandemic has decimated commercial air travel in a matter of weeks. Never before has customer demand dropped so swiftly and never before has it been less clear when — or even if — the global airline industry will truly recover. In recent weeks, nearly every part of the airline, the largest in the United States, has been transformed by efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

‘Postal Service will not survive the summer.’ Lawmakers warn it could go bankrupt” via Maddie Capron of the Miami Herald — The U.S. Postal Service could be in jeopardy as the coronavirus spreads, lawmakers say. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and Rep. Gerry Connolly said in a statement that the Postal Service needs “urgent help” amid the coronavirus pandemic, or it could shut down as early as June. “Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical falloff in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House,” the statement said. “Every community in America relies on the Postal Service to deliver vital goods and services, including lifesaving medications.” House Democrats introduced a stimulus package that included emergency funds to save the Postal Service from “imminent bankruptcy,” according to the news release.

Coronavirus creates college uncertainty, admissions gets easier” via Douglas Belkin and Melissa Korn of The Wall Street Journal — As the coronavirus pandemic upends college life, it is causing a knock-on effect for admissions: High school seniors may find it easier to get into some schools this year. Students considering offers or awaiting decisions later this week from colleges across the selectivity spectrum can expect higher acceptance rates, as colleges take measures to ensure they will still have enough students enrolled come fall. The shift is a reprieve for applicants who have been fighting against growing odds against their admission to selective schools. Swelling numbers of applications for years led to lower admit rates, which then pushed the next year’s class of high school seniors to cast a wider net again.

Pay for cleaners, babysitters and dog walkers hangs in the balance” via Beth Pinsker of Reuters — As state and federal governments work on macro solutions for sick pay, unemployment benefits and business bailouts tied to the economic meltdown resulting from the coronavirus, many Americans are faced with a tough financial — and very personal — decision: do you keep caregivers, housekeepers, dog walkers, gardeners and other workers on the payroll if you do not need their services or if they cannot come to work right now? The general consensus is that if you are still getting paid, you keep paying the people in your life as long as you can, even if they are not able to come to work.

— MORE CORONA —

States are canceling nonessential surgeries. Noah Syndergaard is having his elbow fixed.” via Jared Diamond and Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal — Syndergaard, a New York Mets pitcher, is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The question is: How? The procedure is supposed to be performed by Mets doctor David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in West Palm Beach. But on Friday, DeSantis signed Executive Order 20-72, which barred nonessential elective medical procedures across the state as local health officials continue to battle the growing coronavirus epidemic. Syndergaard’s planned surgery epitomizes a clash between the measures meant to stop the coronavirus spread and the powerful economic forces that propel business as usual in the U.S.

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard may have to put off his ‘elective’ Tommy John surgery. Image via AP.

There’s no Zoom party like a college Zoom party” via Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Atlantic — In a pandemic, this is what a college party looks like: 69 people log on to a Zoom call at 11 p.m. on a Friday. Every few minutes, one of them looks down at the number of participants and says, of course, “nice.” “Nice,” “nice,” “nice,” “nice,” “nice” echoes around the room for a moment, then the conversation returns to adding songs to the collaborative quarantine-themed Spotify playlist playing in the background: someone adds Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE”; someone else adds the Lil Uzi Vert song in which he talks about all his friends being dead. Almost everyone on the call is using Zoom’s virtual backgrounds, which I do not know how to use.

Publix to start installing sneeze guards to protect employees from COVID-19” via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — Some major retail chains are moving to install sneeze guards to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Florida grocer Publix announced it would start installing the plexiglass barriers this weekend at registers, customer service desks and pharmacies. The Lakeland-based company says it will take about two weeks to complete installation across its entire chain. The decision came after Publix recently announced one of its employees in Cumming, Georgia, tested positive for COVID-19. Other large retailers are also installing barriers. Walmart and some of the nation’s largest grocery store chains — Kroger and Albertsons — are also putting the partitions into place in their stores.

Publix’s senior shopping hour had mixed results” via Diana C. Nearhos of the Tampa Bay Times — Fifteen minutes before Publix’s senior shopping hour, a line of about 100 people over the age of 65 stretched around the Northeast Park Shopping Center. All Publix stores are dedicating their opening hour, starting at 7 a.m., for seniors on Tuesday and Wednesday. Low stocks during Tuesday’s debut of the senior shopping hour frustrated Marcia Gissiner. She tried two different stores, first figuring there might be more available at a bigger store. But she found a large crowd and wasn’t comfortable she’d be able to keep her distance. “I think the senior hours, it’s a good concept,” said Gissiner, who plans to stick to her Sunday morning grocery trips from now on. “The first day, the execution was just horrid.”

Closed attractions find ways to reach out and teach in age of coronavirus” via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — If you can’t go to the alligators, then Gatorland will bring the alligators to you. No, the longtime Orlando attraction is not ramping up a reptile-delivery service. It is introducing two daily productions streamed to stay-at-home folks created by the coronavirus pandemic. Temporarily closed attractions are using the internet and social media platforms to entertain and educate. Gatorland started small last week, literally, with two baby alligators and a crocodile almost tiny enough to fit into the hands of workers. They appeared on the attraction’s new “School of Crocs” show, which is scheduled to air daily at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live.

Food-delivery companies taking extra health measures amid coronavirus outbreak” via David Furones of the Sun-Sentinel — Amid the coronavirus outbreak and social-distancing demands, food delivery services are taking extra precautions to remain up and running. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say person-to-person contact is the primary concern in the spread of the virus, and there’s no evidence it can be transmitted through food. So existing delivery services are trying to offer an alternative to crowded grocery stores or pickup at restaurants. Delray Beach-based Delivery Dudes is taking its health and safety measures a step further by conducting health care professional-led training sessions at its driver hubs, where drivers check in for shifts.

Saving time equates to saving lives in getting patient information to medical professionals during coronavirus crisis” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Many of us have had the experience of going to different doctors and finding out they all want to send electronic updates — but they all use different “patient portals” that have to be accessed individually. A Tallahassee-based company, HIE Networks, knocks down the walls between those various portals by allowing patient records from any participating source to be uploaded and combined into a secure portal, with records specific to each patient, while protecting the patient’s appropriate privacy and other rights. Much like a news aggregator provides easy access to articles from multiple sources, the HIE Networks system compiles records that can then be accessed by medical teams and patients in real-time — whatever system the records originated.

— THE HUMAN TOLL —

Poverty is the virus that puts us at COVID-19 risk” via William J. Barber II and Mitch Landrieu of USA TODAY — Throughout American history, public crises have exposed issues too long ignored in our common life. World War II, in which African Americans from the South fought for democracy abroad, exposed the need to make democracy real at home. When the federal levees broke in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the storm revealed a gross inequality that left tens of thousands stranded, with no way out. As America responds to the coronavirus crisis, we must pay attention to what it reveals: our failure to address the needs of 140 million poor and low-wealth people. Since news of the coronavirus first broke in China, we have been told to prepare for the possibility of widespread quarantines.

— ONE GOOD THING —

to help the spread of coronavirus, veterinary hospitals are donating vital equipment including breathing machines, masks, gowns and other essential equipment and supplies.

“We buy at the same stores,” Paul Lunn, dean of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, told The Associated Press. Lunn recently handed over two full-service ventilators, 500 protective suits, and 950 masks for use in area hospitals. “There’s no difference in the equipment.”

A dog sculpture on the campus of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which has donated vital supplies in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. Image via AP.

Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for materials to combat the pandemic and vet schools across the country are helping.

According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, there are 30 fully accredited veterinary medical schools in the United States. Of those, 27 are veterinary teaching hospitals with comprehensive services treating all manner of animals. Lunn said the schools had reported more than six dozen ventilators that could be applied for human treatment.

Experts say there is no evidence that household pets can contract the disease.

“We also made contingency plans to go a lot further,” Lunn added. “To provide our people … as technical experts who could work under the supervision of medical doctors, possibly to provide our physical facility. Because we have large hospital spaces with piped oxygen and a variety of other medical supplies.

— D.C. MATTERS —

White House told federal health agency to classify coronavirus deliberations … sources” via Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor of Reuters — The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials. The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a key player in the fight against the coronavirus. Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said.

Trump administration urged to free migrants as virus surges” via Ben Fox, Philip Marcelo and Nomaan Merchant of The Associated Press — The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and preexisting medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections. “It’s impossible to stay calm,” said Marco Battistotti, an Italian who is among 170 people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts. “People are panicking. People are in fear.”

Rick Scott demands reduced unemployment benefits in coronavirus relief bill” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — Republican Sen. Scott and a group of conservatives erected a roadblock on the swift passage of a massive, $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Wednesday afternoon, arguing that the bill’s increased unemployment benefits will discourage people from working or trying to find a job. Scott, South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, objected to the bill’s $600 per week increase in unemployment benefits in addition to benefits currently offered by a worker’s state. The conservative Republicans said unemployment benefits should be capped at a worker’s current income, as opposed to a $600 per week increase that could lead to unemployment being temporarily more lucrative for some workers than keeping their job.

Rick Scott believes the unemployment benefits floated in the Senate stimulus bill are simply too high.

Marco Rubio calls on White House to create task force to counter China’s coronavirus propaganda” via Kevin Derby of Florida Daily — U.S. Sen. Rubio who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is calling on Trump to create a task force to deal with Chinese propaganda over the coronavirus outbreak. Rubio joined two other Republicans on the committee — U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Mitt Romney of Utah — to write Trump on Monday, urging the president to set up a task force under the umbrella of the National Security Council. The trio insisted the President could do this under the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act enacted back in 2018.

DHS wound down pandemic models before coronavirus struck” via Daniel Lippman of POLITICO — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stopped updating its annual models of the havoc that pandemics would wreak on America’s critical infrastructure in 2017, according to current and former DHS officials with direct knowledge of the matter. From at least 2005 to 2017, an office inside DHS, in tandem with analysts and supercomputers at several national laboratories, produced detailed analyses of what would happen to everything from transportation systems to hospitals if a pandemic hit the United States. But the work abruptly stopped in 2017 amid a bureaucratic dispute over its value, two of the former officials said, leaving the department flat-footed as it seeks to stay ahead of the impact the COVID-19 outbreak is having.

Space Force set for first launch Thursday as national security missions take top priority during coronavirus” via Chabeli Carrazana of the Orlando Sentinel — The U.S. Space Force is moving ahead with a crucial national security launch Thursday that remains on track, even as installations around the country move to telework due to the coronavirus outbreak. Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess, the commander of the 45th Space Wing and the Eastern Range at Patrick Air Force Base on the Space Coast, said during a press call Tuesday that the Eastern Range doesn’t yet expect any schedule disruptions due to coronavirus, and national security launches, in particular, will continue to have the top priority moving forward. Thursday’s launch falls into that bucket.

— STATEWIDE —

DeSantis going to ‘let the budget sit for now’” via the News Service of Florida — DeSantis isn’t in a rush to review the $93.2 billion budget or nearly 200 other bills recently approved by the Legislature as he focuses on the fight against COVID-19. DeSantis also told reporters that the state might not have to dip deep into its nearly $4 billion in reserves with Trump declaring earlier that a major disaster exists in Florida. “I’m just going to let the budget sit for now. I’m not going to start vetoing everything, and I’m not going to sign it yet,” DeSantis said. “Let’s see where we are, and let’s kind of see how the situation unfolds. This is a constant thing where you are reassessing everything you know.”

Florida drought numbers creeping higher during dry spell” via Chad Gillis of the Fort Myers News-Press — The current dry season started in October, when regular rainy patterns gave way to dry heat. And all but one of the past seven months (December) has been drier than average, according to South Florida Water Management District records. Lee and Collier counties, on average, have seen about half the typical six inches of rain the region would see through March 24. “Basically we’re sitting under a big ridge of high pressure, and you have sinking air that basically squashes any rain development,” said Paxton Fell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, which covers the Naples and Collier County areas.

Justices asked to decide on evidence in cop killing” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — The issue centers of whether evidence about defendant Markeith Loyd murdering another woman should be allowed into his upcoming trial in the shooting death of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. Clayton was shot in January 2017 after Loyd was spotted in a Walmart store while facing an arrest warrant in the murder of Sade Dixon, who had been pregnant with his child. Prosecutor Kenneth Nunnelley filed a petition at the Court last week after the 5th District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit judge’s decision to block evidence in the Clayton case of Loyd’s murder of Dixon. That evidence includes a finding that the same Smith & Wesson .40-caliber firearm was used in both shootings, according to the filing.

Attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to consider evidence from another killing in the Markeith Loyd murder conviction.

Court backs rental platforms and tax dispute” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld a circuit judge’s ruling in favor of Airbnb, TripAdvisor and HomeAway in a battle with Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon over collection of the so-called “bed taxes.” Counties have the option to impose bed taxes on short-term rentals and use the money for tourism-related purposes. Hotels, for example, collect the taxes on customer bills and remit the funds. But the decision centered on whether the online platforms, which serve as sort of high-tech middlemen between property owners and renters, should also collect and send in taxes. The platforms accept payments from renters and pass along the money to property owners.

— 2020 —

Bernie Sanders plans to participate in next debate, campaign says” via Sydney Ember and Reid J. Epstein of The New York Times — Sen. Sanders plans to participate in the Democratic presidential debate in April if one is held, his campaign said on Tuesday, the strongest indication yet that he plans to continue competing against Joe Biden in the 2020 primary for the foreseeable future. The Democratic National Committee has said previously that there would be a debate in April, but one has not been scheduled. The committee has not announced a media partner or a site host — critical elements that are typically agreed upon at least a month in advance. The coronavirus crisis has already upended most facets of the Democratic primary, and there is no guarantee that the debate will take place.

Yes, Joe Biden is more likely than Sanders to beat Trump. Here’s how we know.” via Harold Clarke and Paul Whiteley of The Washington Post — Many Democratic politicians and voters rallied strongly behind Biden before and after Super Tuesday, aiming to halt what appeared to be Sanders’ momentum. Many did so because they feared Sanders is too ideologically extreme to beat Trump in November. Were they right? In short, probably so. We’ve researched a century of U.S. presidential elections and found that a moderate Democrat is more likely to beat Trump in November. We examined the Republican candidate’s share of the vote in the 25 presidential elections between 1920 and 2016. Past research has shown prosperity and peace generally make it more likely that the incumbent party will win.

Many believe Joe Biden is most likely to beat Donald Trump in November. Image via AP.

Latinas want to see one of their own as Biden’s VP. But they may be at a disadvantage.” via David Catanese of the Miami Herald — As Biden begins to formalize a list of potential running mates, it’s clear that several African American women will sit prominently at the top. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams already boast considerable national profiles and Val Demings, a police chief-turned-congresswoman from central Florida, earned unexpected notoriety as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial of Trump. But even as Hispanics are expected to comprise the largest nonwhite voting bloc in the 2020 election, leaders of the community concede that Latina women enter the veepstakes process as less likely prospects, rather than top-tier hopefuls — the result of a still-maturing power base that’s yet to be fully realized.

Biden’s inner circle: No longer a boys club” via Bill Barrow of The Associated Press — Weeks before Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, he released a social media video to address allegations from women who said his uninvited displays of affection had made them uncomfortable. “Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted,” said the former Vice President. Looking straight into a cellphone camera, he added: “I hear what they are saying. I understand.” Kate Bedingfield, an adviser the same age as Biden’s youngest daughter, was first to propose a direct-to-lens declaration. She joined forces with Anita Dunn, an alumna of President Barack Obama’s West Wing and relative newbie to Biden’s orbit. Together with two of Biden’s longest-serving confidants — Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon — they convinced the almost-candidate it was the right course.

Is all of 2020 postponed?” via Matt Flegenheimer of The New York Times — There is a rhythm to it all, in happier times, a procession of dates and checkpoints to spread the politics and patriotism neatly across the calendar. The presidential primaries tick past, Tuesday by Tuesday, through the spring. Former rivals hug it out at their party conventions in the summer. The Olympics bring the sides together, briefly, in merry distraction and shared cause before the fall. And then comes November, when half the country is disappointed again. So, what happens when immovable dates become negotiable — when everything does — in the throes of a pandemic? What must hold firm when nothing seems to? Primaries are postponed. Hugs are postponed. The Olympics are postponed. The November election, everyone appears to agree, cannot be.

The coronavirus killed the revolution” via Shadi Hamid of The Atlantic — The sense of possibility that came with a supposedly radical candidate seems today like an artifact of another world — one we no longer live in. Even before the social distancing, self-quarantines, and lockdowns, the perpetual crisis that characterized Trump’s governing style had already produced starkly different reactions among Democrats. This is what crisis does: It can make people demand revolution, or it can make them long for stability. A significant number of voters — in particular African Americans — found in Joe Biden welcome reassurance, and they saw him as the safest bet to remove their most proximate sense of threat. That longing for safety and security has now been magnified for many more Americans.

Virus bill sends $400 million to help states with elections” via Christina Cassidy of The Associated Press — The money, part of a compromise federal economic plan, could be used to pay for expanding mail-in voting, adding polling places to reduce crowds, training poll workers or implementing other measures intended to make voting safer during the outbreak. The amount is a fraction of what Democrats and some election experts say is needed to accomplish a more ambitious overhaul of state voting systems before the November general election. Some Senate Democrats had sought $2 billion for states as part of an emergency effort to expand early voting and make mail-in ballots available to every voter. The ultimate compromise was much closer to the Republican-led Senate plans and meant largely to assist with states’ near-term concerns.

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —

Lakeland Commissioner faces challenges but poses a threat in bid to unseat Ross Spano” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin, who’s opposing U.S. Rep. Spano of Dover in a Republican primary, will pose a serious challenge but faces a tough task in unseating an incumbent congressman from his own party, Polk County political insiders say. Underscoring that difficulty, Spano’s four neighboring Tampa Bay area Republican House colleagues all endorsed him after Franklin announced last week.

Scott Franklin will have an uphill battle to unseat Ross Sapno, but he does pose a threat. Image via City of Lakeland

Margaret Good fliers crediting state electioneering committee disappears from social media” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A state political committee was listed on fliers promoting a teleconference town hall with Rep. Good. That support came despite the fact that the Sarasota Democrat is running for Congress, a federal office. A disclaimer on a digital flier still visible on Google says the material was “Paid for by New Day Florida, Inc.” That’s an electioneering committee, the same one the campaign claims was mistakenly listed on a website about coronavirus impacts in Good’s Sarasota district. It’s not unusual for a candidate’s campaign to fund public service-style materials in times of crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak. State Rep. Dane Eagle, a Congressional candidate in a district, will have his campaign host a similar teleconference tonight.

Scott Arceneaux signs with Andrew Learned” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — Former state Democratic Party Executive Director Arceneaux has signed on as general consultant for Democrat Learned’s state House District 59 race, one of the most competitive legislative races in the state. Arceneaux, party leader from 2009-17, handles congressional and other campaigns around the southeast. He was a senior strategist for Andrew Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Learned said Arceneaux’s involvement “shows the legitimacy of the race we’re running — the party and the donors are taking it seriously, and the pros want to be involved.”

Eatonville incumbent wins Seat 4 election by one vote after recount” via Lisa Maria Garza of the Orlando Sentinel — Eatonville town councilman Tarus Mack is keeping Seat 4 after a recount this week that put him ahead of challenger Marlin Daniels by one vote. The unofficial election results, which will be certified by the canvassing board Friday, show Mack received 269 votes to Daniels’ 268 votes, according to Orange supervisor Bill Cowles. On the March 17 election night, it looked like Daniels narrowly ousted Mack with 50.8% of the vote, but provisional and mail votes weren’t counted yet.

Michael Worley: Campaigning in the era of coronavirus” via Florida Politics Over the past month, political campaigning in our country has changed drastically. Candidates up and down the ballot are adapting to a world where rallies, door-to-door canvassing, and community meet-and-greets are no longer viable options. For candidates with small budgets who rely on these low-cost campaign methods, it has been particularly difficult. But amid this uncertainty for campaigns lies incredible opportunities to leverage modern, low-cost campaign techniques to reach voters while maintaining social distancing. Many candidates have already found success in launching landing pages on their existing websites outlining several critical resources for the community. Additionally, many candidates have been modifying their websites with pop-up banners that alert new visitors to the addition of new coronavirus resource pages on the site.

— TOP OPINION —

‘Time is now’ for Ron DeSantis to take bold action with statewide ‘stay-at-home’ order” via Nikki Fried — Two months ago, we were celebrating the dawn of a new decade. One month ago, while a new virus ravaged China and made its way eastward, we were in the throes of Florida’s annual Legislative Session, barely considering its spread in Washington state. Even two weeks ago, we went about our daily lives, becoming suddenly aware of the threat infecting and killing people no longer far off our shores, but here at home. Today has arrived, and we are out of time to stop that threat. I recognize the difficult decisions DeSantis has already had to make. But there are things only a Governor can do. That’s why last week, I asked the Governor to implement a statewide “stay-at-home” order, just as 20 states have now done.

— OPINIONS —

Is the coronavirus as deadly as they say?” Via Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya of The Wall Street Journal — Fear of COVID-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate — 2% to 4% of people with confirmed COVID-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So, if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases. The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing. The degree of bias is uncertain because available data are limited. But it could make the difference between an epidemic that kills 20,000 and one that kills two million.

The nation comes together — without Donald Trump” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — A better president could unify us in common purpose. But while Trump declares himself a “wartime president,” he seems most skilled at civil warfare. He contributes false assurances, disinformation and attacks on Democratic governors. It’s a blessing, then, that, as The Post’s Philip Rucker reports, Trump has been playing “a back-seat role” in key areas that “belies his omnipresence in the national media.” The president largely left the stimulus bill to lawmakers and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. This suggests a welcome, if tacit, recognition that Trump doesn’t have what it takes to lead in a crisis. His greatest service would be to get out of the way.

Micah Kubic: Civil liberty concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic” via Florida Politics — Among the most at-risk individuals in this crisis are people incarcerated, in both state prisons and county jails. The potential of the deadly virus to spread quickly in such confined conditions is obvious and the possible toll tragic. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida joined other civil rights organizations in publishing an open letter to DeSantis, urging him to immediately take action to protect some 150,000 people incarcerated in Florida. We encouraged him to adhere to the recommendations of experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Florida Department of Health, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.

China’s COVID-19 lesson: A free, independent press is vital to saving lives” via Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald — At a time when Trump and other populist leaders are branding much of the media as “enemies of the people” to discredit news they don’t like, it’s worth remembering that we probably wouldn’t be facing the coronavirus pandemic if China had a free press. It’s clear that China’s dictatorship suppressed news about the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan for at least three weeks before it started spreading on social media on Dec. 30. A new study by the University of Southampton shows that if China’s regime had begun taking drastic social-distancing measures three weeks earlier, the number of coronavirus cases there would have been reduced by 95 percent.

‘Have we learned nothing?’” via Michael Grunwald of POLITICO — As congressional leaders haggled over a $2 trillion emergency economic relief bill, Trump mocked House Democrats for stuffing their own rescue proposal with priorities unrelated to the coronavirus crisis — especially one priority he famously hates. “They had things in there that were terrible,” Trump complained during his virtual town hall on Fox News. “Windmills all over the place, all sorts of credits for windmills!” In fairness to the Democrats, their 1,400-page draft had nothing about windmills. But in fairness to Trump, windmills were among the few Democratic priorities that didn’t appear in the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” that the House floated Monday night.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis’ ‘jeremiad’ didn’t tell the whole story” via Florida Politics — Lots of New Yorkers are infected with COVID-19, and who knows how many more have exposed to the bug. Theoretically, those already here are supposed to contact officials, tell them who they’ve met, and then self-quarantine. Of course, that means more people here will get sick. That could disrupt more commerce and cost jobs, and that could do a number on the state’s economy. A better time to make that point about economic hardships our citizens face might have been in 2011. That’s when then-Gov. Scott gutted Florida’s unemployment compensation system, while members of his party cheered or looked the other way. It pays a paltry $275 a week for a maximum of 12 weeks, which is shameful.

Melba Pearson: Criminal justice reforms can save lives in COVID-19 fight” via Florida Politics — Our jails and prisons are prime locations for this virus to spread, and spread rapidly. They are crowded, often have substandard sanitation practices and in virtually every case, severely strained access to health care. These facilities possess a near-perfect storm of conditions for severe outbreaks of the disease, and jails — which primarily house those charged with a crime but not yet convicted — are viral Petri dishes where most inmates will be released back into the general population. Imagine being on a landlocked cruise ship surrounded by barbed wire. So what can we do within our criminal justice system to protect public health while also not jeopardizing public safety? To begin, we can stop filling up our jails.

Yes, there is panic. But I’m embracing a slower life.” via Erin O’Connor of The Washington Post — It took a virus to slow us down. My husband and I, full-time working parents of four children, have been keeping a rapid pace for as long as we can remember. We live in Howard County, Md., which has a strong school system and competitive youth sports programs. One month ago, a typical weekend would include basketball games, multiple flag football matches and a gymnastics meet. When Sunday nights arrived, we were finishing school projects on a deadline, making the week’s schedule and preparing meals for the coming days. The coronavirus pandemic has brought that frantic pace to a screeching halt. The boys’ first spring baseball tournament was canceled and our daughter’s state gymnastic meet was scrapped.

Brad Herold: How to not look like a hostage in your next Zoom meeting” via Florida Politics — Camera Angle: Prop your laptop up on some books or one of the Amazon boxes you’ve got laying around until the camera lens is at or slightly above eye level. Lighting: Make sure the primary light source is in front of your face and behind the computer camera. Do not sit in front of a giant window, or significant light source. Sound: Sit closer to your computer screen and mic. I would encourage you to get a small lavalier microphone that you can clip to your lapel. You should already be sitting up straight, using a fixed chair and not one with casters, and talking slowly and clearly so people can hear you.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida is now amid a major disaster after the President has made it official with a formal declaration. As of Wednesday night, there have been 1682 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Florida and 22 fatalities.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Despite the growing number of confirmed cases and fatalities from coronavirus, DeSantis is still refusing to impose a statewide lockdown or stay-at-home order. Instead, he’s throwing shade on the states that have already done that, saying they made the situation worse. He’s also imposing additional restrictions on anyone who travels to Florida from the New York City area — including Floridians who visited the Big Apple.

— The state unemployment office is staffing up to deal with a flood of claims from people laid off because of the coronavirus. Sen. José Javier Rodriguez has been prodding the DeSantis administration to cut the red tape and make it easier for workers to file.

— Some can credit U.S. Sen. Scott as the person who made Florida a state with the stingiest unemployment system in the country. Now, Scott is threatening to tank a federal coronavirus bailout bill, saying the unemployment benefits are too generous.

— The University of Central Florida has a new president — former University of Missouri Chancellor Alexander Cartwright. The Board of Governors of the state university system approved the UCF trustees’ decision to hire him.

— And the latest with Florida Man, featuring two cases of indecent exposure from Jupiter (the city, not the planet).

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Brevard Zoo is taking care of abandoned black bear cub” via The Associated Press — A weeks-old black bear cub that wildlife officials found on a dirt road in the Ocala National Forest in late February is being nursed back to health at the Brevard Zoo. A news release said the cub, which had been abandoned by its mother, is now about six weeks old and is healthy, feeding well and has opened his eyes. The bear is being fed every four hours, said his primary caretaker, Lauren Hinson. When Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers found the bear, they tried to find its mother, but she never returned. Officials at the zoo said the cub is not a candidate for release back into the wild. The bear’s progress can be followed on the zoo’s social media channels.

Brevard Zoo is taking care of an abandoned black bear cub. Image via Brevard Zoo.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to Secretary of State Laurel LeeRalph ArzaBrittany Dover, Scott Dudley, and the legendary Charlie Gray.

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Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter SchorschPhil AmmannA.G. GancarskiRenzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

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