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Your Memorial Day Update: Florida Coronavirus Cases Near 52,000, National Grief Helpline Launches Tuesday, Honor Flights to Nation’s Capitol Canceled

Photo: Brian McGowan

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Florida coronavirus cases near 52,000 with 2,252 deaths

MIAMI (AP) — Total coronavirus cases in Florida are nearing 52,000, with 2,252 deaths, as many residents took advantage of relaxed restrictions during the Memorial Day weekend.

Numbers released Monday by the Florida Department of Health show 879 new cases since a day earlier, along with 15 new deaths.

After setting quarantine and social distancing guidelines that forced many businesses to close in March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis began allowing restaurants and retail stores to open at limited capacities May 4.

Of the areas hit hardest by COVID-19, Palm Beach County was allowed to begin reopening a week later, and Broward and Miami-Dade counties the week after that.

National grief helpline launches Tuesday 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

VITAS Healthcare will launch a national grief helpline tomorrow for people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Health care workers who are experiencing feelings of grief, sadness, or despair can also use the service.

The service is free and available from 4 to 10 pm daily over the phone at 866-800-4707 or online at VITAS.com/helpline. Each session is led by a licensed grief counselor.

The helpline is available through May 29. Health care workers should self-identify at the start of the call to be connected with the appropriate assistance.

VITAS Healthcare opened a similar helpline in Orlando after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Pandemic disrupts illegal drug trade, upending both product and profits

Brian Mann, NPR

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the illegal drug trade in ways not seen since World War II, affecting nearly every country and many different kinds of drugs, according to a report compiled by the United Nations.

“It’s a completely different scale,” said lead researcher Angela Me, who works with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, in Vienna. She said small-scale disruptions are common in the illegal drug trade but the chaos seen in recent months is nearly unprecedented. “Here everything has been disrupted,” she added.

In many ways, turmoil in the black market for narcotics and other drugs appears to mirror the pandemic’s impact on legal industries struggling with labor and transportation. It’s harvest season right now in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, the world’s biggest heroin supplier, but the U.N. report found a sudden shortage of field workers.

“The harvest involves more than a hundred thousand people,” Me said, noting Afghanistan sealed its border with Pakistan in March because of the virus. “Much of this labor force comes from other countries and it’s kind of a labor migration in a very short period of time.”

Border restrictions and stay-at-home orders around the world have also made it harder for producers to acquire the so-called “precursor chemicals” needed to manufacture drugs like heroin and methamphetamines.

“The drug we’re seeing the most disrupted is methamphetamine,” said Uttam Dhillon, acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA field offices across the country are seeing supply shortages and rising prices.

Cartels in Mexico are also struggling with transportation of drug profits. “There’s a perceived increase in police presence associated with the stay-at-home orders,” Dhillon told NPR. “You couple that with the border shutdowns, it makes it more difficult to move drugs north and money south.”

According to the DEA, one drug that remains widely available in much of the U.S. is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. That’s alarming because the U.N. report points out that during past disruptions of the drug trade, people shifted from heroin to fentanyl, resulting in more overdoses.

Indeed, this kind of upheaval in the illegal drug trade has happened before. David Courtwright, a historian who studies drug trafficking and substance abuse disorder, says many heroin users started taking riskier drugs during World War II.

“The government started buying up the opium supply even before the United States entered the war, in anticipation of military medical needs,” Courtwright said. “When the war broke out, of course smuggling routes were disrupted. It became really hard to get hold of drugs.”

Amid today’s pandemic, drug traffickers are already adapting. The U.N. found more local women working in Afghanistan’s poppy fields, for example, replacing workers who couldn’t travel. Cartels appear to be shifting from air and land transport to shipments by sea to bring product from Mexico into the U.S.

But in some parts of the world, U.N. researchers found drug markets are reeling as trafficking routes shut down. Coca leaf prices in Peru dropped by nearly half because of “decreasing demand by traffickers who have had difficulties in transporting the drug,” the report said. Italy and the United Kingdom also saw street-level drug markets dry up, meaning higher prices.

The DEA’s Dhillon said he hopes some of this disruption can be sustained after the threat of COVID-19 passes. “The challenge for DEA and all of law enforcement is to learn from what was in place at the time during the pandemic and see if we can enhance that so that in the future we can keep these drugs from coming in,” he said.

That might include continuing heightened restrictions at ports of entry, Dhillon added.

Meanwhile, experts say when drugs are harder to find and more expensive, more people do seek treatment. But finding help can be challenging right now, when quarantine rules have restricted access to many clinics and hospitals that are often the first point of contact for those struggling with addiction.

Memorial Day honor flights canceled because of coronavirus crisis

Quil Lawrence, NPR

Thousands of people who had planned to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C., this holiday weekend were forced to cancel this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. That includes veterans traveling with the nonprofit network Honor Flight, which recently suspended all trips at least until this fall.

“Our veterans that travel with us are still living, so their day is Veterans Day not Memorial Day,” says Honor Flight CEO Meredith Rosenbeck. “But they go to honor their friends and comrades, those who have fallen.”

Butch Meyer, 73, was scheduled to fly with Honor Flight this spring. He wanted to see his friend David Hollingsworth’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.

“Holly was quite the buddy,” says Meyer, who did two combat tours. “I had my vehicle blown out from under me. He was the first one to my aid. I got evac-ed out of there, and within two or three hours he had stepped on a mine and was killed. When you lose somebody close like that it impacts you for the rest of your life.”

Meyer says he hopes to go in the fall. For some, that could be too long to wait. At 100 years old, Navy nurse Ruth Gunther is hoping she’ll have a chance to make the trip to Washington whenever flights resume. She joined up in 1942 and worked treating troops wounded in the Pacific.

“One thing you miss when you get out of the service is that camaraderie that you had,” she says, “Everybody that I knew well and kept up with already passed away.”

Telling the World War II veterans that the trip was off, was the worst, says Honor Flight’s Rosenbeck.

“We know some of our vets won’t make it even to the fall if that’s when we can fly again, but we knew also our priority is the safety of our veterans,” she said.

For some of the vets, making the trip is part of taking care of their health.

“About 10 years ago, my counselor at the VA hospital said I needed to do something,” says Vietnam vet Leland Shiro. “I was having so much difficulty emotionally — flashbacks, my sleeping, all that stuff.”

Shiro’s counselor advised him to go see the Vietnam memorial wall to help master his trauma. Ten years and a few aborted trips later, he was finally ready to go with Honor Flight. Then the pandemic cancelled his trip. Now 71, Shiro says he needs to make sure he doesn’t use this as another excuse to avoid facing his demons.

“What it amounts to is it’s just one more opportunity to not go, say, ‘It ain’t gonna happen, I quit,’ ” Shiro says. “But you know, I can’t do that this time.”

For all their disappointment this year, veterans know something about the common good, says Meyer, the Vietnam veteran.

“I don’t want to be the person who goes out in the street and infects six other people,” he says. “My place is to take care and be safe and to make other people safe. That’s something we learned in the Marine Corps. You protect your comrades.”

5 things to watch in politics and coronavirus this week

Domenico Montanaro, NPR

On this Memorial Day weekend, beaches have reopened and people are venturing outside. And images and videos have circulated of some crowded beaches, pools and boardwalks in MarylandFloridaMissouriTexas and California.

And many people didn’t heed warnings and weren’t wearing masks.

It’s perhaps not surprising when you consider President Trump — who as president sets the tone for so much of the country, especially for his supporters — has refused to be seen wearing a mask publicly.

“I had one on before,” Trump said last week at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Michigan. “I wore one in this back area. I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

The “pleasure” of seeing it? It’s odd that, as the country approaches 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the president would feel wearing a mask was somehow something the press might mock him for, especially when his own administration’s guidelines say to wear one when out in public and within 6 feet of someone.

It’s important to remember that Trump is the one who changed the narrative on wearing masks in the first place. It wasn’t that long ago that his administration was recommending that healthy people not wear masks, so supplies weren’t scarce for health care workers and first responders who needed them. Then it was Trump who told people that wearing face coverings and scarves could make a big difference.

So this idea emerging that being seen wearing a mask somehow is a virtue signal for which party you belong to — and some thinking it infringes on their civil liberties or makes them look weak — is just not helpful to stopping the spread of the virus.

Many Republican leaders are saying so, too.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, said in an emotional statement Friday. His voice started to break and he started to tear up, as he continued, “They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have COVID and they’re fighting.”

Similarly, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press: “This is not about politics. This is not about whether you are liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican or Democrat.”

Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted a warning Sunday that “the coronavirus is not yet contained” and he reminded Americans that “social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks protect us all.”

More than 2,000 Floridians have died from coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida has had 50,867 coronavirus cases according to the latest data from the state department of health. 2,237 people have died from COVID-19 in the state. Orange County has had 1,732 cases and 39 deaths.

In Volusia County, 37 people have died from COVID-19, while 18 people have died in Osceola County from COVID-19.

Click on the map to see data from other counties.

In Orange County, leaders are encouraging residents to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing during Memorial Day festivities.

Garbage, recycling and yard waste will be collected throughout unincorporated Orange County today.

Florida baseball team lists stadium on AirBnB for $1500

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida team is selling people the “ultimate baseball experience” by putting their ocean-view stadium up for rent on AirBnB for $1,500 a night.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos says guests will have access to the clubhouse, a large bedroom, the batting cage and the field. The stadium has been fully booked through July.

The team said it was waiting to hear more on the schedule for the 2020 season after Minor League Baseball delayed the start of the season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memorial Day is a washout across rainy South Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A weather system that dumped rain over much of South Florida on Sunday is expected to bring even more heavy rain to the area on Memorial Day.

While beaches remained closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the rain will likely wash away any plans for outdoor activities for the holiday.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Miami issued a flood watch due to the heavy rain that fell Sunday and overnight.

Upstate, where most beaches have reopened, authorities reported large crowds on Sunday. Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies began turning away beachgoers in many spots due to crowd size.

White House restricts travel from Brazil, where coronavirus cases near 350,000

Emma Bowman, NPR

President Trump is barring the entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil within the past 14 days, the White House announced on Sunday, citing concerns over the country’s rapidly worsening coronavirus crisis.

“Today’s action will help ensure foreign nationals who have been in Brazil do not become a source of additional infections in our country,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

The new restrictions take effect beginning Thursday, but according to McEnany, they only apply to travel, not “the flow of commerce between the United States and Brazil.”

Brazil has the world’s second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections, behind only the United States, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. As of Sunday, the country had reported more than 347,000 cases of the virus and at least 22,000 deaths.

Despite the country’s growing infection rate, President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the risks of the pandemic. He has dismissed the virus as “a little flu” and in April joined protesters calling for the lifting of social isolation measures.

The Trump administration has already suspended travel from China, Iran and parts of Europe.

Public remarks prompted Florida coronavirus data curator’s firing

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Records show that the woman who raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data had been reprimanded and ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information.

Rebekah Jones has sought to sow doubt about the credibility of the data after being ousted as the data’s curator.

State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy as Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to make a data-driven case for a step-by-step reopening of the state’s battered economy.

Jones has suggested Health Department managers wanted her to manipulate information to paint a rosier picture and that she pushed back.

Police respond to large crowds, shooting in Daytona Beach

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Hundreds of people gathered at a popular Florida beach boardwalk and were seen partying and dancing despite social distancing restrictions imposed by the state to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Police say they dispersed crowds along a beachside road in Daytona Beach.

The gathering was not authorized by the local government.

Police said a shooting also was reported Saturday near the beach, with two people taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds and four injured by shrapnel.

Officers were not involved in the shooting.

Palm Beach Dramaworks hosts virtual play readings during COVID-19 shutdown

Christine DiMattei, WLRN 

Think about the last time you saw a Broadway blockbuster in a theater. Chances are that musical or play began its life as a reading.

That’s when a group of actors sit, stand or sometimes move around a stage, reading aloud from the script. It’s typically done before a live audience, who get to watch it for free. For the playwright, it’s a chance to see — for the first time — their words taken off the page and onto the stage.

Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, and theaters started shutting down, Palm Beach Dramaworks had to take its series of weekly readings and move it online.

The virtual series called “Drama(in the)works,” premiered April 27 and will continue through June 22, with a live reading every Monday at 7 p.m. through Zoom. As with most traditional play readings, each “Drama(in the)works” web event is followed by a talk-back, albeit digitally. The theater is using Zoom’s “webinar” format, which allows viewers to enter their question or comment in a Q&A section at the bottom of their screen.

“Of course, what that means for us is that we don’t get to hear the laughter, we don’t get to hear the crying or the gasps or any of that stuff,” says Bruce Linser, manager of the theater’s “Dramaworkshop,” a lab aimed at developing new plays.

“It will never replace the actual experience that we’re all used to and that we’re all hungry for,” says Linser. “And we really look forward to the time when we can come back and do that all together in the same room again.”

Trump returns to golf course for 1st time since March

Jason Slotkin, NPR

President Trump is visiting one of his golf courses this weekend, his first apparent golf outing since declaring a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, the president visited the Trump National Golf Club located just outside Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia. His last visit to a course was on March 8 to his West Palm Beach club in Florida, days before he declared a national emergency.

While many presidents have notably professed an affinity for golf, the game has taken on a certain significance for Trump and his presidency particularly his time spent at the many private clubs he owns including his West Palm Beach property ⁠— which he has dubbed “White House South” — and his Bedminster, N.J., course.

Since Trump secured the nomination in 2016, his private resorts have also served as a favored location for GOP fundraising efforts and political events, with millions of dollars spent at the president’s properties.

He had even planned to hold this year’s Group of Seven at his Doral resort in Miami. That announcement drew rebukes from Democrats who accused the president of once again attempting to personally profit from his position.

The meeting was eventually moved to Camp David but will now be a videoconference amid the pandemic.

Before assuming office, Trump had criticized President Barack Obama for his time spent on the course and now some people have estimated that Trump is on pace to becoming one of the more prolific golfers of the modern presidency.

Trump’s outing comes as he continues to encourage states to reopen.

On Friday, the president said states needed to allow houses of worship, which he called “very important” and “essential,” to reopen for the weekend. He threatened to override governors who didn’t heed his call.

Tourism picks up in the Panhandle as Florida reopens

Valerie Crowder, WFSU

Visitors from other states are returning to Northwest Florida’s beaches. While the nation is still in the midst of a pandemic, the relaxation of traveling restrictions and the reopening of restaurants, beaches and short-term vacation rentals, is luring longtime visitors back to the coast.

In Miramar Beach, staff at the Hilton SanDestin Resort space deck chairs at least six feet apart ahead of the resort’s recent reopening.

“They’re moving half of them to the ballroom so that way we have social distancing and everything.”

With beaches fully open across the Panhandle, visitors from other states have begun traveling to the region.

Dave DeMarest is the communications director for Walton County’s Tourist Development Council. He says hotel and resort bookings were down 90 percent in April. But he says the county is expecting a rebound next month as beaches and short-term vacation rentals reopen.

“We’d be back to about half of what we’d normally have in terms of visitation. That’s as it stands right now,” DeMarest said. “As states lift their stay-at-home orders and people become comfortable with travel and are able to travel, then I would expect those numbers to go up.”

Still, he warns a beach vacation doesn’t give people a break from COVID-19.

“You are going to want to maintain all the social distancing protocols that you’ve been keeping up. You’re going to have to maintain those good hygiene practices that we’ve all been doing. You’re going to have to understand our local businesses are asked to do a lot more to keep people safe,” DeMarest said. “It might not be the same experience that you always have on your normal vacation.”

John Comer’s family owns six seafood restaurants between Panama City Beach and Destin, including Pompano Joe’s and The Back Porch Seafood and Oyster House. He says it was difficult for the restaurants to stay open when everything was closed.

“We’re very eager to get the tourists back down here. They support all the businesses down here, especially ours. The tourists are just critical to this area,” Comer said.

William Vinson is a merchandiser at Alvin’s Island stores in Panama City Beach. He spends most of the day on the road, transporting t-shirts, umbrellas, flip-flops and beach towels from the company’s warehouse to seven stores across town.

“Everybody you saw on the road was from here. You might see one or two out-of-towners, but that was it,” Vinson said.

He says business was dismal when the beaches were closed.

“But now you see, Alabama, Georgia, a few Tennessee, Kentucky,” he said. “It’s picked up a bunch from what it was.”

Vinson says he estimates it’s been half as busy as it normally is at this time of year, but hopes that will soon change.

“We’ve got the merchandise. All we need’s the people with money in their pockets,” Vinson said. “I believe it will pick up. We’ll find out Fourth of July weekend. When that hits, that’s usually a giant weekend for us, and we’ll find out then for sure.”

Vacationing during the pandemic conflicts with advice from public health experts. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines warn against unnecessary travel at this time.

Cindy Prins is an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.

“If you have locations where they’ve really just had residents, and now they’re going to have an influx in visitors, then certainly that can increase the risk because you have more people, more potential to spread the virus around,” Prins said.

For those who decide to travel, Prins stresses the importance of practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding close contact with others outside your home.

“We don’t know whether COVID-19 is going to go away for the summer and come back or whether it’s going to stay with us at some level. And I think that it’s very much going to be dependent on what we do as a society to try to protect ourselves and others, whether or not we’re going to wind up seeing another spike in cases,” Prins said.

Over the last few weeks, visitors from other states have gradually been arriving. Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon says out-of-state condo owners were the first to come back as beaches partially reopened in late April.

“There’s a lot of folks from Alabama and Georgia and Louisiana that they own vacation rental units here that they’re just staying in themselves because they can’t do things normal for themselves in their own town, so they’re in their units that they own here,” Sheldon said.

Gordon and Ruby Carnes are from Enterprise, Alabama, a town that’s 90 miles north of Panama City Beach. Last week, the couple celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary on the sand.

Ruby says the couple wouldn’t have made the nearly two-hour trip from their home if the beaches were still closed.

“It feels so relaxing and great. The sun feels good. The breeze is wonderful. That’s why we came. It’s just a relaxing area for us,” Carnes said.

Vacation property staff are required to disinfect all surfaces between bookings and wear masks when interacting with guests. Visitors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana must self-isolate for 14 days. Many resorts in Florida won’t even book guests from high-risk states, where cases exceed 500 per 100,000 people.

Not all parents, children might be comfortable returning to summer camps 

Susan Giles Wantuck, WUSF 

Now that the 2019-2020 school year is coming to a close, parents are trying to figure out what their children will do this summer. Many camps are being cancelled, and even if they aren’t some parents don’t feel comfortable sending their children out.

Jason and Melissa Gray of Dunedin have two girls, 11-year-old Julia and 7-year-old Lucy. Melissa said they figured out when school was shut down that camp probably would be, too. Melissa works at their local Chabad as a “Jill of all trades,” she said. That is the organization which has held the camp their daughters have attended for the past few years.

“We were already starting to kind of scramble because it was a field-trip based camp. So every day we would start out and for the last three or four years, you’d start out the morning all the kids together in one big room, we do some exercises and some warm-up, and then all pile into the big camp van and go off for our field trip for the day. So as soon as we got word of like, things are starting to not be open and available, we started kind of like, ‘Uh-oh, well, if this is the way things are gonna go, this is not gonna go’,” she said.

But Jason, whose mother and brother are health care providers, is also concerned about another coronavirus surge that he has heard may be coming early next month. He said the camp closure wasn’t the only thing that weighed in their decision to keep their girls home this summer.

“We are more concerned with the preservation of life than we are with being out and doing things. So we’re being more cautious or we are being cautious. Because we don’t want to put our kids or ourselves or anybody else that has compromised immunities at risk,” he said.

Adrienne Pollard of Wesley Chapel was going to send her teenage sons to overnight camps out of state.

“The Boy Scout camp is in Georgia and they canceled the first two weeks, which our kids were going the second week and the YMCA camp. We just found out the other day the governor of Connecticut just issued a proclamation, I guess that there can be no overnight camps in Connecticut over the summer,” Pollard said.

Now she is scrambling to figure out what her sons will be doing this summer.

She said she would have sent her boys to the overnight camps had they not been cancelled. And, at least, they will have three weeks of marching band camp this summer at Wiregrass Ranch High.

Tracy-Ann Gilbert-Smith will be keeping her two sons at home this summer. She said her younger son, Ryan, who is 8, usually attends summer camp at his charter school, Learning Gate.

But this year, even if the camp happens, her son won’t be there. Her job at the University of South Florida will allow her to work remotely this summer.

So, she plans to keep him home, since there’s no vaccine against COVID-19, and she doesn’t think it’s reasonable to expect little ones to wear a face mask all day, because she said she feels like she’s suffocating when she wears a mask.

“And then to monitor them, the proper hygiene in terms of washing your hands properly, covering your sneeze you know, not touching too many surfaces, keeping the six-feet away. I’m just like, you know what? Since we can we have the opportunity to keep them home, we’ll just keep them home,” Gilbert-Smith said.

Hurricane prep is different this year because of coronavirus 

Regan McCarthy, WFSU 

Florida’s hurricane season starts at the end of this month, and already some weather systems have begun developing in the Atlantic.

With scientists predicting a busier than average season, emergency response officials are planning for how they’ll keep people safe from the storm and the coronavirus at the same time.

When a storm is coming, most Floridians know the drill. Gather your hurricane kit and prepare to evacuate to a shelter if needed. But this year, Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz says things could be a little different.

“We always talk about know your zone, what type of evacuation zone you live in, but it’s really know your home, know your zone. If your home was built after 2002 and has up-to-date code, perhaps you don’t have to evacuate depending on the strength of the storm,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz says typical shelter situations put large groups of people in close quarters, but that’s not a great choice if there are still concerns about the coronavirus spreading.

“Congregate sheltering, mass congregate sheltering, how do we do that? What are the protocols? Temperature checks? Separating people? Perhaps we go away from that and go to non-congregate sheltering in hotels,” Moskowitz said.

“We’ve been talking to FEMA almost daily about that planning. They’ve been a real partner in that, obviously looking at all of our standard operating procedures. We have a lot of experience here in Florida, especially in the last four years, but how do we modify that for COVID-19 and the challenges that poses especially if we have an earlier storm in the June and July season?”

In Miami-Dade County, emergency management director Frank Rollason says officials are increasing the number of shelters they plan to offer and are working with the school district to open classrooms within the school buildings they use as shelters.

“Where primarily we’re in a congregate area in the gymnasiums in the larger schools, we are now going to be able to occupy classrooms, the schools are in the process now of sanitizing the schools for us for the hurricane season. They generally wait until school is out, but school basically is out, so they’re in the process of sanitizing these rooms, and moving the furniture so we’ll have more rooms, more open spaces where we can put families together in these rooms, rather than being in the congregate areas,” Rollason said.

It’s something other emergency management directors say they’re also planning to look into.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz is encouraging people to use masks. His team is setting aside masks to give out to workers and evacuees in shelters. By the start of the season, he says he expects to have 10 million masks in reserve.

But while the state is stockpiling its supplies, the average Floridian might find gathering supplies to be a little harder due to job layoffs and panic-buying. It’s a concern Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says she’s been hearing from her constituents.

“I did see that question on Facebook, if they have to get enough toilet paper for the next two years. No, don’t do that. You can just buy one at a time every time you go. But just slowly get your supplies. Get your medicine. Get your flashlights, slowly get your supplies,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

Florida’s disaster preparedness sales tax holiday starts May 29 and continues through June 4. It gives families a tax break on items like flashlights, batteries and generators.

Meanwhile, local governments across the state are also looking for ways to help residents get their supplies ready for a potential storm.

Rental car giant Hertz files for bankruptcy protection

Suzanne Nuyen, NPR

Car rental company Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, citing an “abrupt decline in revenue” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hertz is just the latest high-profile company to feel the financial pain of the COVID-19 crisis: Retailers J.C. PenneyJ. Crew, and Neiman Marcus all filed for bankruptcy protection this month. Home-decor chain Pier 1 Imports announced it would be closing for good, with final closing sales beginning Memorial Day weekend.

After many states began to declare stay-at-home orders in March, car rentals dried up, and Hertz reduced spending, implemented furloughs and laid off 20,000 employees.

In April the company, which includes car-rental brands Dollar, Thrifty and Firefly, missed a payment on its debt, but reached a short-term deal with its creditors. The company was unable to secure a long-term agreement.

The filing excludes Hertz’s international operating regions in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as its more than 10,000 franchised locations. The company said it would use more than $1 billion in cash on hand to support its ongoing operations as it proceeds with the bankruptcy process. The company will continue to honor reservations, promotional offers, vouchers and rewards points programs.

“Today’s action will protect the value of our business, allow us to continue our operations and serve our customers, and provide the time to put in place a new, stronger financial foundation to move successfully through this pandemic and to better position us for the future,” said CEO Paul Stone in a statement. “Our loyal customers have made us one of the world’s most iconic brands, and we look forward to serving them now and on their future journeys.”

In addition to its financial woes, Hertz has been under management upheaval. Stone was named CEO on May 18 — days before the bankruptcy filing — after Kathryn Marinello stepped down. He previously served as executive vice president and chief retail operations officer for North America.

A snapshot of unemployment in South Florida 

Caitie Switalski, WLRN

Unemployment in South Florida continues to climb. Experts are still getting a more complete picture of how the COVID-19 virus has impacted the economy in the area.

Predictably, like the rest of the country – unemployment across South Florida exploded in April.

This time last year the unemployment rate in Broward County was under 3 percent. Now, it’s 14 and a half percent.

Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties, experienced similar spikes in unemployment rates.

Also not unexpected – jobs in leisure and hospitality took the biggest hit in all counties.

CareerSource Broward warns the current jobs report quote, “will not reflect the full impact of the Covid-19 virus. No doubt the June and July releases will show even higher unemployment.”

Smaller classes, online reservations new norm as gyms reopen

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Big box gyms and local fitness studios are reopening under a patchwork of protocols based on state and local guidance, but most are following some basic protocol.

They’re spacing out cardio machines, using touchless entry, reducing class sizes and requiring users to clean equipment before and after each use.

But even the most die-hard gym rats are concerned about returning to a seemingly healthy habit amid all the sweat and germs.

Experts agree the benefits outweigh the risks for most healthy Americans under the age of 65, but some fear there’s a lack of uniform standards and ability to enforce them.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter

Danielle Prieur is a general reporter for 90.7 News. She studied journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and interned at 101.9 WDET. She is originally from the metro Detroit area.

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