It’s Monday, July 13. Disney World has reopened and Florida hit two more milestones.
The state broke the national record for most reported COVID-19 cases in a single day on Sunday and, according to the COVID Tracking Project, also shattered the mark for cases per million population. New York, at its peak, hit 595 cases per million but Florida has now exceeded that with 712 cases per million.
In the run-up to these statistics, Gov. Ron DeSantis held five news conferences last week. He never once referred to massive increase in cases but instead used the opportunity to focus on what he said was working: the availability of personal protective equipment, the availability of tests, and the now-bi-monthly testing at long-term care facilities that has helped to tamp down the spread of the virus among the most vulnerable communities.
Shifting message: In the face of the mounting statistics, however, the governor also shifted his message. A month ago, the governor’s focus was on the state’s positive COVID-19 rate. It was was so low, he said, bars and movie theaters could open. Last week, after he reversed course and closed bars, he started saying the disease was always as prevalent as it is today; we just didn’t realize it because fewer people with infections were being tested, he said.
Tipping point: The Harvard Global Health Institute map shows that the unremitting surge in infections in Florida shows the state does not have the virus under control. It maps the increase in cases on a rolling seven-day average. As of Sunday, 44 of the state’s 67 counties had reached a critical “tipping point” in which 25 of every 100,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19. The Harvard public health experts recommend those counties resume stay-home orders.
The Sunday record number may be in part due to an surge in reported test results, leading to a eight-point drop in the positivity rate — the percentage of tests that produce a positive result. But a Herald analysis last week found disturbing two-week trends of increasing positivity and rising numbers of confirmed cases, even as testing volume remained the same.
‘Flatter curve’: DeSantis, however, remains defiant about his decision to reopen the state. On Friday, he blamed the massive surge in new cases on Florida’s “flatter curve.” He suggested that although the virus had abated in May when the state loosened its stay home orders, it hung around longer than in other states. In fact, data shows that Florida’s curve never really flattened.
‘Do the schools’: DeSantis also doubled-down on calls for schools to reopen full-time for all students, a decision that is increasingly coming under fire from county school superintendents. “If you can do Home Depot, if you can do, Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools,’’ he said.
Call to stay home: Miami Congresswoman Donna Shalala on Sunday appeared to be the first lawmaker to call on the governor to issue a 14-day statewide stay-at-home order as well as a mandatory order for people to wear masks in public.
Herd immunity? Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez wrote on Twitter Sunday: “Florida is becoming a global epicenter. 15,300 new cases today. One of the few possible explanations for @GovRonDeSantis‘ denial, diversion and refusal to act is an unspoken ideology that accepts this death and chaos. Please tell us clearly that herd immunity is not the plan.”
Herd immunity is when enough people have had a disease and developed immunity that the virus cannot spread easily but to reach it without a vaccine means millions of Floridians must be infected. Maybe it is a question every elected official in Florida should be asked: Is the state on the path to endorsing herd immunity?
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Bi-partisan divide: One thing is certain: there is a growing divide between local officials and the governor. On Thursday, a bi-partisan group of mayors in Miami-Dade County held a news conference to express alarm over the failure of the state’s contact tracing program to stem the spread of the virus in a county that has averaged 1,868 new cases a day over the past two weeks.
Their criticism came two days after DeSantis was asked at a Miami news conference why the state had not given Miami-Dade County the additional disease investigators it had asked for in May.
By Thursday, the county had received approval to hire 250 additional contact tracers to augment its current team of 300, but the mayors said the numbers were still woefully short of what public health experts say is needed to get a handle on the disease. They requested an additional 500 tracers.
Whose health? Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continues to poke DeSantis. Last week, she complained that the governor is putting his image over public health. She said DeSantis’ staff has repeatedly told her that Cabinet meetings were canceled “in the interest of public health.” But, she notes, the governor continues to hold press conferences, including one held last week in which reporters were packed into a small space in the building where 18 COVID-positive patients were being treated.
Restaurant reversal: The COVID shock wave has hit Miami-Dade hardest. Gimenez’s office went through a series of starts and stops last week in an effort to scale back openings and then reversed course in the face of protest from business owners. First, he issued a statement Monday announcing sweeping closures of restaurants and gyms. Then, he spent Monday night and much of Tuesday watering down the plan as business owners begged for relief. He agreed to reopen gyms in exchange for rigorous mask restrictions and then agreed to re-opening restaurants with outdoor seating only.
Dinners finished: Miami-Dade County, which has spent $70 million on a program delivering more than 8 million meals to seniors during the coronavirus pandemic, announced it is ending the program July 15.
Unmasked man: President Donald Trump arrived in Miami-Dade County Friday to visit the U.S. Southern Command and hold a Venezuela roundtable at a church in Doral. He wore no mask. It was the president’s first visit to Miami since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and he met with Gimenez, who issued the mask mandate. County officials said the event was exempted from a Miami-Dade County mask rule because the emergency order exempts churches and properties under federal jurisdiction. Gimenez, a Republican, is term limited as mayor and running for Congress.
Mask manager: Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who has spent a considerable amount of his time over the last few months obtaining masks for first responders in Florida, has made it clear what he thinks about masks. His pinned Tweet includes the word “MASK” 46 times. On Sunday he wrote: “MASK MATH: MASKS + PEOPLE= less cases, less hospitalizations, less deaths.”
WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT
Hush money?: The case against two NFL players accused of armed robbery in Miramar took an outlandish twist last week when police filed a warrant saying their victims had been paid off to change their stories — in the office of Miami Beach state Rep. Michael Grieco, an attorney. Detectives said they believe four victims recanted after being paid a total of $55,000 in cash.
Ugh: NBC reporter Jacob Soboroff is out with a new book that quotes a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence questioning the need for immigrant-heavy neighborhoods and singling out Miami’s Little Havana.
“I believe that if you come to America, you should assimilate,” said Pence aide Katie Miller, according to the book, “Separated.” “Why do we need to have Little Havana?” Soboroff’s book is about the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
Never mind: The Florida Democratic Party said it will return a federal loan worth as much as $1 million after Democratic lawmakers said the state party shouldn’t have sought the money from the Small Business Administration as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.
GOP super spreader? Seven Florida residents, including a pastor, have filed a lawsuit to block the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville “to protect the health and welfare” of the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their argument: the event will be a “nuisance” and “will result in a previously unprecedented super spreader event.”
Goodbye McClatchy: The Miami Herald is likely going to be owned by a hedge fund. Chatham Asset Management, the New Jersey hedge fund that is McClatchy Co.’s largest creditor, appears to have been the victor in an auction to buy the bankrupt owner of Miami’s legacy newspaper, according to a statement released Sunday. A few things need to happen first, however. The creditors need to approve it and a judge needs to sign off. “Chatham is committed to preserving newsroom jobs and independent journalism that serve and inform local communities during this important time,’’ the company said. More details, we hope, next week.
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