Hello and welcome to Wednesday.
The daily rundown — Between Monday night and Tuesday night, the number of Florida coronavirus cases increased 2.8 percent, to 21,628; hospitalizations went up 7.3 percent, to 3,050; and deaths rose 14 percent, to 571.
Mr. Trump? — If it was not clear already, Florida’s response to the coronavirus is tied to and runs through the White House. The first indication Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted signals from the from President Donald Trump before taking big actions was the stay-at-home order. The governor issued one on April 1 after widespread criticism that he should have done so sooner. As is well documented, the move in Florida came only after a strong nod from the Trump that a stay-at-home order, even one full of exceptions, had White House cover.
Now sports — Now DeSantis seems to be reading from the same script as Trump when it comes to re-opening the economy. We just didn’t expect to take that literally. During his Tuesday briefing, DeSantis said sports would likely be the tip of the spear in restarting Florida. “I think we need to support sports and events.” DeSantis said everyone was “starved for content” and lamented having to watch sporting events from the “early 2000s.” A short time later during the White House coronavirus briefing, you’ll never guess what Trump said: “We have to get our sports back. I‘m tired watching baseball games that are 14 years old.” Political partisans and policy experts can argue over whether it’s good to have a coronavirus strategy totally tethered to the White House, but clearly Florida’s is.
The spoils? — The strategy appears to have some admirers. Donald Trump Jr. is holding a virtual “MAGA Meet Up” with Florida Trump Victory Thursday evening because state leaders have quickly pivoted to a victual operation as the coronavirus shut down traditional campaigns. “Donald Trump Jr. will be thanking the Florida Trump Victory team, neighborhood team leaders, local party leadership, and volunteers for all their hard work in seamlessly shifting to a virtual campaign,” Trump Florida State Director Kevin Marino Cabrera wrote in an internal email obtained by Playbook. We doubt the Florida GOP would get Don Jr. love if the White House was upset with DeSantis’ coronavirus response. Oh, and there is one more thing. And this is important. “Please do not email blast, nor post this on social media. This is a closed press event.” So, shhhhh.
— WHERE’S RON? — Nothing official has been announced for Gov. DeSantis.
GRIM DAY — “Coronavirus deaths surge past 500 mark in Florida,” by USA Today Network’s John Kennedy: “Coronavirus deaths surged past the 500 mark early Tuesday in Florida, while overall cases of the illness reached 21,367 – an overnight increase of 348 patients. Just hours after Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said that the state was at a “plateau, with a slight increase in the number of cases over the past week,” deaths reached 524 – a 25-fatality jump from the night before.”
NOT GOOD — “Cocoa police officer tests positive for COVID-19,” by Florida Today’s JD Gallop: “A veteran Cocoa police officer has tested positive for the coronavirus after exhibiting symptoms last week, officials with the 70-officer agency reported Tuesday. The unidentified officer — who worked patrol – was tested for COVID-19 Friday. The results were returned on Sunday and the police chief was notified, police reported.”
RIP — “A Miami-area hospital nurse who worked with COVID-19 patients has died,” by Miami Herald’s Michelle Marchante: ”A nurse at Palmetto General Hospital who was on the COVID-19 front lines has died. Danielle Dicenso, an ICU nurse at the Hialeah hospital, had a ‘beautiful smile and contagious laugh,’ her family wrote on a GoFundMe page. Her pride and joy was her 4-year-old son, Dominic.”
PLAYBALL? — “Florida in ‘conversation’ with Mets about fan-less spring training,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: The New York Mets are in talks with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about holding spring training games closed to the public. As DeSantis has hinted at lifting some restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus outbreak, including reopening schools, his office has been talking to the Mets about playing fan-less games.
EVERYONE — “Florida now requiring private labs to report all COVID-19 test results,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: The Florida Department of Health has quietly adopted an emergency rule that requires private labs to immediately report all coronavirus testing, a change from previous rules that only required reporting of positive tests, which gives a misleading impression of the state’s current testing backlog
GEORGIA? — “In hard-hit Florida, jobless workers struggle to get state aid,” by Reuters’ Andy Sullivan and Jonnelle Marte: “With cruise ships idled and airplanes almost empty, Florida travel adviser Nick Pena has been out of work for nearly a month, spending his days trying to secure jobless benefits from a state seemingly unable to provide them… The 553,000 jobless claims Florida has recorded over the past three weeks likely amount to a fraction of those trying to get in to the system, according to [state Rep. Geraldine] Thompson and other officials. Neighboring Georgia, where the workforce is half as large, processed 644,000 claims over the same period. Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which processes jobless benefits, said last week it would add hundreds of workers to tackle a backlog of applications.”
— Shocker: “A department spokeswoman did not answer questions submitted by Reuters.”
SURPRISE, SURPRISE — “Large hotel, restaurant companies getting small-business loans spend less of the money paying workers,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia: “The Pennsylvania investment firm that owns the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove in Miami has applied for as many as 48 taxpayer-backed loans under an emergency program meant to help the nation’s smallest businesses hang on to their employees through the coronavirus pandemic. A Maryland hotel company that did more than $1.5 billion in revenue last year has applied for more than 50 loans — and been approved for about 10 so far.”
PALM BEACH — “Cases slow, county talks about restarting economy,” by Palm Beach Post’s Jane Musgrave and Wayne Washington: “With the pace of new coronavirus cases beginning to ease, Palm Beach County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners Tuesday that they should begin discussing how to jump start the local economy.”
BEEN A LONG TIME — “Nikki Fried: When will Florida Cabinet address Covid-19” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner and Tom Urban: “Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Tuesday reiterated a call for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet to jointly address issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. Fried, who has complained about a lack of communication between the statewide elected officials, said she’s been requesting weekly briefings from the governor’s office since before an April 7 Cabinet meeting was canceled.”
OH? — “Everyone on exclusive Fisher Island, even the staff, can get tested for coronavirus,” by Miami Herald’s Charles Rabin and Aaron Leibowitz: ”Fisher Island — an exclusive enclave of multi-million dollar condos and homes and one of the wealthiest ZIP Codes in the country — has purchased thousands of rapid COVID-19 blood test kits from the University of Miami Health System for all of its residents and workers.”
EASIER — “Florida will auto-enroll some workers for unemployment benefits,” by POLITICO’s Arek Sarkissian: Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering a plan to automatically enroll workers to receive unemployment assistance if they are out of work because of the coronavirus outbreak. The automatic enrollment will apply to workers at some of Florida’s largest employers, including 43,000 from Walt Disney World who will be furloughed on Sunday.
— “Tampa International Airport to get $81 million in coronavirus aid,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Richard Danielson
DEMOCRAT’S PLAN — “How will we reopen states? Donna Shalala and other Democrats have national plan,” by Miami Herald’s Alex Daugherty: “As President Donald Trump fights with a group of governors over who has the power to lift stay-at-home orders across the country, House Democrats led by Miami Rep. Donna Shalala are drafting a plan of their own.”
RELATED SPECTRUM SIDENOTE — Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) is out with the Spectrum Coordination Act, H.R. 6477, which would force the FCC and NTIA to update their memorandum of understanding on airwaves matters. (The current version dates to 2003). The legislation was prompted by a bipartisan letter in January from House Energy and Commerce leadership asking the Government Accountability Office about several apparent breakdowns in spectrum coordination between the administration and FCC, the House Republican’s office told John.
OUT — “FL fund for small-business bridge loans is gone. 1,000 got $50K. 37,000 got nothing,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Lawrence Mower: ”Florida has given away all of its emergency loans to more than 1,000 small businesses, but roughly 37,000 others who applied for the relief program will lose out. The one-year, $50,000 interest-free loans, known as bridge loans, are typically issued during hurricanes. Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the $50 million program to help companies survive the coronavirus pandemic.”
… The money is gone, but we still do not know who got it. As of Tuesday afternoon, the state has not released a list of recipients, despite several requests over several days.
FEA — “Keep Florida campuses closed until school year ends, teachers union urges DeSantis,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Megan Reeves and Jeffrey S. Solochek: ”Florida’s statewide teachers union called on Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday to ‘declare the previously unthinkable’ and keep schools closed through the end of the school year due to the coronavirus. “As much as our students and educators want the opportunity to be back at our schools, returning prematurely will threaten the safety and well-being of all on campus,” Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram wrote in a letter. It was sent to the governor and state education commission Richard Corcoran on behalf of the union’s 145,000 members.”
TERRIBLE — “Hillsborough County inmate released amid coronavirus concern back in jail on murder charges,” News Channel 8’s Justin Schecker: “An inmate who was released from the Hillsborough County Jail in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus is back behind bars and accused of committing second-degree murder the day after he got out of jail, deputies say. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office confirms 26-year-old Joseph Edwards Williams was arrested on a warrant Monday night in Gibsonton.”
… LARGER CONTEXT… This comes as criminal justice reform has become a top-tier issue in Tallahassee. Someone being released because of the coronavirus — something reform advocates have applauded — will have a huge impact on the policy fight moving forward. State Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican and chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, immediately tossed it into the reform arena. The House has generally been more conservative on the issue. But the most vocal criminal justice advocates are shaking their head this morning. The inmate in question should never have been released because he had 35 previous charges, advocates argue. They seem cognizant of the fact this could set their mission back. “At no point should this guy have been released,” tweeted Chelsea Murphy, Florida Director of Right on Crime. “This is why we can’t have nice things…”
…BASKIN BOOST… Carole Baskin of Tiger King fame gave $1,000 to Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who is in knee deep in trouble. News broke Tuesday that Burr sold his D.C. townhouse to a lobbyist with business before his committee, and is under investigation after he sold $1.7 million in stock after getting an internal briefing on the coronavirus threat.
NEW WORLD — “‘Texting is the new handshake’ for Biden, Trump and other campaigns during pandemic,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno: “The night Sen. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign for president, a text message arrived. It’s Joe Biden. And I will be your Democratic nominee for president. The next day, the phone buzzed again.”
… Democratic state Rep. Shev Jones, a candidate for Florida Senate, is holding a “virtual roundtable” with Joe Biden about the people working on the front lines during the croronavirus crisis.” Welcome to the new campaign normal. You can watch the 3 p.m. event at JoeBiden.com/live.
TO COURT — “State says new Senate law scuttles Medicaid initiative,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Sanders: “Just days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial law making it harder to pass ballot initiatives, the Florida Senate is using the law to try to block a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand Medicaid coverage.”
HIGH COURT — “FSU fraternity death case going to Supreme Court,” by News Service of Florida: “A former Florida State University fraternity president and two other men have gone to the state Supreme Court in a dispute about whether they should face felony hazing charges in the 2017 death of a pledge who drank heavily at an off-campus party. Former Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity chapter President Anthony Petagine and fraternity members Luke Kluttz and Anthony Oppenheimer last week filed notices of taking their cases to the Supreme Court, according to documents posted Tuesday on the court website.”
THE SUPREMES — “Florida looks to US Supreme Court in ‘water war,” by News Service of Florida’s Jim Sanders: “Warning that a special master’s recommendation would ‘spell doom’ for the Apalachicola River, Florida wants the U.S. Supreme Court to require Georgia to share more water in a river system that links the two states. Florida filed a 65-page brief Monday asking the Supreme Court to reject a December recommendation by Special Master Paul Kelly, who said Florida has not adequately shown that Georgia’s water use caused problems in the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay.”
REJECTED — “Judge call Jeffrey Epstein case a ‘national disgrace’ but reject bid to undo deal,” by Miami Herald’s Jay Weaver and Julie K. Brown: ”Even as they called the Jeffrey Epstein case ‘beyond scandalous’ and a ‘national disgrace,’ a three-judge panel rejected a petition by one of the sex trafficker’s young victims to undo an agreement by federal prosecutors not to prosecute him on sex-trafficking charges more than a decade ago.”
BLINDED BY DARKNESS — “Despite early gains, Puerto Rico stumbles in data darkness amid lack of coronavirus tests,” Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss: ”Puerto Rico won early praise for taking bold and decisive actions to shut down the spread of the coronavirus — closing non-essential businesses, issuing stay-at-home orders and imposing a curfew. As most of the mainland eventually followed suit, Gov. Wanda Vázquez said the U.S. territory of 3.2 million could be an example of how to fight the “invisible enemy” of COVID-19.”
ZOOM — “Supreme Court of Florida goes virtual for upcoming arguments in two marijuana cases,” News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders: “Florida Supreme Court oral arguments typically are dignified affairs in a tradition-filled courtroom across the street from the state Capitol. But when justices hear arguments May 6, they will use Zoom. For the first time, the Supreme Court will hold oral arguments using video teleconferencing technology as it tries to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the court announced Tuesday.”
DUSTY — “March was the driest on record. Can the Everglades cope?” by Miami Herald’s Adriana Brasileiro: “In the Everglades, it’s all about the water. The fragile ecosystem hasn’t seen much rain during this unseasonably dry season and by the time summer arrives, sea grass could be dying and the rich peat soil that supports life could be collapsing.”
— “Gifford rap star YNW Melly’s life behind bars,” by TCPalm’s Corey Arwood: “Before Jamell Demons, YNW Melly, contracted COVID-19, jail records of his confinement in Broward County showed a side of his incarceration the renowned rapper didn’t share on social media. Documents spanning Demons’ time in jail from February 2019 through March 2020 detailed an, at times, turbulent year for the 21-year-old awaiting trial.”
— “UF professors awarded Guggenheim Fellowships,” by Gainesville Sun’s Aida Mallard
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