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Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 5.4.20

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The big day is here.

While haircuts and bars aren’t opening their doors, restaurants and retail are, and that’s better than nothing. For the millions of Floridians who have spent the last six weeks hunkered down at home, today may as well be Independence Day.

Unfortunately, we have to rain on the parade.

The Florida Bulldog’s Dan Christensen dropped a bombshell over the weekend: When Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony was a teenager, he fatally shot a man in his Philadelphia neighborhood.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony had shot and killed a man in his younger days. Image via AP.

In a statement, Tony claims he killed Hector “Chino” Rodriguez out of self-defense, emphasizing that “juvenile authorities reviewed my actions and cleared my name.”

“This was the most difficult and painful experience of my life, and I have never spoken of it publicly. I worked every day from that time forward to leave the violence that surrounded me in Philadelphia behind,” he said of the 1993 slaying.

According to newspaper reports from the time, “word on the street” was the shooting came after “some lighthearted joking between the two friends had turned ugly.”

Tony told Florida Politics in an exclusive interview that’s inaccurate. Rodriguez threatened him and his brother with a gun, and Tony fired on him out of self-defense. Rodriguez’s then-girlfriend remembers the day differently, claiming Rodriguez was unarmed.

The he-said-she-said, however, is overshadowed by a significant, perhaps politically damning, detail unearthed by the Bulldog: Tony failed to disclose his arrest on murder and firearms charges when he applied to become a Coral Gables police officer a decade ago.

A sin of omission, sure, but a sin nonetheless.

And one that could see Scott Israel reclaim his former office from the man Gov. Ron DeSantis picked to replace him.

___

In the Star Wars universe, there may be no such thing as luck, but on Earth, some lucky bettors could bank big by making some bets on the future of the franchise. And there’s no better time than Star Wars Day.

SportsBetting.ag is celebrating the holiday by defying Han Solo’s order never to announce the odds. True, the Skywalker Saga may be over, but there’s still plenty of speculation.

For May 4, Star Wars fans (and ordinary gamblers) can place bets on when Disney is going to reopen.

The site has published lines on a host prop bets, covering everything from what characters will make a cameo in the “Clone Wars” finale (Darth Revan has the longest odds, returning $12 per $1 bet) to the Rotten Tomatoes rating of “The Mandalorian” season 2 (the over/under is a resoundingly fresh 91%).

SportsBetting.ag is also has a prop bet going for something millions of people around the world are wondering: when will Disney — Star Wars’ parent company — reopen its parks. The line is at -120 for Disney World to open before July 1, and the same odds are given to the after, meaning a $1.20 bet returns a dollar.

No matter the date, the safe bet is that the Orlando parks will not require masks when they reopen, set at -200 compared to +150 for the inverse.

To those considering wading into the world of Star Wars bets, we have one thing to say: “May the 4th be with you … always.”

— TOP STORIES —

COVID-19 pandemic likely to last two years, report says” via John Lauerman of Bloomberg — The coronavirus pandemic is likely to last as long as two years; it won’t be controlled until about two-thirds of the world’s population is immune. Because of its ability to spread from people who don’t appear to be ill, the virus may be harder to control than influenza, the cause of most pandemics in recent history. People may actually be at their most infectious before symptoms appear, according to the report. Developers are rushing to make vaccines that may be available in small quantities as early as this year. While large amounts of a vaccine against the 2009-2010 flu pandemic didn’t become available until after the outbreak peaked in the U.S., one study has estimated that the shots prevented as many as 1.5 million cases and 500 deaths in that country alone.

A new report suggests we may have two more years of this.

Smart or lucky? How Florida dodged the worst of coronavirus” via Arian Campo-Flores and Alex Leary of The Wall Street Journal — When the coronavirus pandemic swept toward Florida, public-health professionals nationally warned of a potentially devastating wave of infections that could imperil the state’s large senior population. But so far, the state seems to have dodged that fate, despite not following advice to impose measures such as an early blanket lockdown to minimize spread. With DeSantis preparing to start reopening the state on Monday, epidemiologists and others are asking: What happened? Was Florida smart or lucky? The answer may be a bit of both.

Florida hits grim milestone: over 1 million workers have filed unemployment claims” via Bianca Padro Ocasio of the Miami Herald — Florida has now reported over 1 million unemployed workers, a bleak milestone as the state continues to lag on processing a massive caseload. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state has received 1,025,657 unique unemployment claims as of May 3 and has so far paid 452,526. The online application system under an understaffed agency has been riddled with glitches since the number of jobless Floridians first began to spike in early March. The promise of financial relief to Florida’s unemployed workers has been so delayed that lawyers have filed at least one class-action lawsuit asking a Tallahassee judge to order the state to pay the unemployment benefits immediately.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@Pontifex: During the current crisis, we need good, free journalism that serves all people, especially those who do not have a voice: journalism that is dedicated to the search for truth and which opens paths toward communion and peace.

Tweet, tweet:

@LedgeKing: .@USTreasury & @SBAgov announce 2.2M forgivable loans totaling $175B OKed since #PaycheckProtectionProgram Round 2 began 4/27. Avg loan $79K, compared to $206K in Round 1 indicating very small biz getting bigger share following complaints publicly traded firms were getting loans.

@MattGaetz: Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to know if @JoeBiden sexually assaulted women or not. I don’t support guilt by accusation. But the Tom Perez defense on ABC that he couldn’t have done it because Obama picked him to be VP sounds quite tortured, no?

Tweet, tweet:

—@GwenGraham: My Dad is old school. He said to me recently, “Gwen, you should be clipping all of the articles about DeSantis and put them in a folder.” I said, “I am Dad. It’s called my Twitter feed.”

Tweet, tweet:

@EvieN: You know the saying, April diseases bring May killer beeses

@MearKat00: COVID 19. It’s like the Freshman 15, but 4 more pounds.

— DAYS UNTIL —

The next supermoon — 3; Mother’s Day — 6; NASCAR season resumes at Darlington Speedway in Darlington, South Carolina — 13; TNT’s adaptation of “Snowpiercer” premieres — 13; English Premier League soccer to restart — 35; PGA Tour resumes — 38; Last day of state candidate qualifying — 39; Father’s Day — 48; Federal taxes due — 72; Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” premieres — 74; “Mulan” premieres — 81; TED conference rescheduled — 83; Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee begins — 105; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 109; Republican National Convention begins in Charlotte — 112; “A Quiet Place Part II” premieres — 123; Rescheduled running of the Kentucky Derby — 124; Rescheduled date for French Open — 139; First presidential debate in Indiana — 148; First vice presidential debate at the University of Utah — 158; Second presidential debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 164; Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” premieres — 165; Third presidential debate at Belmont — 171; 2020 General Election — 183; “Black Widow” premieres — 186; Florida Automated Vehicles Summit — 197; “No Time to Die” premieres — 204; “Top Gun: Maverick” premieres — 233; New start date for 2021 Olympics — 445; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 454; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 550; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 648; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 690; “Black Panther 2” premieres — 733; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 886.

— CORONA NATION —

This year, April was …” via Marc Fisher, Abigail Hauslohner, Hannah Natanson and Lori Rozsa of The Washington Post — April was death. April was hope. April was cruel. The new virus is a swift executioner. In the war in Vietnam, 58,209 Americans were killed between 1960 and 1975. In the battle against the novel coronavirus, 58,760 Americans died in April alone. Both crises leeched into existing fissures, exacerbating political and social divisions. But the war analogy goes only so far; in this conflict, we have no big guns, no ready defense. All we can do at this stage is hide and try to manage the damage. The virus that changed America in April is an invisible and insidious killer, aimed at no one in particular and everyone at once.

A patient is loaded into the back of an ambulance by emergency medical workers outside Cobble Hill Health Center, Friday, April 17, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The despair wrought on nursing homes by the coronavirus was laid bare Friday in a state survey identifying numerous New York facilities where multiple patients have died. Nineteen of the state's nursing homes have each had at least 20 deaths linked to the pandemic. Cobble Hill Health Center was listed as having 55 deaths. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was a brutal April for America. Image via AP. 

34 days of pandemic: Inside Donald Trump’s desperate attempts to reopen America” via Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Robert Costa and Lena Sun of The Washington Post — A small team led by Kevin Hassett quietly built an econometric model to guide response operations: There would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen. For Trump — whose decision-making has been guided largely by his reelection prospects — the analysis, coupled with Hassett’s grim predictions of economic calamity, provided justification to pivot to where he preferred to be: cheering an economic revival rather than managing a catastrophic health crisis. Trump directed his coronavirus task force to issue guidelines for reopening businesses, encouraged “LIBERATE” protests to apply pressure on Governors, and proclaimed that “the cure can’t be worse than the problem itself” — even as polls showed that Americans were far more concerned about their personal safety.

In a time of COVID-19, ‘Obamacare’ still part of the action” via Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of The Associated Press — COVID-19 could have stamped a person “uninsurable” if not for the Affordable Care Act. The ban on insurers using preexisting conditions to deny coverage is a key part of the Obama-era law that the Trump administration still seeks to overturn. Without the law, people who recovered from COVID-19 and tried to purchase an individual health insurance policy could be turned down, charged higher premiums, or have follow-up care excluded from coverage. Those considered vulnerable because of conditions such as respiratory problems or early-stage diabetes would have run into a wall of insurer suspicion.

As states reopen, cities are staying shut. That could mean more coronavirus in rural America.” via Griff Witte of The Washington Post — As America’s piecemeal reopening gathers pace, states are making their own choices about how quickly to move toward what passes for the new normal in the age of COVID-19. Numerous states joined the ranks Friday of those that have eased restrictions as April’s stay-at-home orders expired. Even as rural and suburban areas reopen, cities are staying firmly shut. The approach reflects the uneven toll of a virus that is drawn to density and has attacked urban centers with abandon, even as more-sparsely populated areas have been spared.

Haircut? Sure. Flying? Maybe not. As states reopen, Americans more comfortable with small steps, survey shows” via Rebecca Morin of the Pensacola News Journal — While some states are preparing to reopen after locking down for the coronavirus, less than half of Americans say they are ready to engage in several activities that would signal a return to normal life or have a large-scale economic impact, according to a new survey. Both Republicans and Democrats showed hesitation when it came to sending children back to school, going to a concert or even riding public transportation. A combined 44% of Americans said if restrictions were lifted on the advice of public health officials, they probably or definitely would not send their child to school. A combined 54% probably or definitely would not ride public transportation, while 57% wouldn’t fly on an airplane.

As states reopen, many people are OK with getting haircuts, flying … not so much. Image via USA Today.

Companies sell the blood of recovered coronavirus patients for exorbitant prices” via The New York Times — Some biotech companies are cashing in on the race to produce coronavirus antibody tests, taking blood samples from people who have been infected and selling them at exorbitant prices. And the people who give their blood to help the fight against COVID-19 may not realize that it is making such profits for the companies. Documents, emails, and price lists show that several companies around the world are offering to sell COVID-19 blood samples to labs and test manufacturers at elevated prices. One is Cantor BioConnect in California, which has charged $350 to $40,000 for just a milliliter of blood, less than a quarter of a teaspoon of blood. Another, the Indian company Advy Chemical, has charged up to $50,000. The more antibodies in the sample, the higher the price.

30 gravely ill Texas patients who underwent experimental COVID treatment are now recovered” via John C. Moritz of Caller-Times — More than 30 gravely ill patients who took part in an experimental treatment for COVID-19 have recovered from the illness and have left the hospital, the physician overseeing the therapy said. “All of these people were very, very sick,” Dr. James Musser, chairman of the department of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, said. “Many of them were on ventilators. That was the common theme.” It cannot be said with certainty the treatment in which plasma donated by people who had fully recovered from the illness caused by the contagious and sometimes deadly coronavirus and injecting it into those still sick was responsible for recoveries, Musser said.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Coronavirus so far is nearly 3 times more deadly than the flu in Florida, state records show” via Frank Gluck of the Fort Myers News-Press — The novel coronavirus, once dismissed by some as less deadly than the flu, has already killed nearly three times as many people in Florida as influenza did during its deadliest season in the last decade, state records show…As of April 30, COVID-19 was responsible for at least 1,268 Florida deaths according to the state Department of Health. Identified flu cases claimed 468 state residents in 2018, the most recent year of available data and Florida’s deadliest season since at least 2009, department records show.

Florida finally releases details of deaths at individual elder-care centers” via Brooke Baitinger and Adelaide Chen of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Florida’s health administrators have finally released detailed information about new coronavirus deaths at elder-care facilities in the state, after more than a month of refusing to disclose how the virus was spreading inside. The new figures could bring answers to families anxious about the safety of their loved ones who live in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. DeSantis’ administration released the new information after several news organizations, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, filed suit under the state’s public records law to force the data’s release. Elder advocates and families of long-term care residents have also pleaded with the state to release the information, saying it is of vital public interest.

Coronavirus antibody tests to begin across Florida, DeSantis says” via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida will begin testing health care workers and residents for coronavirus antibodies, DeSantis said, as more drive-through testing sites begin to open at Walgreens, CVS and Walmart sites. He said the state just received its first shipment of 200,000 coronavirus antibody tests, which he said will be distributed to hospitals to test health care workers, as well as some drive-through testing sites and possibly walk-up sites. “Diagnostic testing is not the whole thing,” DeSantis said of the most common types of tests, which determine if someone is currently infected. “You can go and test negative today, it doesn’t mean you can’t acquire the virus two days from now or three days from now.”

Ron DeSantis is announcing the first shipment 200,000 coronavirus antibody tests, which will go to hospitals to test health care workers as well as to some drive-thru testing sites.

Governor’s caution on reopening reflects public sentiment” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — DeSantis noted that the dire predictions from a month earlier did not materialize. Florida has plenty of available hospital beds, and the daily number of coronavirus cases has leveled off and appears to be declining. DeSantis declared that Florida was ready to start plotting a path to reopen. Many people are still very concerned about the virus and eager to see a reopening plan that puts public health at the forefront. If being too slow to enter the lockdown was a concern for health experts, so is being too fast to come out of it. So in announcing the first phase of his reopening plan this week, DeSantis has emphasized safety and caution.

DeSantis encourages Floridians to go to hospitals without fear” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — If you’re sick, or in need of “elective surgery,” don’t let the coronavirus epidemic make you afraid to go to the hospital, DeSantis urged. The comments come on the eve of his Phase One orders to begin reopening Florida’s economy, that includes allowing hospitals to begin conducting elective surgeries again, including procedures delayed even though they can be critical to the health of people. DeSantis cautioned that he expects the increased testing will find more cases and lead to higher caseload numbers, but that should not be misread as new spikes in the epidemic, so long as the positive-test rate remains well below 10% overall, as it is now.

Florida to reopen state parks as Governor bashes critics” via Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press — Florida will begin opening state parks today, DeSantis announced as he encouraged outdoor activity and criticized the doom and gloom some predicted for the state. DeSantis held a news conference with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who opened up local beaches two weeks ago. The Governor was clearly agitated about criticism the state has received from non-Floridians about Curry’s decision, and he said opening parks would be good for people’s health. DeSantis stood in front of a kayak and a bicycle while making his announcement, and he downplayed the risk of the virus, saying that exercise makes people healthier. Healthier people are less at risk from dying from the disease. When Curry reopened the beaches, the hashtag #floridamorons began trending on Twitter.

DeSantis to address and employment system issues” via the News Service of Florida — DeSantis said he would hold a news conference to address the state’s CONNECT unemployment compensation system. “The system just totally broke. It’s not a good system. We’re going to deal with that,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Halifax Health Medical Center. Since March 15, the state has received 1.78 million unemployment applications, of which more than 1 million are considered “unique.” As of Saturday, 452,526, or 44.1%, of the unique applicants, had started to receive weekly state unemployment checks of up to $275. The state Department of Economic Opportunity said more than $700 million has been paid out to applicants, of which $428.6 million, or 61%, is money from a federal stimulus program.

Restaurants scramble to reopen in most of Florida” via The Associated Press — As restaurants in many Florida cities prepare to reopen on Monday under new pandemic rules set by DeSantis, officials in some counties say a patchwork of state regulations makes implementing the guidelines difficult and vague. Restaurants in all but three counties can reopen their inside dining rooms at 25% capacity. Outside patios and dining areas are limited only by social distancing guidelines, and in some areas, businesses are asking local officials for expansion of outdoor seating. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are excluded from DeSantis’ recent order because coronavirus cases are still surging in those places.

How safe is Florida’s reopening plan? Public health experts give a candid critique” via Steve Contorno and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald — Restaurants, state parks and stores will open in most of Florida on Monday for the first time in weeks. Businesses once deemed “nonessential” will welcome back workers. Hospitals will perform surgeries put on hold since March. South Florida has to wait a while longer because the COVID-19 hot spots of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are not included in the changes that go into effect Monday. In its latest model, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington advised that relaxing social distancing in Florida may be possible after June 22. That date is predicated on strong containment strategies, such as testing and contact tracing, to limit the spread of disease.

Florida’s reopening. Will you stay home or will you go?” via Tracey McManus, Romy Ellenbogen, Divya Kumar and Bernadette Berdychowski of the Tampa Bay Times — Whether residents across Tampa Bay will take the governor’s invitation to venture out is mixed. Before deciding whether to leave home, Dr. Marc Yacht, who spent 20 years as the director of the Pasco County Health Department, said residents should seriously consider their own health and the safety of others. He said even with state restrictions lifting, the elderly and people with chronic medical problems should still avoid leaving home for anything that’s not essential. He recommends masks, gloves, and staying at least six feet from others for everyone else gathering in public.

After visiting an Orlando hair salon, Ron DeSantis said he needs more consideration of employee and public safety before giving the all-clear. Image via Spectrum News 13.

Hair salons and barbershops remain closed, for now” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — DeSantis laid the foundation for the reopening of personal grooming businesses during a roundtable with barbers and hairstylists in Orlando. But the Governor said more consideration of employee and customer safety is needed before he can give the go-ahead. “Throughout this whole time, I’ve said I’d rather get it right than get it fast,” DeSantis, joined by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, told stylists, barbers and reporters at Ohsooojazzy Hair Salon in Orlando. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to sit on our hands. But we just want to be very thorough about how we’re doing it.” The barbers and hairstylists assured the Governor they are prepared to increase already stringent sanitation requirements.

— “After Orlando visit, DeSantis wants ‘to get to yes’ on opening salons” via Ryan Gillespie of the Orlando Sentinel 

Vacation rental ban continues in Phase One of Florida’s reopening” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — The statewide ban on vacation rentals will continue in Phase One of DeSantis‘ plan to reopen Florida. For more than a month, guests have been unable to schedule vacation rentals through services like Airbnb or HomeAway. And with phase one, starting Monday, that won’t change, at least for another two weeks. The original order, issued March 27, suspended vacation rentals in homes and condominiums. It did not apply to hotels, inns and resorts, and it did not apply to long-term rentals.

Toll revenue drop shows Floridians were staying home” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida toll road revenue dropped sharply in March, another sign that Floridians were staying home in the weeks before DeSantis issued his April 1 executive order. From Feb. 29 to March 27, Florida’s Turnpike saw a nearly 20% drop in traffic volume from the same time last year, with each week dropping more than the last. On March 27, the day with the fewest traffic in the period, the toll roads saw a 51% drop from the same day as the year before.

Bewildering computer crashes and glitches for those in Florida seeking unemployment benefits” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — In the past six weeks, Florida’s unemployment compensation system has been overwhelmed with 1.7 million claims submitted and 426,623 claims paid. Nationwide, a decade of job growth has been wiped out. Although an executive order by DeSantis waived a biweekly requirement that applicants actively look for work, apparently the CONNECT program still requires it. “It’s no secret that CONNECT is not the world’s best, most effective system. It just not a secret now or ever really. Connect has not been able to keep up with the governor’s orders,” said Tiffany Vause, DEO communications director. Vause said because of problems with the software, DEO is manually pushing applications through the process so people can collect their state benefits and qualify for federal payments.

Florida says it’s fixing its unemployment mess. But it’s still a mess.” via David Lyons of the Orlando Sentinel — Here’s one way for frustrated jobless workers to expedite payment of their unemployment benefits: Sue the agency that’s handling their claims. That’s what happened when several workers sued the Department of Economic Opportunity last week, according to Tallahassee lawyer Marie Mattox. Once the lawsuit hit the local courthouse, the agency suddenly found the wherewithal to pay her clients whose names appeared atop the lawsuit, which names the agency and DeSantis as defendants. Mattox says she wants a Leon County Circuit Court judge to declare an emergency and order expedited payments to tens of thousands of Floridians who have been frozen out of the agency’s beleaguered online claims system since March 15 or denied payments without explanation.

— CORONA LOCAL —

Masks at gyms, manis with plexiglass. How businesses will reopen amid coronavirus” via Carli Teproff and Devoun Cetoute of the Miami Herald — At one Coral Gables salon, getting a manicure will mean sticking your hand through a plexiglass hole. A visit to Zoo Miami could mean more walking as the monorail would be grounded. This is what the new normal could look like in South Florida once state and local leaders lift coronavirus restrictions. When salons reopen, you’ll likely see chairs spaced out in the work area and waiting area; stylists and customers must wear a CDC-recommended face mask that covers the nose and mouth; increased sanitization of common areas, and customers will be given disposable or washed/dried capes before any services begin. Many businesses are forced to adapt in countless ways.

Christine Martinez, owner of Avant-Garde Salon and Spa in Coral Gables, will dress in a ‘new uniform’ as salons prepare to reopen. Image via Christine Martinez/Miami Herald.

All appointments for city of Jacksonville relief program taken” via Teresa Stepzinski of The Florida Times-Union — The window has closed for Jacksonville residents to apply for financial assistance from the city’s COVID-19 Mortgage, Rent & Utility Relief Program. By 2 a.m. Saturday, all 40,000 appointments for the assistance program have been claimed, city officials announced via Twitter. People were required to have an appointment to be eligible to receive funding through the program. Thousands of Duval County residents overwhelmed the city of Jacksonville’s website at the same time in an effort to make an appointment to get help. Officials said the system could only handle a “few thousand” at a time and advised the following: Do not refresh.

Florida ICU nurse says condo won’t rent to her, fears virus” via The Associated Press — A Florida nurse filed an equal opportunity complaint alleging her condo rental application was denied because her ICU job brings her in contact with novel coronavirus patients. Jennifer Piraino said she submitted an application to rent a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at Boca View in Boca Raton, where she planned to live with her boyfriend and 9-year-old-daughter. A few days later, she said the condo association called and told her to pick up the paperwork and the $100 money order for a background check. When she asked why, she was told she was rejected “just with everything going on.” Piraino believes the company didn’t even run a background check on her. “You can’t discriminate against people trying to help other people,” Piraino said. “They won’t take my calls or return my emails.”

After six weeks of lockdown, Miamians enjoy first weekend of reopened parks, marinas” Martin Vassolo and David Goodhue of the Miami Herald — Stuck at home for the past six weeks, Miamians stepped out of their quarantine cages on Saturday for the first weekend after parks and marinas reopened. Beaches remain closed in Miami-Dade County, but groups sunbathed in parks and on the side of busy roads, while high demand for access to the ocean forced some marinas to turn boaters away. For many enjoying the county’s parks and marinas, the loosening of coronavirus-related emergency orders signaled a return to some type of normalcy. However, larger sectors of ordinary life — like retail stores, movie theaters and hair salons — have yet to be scheduled to go back online.

A COVID-19 testing site opens Monday at a Walmart near Hialeah. But before you go …” via David J. Neal of the Miami Herald — Three-day-a-week drive-up COVID-19 testing begins Monday morning at the Walmart between Hialeah and Miami’s Liberty City, but there are a few things you need to know before planning to go: Testing will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.; This is a drive-up only site, in the Walmart parking lot at 3200 NW 79th St..; This isn’t an all-comers site, but for those exhibiting signs of being infected by the novel coronavirus, health care providers and first responders; You need to make an appointment through Quest Diagnostics’ website or app; You need to wear a mask when you roll up for testing.

Miami-Dade Mayor clears Miami Heat to use AmericanAirlines Arena for workouts” via Anthony Chang of the Miami Herald — Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said the Miami Heat would be allowed to hold workouts at AmericanAirlines Arena if the NBA reopens practice facilities on May 8. In an interview on Fox Sports 640, Gimenez went as far as saying the Heat could “probably get all their players in their facility” at once under Miami-Dade county guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA announced Monday it is “targeting no earlier” than a May 8 date for a reopening of team practice facilities in cities and states where local governments have loosened stay-at-home orders. But the league’s reopening of arena facilities will come with strict restrictions, including no more than four players in the arena at any one time.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez gave the thumbs-up for the Miami Heat to resume practices at AmericanAirlines Arena. Image via The Wall Street Journal.

Martin County beaches open with fears of invasion from the south” via David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As beaches reopen up the Florida Peninsula, some residents fear an invasion from densely populated South Florida. The Martin County Commission voted Friday to reopen most beaches starting Monday, despite concerns that people from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties could roar up I-95 by the thousands. Although DeSantis announced a partial reopening of the state, he excluded the three South Florida counties, home to the state’s most significant number of COVID-19 cases. “There may be 20 counties that have opened up their beaches — the big difference is those counties are not adjacent to the three most infected counties in Florida,” said Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, who voted against reopening the beaches.

— MORE LOCAL —

More Pinellas nursing home residents die of coronavirus in one of Florida’s worst outbreaks” via Zachary T. Sampson of the Tampa Bay Times — Nine more residents and a nurse from the long-term care campus of Freedom Square in Seminole have died in the last week bringing the toll of the facility’s COVID-19 outbreak to as many as 18 people. That’s among the worst nursing home outbreaks in all of Florida. Dozens of people connected to Freedom Square have tested positive for the disease, prompting an evacuation of residents and a call for help from the National Guard. The coronavirus started spreading in the Seminole Pavilion nursing facility, which is on the Freedom Square campus. As of earlier this week, the state reported current positive cases of the coronavirus in at least 67 residents and 39 staff members.

Behave yourselves: Pinellas beachgoers to see ‘unprecedented’ law enforcement, sheriff says” via Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas County beaches will come under scrutiny Monday when barricades come down, and visitors return to splash in water for the first time in five weeks. Visitors will see a “huge presence of deputies” and police officers up and down the coast to make sure large crowds don’t lead to accusations that opening beaches worsened a public health crisis. In addition to the deputies already assigned to beach towns, another 250 will be devoted to crowd control and traffic, and one will be stationed at every beach access point.

Pinellas County beaches reopen with an ‘unprecedented’ show of police force, says Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Charges dropped against Pinellas game shop owner arrested for violating state and local lockdown orders” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — A Pinellas County business owner is off the hook after being arrested for failing to comply with the County’s stay-at-home order forcing all nonessential businesses to close. Galen Trent Wood has operated Kitchen Table Games in Pinellas Park since 2014 and continued serving customers through curbside pickup and online orders even after the county ordered businesses closed in early April in conjunction with DeSantis’ statewide order. Pinellas County Sheriff and deputies arrested Wood on April 16 after they said they issued several warnings about the business’ failure to comply with the local order.

Most county commissioners were anxious to do away with coronavirus beach access rules” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — There was little doubt that county commissioners were champing at the bit to get rid of the restrictions they had instituted related to stopping the spread of the coronavirus and to do it as soon as they thought it was possible. That is, with the exception of County Commission Chair Bryan Lober, who has expressed a more cautious approach than the other four commissioners and voted against immediately lifting one of the critical restrictions. Lober wanted to go with a request of six beachside cities and towns to delay the reopenings of the beachside parking at least until next Thursday, but he was outvoted.

Brevard gym closes its doors again after brief defiance of DeSantis’ Executive Order” via Bailey Gallion — The Melbourne gym that defied Gov. DeSantis’ executive order and reopened its doors Friday without a green light from the state has since closed shop again under the advice of a local politician. Harbor City Community Fitness’ reopening was short-lived after a phone call from Melbourne Vice Mayor Paul Alfrey, who advised the gym that it was a good idea to close as they pushed DeSantis to allow them to reopen, General Manager Dani Hoddinott said. Alfrey has publicly supported the gym’s quest to be recognized as an essential business that should be allowed to open.

Yes, Virginia, that really was Panama City Beach” via Mike Cazalas of NWF Daily News — The day Bay County’s beaches reopened to the public for limited hours, starting at 6 a.m., photojournalist Patti Blake was there before it started and by afternoon had posted 59 pictures of the scene on The News Herald’s Facebook page. Within days the post had reached over 100,000 people, had been shared some 236 times and more than 300 comments were posted — with many accusing The News-Herald of faking the photos, shooting them somewhere else and pretending it was here or pulling “stock” photos that “fit” our “narrative.” But it was the beginning of a frustrating journey that illustrated the distrust some hold for the media, even the local media. That is something we can, and do, work on, as we try to separate what we do versus the national media and cable news.

No, this is not ‘fake news.’ Image via Patti Blake/Panama City News-Herald.

St. Johns County to lift beach restrictions today” via Stuart Korfhage of The St. Augustine Record — All St. Johns County beach restrictions will be lifted starting Monday in response to Gov. DeSantis‘ first phase of reopening plans for the state. The county had closed beaches, but they have been open for limited hours. But the beaches will be open at all times starting Monday with the new announcement. The St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier will also be open to the public with no access fee starting Monday. Other facilities, such as the pier gift shop and pavilion, will remain closed. On-beach driving will still be prohibited, and social distancing restrictions and CDC guidelines remain in place.

Some Tallahassee businesses don’t feel safe reopening Monday” via Robbie Gaffney and Ryan Dailey of WFSU — Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey says the City is ready to go along with the Governor’s Phase One of reopening the economy but urges residents to stay the course on social distancing. DeSantis’ first step in re-opening allows restaurants to offer outdoor seating and 25% capacity indoors, and retail businesses to operate at 25% indoor capacity. Some local businesses have expressed hesitancy on opening up to customers next week. Carla Reid, the owner of Black Dog Café, says even though she’s had to take out loans to keep her employees paid, her indoor and outdoor spaces will remain closed. Other businesses, like Andrew’s Downtown, say they are planning to reopen.

— THE REOPENING — 

No more free cookies, breakfast buffets — hotels to cut back touchpoints amid COVID-19” via Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald — When hotels reopen, they won’t look or operate the same as they did pre-COVID-19. The virus has led most properties to adopt new practices aimed at reducing touch points and minimizing human contact. Don’t be surprised if you have to check-in behind a plexiglass partition, like the ones being used at supermarkets. The front desk staff will be wearing face coverings. Some hotels — such as those in the Hilton and Marriott chains — will encourage guests to avoid the front desk altogether and do virtual check-in, which allows them to use their cellphones as room keys. Forget about breakfast buffets, lobby coffee stations, plates of free cookies, and concierge Happy Hour buffets.

NCAA offers initial guidelines on restarting college sports” via Juan Perez Jr. of POLITICO — The NCAA is beginning to spell out how college sports can make a slow, phased-in return, including discouraging large gatherings in favor of virtual meetings and keeping gyms or common areas in athletics facilities closed unless schools adopt “strict distancing and sanitation protocols.” College sports face an uneven return to American society after the ongoing pandemic; the NCAA suggested as its medical experts published initial guidelines for how colleges and universities can ease athletes back into practice and competition. Restarting sports “must be grounded” on the return of students and staff to campus, said a brief NCAA document titled “Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport.”

The NCAA is beginning to outline guidelines for reopening college sports. Image via AP.

Allegiant Air to provide masks, gloves for passengers” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Allegiant Air will start providing complimentary face masks and gloves to passengers. Chief Operating Officer Scott Sheldon stressed the airline’s top focus right now remains safety. The executive outlined measures the company will take to limit the spread of COVID-19, even as mass travel resumes. “Beginning this week, we will be providing complimentary personal health and safety kits to all passengers as they board their Allegiant flights,” he wrote. The procedures will impact many passengers flying in or out of the state of Florida. Besides the protective gear being offered directly to passengers, Sheldon outlines ways the airline keeps its planes sanitary, including disinfecting aircraft to standards exceeding those set by the CDC.

Costco to limit meat purchases” via WFLA — Costco is limiting meat purchases per customer. It will limit beef, pork and poultry products to three items per member. Costco said it had made changes based on public health guidelines, including requiring face coverings, using reusable shopping bags and putting restrictions on returns.

For Rays and MLB, plans for starting play are coming into focus” via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times — No one can say yet what the 2020 Major League Baseball season will look like. There is too much that even top officials don’t know and, more importantly, don’t control regarding public health and safety aspects of the coronavirus spread as well as governmental decisions on reopening states and cities. They do know enough to be cautiously optimistic that there will be a season. And — besides the absence of fans, at least at the start — it might not look as radically different as previously thought. The preferred plan would be to start play in late June or early July with as many teams as possible playing in home parks while competing in their regular divisions with an abbreviated schedule of at least 80 games.

Uber to require drivers, riders to wear face coverings” via Daisy Ruth of WFLA — Uber executives decided it will require face coverings when using the platform in certain countries, including the United States. The requirement is expected to be rolled out in the coming weeks. Uber said it is also in the process of developing technology to hold drivers and riders accountable. The company said it’s trying to get masks to drivers as soon as possible, but that it may take some time because supplies are limited.

Uber drivers, riders will wear face masks for the time being. Image via USA Today.

Was that a cough? Going back to the movies in Texas” via Manny Fernandez of The New York Times — On Saturday, three movie theaters in the San Antonio area became some of the first in the country to reopen, a move that worried some infectious-disease experts but was applauded by those who bought tickets and went to the show. Santikos Entertainment opened three theaters, offering discounted prices, a limited food menu, workers in masks and greeters who opened doors as people entered, limiting contact with door handles. Texas took a big step out of its coronavirus lockdown on Friday, allowing restaurants, malls, retail stores, and some other businesses to resume operations, with strict limits on the number of patrons allowed inside. Movie theaters, like restaurants, were allowed to seat only 25% of their listed capacity.

— CORONA ECONOMICS —

The housing market faces its next crisis as May rent and mortgages come due” via Renae Merle of The Washington Post — For 13 years, Danny Catalanotto paid the more than $2,000 mortgage on his Bowie, Md., home on time every month. When work as a church organist dried up in mid-March, Catalanotto says, he expected his mortgage company to offer help. Instead, a large Texas-based mortgage-collection firm called Mr. Cooper said Catalanotto could defer his monthly payments temporarily but would have to pay it all back in one lump sum. “It could be $8,000 to $10,000 by then. How do you come up with that if you’ve been out of work?” he said.

Royal Caribbean CEO agrees to the CDC’s terms for disembarking crew stuck on ships” via David J. Neal and Taylor Dolven of the Miami Herald — Royal Caribbean employees who’ve felt imprisoned on cruise ships during a standoff between the cruise line and the CDC might soon be emancipated, according to a Sunday letter from Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley. The letter emailed to those employees said he would sign the CDC’s terms for disembarking crew. The letter also detailed plans for getting crew members to their home nations. After measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 slammed the cruise industry to a halt, about 100,000 crew members remained on ships sent back out to meander around waters until they could be disembarked. The discovery of novel coronavirus infections on the ships among crew caused onboard quarantines, sometimes trapping crew in cabins lacking fresh air.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley has agreed to CDC guidelines for disembarking crew stranded on ships.

Airbnb extends refund window through June 15 as coronavirus pandemic continues to spread” via Charles Trepany of USA Today — Airbnb updated its extenuating circumstances policy to allow guests to receive refunds for stays and Airbnb Experiences that were booked on or before March 14 and that have a check-in date between March 14 and June 15. Airbnb’s previous policy only allowed refunds for trips with a check-in date between March 14 and May 31. If you made a reservation after March 14 or plan on making one now, the individual host’s cancellation policy applies. Still, if a guest or host is “currently sick with COVID-19,” reservations made after March 14 will be covered. Guests who cancel on stays that meet these requirements have the option of receiving either a full cash refund or travel credit.

— MORE CORONA —

The billionaire who cried pandemic” via Jay Greene of The Washington Post — As the virus has spread, killing more than 239,000 people globally, Bill Gates has used his fame and wealth to push for science-based approaches to end the pandemic. Having studied infectious diseases for the past 20 years as part of his philanthropic work, Gates has warned about the potential for a pathogen-spread pandemic since 2015. Since February, the foundation he runs with his wife has given away $250 million to expand testing for the coronavirus and find a cure for COVID-19, the disease it causes. With the coronavirus afflicting rich countries as well as developing ones, Gates also needs to navigate the thickets of U.S. politics. One new challenge for Gates: pressing messages that often run headlong into comments by Trump that lack a scientific basis.

Billionaire Bill Gates is using his wealth and influence to find science-based solutions to the coronavirus pandemic. Image via AP.

T&I investigating Carnival’s response to cruise-line pandemic” via Tanya Snyder of POLITICO — The House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio and Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee Chairman Sean Maloney said in a letter requesting information that an “emphasis on public health and passenger safety” at Carnival has “not been seen up to this point,” and that media reports “suggest that officials at Carnival were aware of the threats to some of its ships and did not take appropriate actions, which may have led to greater infections and the spread of the disease.“ The chairmen noted that Carnival’s affiliated cruise lines are still “advertising various images of couples dining and dancing, musicians entertaining, and lines of children holding hands and playing” — with no mention of the ongoing pandemic.

Cellphone monitoring is spreading with the coronavirus. So is an uneasy tolerance of surveillance.” via Kareem Fahim, Min Joo Kim and Steve Hendrix — In a matter of months, tens of millions of people in dozens of countries have been placed under surveillance. Governments, private companies and researchers observe the health, habits and movements of citizens, often without their consent. It is a massive effort, aimed at enforcing quarantine rules or tracing the spread of the coronavirus, that has sprung up pell-mell in country after country. At least 27 countries are using data from cellphone companies to track the movements of citizens, according to Privacy International, which is keeping a record of surveillance programs. At least 30 countries have developed smartphone apps for the public to download.

Police agencies are using drones to enforce stay-at-home orders, raising concerns among civil rights groups” via Kristine Phillips of USA Today — The coronavirus pandemic has forced police departments in the country and around the globe to change the way they enforce laws fundamentally. Police agencies are increasingly relying on these flying contraptions to do what they have not had to do before: policing while socially distancing. Over the past month, several law enforcement agencies have unveiled drones that broadcast announcements at parks, beaches and homeless camps to enforce stay-at-home orders and social-distancing guidelines. In Daytona Beach, Florida, officials say the drones can also be used during rescue operations, such as giving a drowning person a life preserver without physical contact. “Instead of risking an officer, we just fly the drone and have the drone speak a message. It keeps officers safe and keeps people safe,” said Messod Bendayan, spokesman for the Daytona Police Department.

Social-distance shaming is out of control. Here’s when you’re allowed to be mean” via Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald — Some parks, marinas and golf courses are now open in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, and there are rules for visiting them. There are rules for taking a walk around your neighborhood. We think there should be rules about who you’re allowed to shame, too. And we think we should be allowed to make them. You are entitled to go off under any of the following circumstances: someone at the park isn’t wearing a mask, someone at the grocery store isn’t wearing a mask, someone is browsing an aisle at the grocery store for more than five minutes … your neighbor has 15 vehicles parked on his front lawn.

What will summer camps be like in the year of coronavirus? Nobody knows” via Adriana Brasileiro and Howard Cohen of the Miami Herald — Summer camps are a basic necessity for millions of families across the country. But given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and concerns over health and safety even into the summer months, whether there will be summer camp programs — and what that might entail — is in flux in South Florida. Several camps in Miami-Dade are planning to offer programs starting in June, but most details are up in the air. With restrictions to large gatherings and social-distancing requirements still in place, some camps will offer smaller programs, while some providers are planning virtual camps. The American Camp Association said member camps are “awaiting further guidance from the CDC, as well as state and county public health authorities.”

— THE HUMAN TOLL —

The problem with the COVID-19 death numbers” via John D. Sutter of CNN — This week, researchers from Yale School of Public Health and The Washington Post published a report looking at “excess deaths” from COVID-19. The Yale findings indicate officials are vastly underestimating the toll of the pandemic. It may seem a callous term, but “excess deaths” are critical to understanding this pandemic. The term refers to the number of deaths that are found to be in “excess” of the normal death rate for a particular place during a certain period. This is a statistical estimate, not a case-by-case accounting. Yet many epidemiologists and medical examiners consider it to be the best measure of pandemic- and disaster-related deaths.

New research from Yale finds that COVID-19 death estimates might be wildly underestimated. Image via CNN.

Coronavirus spares one neighborhood but ravages the next. Race and class spell the difference.” via Grace Hauck, Mark Nichols, Miriam Marini and Andrew Pantazi of USA Today — Train tracks run above the intersection of Kinzie Street and Ashland Avenue, two major streets that meet on Chicago’s West Side. In one direction, a ZIP code relatively unscathed by the coronavirus outbreak. In the other, a community decimated by the disease. One mostly white, with six-figure incomes the norm. One mostly minority and earning much slimmer paychecks. COVID-19’s disparate impacts arise from food and housing instability, shaky neighborhood economies and limited access to quality education and health care.

‘I apologize to God for feeling this way.’” via Gloria Jackson for The Washington Post — I try to remember that I’m one of the lucky ones in all this. What do I have to complain about? I’m not dead. I’m not sick. I haven’t lost my job or gone broke. I’m bored, and I’m lonely, and so what? Who’s really going to care about my old-lady problems? Negative thoughts creep up like that. I start getting crabby. It’s waves of anger and depression, and I beat myself up for it. People have it a whole lot worse. Obviously. I apologize to God for feeling this way, but he made me how I am. I’m over this whole thing. I used to be an optimist, but I’m not anymore.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Trump uses White House events to project return to normalcy while relying on testing that public lacks” via David Nakamura of The Washington Post — As Trump aides have signaled that he could soon begin regular travel, the reality is that the White House has created a picture of security that is propped up by special access to the kind of wide-scale testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, that most of the nation remains without. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their aides are tested regularly, and all who enter the White House campus to meet with them are required to undergo rapid on-site tests developed by Abbott Laboratories, which provide results within 15 minutes. It is a cocoon of safety that does not exist almost anywhere else in the country.

Donald Trump is using White House events to project a sense of normalcy during uncertain times. Image via The Washington Post.

Senate to return to Washington as Congress struggles to reconcile constitutional duties with risk of pandemic” via Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane of The Washington Post — Business gets underway with a vote to confirm a new inspector general for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At the same time, Senate committees will move ahead on more of Trump’s nominees, including a controversial pick for the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The House, meanwhile, will continue to keep its distance from the Capitol, with only one committee scheduled to hold an official hearing. Instead, lawmakers and staff are mainly working from home as they try to craft the next trillion-dollar coronavirus relief package and monitor the trillions more spent.

Supreme Court restores another piece of Obamacare. Marco Rubio is not amused” via Jon Healey of the Miami Herald — Looks like health insurers will get their “bailout” after all. The Supreme Court ruled on April 27 that Congress muffed the effort, led by Sen. Rubio and Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin, to deny insurers the money Congress promised to pay them if they wound up shouldering an unexpected amount of risk in the fledgling Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges. Rubio famously labeled the law’s “risk corridors” arrangement a bailout, even though it cut both ways. You might not find health insurers to be a very sympathetic plaintiff. But what Rubio and company did here really is outrageous, and it’s gratifying to see the justices push back (albeit for reasons that seem kinda technical).

Rubio holds sway over judge picks, with benefactor Norman Braman’s nephew on tap for Miami slot” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — David Leibowitz, the nephew of billionaire Norman Braman, Rubio’s most prominent benefactor, is on tap to fill a vacancy on the federal bench in Miami. A former federal prosecutor, Leibowitz currently works as an attorney for Braman’s car-dealership empire in South Florida. Leibowitz served as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York between 2003 and 2012, after earning a B.A. and J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. Leibowitz has worked as general counsel for Braman Motorcars since 2012 and lives in South Florida.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch joins a group of Democratic lawmakers for a news conference call to address seniors and the COVID-19 pandemic, 2 p.m. To request call-in information, contact Jason.Attermann@mail.house.gov.

— STATEWIDE —

The economy is a mess and poor census response could make it worse for local cities” via Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post — Lagging response rates to the 2020 U.S. Census in some Palm Beach County cities could result in the loss of millions of federal dollars to those municipalities, exacerbating what already figures to be a difficult economic rebound. Lake Worth Beach officials were optimistic of improving the response rate by 10% over 2010, when they say the city was undercounted by at least 11,000 residents. That translated into an estimated loss of $176 million over 10 years. To meet its goal, the city embarked on an aggressive campaign to promote the census, partnering with several local organizations to hold community events aimed at “hard-to-count” populations, including Lake Worth Beach’s sizable population of undocumented immigrants.

DeSantis wants probe into Scott spending on flawed unemployment website” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — DeSantis wants an investigation into the state’s $78 million deeply-flawed unemployment website, a move that could direct scrutiny to Rick Scott, whose administration built the system seven years ago. DeSantis, who already has said that the system was designed to fail, said it was “in tatters” and has required re-engineering. The call for an investigation comes as Democrats continue to ratchet up criticism of DeSantis, a Republican, and the system’s problems. Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters noted the negative attention the system has been drawing on a recent campaign phone call with supporters of Trump, and suggested that Democrats were using it to undercut the governor’s overall response to the pandemic.

Ron DeSantis is casting a critical eye toward his predecessor Rick Scott, as a sense is growing that the state unemployment system was engineered to fail. Image via AP.

Florida Republican lawmakers say it’s too soon to set dates for COVID-19 Special Session” via Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — If, and when, lawmakers will hold a special session to tackle COVID-19’s impacts on the state budget and other major parts of life in Florida are questions dominating political pundits’ chatter. The financial picture will start to become clearer when April sales tax revenues are reported in May. A panel of economists is expected to meet in June to consider what likely will be the disease’s devastating impact on sales tax collections, which comprise about 74 percent of Florida’s general revenue. Democrats are pushing for a special session to address myriad issues surrounding COVID-19, such as fixing the beleaguered system Floridians use to apply for unemployment compensation benefits.

COVID-19’s impact on state budget cast doubt on future of proposed toll roads” via Lynn Hatter of WFSU — Florida is still moving forward with plans to build three new toll roads. The projects have been met with local opposition since the legislature approved them in 2019. Now, a new front against the roads has opened. Given the new coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty, can the state still afford them? “FDOT and task force members are carrying out a directive in law … so the question of whether or not we move forward with this process is not something the task force and FDOT can answer. We have to ask that question of the legislature and the governor,” said Kristen Dozier, a Leon County Commissioner and member of the Suncoast Corridor task force.

Florida Republicans want to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits. Lawyers are pushing back.” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times — When Florida’s businesses start to reopen on Monday, questions about worker and customer safety are likely to be among their most pressing concerns. Florida lawmakers want to make it easier on them by protecting them from lawsuits by customers and employees who get infected with COVID-19 on their premises. The potential legislation wouldn’t just protect nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, which are asking Florida and other states for protection as some of their sites become hot spots for COVID-19 infections.

How is this a thing? — “Florida education commissioner’s horseplay video draws attention” via Jeffrey S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — The 25-second video shows a dad and his son trying to throw each other into the family pool. The dad won. Simple messing around to lighten the stress of social isolation, right? Already a lightning rod for his politics, Corcoran, who shared the clip on Twitter, quickly found himself scrutinized by thousands of people who watched and hundreds who had something to say about what they saw. Critics, who were not in the majority, accused the 55-year-old former House speaker of poor judgment and worse for the treatment of his 18-year-old son, Jack, who appeared to have grazed the side of the pool deck on his way into the water.

Sheltering during a storm may mean taking Ubers to hotels, asking people to stay at home” via Kimberly Miller of The Palm Beach Post — Emergency managers pleaded with willful Floridians in 2016 to flee as Hurricane Matthew hurtled toward the east coast with one infamous entreaty querying the supply of body bags to motivate stalwarts. If a hurricane threatens this season, some evacuation requests may be replaced by stay-at-home orders as officials struggle to minimize the spread of coronavirus. Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said he would have a plan this month that outlines guidance for counties on how they may want to handle storms differently to contain infections. Details could include requiring people in hurricane-fortified homes to stay put through a storm.

Hundreds die on Tampa Bay roads each year. Their names will now be harder to find.” via Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times — The Florida Highway Patrol issues news releases on crashes within hours, which the agency has done for years. But the releases are now missing a crucial detail: the names of the people involved. The omission was by design, part of a new policy designed to comply with Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment intended to protect victims of crimes. Although the law explicitly refers to “crime victims,” the Highway Patrol is now omitting from its news releases the names of every person involved in every crash, regardless of whether investigators suspect a crime was committed. State officials say names that can legally be released to the public will still be available in crash reports completed later. But an open government expert contends the new policy is too broad and will limit Floridians’ ability to know what’s happening on the state’s roads.

Kim Daniels goes to appeals court retaliation case” via Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida — Rep. Kimberly Daniels filed a notice of appeal this week in the lawsuit filed by Karen Riggien, a former legislative aide to Daniels who was fired in 2018. Daniels contends that she should be shielded from the lawsuit because of what is known as “qualified immunity” for public officials. Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll rejected a motion by Daniels to dismiss the case, allowing the dispute to move forward. Daniels’ notice of appeal went to the 1st District Court of Appeal. Riggien filed the lawsuit in July 2019 against Daniels under a civil-rights law. Riggien alleged that her First Amendment rights were violated when she suffered retaliation after reporting misconduct by Daniels to the director of House administration.

Appellate court rules against Jacksonville anti-discrimination gay-rights ordinance” via Andrew Pantazi, Christopher Hong and Steve Patterson of The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, was deemed unenforceable in a unanimous appellate court decision. Lower courts had dismissed lawsuits arguing the ordinance was unconstitutional. Still, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals noted that the way the ordinance was passed violated state and city laws. Essentially, the City Council passed an ordinance that said it would amend the anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but the council never actually did that. The court sent the case back to a trial judge to enforce, but the opinion is clear that the City Council’s version of the ordinance doesn’t pass muster.

Joe Peppers, embattled Kids Hope Alliance chief resigns amid controversy” via Teresa Stepzinski of The Florida Times-Union — Peppers, the embattled chief executive officer of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance, has resigned effective immediately. Peppers’ departure comes amid an ongoing controversy that included the city’s top administrator placing him on administrative leave last August. “I deeply regret having to make this decision, but I know that this is the right decision to make, which will allow KHA to find a new leader,” Peppers wrote. “In these uncertain and difficult times, I concluded that by resigning and freeing up necessary funds, I will better advance KHA’s important mission,” Peppers also said.

Liberty County elections supervisor arrested for allegedly misspending office funds” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — Liberty County Supervisor of Elections Gina McDowell was arrested and suspended from office for allegedly spending thousands in office funds for her own personal use. McDowell was booked into the Liberty County Jail on one count of organized scheme to defraud and two counts of official misconduct. “Investigators found that over a period of several years, McDowell and a companion utilized more than $40,000 in SOE funds for personal expenditures not associated with SOE official business,” FDLE said. “The investigation also showed that McDowell attempted to conceal the fraud via misrepresentations within public records.”

Walton County has spent close to $1 million on customary use battle” via Tom McLaughlin of NWF Daily News — The Walton County Commission has shelled out about $1 million thus far seeking a declaration of customary use that would open all of its beaches to the public. That much has been spent without so much as a motion hearing being held, a deposition being scheduled or the exchange of discovery information. On Dec. 11, 2018, just over 500 days ago, county attorneys, acting on the wishes of the County Commission, filed a legal complaint seeking a declaration of customary use. It calls upon Judge David Green to order the county’s 26 miles of white sandy beach opened for everyone to use because the coastline has been available for all to enjoy for literally hundreds of years.

AppointedPaetra Brownlee to the Ninth Circuit Court, which encompasses Orange and Osceola counties.

— 2020 —

What David Johnson is reading — “Trump pollster finds strong demand for expanded absentee voting” via Alayna Treene and Margaret Talev of Axios — New survey research by one of Trump‘s campaign pollsters shows broad support for more absentee voting and elections spending amid the pandemic — and an openness to other vote-by-mail efforts that Trump has criticized. The polling comes as Trump dismissed mail-in voting as “corrupt” and “RIPE for FRAUD.” The survey was conducted by Tony Fabrizio and David Lee for Secure Democracy, a nonpartisan elections group advocating “secure and fair” elections. Three-fourths of the respondents said they favor states keeping polling locations open (so long as they meet health guidelines), but also giving all voters the option to vote absentee: 82% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 70% of Republicans supported that dual option — most popular with voters 65 and older.

Sidelined by pandemic, Trump campaign turns to digital shows” via Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press — Seven nights a week, Trump’s reelection team is airing live programming online to replace his trademark rallies made impossible for now by the coronavirus pandemic. Hosted by top campaign officials, prominent Republicans and “Make America Great Again” luminaries, the freewheeling shows offer reality according to Trump. The shows are an effort to stay connected with core supporters and maintain enthusiasm for a suspended campaign that has had to rewire itself on the fly. Trump himself has not yet appeared in his campaign’s shows. A review of one week’s worth of the 8 p.m. broadcasts, ending on the final day of April, reveals a concerted effort to test attacks on Biden.

Seven nights a week, Donald Trump’s reelection team is airing live programming online. The shows replace his trademark rallies, which have been impossible for now by the coronavirus pandemic. Image via AP.

Trump campaign divided over how to attack Joe Biden amid worries over troubling poll numbers” via Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post — For weeks the Trump reelection effort has diligently cut, cataloged and pushed out viral videos of every verbal stumble Biden makes in interviews, relentlessly pushing the idea that the presumptive Democratic nominee is mentally unfit for the presidency. “There is something missing,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said last week in a campaign broadcast. “I feel bad for him. I wish his wife would pull him out of this.” Behind the scenes, the offensive has become a point of contention among some of Trump’s closest advisers, who have spent weeks debating without resolution the best message and strategy to accomplish the Trump campaign’s central goal of tarnishing the Biden brand as poll numbers continue to show a rocky road to reelection for the president.

The Biden campaign faces a mind-boggling challenge: How to make Joe go viral” via Alex Thompson of POLITICO — Making Biden go viral has become a consuming focus of Biden’s campaign as it tries to finally up its digital game to compete against a challenger who not only understands intuitively how to generate clicks and buzz, but boasts a massive and sophisticated digital operation to amplify his message. Biden’s paltry digital team of about 25 people has decided mostly to eschew the combative fare preferred by the president’s campaign in favor of uplifting content designed to inspire. The rub, as no one understands better than Trump, is that the social media platforms reward bombast and conflict.

Tara Reade: ‘I didn’t use sexual harassment’ in Biden complaint” via Alexandra Jaffe, Don Thompson and Stephen Braun of The Associated Press — Reade, the former Senate staffer who alleges Biden sexually assaulted her 27 years ago, says she filed a limited report with a congressional personnel office that did not explicitly accuse him of sexual assault or harassment. “I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable,” Reade said in an interview. “I know that I was too scared to write about the sexual assault.” Reade told the AP twice that she did not use the phrase “sexual harassment” in filing the complaint, but at other points in the interview said that was the behavior she believed she was describing.

Testimony of Amendment 4 advocate emerges in felon voting fight” via the News Service of Florida — Elections experts, civil-rights leaders and potential voters spent the week excoriating a state law requiring felons to pay court-ordered “legal financial obligations” to be eligible to vote. But defending the law to a federal judge on Friday, attorneys representing DeSantis’ administration turned to a man who garnered international acclaim for his advocacy of a 2018 constitutional amendment designed to restore felons’ voting rights. The 2018 constitutional amendment restored voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole and probation.” Republican legislators in the 2019 law included the requirement that felons who’ve served their time behind bars pay court-ordered fees, fines, costs and restitution before being able to cast ballots.

— MORE FROM THE TRAIL —

With an easy path to a third term, Neal Dunn can focus on Hurricane Michael recovery” via Florida Daily — With an easy election ahead of him, Dunn can continue to focus on his top concern on Capitol Hill: helping the Panhandle and Big Bend recover from Hurricane Michael. In his three and a half years on Capitol Hill, Dunn hasn’t exactly made headlines and his assignments on the U.S. House Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Committees do not lend themselves to achieving a high profile. They also aren’t exactly the best perches to bring funds to the area which continues to recover from Hurricane Michael. However, to his credit, Dunn has shown the ability to work with other members of the Florida delegation to secure funds to help the region recover.

With another term safely within reach, Neal Dunn can now concentrate on Hurricane Michael relief. Image via Getty.

‘A huge missed opportunity.’ Democrats fail to challenge Miami’s only House Republican” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — When South Florida Democrats couldn’t find a candidate to challenge Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a nine-term Cuban-American congressman from a prominent political family, they ensured that Miami’s only Republican will remain in Congress until 2023, even though his district only went for Trump by a slim two-point margin. Kyle Kondik, who handicaps House races around the country with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said getting a candidate on the ballot is “a baseline responsibility for any political party” and noted that elections in 2006 for Democrats and 2010 for Republicans swept some unlikely challengers into Congress.

— TOP OPINION —

Crystal Stickle: Safe. Ready. Florida’s hospitals are prepared for reopening day” via Florida Politics — Today, our state takes its first steps to reopening and bringing the economy back online. Many hospitals will resume elective, or nonemergent, procedures and surgeries. Hospitals that are restarting some, or all, services have deemed it safe to do so, given their community COVID-19 infection rates and their facility’s capacity. Although considered “elective,” these procedures are not optional or mere personal choice. They are surgical procedures integral to minimizing pain, improving quality of life and restoring health. In the days ahead, some hospitals will resume nonemergent procedures and services in phases or all at once. Florida’s hospitals are safe, ready and equipped to care for all.

— OPINIONS —

We’ve unleashed a second pandemic: Unemployment” via David Von Drehle of The Washington Post — In the necessary fight against this disease, we’ve unleashed a second pandemic: unemployment. And it’s now at the stage where the novel coronavirus was six weeks ago. It is raging uncontrolled and overwhelming an unprepared government. In late April, 3.8 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, bringing the number out of work since the health crisis began to more than 30 million. This is the worst job loss in at least 50 years. Fifty years. To see worse, you have to look to the Great Depression. To see worse, just wait a few days for the next weekly report. Today’s dreadful unemployment numbers assuredly mask an even uglier picture: untold millions of jobless Americans yet to be counted.

Can Republicans bet on a comeback?” via Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post — In multiple polls, former Vice President Joe Biden has a comfortable lead nationally, and a small but consistent lead in battleground states ranging from Pennsylvania to Michigan to Arizona and North Carolina. Needless to say, if the numbers hold and Biden wins Arizona, this will be a blowout election. Trump could recover if, for example, there is no second wave of coronavirus cases, the deaths abate quickly, and states are getting back to work by Election Day. If you find that unlikely, you are in good company.

DeSantis has been strong, effective” via Lenny Curry for the Florida Times-Union — Difficult times like these call for bold, transparent leadership. We have received that leadership here in Florida: contrary to the cynical misdirection of some in the news media, DeSantis has led an effective coronavirus response for which he deserves great credit. As coronavirus started to spread, the media declared Florida to be America’s “next coronavirus hot spot.” Media reports excoriated DeSantis with near-glee. Leading the pack were our own Florida papers, which all published editorials savaging DeSantis days and weeks before we had any suitable Florida data by which to judge the success of his strategy. Let’s consider some simple statistics. Florida is the third-largest state in America. Yet as of April 30, we rank No. 8 nationally in coronavirus cases.

After pandemic, massive Lot J subsidies for Jaguars owner need to be put on hold” via Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union — The city of Jacksonville’s plan to offer more than $200 million in hard cash to prop up a conceptual development from Jaguars owner Shad Khan, one of the wealthiest men in the world, can and should be put on the back burner indefinitely. The massive subsidy never made much sense anyway. It was too much money for too low a return on public investment in the short term and would siphon away far too much financial capacity from a city that already falls short on addressing critical neighborhood needs. In the long term, no one really knows whether Khan’s proposed $700 million of additional investment in office buildings, hotel space and possibly a convention center would ever materialize.

— TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Florida’s statewide stay-at-home order has lifted for every county except Miami/Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, and restaurants can reopen for business — but with limitations. The end of the lockdown does NOT mean an end to social distancing.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Floridians may be getting back to work, but seniors our urged to still stay inside for now because of the risk of infection. It will be a bit easier thanks to a new state program that provides free restaurant-style meals to elders — “Meals of Love.” Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom and Lisa Bretz, the executive director of the Area Agency on Aging for North Florida, will talk about the program.

— Today is also the day that hospitals and one-day surgery centers can resume elective procedures that were on hold during the pandemic. That is good news for the hospitals, which lost so much business in the lockdown that some of the facilities started furloughing staff. 

— Advocates for inmates are worried about the spread of COVID-19 behind bars and are urging state corrections officials to consider more conditional medical releases from inmates who face the most risk.

— And the latest on Florida Man and Woman, who are both in trouble for an X-rated video chat at a state prison. Both could end up wearing orange.

To listen, click on the image below:

— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —

— ALOE —

Pieces of Halley’s comet will shower space in next few days” via Kimberly Miller of the Palm Beach Post — Halley’s comet, although not visible again until 2061, reminds us of its presence twice a year with the Eta Aquariid meteor shower in May and the Orionid meteor shower in October. This year’s Eta Aquariid shower is expected to have the most meteors before dawn on May 5, but EarthSky writer Bruce McClure said it is worth taking a look on days preceding and after the peak. “This shower has a rather broad maximum, so just as many meteors may be flying on the mornings before and after,” he said in his column.

Disney+ in a programming crunch due to coronavirus shutdown” via Erich Schwartzel of The Wall Street Journal — The shutdown of Hollywood is disrupting the Disney+ pipeline. Several of the biggest releases headed to the platform have had production halted amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. To keep subscribers hooked, Disney has moved some big theatrical releases to the streaming service ahead of schedule. The latest Star Wars film, “The Rise of Skywalker,” is heading to the service two months ahead of schedule as part of a fan event. The company also is mining its back catalog, urging viewers earlier this week to watch decades-old titles like the 1971 musical “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and 1990s favorites like “Sister Act.”

A spike in coronavirus viewership means a dearth of programming for Disney+.

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ meets ‘Revenge of the Sith’ in final episodes” via Brian Lowry of CNN — Originally set in the period between Episodes II and III of the “Star Wars” saga, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is finishing its run in rousing fashion, overlapping with key moments in “Revenge of the Sith.” The four-part finale, airing on the streaming service Disney+, has largely charted those events from the perspective of Ahsoka Tano, the padawan to Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi knight. Although Ahsoka previously appeared in the animated series “Star Wars Rebels,” which unfolds later in the timeline, her whereabouts during this stretch had remained unknown. The episodes present a kind of jigsaw puzzle, filling in parts of the story that occurred around the events of “Revenge of the Sith.” At one point, a scene from the 2005 movie is replicated before revealing what happened almost immediately after that.

Sportfishing captain donates catch to Florida Keys residents” via The Associated Press — Florida Keys sportfishing captain Mike Weinhofer hasn’t had charter clients since the new coronavirus closed the Keys to visitors in March, but he’s still fishing. Weinhofer has operated Key West Florida Fishing Charters for more than 30 years. In the past six weeks, he and his crew have caught, filleted and distributed about 624 bags in the Keys, where the tourism industry employs half the workforce. “I started giving away free fish just to help out,” Weinhofer said Thursday evening, after he took his two daughters out fishing. “You know, a lot of people are having a tough time right now.”

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to Rep. Tina Polsky, my friend (and the best State Attorney in Florida) Dave Aronberg, as well as Candice Ericks, former scribe Brandon Larrabee and Susannah Randolph. Belated birthday wishes to the guy who always has a smile on his face, Donovan Brown.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

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