COVID-19 Morning Report
DeSantis Blindsides with Order Ending Local COVID-19 Restrictions, Counties and Cities Don’t Know What That Means for Them
Governor Ron DeSantis blindsided local governments, Monday, with an executive order suspending all local emergency orders related to COVID-19. County and city governments weren’t aware DeSantis would be issuing the order until it was happening and don’t yet know how it will affect pandemic response.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman spoke shortly after DeSantis. He said he’s not even convinced the actual order exists yet.
“All of us. And when I say all of us, I’m talking about mayors and county administrators from all over the state; We’ve all struggled trying to figure out what his orders are saying,” Kriseman said.
“Because they’re not typically very clear and a lot of times it seems like he holds a press conference and then the order comes out afterward, where his staff is probably scrambling to write down what he put down.”
DeSantis held a news conference Monday at the Big Catch at Salt Creek near downtown St. Petersburg. He announced the conference only about an hour or two before it was held and did not state what the subject was. During the event, he signed a number of actions including a bill that expands his powers as governor to override any local emergency order. It also puts restrictions on how local governments can implement emergency orders.
However, that bill won’t become law until July 1. So, DeSantis issued an executive order on the spot to take effect immediately.
The new order
“It terminates, invalidates all remaining emergency orders from local government in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis called existing orders, which include mask mandates in many localities, “anti-science” because many Floridians are being vaccinated.
“And the fact of the matter is that is an anti-science posture to say that we need all these restrictions even with mass vaccination,” he said.
But scientists and epidemiologists with the CDC still say social distancing and mask-wearing are important steps to take while more people receive vaccines. Even if vaccinated against COVID-19, someone could still carry and spread the virus.
In Florida only 6.3 million people have been fully vaccinated according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, which is less than a third of all Floridians. Florida also ranks 39th in number of COVID 19 vaccines administered, according to CDC data.
Kriseman said the fact that Florida had any success in its COVID response was in spite of and not because of the governor.
“We all had orders that went further than the Governor’s. That’s Republican and Democrat,” he said. “That’s why you see the numbers that you’ve seen and you haven’t had the deaths and hospitalizations in Florida that you’ve had in other places around the country.”
But if the order does what DeSantis said it will, Kriseman said that could change.
“If he’s suspending all of our orders immediately then you can go into a restaurant and you never have to wear this (a mask) again. We can all expect to see our hospitalizations to increase,” Kriseman said. “Unfortunately, we’ll probably see an increase in deaths. But I guess that’s not important.”
As of Monday afternoon, however, local governments were still in the dark. The language of the order wasn’t yet available. In St. Pete, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, administrators and lawyers still wait for a copy of the order to determine exactly what it means for the ability to fight against the ongoing pandemic.
Even with vaccinations, Florida still sees between 3,000 and 5,000 new cases daily and has a case positivity rate over six percent.
Local emergencies allow county and city leaders special powers to respond to crises. They also allow local governments to recoup emergency funds like those spent operating COVID vaccination and testing sites and paying emergency workers.
County and city governments still wait to see how DeSantis’s new order will affect them.
Democratic State Legislators Respond to DeSantis’ Executive Order
Democratic state legislative leaders are speaking out against Governor DeSantis’s decision to lift local rules requiring mask-wearing and social distancing.
House Democratic Minority Leader Evan Jenne said the move is probably premature.
“This is a complete reversal of one of the things that I would actually praise him for. He let places like Dade, Broward, Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Duval kind of make some of the decisions on their own about how they wanted to handle this and it really kept not just the amount of cases down. It kept the deaths from really skyrocketing,” said Jenne.
Jenne also criticized a GOP-backed measure barring businesses from requiring patrons to show vaccination proof. He says he finds it befuddling.
"Typically, the Republican Party of Florida has been a real advocate for not imposing regulations on businesses, so I'm wondering if this isn't part of a larger plan for a potential run at a larger office,” said Jenne.
Many have speculated DeSantis is considering a run for president in 2024.
Florida Surgeon General Says Fully Vaccinated People No Longer Need Masks in Public
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees issued an advisory, April 29, saying that Floridians who have been inoculated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in public.
The News-Press reports, the new advisory rescinds previous advisories that required face coverings when physical distancing isn't possible, both indoors and outdoors.
The new advisory is out of step with current guidance from the CDC, which says fully vaccinated people should continue wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces.
The new state advisory also encourages state government offices to conduct business in person.
Florida Opens Up Vaccinations to People Beyond State Residents
Florida’s Department of Health has approved opening up COVID-19 vaccinations to people who are not state residents.
Florida Division of Emergency Management spokesman Mike Jachles wouldn’t say that any tourist qualifies.
“What I can say is if you have an I.D. and if you can verbally meet the criteria, so if you can say yes to whatever the questions are, then you can get the vaccine,” said Jachles.
The questions will address whether the person is in the state to provide goods or services to the benefit of the state, which could include bringing in revenue for local businesses.
Everyone needs to show an I.D. like a driver’s license or passport. Parents should be prepared to show proof of guardianship.
Health officials report 3,075 new COVID-19 cases and 39 Deaths Monday
State health officials reported 3,075 new COVID-19 cases, Monday, for a total of 2,245,853 infections. The Florida Department of Health also reported 39 coronavirus-related deaths, May 3, increasing the statewide death toll to 36,009 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.
The latest single-day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management stood at 8.72% on Sunday. Over the past two weeks the single-day positivity rate has ranged between 6.99% and 10.17%.
The Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of this morning 3,117 patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 are admitted to hospitals throughout the state. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties combined stand at 249 patients.
Lee Health reported Monday afternoon that 112 patients were being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals. Currently 75% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 22% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 10 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 21 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
As of Monday morning, the Florida Division of Emergency Management reported more than 8.9 million (8,915,278) people have been vaccinated including more than 2.5 million (2,567,339) people who have received a first dose, and more than 5.7 million (5,788,888) who have completed the two-dose series. Including those who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, more than 6.3 million (6,347,939) people in Florida have been fully vaccinated.
Sarasota Rental Assistance Program Opens for Applications Wednesday
Sarasota County will begin accepting applications for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program on Wednesday, May 5. The program is intended to help people who've struggled to keep up with their rent payments due to hardships linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Herald Tribune reports, Sarasota County received $13 million for the effort through a federal aid program funded by legislation passed late last year.
The program is open to those with a household income at or below 50% of the area median income. For a family of four, that means an annual household income of just over $61,000 and for an individual, that means an income of just over $43,000.
Residents can check their eligibility and submit applications at scgov.net/rent.
The CDC's nationwide eviction moratorium aimed at protecting renters who lost income due to the pandemic is set to expire June 30.
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