This month’s post focuses solely on news about the coronavirus because there is just so much to report.
Almost 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Florida through December 28, which is about six percent of the state population. Five percent of the Florida resident cases (62,142) resulted in hospitalizations and two percent (21,409) resulted in deaths, according to the report. In the last two weeks:
State health officials say the positivity rate spike to 22.75 percent on 12/28 is likely the result of fewer people getting tested during the Christmas holidays and delays in result processing and reporting.
Despite these numbers:
- Gov. Ron DeSantis says no new lockdowns, mask mandates or any other anti-COVID-19 measure in Florida. Orlando Sentinel, 12/1/20
- DeSantis not planning statewide campaign in Florida to urge coronavirus vaccine use. Sarasota Herald-Tribune via Palm Beach Post, 12/4/20
Distributing the Vaccine
According to the Executive Order governing the first phase of vaccine administration, only residents and staff of long-term care facilities, persons 65 and older, and health care personnel with direct patient contact may receive the vaccine. Hospital providers may also vaccinate persons they deem to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.
In a departure from CDC guidelines, “We are not going to put young, healthy workers ahead of our elderly vulnerable population,” DeSantis said. “Frontline essential workers,” including fire fighters, police, and those in education, will have to wait.
- DeSantis: CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine priorities a ‘huge mistake.’ The Center Square | Florida, 12/22/20
- DeSantis announces Executive Order prioritizing vaccination for individuals 65 and older. Press release, 12/23/20; Executive Order; video press conference
Florida expected an initial distribution of 546,400 doses of the vaccine:
Pfizer Vaccine: 179,400 doses were to be distributed as: 97,500 doses to five Florida hospitals to vaccinate “high-contact and high-exposure” healthcare workers; 60,450 doses to CVS and Walgreens for use in long-term care facilities; and 21,450 doses to the Florida Department of Health for use in areas with a “high concentration of long-term care facilities.” Gov. DeSantis Press Release, 12/10/20
Moderna Vaccine: 367,000 doses were to be allocated to 173 hospitals in 43 counties that did not participate in the initial allocation of Pfizer vaccine. Gov. DeSantis Press Release, 12/16/20
By comparison, 146,160 people have been vaccinated through December 28, according to the latest Florida Department of Health COVID-19 vaccine summary. That’s a number equal to 27 percent of the number of doses. Of those vaccinated, 18 percent were age 65 or older, 60 percent were women, and 56 percent were white, presumably reflecting the healthcare-worker priority.
The demographics of those vaccinated and the distribution by county are among the data in the summary report.
BREAKING NEWS: The Collier County Health Department has received its first doses of the vaccine and the County will continue to receive the vaccine in the following weeks.
- DOH-Collier will begin distributing vaccines on January 3, 2021. Press Release, 12/30/20
But as of now, no appointment times are available, according to the Health Department website.
State Information Sources
Can We Trust the Data?
Since the start of the pandemic, as we have reported monthly, questions have been raised about the accuracy of the pandemic-related data being reported by the state. This month:
- Politifact says DeSantis’ statements about COVID-19 ‘half true’. The Governor had said states that are locked down are increasing in COVID-19 numbers at twice the rate of Florida. WINK News, 12/2/20
- DeSantis says ‘corporate American media’ slants coverage of Florida’s COVID-19 efforts. He appeared on Fox News as Florida logged its millionth COVID-19 diagnosis. Florida Politics, 12/3/20
- Secrecy and spin: How Florida’s governor misled the public on the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis in Florida, the DeSantis’ administration engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public on the gravest health threat the state has ever faced, a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation has found. Sun Sentinel, 12/3/20
- A mysterious gap in COVID-19 deaths appeared in Florida before the presidential election. It suggests the state manipulated a backlog of unrecorded fatalities, presenting more favorable death counts in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Sun Sentinel, 12/15/20
- 2 White House task force reports released by DeSantis’ office after Orlando Sentinel sues. “We look forward to our court hearing, where we will make the case that these health reports … should always be released within a day of the state receiving it,” said Julie Anderson, editor in chief of the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel, 12/16/20
- Putting ‘politics in front of lives’: DeSantis faces criticism over Florida’s COVID-19 response. He has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, blocked local governments from enforcing their own measures to protect residents from coronavirus, and sidelined health experts even as he promoted questionable science, according to CNN interviews with more than a dozen Florida officials and experts. CNN, 12/18/20
- DeSantis mostly ignored White House task force COVID-19 reports, belittled task force’s advice. The reports produced by a 26-member task force, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and coordinated by Dr. Deborah Birx, are sent every week to all 50 state governors. But while they’re meant to be “widely” shared, Florida stopped releasing its reports in November. Orlando Sentinel, 12/18/20
- Coronavirus: Gov. DeSantis’ holiday season hasn’t been jolly as criticism mounts. The ‘very petulant’ governor has fought with pharmacies and held Christmas parties as cases surge. Palm Beach Post via jacksonville.com, 12/19/20
- Local officials begin to buck DeSantis. There’s long been tension between state and city and county governments in Florida, but his approach to the pandemic is prompting a heightened round of conflict. Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/22/20
Data Scientist’s Home Raided by FDLE
“The story of how a Florida data scientist responsible for managing the state’s coronavirus numbers wound up with state police agents brandishing guns in her house this month began seven months ago, when Rebekah Jones was removed from her post at the Florida Department of Health,” wrote Patricia Mazzei in a sweeping piece in the NYTimes, 12/13/20.
- Florida police raid home of former state COVID-19 data scientist. The FDOE was investigating whether Jones, who was fired by the state Department of Health in May, accessed a state government messaging system without authorization to urge employees to speak out about coronavirus deaths. CNN, 12/8/20
- Florida officials defend raid on COVID-19 whistleblower as questions emerge about case. In a statement, FDLE said agents could see someone moving in the house but no one answered the door. Miami Herald, 12/8/20
- Under fire for strong-arm tactics, DeSantis lashes out at former data scientist. “Just because you’re a darling of some corners of the fever swamps, that does not exempt you from following the law,” he said. Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 12/12/20
- Fired Florida data scientist seeks relief from courts following FDLE computer seizures. The lawsuit claims the warrant was a “sham” to punish Jones for speaking out against the state. WFSU News, 12/21/20
Effects on Workers and the Economy
Over 5 million state jobless claims have been filed since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, at a cost to the state of $3.8 billion. Federal pandemic relief paid jobless Floridians an additional $15.9 billion as of 12/28/20, according to the FDOE Claims Dashboard.
- Florida ranks 49th in the nation in how long it takes to pay unemployment benefits. Just 36% of Floridians who filed for benefits received their first payment within three weeks this year, well below the 87% the U.S. Department of Labor considers “acceptable.” Miami Herald, 12/3/20
- Florida’s unemployment ‘quarter change’ returns. It is likely to cause “temporary hiccups in unemployment payments.” Tampa Bay Times, 12/30/20
In the Schools
For the second semester, which begins in January, school districts will continue to receive full funding for online instruction but must also continue to offer in-person classes, under the Florida Department of Education’s November 30th Emergency Order.
- Florida appeals court refuses to revisit school reopening ruling. The state teachers union had appealed a lower court ruling against their claim that the reopening violated a constitutional guarantee of “safe” and “secure” public education. News Service of Florida via NWF Daily News, 11/30/20
- Pointing to closing ‘blunder,’ DeSantis says schools should bring struggling students back in-person. He said the harm from the closure of schools will “reverberate” for years and labeled people who advocate for closing schools as “today’s flat earthers.” CBS Miami, 12/1/20
In Nursing Homes and Prisons
- Florida’s healthcare workers, nursing home patients get first vaccines. Tampa Bay Times, 12/1/20
- DeSantis says all long-term care residents could receive COVID-19 vaccinations this month. Sun Sentinel, 12/8/20
- 150 inmates — nearly 25 percent of the inmate population — test positive for coronavirus at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution. Tampa Bay Times, 12/17/20
- Florida among few states with no known vaccine plan for prisons. Orlando Sentinel, 12/18/20
- Why are nursing home COVID deaths doubling in Florida? Miami Herald, 12/23/20
From the Attorney General
- Ashley Moody says $2 million recovered for consumers. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 12/3/20
- Ashley Moody warns Floridians about COVID-19 vaccine-related scams. Florida Politics, 12/9/20
- With second stimulus checks coming, Florida AG warns of scams. Sun Sentinel, 12/28/20
From the Chief Financial Officer
- Firefighters should be among first for COVID-19 vaccine, Jimmy Patronis stresses to CDC. Florida Politics, 12/3/20
From the Commissioner of Agriculture
- Commissioner Fried reiterates request to governor to keep children fed during COVID-19. Commissioner of Agriculture Press Release, 12/4/20
From Florida’s U.S. Senators
- Second COVID-19 stimulus: Rubio welcomes bipartisan proposal, but Scott is opposed. Sun Sentinel, 12/1/20
- Why Rick Scott said no to COVID-19 relief. Florida Politics, 12/22/20
- Invoking Donald Trump, Marco Rubio backs House Dems’ $2,000 relief check push. Florida Politics, 12/28/20
That’s it for our December state news update. Stay safe!