A grim COVID milestone, Frank Artiles reappears, and mayors plea for federal help

Eufemia Didonato

It’s Monday, Dec. 7 and Florida has hit a milestone. The Florida Department of Health confirmed last week that the known total of coronavirus cases in the state has surpassed 1 million. This week, we hit another one: the Food and Drug Administration will approve a vaccine and distribution is […]

It’s Monday, Dec. 7 and Florida has hit a milestone. The Florida Department of Health confirmed last week that the known total of coronavirus cases in the state has surpassed 1 million. This week, we hit another one: the Food and Drug Administration will approve a vaccine and distribution is expected to start immediately.

The first deliveries of the much-awaited vaccine are expected to be “within 24 hours” after the FDA’s decision. A federal advisory group has recommended that both healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities will be given the first doses of the vaccine.

Dec. 14 vote: And next Monday, a day that is normally inconsequential after an election, will mark another milestone. The U.S. Electoral College will meet to vote for the president and vice president of the United States. And while President Donald Trump has yet to concede, he has said that he would leave the White House if the Electoral College determines Joe Biden is the winner. Biden, who won 7 million more popular votes than Trump, is expected to be certified with 306 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.

Georgia on the mind: Will that put an end to the conspiracy theories? Don’t count on it. The answer lies just across the border in Georgia. Republicans need an engaged base of Trump supporters to turn out for the Jan. 5 elections for both Georgia U.S. Senate seats. If they fail, it would allow Democrats to control the chamber for the next two years, making it easier for Biden to push through his economic plans, health care and criminal justice reforms. That’s why the political world is watching Georgia closely and Republicans are convinced they have to stoke the false “election rigged” narrative to keep the base enraged.


Frank is Frank: Frank Artiles, the former GOP state senator from Miami, has emerged as the mastermind behind the questionable no-party candidate whose presence in the Miami state Senate race led to a recount and the ousting of incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez. As results scrolled on the television screen at a Lake Mary bar where Sen. Jason Brodeur was holding his election night party, Artiles announced: “That is me, that was all me.” Now, it will be up to the state attorney, who is investigating, to determine who recruited the third-party candidate, paid his filing fee, and arranged for the dark money funding of campaign mailers. They and elections officials will also sort out if “all me” was all clean.

Job interview: Meanwhile, today at noon Artiles joins six other applicants seeking appointment to the open seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission. The board will vote on who will be chosen to fill the commission seat vacated by Daniella Levine Cava, who was elected mayor in November.

DeSantis blames ‘vote dumps’: At a gathering of Republican leaders at the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted about Florida’s election results to a crowd of supporters and repeated one of the president’s baseless claims of vote fraud. “People can have confidence that this was done aboveboard and done right,’’ the governor said. “We don’t wait three weeks, and then you know change a winner with vote dumps and all this other stuff that you’re seeing around.”

GA-FLA flips: It wasn’t long ago that the Florida and Georgia seemed destined for similar political fates. Then Stacey Abrams flipped the script and Georgia turned blue. Just two years ago, Abrams and Florida’s Andrew Gillum, lost razor-thin races to Donald Trump-aligned Republicans. Democrats in both states picked up seats in key legislative races and anticipated more gains in 2020. But this year that changed. Here’s why.

Surging cases: Meanwhile, Florida now ranks behind only California and Texas for the highest number of COVID cases in the nation. The surge is expected to last for several more weeks, according to officials at the state’s major hospital networks. South Florida hospitals say they are cautiously optimistic they can continue to care for increasing numbers of COVID patients without scaling back non-emergency medical procedures.

‘Up against the wall’: However, hospitals are again warning about staffing shortages and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine has pleaded with county residents to wear masks, adhere to the curfew and get tested. “We are up against the wall,” she said.

Pleading for aid: But time is running out for people without food, facing evictions, or forced to lose their businesses. A bi-partisan collection of South Florida elected officials spent Saturday morning at a food distribution site on Miami Beach and held a video press conference urging Congress to pass another COVID relief bill to provide economic aid for the jobless, hungry and distressed.

New mayor tests positive: Levine Cava, Miami’s new mayor, attended the Saturday event virtually after she said she tested positive for COVID-19 last week. She said her COVID case likely came from her husband, a doctor, who contracted the virus from exposure to a patient last week during a house call.


Worst in nation ranking: In a finding unlikely to surprise no one, the U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that just 36% of Floridians who filed for benefits received their first payment within three weeks this year. That’s a tardiness rate so pitiful that only Hawaii did worse.

Schools will remain online: Florida schools officials have conceded that the virus isn’t abating as soon as they had hoped. Last week, the state released a new emergency order that keeps live, remote classes available as an option for the second semester of classes. Schools will be expected to continue face-to-face classes through the end of the school year, as the state previously required.

Economic case for statewide masking: New research on preventive measures for COVID-19 found that mask mandates across the U.S. are not only effective at preventing new coronavirus infections, but they also “persistently” promote economic activity.

But if the mandates are only countywide, they actually can reduce spending because people interpret county-level mask mandates to mean that infection risks have increased in their neighborhood, and as a result they distance themselves more from others and spend less. But the study showed that where mandates are statewide, they spurred the economy while also reducing COVID-19 case growth.

Except in Florida: Don’t expect statewide mask mandates from this governor, however. Last week a reporter asked DeSantis to respond to requests from mayors to impose a statewide mask mandate. He evaded the question and instead talked about lockdowns, something no mayor in Florida is suggesting. “No lockdowns, no fines, no school closures,’’ he said. “No one’s losing their job because of a government dictate. Nobody’s losing their livelihood to their business. That is totally off the table.”

Them, not us: DeSantis talks about social distancing, but it’s hard to find him leading by example. Here’s a shot of his gathering at the Governor’s Mansion on Saturday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Republican supporters at a Dec. 5 reception at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Republican supporters at a Dec. 5 reception at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, Florida.

Working while sick: Coronavirus is infecting Hispanics at higher rates than whites, and a new report studied patient records and found some explanations. Hispanic adults were more likely to say they had essential jobs and kept working while sick, researchers found.

Working from home: According to a new survey, for those Floridians who can work from home, it appears they like it. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has now lasted longer than the Miami Dolphins Super Bowl drought, that’s saying something. But not every state is as enthusiastic about the home office as Florida.

Record Obamacare enrollments: Fueled by a new wave of uninsured people who have migrated from other states in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Florida is enrolling more people than ever for health insurance plans on the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace. In one month, more than 870,000 Floridians signed up, leading the country among the 36 states with exchanges.

Profit from pandemic: How did the banking industry make $18 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program without having to protect anyone’s paycheck? By charging fees. Big ones.

Prison beatings: In a grim window into the tolerance level of officer-on-inmate violence at Florida prisons, the Miami Herald reported last week that a Florida corrections officer charged with the vicious fatal beating of an inmate had a long history of violent encounters with prisoners. Despite that, he managed to stay on the job for more than a year and a half.

We’d love to hear from you: Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curated this newsletter. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at [email protected]

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