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Your Monday Update: City of Orlando, Orange County Curfew Lifted Immediately, Orange County Jail Has First Coronavirus Case, Uptick in Coronavirus Cases in Orange County Trend Younger

Photo: Rex Pickar

Stay tuned in to our local news coverage: Listen to 90.7 WMFE on your FM or HD radio, the WMFE mobile app or your smart speaker — say “Alexa, play NPR” and you’ll be connected.

Orange County, City of Orlando curfew lifted immediately

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer have lifted a 10 pm curfew within the city and unincorporated Orange County effective immediately.

An 8 pm curfew in downtown Orlando was lifted on Sunday morning after a weekend of peaceful protests.

First Orange County Jail inmate tests positive for coronavirus 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says an inmate has tested positive for coronavirus at the Orange County Jail. 

Demings says the individual was known to be positive for the virus when he was transferred to the jail on June 4. 

He said the person is asymptomatic but is in a negative air flow cell at corrections to protect other inmates and workers.

“It is concerning to us that we really want to do the best that we can to make sure that that jail remains COVID-19 free. So we’re working on that but again it’s a good indicator that the virus is still alive and well in our community itself.”

Demings says mandatory medical screenings and a fourteen day quarantine period for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms has stopped the spread of the virus in the jail.

He said no correctional officers currently have coronavirus, but five civilian workers at the facility have recently tested positive for the virus. 

Orange County coronavirus cases are up by 44 percent, new cases trend younger

Danielle Prieur, WMFE 

Orange County Department of Health Medical Director Dr. Raul Pino says coronavirus cases in the county increased by 44 percent over the last two weeks. 

Pino said half of all new cases during that time were in people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old with the median age for new infections at 35 years old.

But he says hospitalization and ICU bed usage continues to remain low in the county.

“The fact that it’s getting younger although we don’t want anyone to be infected it means that a population that is able to handle the infection better is the one acquiring the infection at this point. And with that we are watching it. And that may be an explanation why our hospital utilization continues to be so low.”

Pino said the uptick in cases might have been caused by Memorial Day weekend festivities, but also increased testing at outbreak sites in the county.

He said it’s too early to tell what the impact of mass protests will be on case loads.

Schumer calls for inquiry into Florida’s unemployment system

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Senate’s top Democrat is calling on the Department of Labor’s inspector general to investigate Florida’s glitch-ridden unemployment system and why it’s taking so long for it to disperse benefits.

In a letter to the inspector general, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer asserts that the state has only paid 28% of the 2 million Floridians applying for benefits.

However, state officials say more than 90 percent of 1.3 million eligible claimants have been paid.

The state’s calculation does not include nearly 500,000 people it has initially deemed ineligible.

This year, hurricane prep should include hand sanitizer and masks

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN

Emergency managers said Monday that this year’s hurricane season needs to be approached differently as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“It’s hard enough in a regular hurricane to do evacuations, mass care and sheltering. This year it’s going to be more complicated. You need more time. You need more plans,” Gaynor said.

Pete Gaynor is the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He spoke at Miami-Dade’s Emergency Operations center today and says people need to be even more prepared this year. That means increasing their food supply from three days to seven days.

“If you are in a zone that you have to evacuate, historically evacuate, do you have all the COVID-19 hygiene supplies that you may need if you had to go to a shelter? Make sure you have all those things in your kit. Things like masks and hand sanitizers,” Gaynor said.

And in Miami-Dade, Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the number of shelters has been increased to 81 to provide enough room for up to 112,000 evacuees.

“So this year, we have expanded our capacity at evacuation centers to give people more space. We’re doubling our space to about 40 square feet per person, up from 20 square feet per person due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gimenez said.

He says masks, gloves and hand sanitizer will be provided to everyone staying at Miami-Dade shelters.

Governor Ron DeSantis says hotels may be used in some places as shelters to provide room for social distancing.

This year’s hurricane season has already gotten off to a quick start with three named storms. It runs through November and has been forecast to be abnormally busy.

Republicans tour Savannah as possible GOP convention site

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Organizers of the Republican National Convention are giving Georgia’s oldest city a close look as a possible replacement venue for the summer convention.

Gov. Brian Kemp joined 2020 convention CEO Marcia Lee Kelly for a tour of Savannah on Monday. The Republican governor said in a statement that Savannah would offer “a truly unmatched experience to the Republican National Convention.”

The RNC is looking for a new venue for President Donald Trump’s nomination speech in August after Trump insisted on pulling out of Charlotte, North Carolina, because of state officials’ concerns about the coronavirus.

Other cities under consideration include Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, as well as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Dallas and Phoenix.

Hornets view not playing in Orlando as ‘major disadvantage’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte Hornets won’t be among the 22 teams playing in Orlando when the NBA season returns, which has coach James Borrego concerned about his young, developing team falling behind.

Borrego says not playing in live games could be a “major disadvantage” for his team.

The layoff means the Hornets players could go more than eight months between playing meaningful games after the league shut down in March following the coronavirus outbreak.

Borrego says he should get just as much time in the gym with his team as the coaches who are working with teams in Orlando to help level the playing field.

Margaret Glaspy is finding inspiration in teaching and learning

Margaret Glaspy, NPR

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that’s helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Margaret Glaspy

Where: Nashville, Tenn.

Recommendation: Teaching and learning


When I got off tour from my first record, 2016’s Emotions and Math, I was really disoriented. I had been living in a bubble of hotels, airports and green rooms for the 2 1/2 years prior and once I finished the touring cycle, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The streets of New York City were unsympathetic, and I craved some perspective that I didn’t know how to get. I retreated to upstate New York in an effort to gain some peace of mind. That had its own feeling of uneasiness, being alone in the quiet, but it allowed me to see what I was craving: education; I wanted to learn. I had been creating so much output and I needed some input. Very quickly, I researched ways that suited my schedule to receive an education, and I have been enrolled as a student at the Harvard Extension School ever since.

Fast forward to now, Harvard has been a constant in my life before and during quarantine, and it inspired me to want to offer the same outlet to the public by teaching songwriting. At the beginning of May, I offered a month’s worth of lessons to the public, and they were sold out in just a few days; it became clear that I wasn’t alone in craving to learn during idle times. Now, every week, I have the pleasure of listening to what songwriters all over the world are working on and get to answer their questions and relate to their struggles and successes in their process. Some students I’ve gotten to work with more than once, and seeing their progress means everything to me. Obviously, it’s incredibly gratifying as an artist to help someone else on their path, but it’s also really inspiring to see writers from all over the world choose to keep staying curious and vulnerable in a time that can feel really scary and fear-inducing. That alone has inspired me to write more songs than I ever have during quarantine. (If they can do it, I can do it!)

Teaching “songwriting lessons” is a less-worn path than other paths of academia in the music realm and I find, as a teacher, that it requires the ability to transcend genre or instrument in working with students that write music in many different styles, in many different ways and at all different skill levels. For me, it’s all about allowing and finding a student’s sense of style while instilling ways to use structure to stay productive and find the true meaning in what they are making. Lyricism, arranging, performance, chord choice, playing ability and so much more go into making songs great, and I’m such a nerd for it all.

It’s a chaotic time for everyone and some days it’s best to just go easy on yourself. Other days, at least for me, I need a healthy distraction and the feeling of progression in my life. This has filled that void for me and, seemingly, done the same for my students, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.

For more information on songwriting lessons with Margaret Glaspy (starting in July and onward) visit www.songwriting.study

The office elevator in COVID times: Experts weigh in on safer ups and downs

Lauren Weber, NPR

When the American Medical Association moved its headquarters to a famous Chicago skyscraper in 2013, the floor-to-ceiling views from the 47th-floor conference space were a spectacular selling point.

But now, those glimpses of the Chicago River at the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed landmark, known as AMA Plaza, come with a trade-off: navigating the elevator in the time of COVID-19.

Once the epitome of efficiency for moving masses of people quickly to where they needed to go, the elevator is the antithesis of social distancing and a risk-multiplying bottleneck. As America begins to open up, the newest conundrum for employers in cities is how to safely transport people in elevators and manage the crowd of people waiting for them.

If office tower workers want to stay safe, elevator experts think they have advice, some practical, some not: Stay in your corner, face the walls and carry toothpicks (for pushing the buttons). Not only have those experts gone back to studying mathematical models for moving people, but they are also creating technology like ultraviolet-light disinfection tools and voice-activated panels.

“When there is risk of disease spreading from human to human, continuing to maintain a clean and safe vertical transportation system is critical to help people return to work and safe living,” says Jon Clarine, head of digital services at Thyssenkrupp Elevator.

After all, most elevators are inherently cramped, enclosed spaces that can barely fit two people when they are safely spaced 6 feet apart, much less the dozen or more that elevators in commercial and residential buildings were designed to hold. They’re a minefield of touchable buttons and surfaces. Air circulation is limited to what a few vents and the opening doors can manage. Plus, they’re usually mobbed during the morning, lunchtime and evening rushes.

The good news is, while infection transmission is possible if people happen to leave behind respiratory droplets of virus in the elevator, the time spent on a ride is short, says infectious disease expert Dr. Steven Lawrence of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

But still, he says, “you’re in a small box.”

Pack a mask, sanitizer and tissues or toothpicks

To mitigate those risks, elevator experts stress that those riding elevators should wear masks, resist touching surfaces as much as possible and use items such as disposable tissues or indeed those toothpicks to touch the buttons. Also, use hand sanitizer frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting time in elevators and taking one-directional stairs instead, when possible, as well as abiding by the 6 feet of distance.

Karen Penafiel, executive director for the National Elevator Industry Inc. trade association, also recommends people face the elevator walls and not talk — to minimize spread of respiratory droplets that could carry the coronavirus.

“It makes sense when you think about it, but it’s so contrary to every social protocol we have been raised with,” Penafiel says. “It’s not comfortable.”

But the biggest hang-up across city skylines for offices and residences may be the recommendation by Penafiel and other elevator experts to limit the number of passengers in most elevator rides to four to accommodate social distancing — one person in each corner. That creates a logistical challenge for building managers and employers who have thousands of people to move within a single building.

AMA Plaza owner Beacon Capital Partners plans to limit its elevator riders to four at a time, according to an email from company spokesperson Maureen Richardson. The same goes for the more than 90-floor One World Trade Center in New York City and the roughly 8,000 people who report to work there, says Jordan Barowitz, spokesperson for the Durst Organization, which oversees the management of the iconic skyscraper.

Cutting the number of people moving up a building per ride — in some places by as much as two-thirds — means people wait and wait, huddling in the lobby, coughing, sneezing and talking loudly.

“That’s where you’re going to get the queuing,” says Chris Smith, vice president of marketing and product strategy for elevator manufacturer Otis Elevator Co., optimistically using a word suggesting orderly standing in line.

It’s no wonder Smith’s customers have been calling nonstop about the elevator bottleneck. So Otis staffers have been simulating for customers how staggered times for starting the workday and different employee spacing could help slow the flow of traffic.

There’s math in elevator safety

It all comes down to hard math. On a normal day, more than 3,000 people work in the 52-story AMA building. With only four passengers at a time, which is about half the number of riders in a typically crowded elevator, that translates to about 750 elevator rides each morning launching from 24 elevator cabs (and that’s not counting the trips made by separate freight cabs).

The Langham, a luxury hotel occupying the building’s first 13 floors, will be placing a sign with graphics in the elevator foyer to encourage social distancing, says spokesperson Deepika Sarma. Hotel staffers are looking into possible decals for the floors of the elevators indicating where to stand, and requiring riders wear masks.

Another tenant of AMA Plaza, WeWork, whose business model depends on people renting its office space, will be placing signage denoting safe distances in the elevator lobbies of its buildings, as well as touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers. WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani told CNBC that 40% of its sites occupy office space low enough within buildings that people could take the stairs instead.

But climbing, say, 36 flights of stairs isn’t an option for most people. (Top stair racers take five minutes to cover that many floors. It takes a person of average fitness up to 25 minutes.) And stairs aren’t viable in buildings of any height for those with physical disabilities or mobility issues or when carrying heavy loads.

To be sure, those who live in high-rises have already been navigating these questions — whether in luxury buildings with resources or public housing units without.

But as more offices look at reopening, Otis and Thyssenkrupp have been swamped with calls from customers asking for new technology to help them manage these new challenges, given the coronavirus pandemic. Destination dispatching, in which employees can swipe a key card at a turnstile that notifies the elevator where they need to go, has seen a surge of interest due to its touchless control — and during the pandemic, elevators have been reprogrammed to limit the weight load to a smaller number of passengers.

Other product offerings in the works include calling the elevator via cellphone, antiviral stickers for elevator buttons, lobby concierge-run elevators, express service for each elevator ride, ultraviolet-light HVAC purification systems and even elevator buttons that riders can activate with their feet, voice or hand gestures.

To reduce the need to touch buttons, Otis’ Smith says, elevators could be placed into “Sabbath service” mode, where they automatically go to each and every floor — a service offered for decades for those whose religion dictates they not operate electrical devices on certain days.

“It’s all about helping customers manage risk”

Brand-new businesses designed to make elevators safer are emerging. Over two months ago, Philip Rentzis helped found Ashla Systems, which sells ultraviolet-light systems designed for elevators that are similar to those used to kill viruses for hospital instruments. At least 100 buildings have already signed up to install the technology, he says, in part because building owners are terrified about the long-term costs of keeping up their new rigorous cleaning regimens.

Michael Rogoff, president of the New York City and South Florida residential management firm Akam Living Services Inc., says the staff in some of his buildings are cleaning the elevator more than once per hour — or even after every use. When residents complain that they shouldn’t have to pay for communal amenities they’re not able to use, he points to the new cleaning costs.

“The elevator cleaning and disinfecting is just on a whole new level than it was previously,” Rogoff says.

But even as companies evaluate their suite of elevator options, harsh realities are emerging of how challenging it will be to move the workforce where it needs to be, Thyssenkrupp’s Clarine says.

“Look, you’re going to disrupt the flow of traffic in your building, but how long are you willing for that to be an inconvenience before it becomes a disruption?” Clarine says. “It’s all about helping customers manage risk, and some want to manage more so than others.”

For now, the American Medical Association says it plans to allow its roughly 1,000 employees to return to the offices approximately 30 days after government leaders lifted their stay-at-home orders. City orders were loosened Wednesday.

The association’s initial return-to-work phase will begin with “approximately 10% of employees on a voluntary basis,” according to a statement issued by association media manager Robert Mills. It’s not yet clear when — or how — it will be able to get the rest of its staffers up to their offices in the sky.

Trump’s response to coronavirus, race has put him in a hole for reelection

Domenico Montanaro, NPR

Hundreds of thousands of people descended on the nation’s capital and cities across the country over the weekend in continued demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The protests were largely peaceful, and their meaning has extended beyond Floyd’s fate to the larger issue of policing in America and police treatment of black Americans.

“Don’t let the life of George Floyd be in vain,” a county sheriff said at a memorial service for Floyd on Saturday in North Carolina.

Floyd will be remembered Monday in Houston at a public memorial service followed by an invitation-only funeral service Tuesday. Former Vice President Joe Biden will fly to Houston and meet with Floyd’s family Monday and deliver a videotaped message at the funeral service, though he won’t attend it because of complications his Secret Service detail would create.

President Trump won’t be attending. He will be in Washington and on Monday will host a roundtable with law enforcement at the White House.

The two actions couldn’t better sum up where the two men on the ballot this November to lead the country are coming from — and the bets they’re making to win.

Trump has taken a hard “law and order” line, thinking that will appeal to suburban whites. CBS reported over the weekend that after demonstrations turned violent last weekend, the president wanted 10,000 active-duty military personnel on the streets.

And while he has praised Floyd and been critical of police action in Minneapolis that killed the 46-year-old black man, Trump has also sounded off key.

“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,” Trump said Friday of Floyd while touting the latest jobs report that sent stocks soaring. “This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody.”

Two other actions prompted pushback. Trump’s walk last Monday to a church, part of which was burned, across from the White House came after law enforcement forcibly removed peaceful protesters, and the president threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act and use the military if governors didn’t deploy National Guard troops to quell the protests. Both moves caused controversy — and breaks with multiple, high-profile current and former military officials.

What’s more, survey data show his view of the country may be outdated. A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found two-thirds of Americans feel Trump has increased racial tensions since Floyd’s death, and they largely disagree with his view of the demonstrators. More than 6 in 10 see the demonstrations as mostly legitimate protests rather than unlawful acts. Those are big shifts from the 1960s, when majorities sided with police and had an unfavorable view of civil rights protests.

Polls have also shown more people disapproving of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, and an NBC/WSJ poll out Sunday showed people say they think Biden would be better to handle the pandemic by an 11-point margin.

Trump is suffering politically, losing ground with key groups and losing to Biden in head-to-head matchups. He’s down 7 points in both the NPR poll, 50% to 43%, and the NBC/WSJ poll, 49% to 42%. (In 2016, Hillary Clinton led in the NBC/WSJ poll at this time by just 2 points.)

There are still five months to go until the presidential election. This could be the nadir for Trump politically, and most political strategists are girding for and expect a close election, but the president has a hole to climb out of right now if he hopes to be reelected.

5 things to watch

1. Protests and the president: The weekend largely saw peaceful, multiethnic protests around the country. Do people continue to go out to the streets in the same numbers? Do the protests die down? On Monday, Trump will hold a roundtable with law enforcement at the White House. Will he continue to take a hard line, given most people said they don’t agree with him on his view of the demonstrators?

2. Race and justice take spotlight on Capitol Hill: On Monday, House Democrats will unveil police reform legislation led by the Congressional Black Caucus, and on Wednesday, a House committee holds a hearing on racial profiling and policing. Notably, these are Democratic-led initiatives. Will there be Republicans who join in to press for changes in policing? After all, bipartisan efforts are what led to criminal justice reform legislation in 2018.

3. What about the coronavirus? With masses of people in the streets, it’s easy to forget that much of the country was locked down because of an airborne, viral respiratory pandemic. The U.S. has now crossed 110,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Many front-line workers, doctors, nurses and other health care workers are torn regarding the protests and what they could mean for a resurgence of the coronavirus. The New York Times: “Many say they view the deaths of black people at the hands of police as a public health issue. But they also express worries that large gatherings will cause a second wave of Covid-19 cases, and they are balancing their involvement with calls for protesters and police officers to adhere to public health guidelines.” There’s no way to know what the effect will be yet, but it’s something to watch.

4. Watching the U.S. Supreme Court: The high court is set to release orders and opinions on Monday. The big topics to watch for are on LGBTQ rights and DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program started during the Obama administration. The LGBTQ case is an employment discrimination one. On the DACA case, when the case was argued in the fall, the court’s conservative majority appeared ready to go along with the Trump administration’s argument that it acted lawfully in shutting down the program. The program was enacted by President Barack Obama by executive order. The court may also take up cases involving the Second Amendment and qualified immunity.

5. Trump heads to West Point; coronavirus evident there: Trump is slated to give the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Saturday. But 16 cadets and 71 faculty, staff or civilians at the campus have reported positive for COVID-19. USA Today: “Sources on Capitol Hill, with access to information but not authorized to speak publicly, said that of the 16 affected cadets, 14 had tested positive for the antibody that indicates they had contracted the virus, recovered and had developed antibodies. In addition, 71 of the more than 5,000 faculty, staff and civilians at West Point have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. All but four civilians have recovered, and they are living off the post.”


Quote of the weekend

“By the way, there was no tear gas used [Monday]. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John’s Church. That’s when tear gas was used. … No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical.”

— Attorney General William Barr, on CBS Face the Nation, on what was used against peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday before they were forcibly cleared to allow the president to take a walk to St. John’s Church across from the White House.

While Park Police say they didn’t use “tear gas,” a local reporter collected spent cans of tear gas on scene. What’s more, Dr. Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights and a Georgetown University professor of family medicine, told FactCheck.org in an email: “Tear gas and pepper spray both belong to a class of crowd-control weapons known as chemical irritants.”

California was set to spend over $1 billion to prevent wildfires. Then came COVID-19

Lauren Sommer, NPR

With the coronavirus pandemic eroding state budgets across the country, many communities risk having this disaster make them less prepared for looming climate-driven disasters.

Still recovering from devastating wildfires, California was poised to spend billions of dollars to prepare for future fires and other extreme weather disasters. The infrastructure projects, designed to make communities and homes more resistant to wildfire, have long been overlooked, fire experts say.

But with a $54 billion budget deficit, the programs are being put on hold.

“It’s really a shame,” says Alexandra Syphard, a fire scientist at Sage Underwriters, a wildfire insurance company. “Obviously COVID has been a shame on so many different levels. We were ramping up to provide what I believe is one of the most progressive and important investments in terms of fire risk that there could be.”

With more than 25,000 homes and buildings lost over the last three years, California has focused recent spending on adding new firefighting crews and emergency response capacity. This year, the state planned on investing in something that could lessen the need for fire-fighting: “hardening” millions of homes to make them more resistant to burning.

Similar home-retrofitting programs, piloted in communities around the state, have been very popular.

“Up here in the mountains, a wood-shingled roof is another name for a matchbook,” says Bill Seavy, a homeowner in South Lake Tahoe.

Until a few years ago, Seavy had a wood-shingled roof, but he replaced it through a program that incentivized homeowners to install fire-resistant roofing. The local fire agency, the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, created the program after the 2007 Angora Fire, which destroyed almost 300 buildings and homes in the region.

“In Lake Tahoe, we’re vulnerable, and there’s three million people in California that live in areas like this where you’re vulnerable,” says Seavy. “So we’ve got to do everything we can.”

Through federal funding from FEMA, homeowners could get 70 percent of their costs covered for a replacement roof. Wood roofs can fuel the spread of wildfires by catching burning embers.

“Most homes are not burned by fires just marching up to them and burning them down,” says Syphard. “Most are destroyed because the fires are occurring during really high wind conditions and there tend to be these burning embers that can fly kilometers ahead of the fire front. And it’s these burning embers that tend to get into all the little nooks and crannies of a house.”

Even small fixes to a house can make a big difference, like putting mesh screens on attic vents or covering the eaves under a roof.

“Things that in particular would prevent embers from penetrating the house are super significant in making a difference between whether a home survives a fire or not,” says Syphard.

Last year, California lawmakers approved the first major statewide program for incentivizing such home-retrofits. In January, Governor Gavin Newsom announced $100 million in state and federal money to help homeowners replace roofs and make their homes more fire-resistant, particularly in low-income communities where upgrades may be out of reach for many.

But in May, Newsom proposed suspending the program, citing the need for deep budget cuts to offset the falling tax revenue from the economic downturn.

“We learned that in the Paradise fires, homes built or retrofitted with home-hardening materials and features often withstood the deadly flames and stood to live another day,” says California Assembly member Jim Wood, who authored the bill to create the program. “It is a sorry state when we refuse to acknowledge the importance, and financial benefits, of investing in prevention.”

Two other substantial climate initiatives were also put on hold in the Governor’s revised budget, which would have funded projects to prepare for fires, droughts, floods and sea level rise. Those include a $4.75 billion Climate Resilience Bond scheduled for the November ballot and $1 billion in state funding over five years for climate-related projects. State lawmakers are still trying to push ahead with a bill that would put a $7 billion climate and economic recovery bond on the ballot.

The wildfire funding left in California’s budget this year will likely go to firefighting and emergency response.

“We’re staring down the barrel of another intense wildfire season given how dry it was this winter,” says Wade Crowfoot, California’s Secretary for Natural Resources. “So we are anticipating actually having to juggle disaster response from different disasters.”

Supporters of the resiliency initiatives say spending money to prepare for disasters in advance is substantially more economical than waiting for them to hit.

“A dollar spent today saves you about six dollars in future emergencies,” says Kate Gordon, director of California’s Office of Planning and Research. “And if you think about that, it’s really logical. The cost of emergency response is enormous. Look at Paradise — rebuilding an entire town and relocating folks.”

State officials say they’re looking for other ways to fund climate preparation in hopes of preserving momentum after the recent disasters.

“We are retooling in real time to really continue to drive forward those same priorities, particularly climate resilience, in a more constrained fiscal environment,” says Crowfoot. “Our residents get it. Californians want us actually to do more to protect communities from impacts.”

California, like many states, is looking to federal stimulus funding to fill in the gaps, since climate-related projects could qualify as infrastructure spending. They’re also looking at partnerships with private industry.

“There is a moment at which this kind of economic disaster creates opportunity for thinking differently about how to build forward,” says Gordon. “Not to bounce back, but bounce forward.”

U.S. airlines add flights as demand increases, but recovery will take years

H. J Mai, NPR

U.S. airlines are boosting their flight schedules in preparation for the summer after experiencing an increase in customer demand, but returning to 2019 travel numbers will take years, according to an airline executive.

The coronavirus pandemic has completely disrupted the industry, with near empty flights and parked aircraft the most visible signs of trouble. However, the push to reopen the country has provided U.S. carriers with a glimmer of hope.

American Airlines on Thursday announced that it will increase the number of domestic flights next month. The airline said it is planning to fly more than 55% of its July 2019 domestic schedule next month after average daily passenger numbers increased from about 32,000 in April to more than 110,000 in late May.

Vasu Raja, American’s senior vice president of network strategy, told NPR that the decision to add more flights in July was driven by three factors — pent-up demand, reopening of states and positive customer feedback.

“If customers simply have options to go on travel, and if states continue to reopen on the course that they are at, it seems pretty reasonable that more demand will come back,” Raja said. “If indeed it doesn’t come back, our ability to go and reduce flying is a lot easier than it is to go and add it.”

The airline said next month’s capacity will represent about 40% of its July 2019 capacity. That’s up from 30% this month. Other U.S. carries are also adding flights.

United Airlines will reinstate flights at over 150 of its U.S and Canadian destinations next month, the company said in an email to NPR. The flights will boost the airline’s domestic capacity to 30% year over year. This month, the airline expects to operate at 23% of its June 2019 capacity. Low-cost carrier Frontier is adding 18 new routes to its summer schedule.

Bucking the trend is Atlanta-based Delta, which announced on Friday that it will suspend operations to 11 U.S. markets beginning July 8.

Despite the modest increases in flights and capacity, the airline industry faces a long road to recovery. In the week ending May 31, domestic flights averaged 54 passengers, a drop from typical ranges of between 80 and 100 passengers in January and February, but more than lows of just 17 passengers in late March and early April. Demand for future air travel is also down 82%, according to data collected by industry association Flights for America.

And air travel demand is expected to remain below 2019 levels until 2023, credit ratings agency S&P Global Ratings said in a recent report.

“That’s an entirely realistic expectation,” Raja told NPR. “We hope for it to be done faster. We do anticipate, for example, leisure demand to return sooner than business demand, and short-haul demand return sooner than long-haul demand. So there will be pockets where the demand recovery is certainly quite a lot faster than 2023, but in order to regain the 2019 levels of traffic, we are a number of years off.”

American Airlines reported a first-quarter net loss of $2.2 billion. In April, the airline received $5.8 billion in financial assistance through the government’s Payroll Support Program and said it expects to apply for a separate $4.75 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury Department. It is unclear whether the airline has already applied for the additional federal funds.

No matter how fast the industry will recover from the impact of the pandemic, changes are already afloat at many U.S. airlines.

American has already implemented several cost-saving measures, from accelerating the retirement of certain aircraft types to suspending nonessential hiring to implementing voluntary leave or early retirement programs. The airline will also announce a 30% reduction of its executive staff, Raja said.

“[American] is absolutely going to be smaller,” he said. “The airline is already making real decisions now that will change the airline forever. They are not going to be easy, but over the long haul, the idea behind it is to create an airline that’s capable of persevering through this crisis.”

What numbers should you look to for reassurance during Florida’s reopening?

Daniel Rivero, WRLN

Most of Florida is moving into phase two of reopening bars, movie theaters, and casinos. South Florida is re-opening more slowly. A question on many people’s minds is: is it safe to leave my home?

The day before Miami-Dade County reopened its retail and restaurants, the last thing you would hope to see happened: a sharp spike in cases of COVID-19.

On May 15, there were 186 new cases. The next day 554.

Governor Ron DeSantis addressed this in a press conference on that first day of re-opening.

“Miami at their peak had had 500, but more recently had been about 150 and when they would go above that it was usually because of the Homestead prison. So we thought that maybe that was because of the prison outbreak. It turns out of the 500 cases reported yesterday from Miami, 400 of them were backlogged cases from three weeks ago,” DeSantis said.

Governor DeSantis said take that number with a grain of salt. The numbers were old but they were only just being posted.

“There is a test center not affiliated with the state who had been running tests, and they just now reported it,” DeSantis said.

There you have it from the Governor himself. The numbers are not what they look like. But the numbers are all we have to look at.

So considering that, what do the numbers mean? And how big a deal is it if they aren’t perfect?

“It’s okay to have some imprecision with the data.”

Mary Jo Trepka is a professor of epidemiology at Florida International University. She used to be the top epidemiologist for Miami-Dade County.

During a pandemic, she says some amount of imperfection is expected.

“As long as it’s more or less standard over time so that we can see are we overall decreasing, or are we overall increasing? A best practice would be you completely clean the data and you wait till it’s complete, you clean the data and you release it. But that wouldn’t happen for three months. And that would actually end up being a poor practice right? Because we need to make a decision today, not three months from now,” Trepka said.

And Trepka says focusing on a single datapoint doesn’t tell the whole story.

The problem with death counts is that they can be delayed several weeks before they show up in the data. The total case count only counts people being tested, so that doesn’t include people with no symptoms, who never bother to get tested. And data on people visiting emergency rooms with COVID-19 like symptoms? A lot of people don’t go to the hospital.

Some have even died of COVID-19 at home, and don’t get counted.

“Each one of these types of information has its weaknesses. In terms of being incomplete, or being delayed. So the whole picture includes all those pieces of information,” Trepka said.

All of this can be confusing for people who are kind of like playing the “hokey pokey” with how to deal with the coronavirus.

Well, there are some hard numbers that can be measured. And these are the things policy makers are paying attention to.

Carlos Migoya is the CEO of Jackson Health System, the largest public health system in the state.

“The most important one is the number of people in hospitals,” Migoya said.

Migoya says the reason this number is so important is because it tracks how many serious cases of COVID-19 are out there, and the ability of hospitals to respond to them.

The asymptomatic cases, to some degree, don’t matter as much.

“And we saw the number around April 7th, April 10th peak. And then it flattened out for a long period of time. And then the numbers started coming down. And now the only time that the number goes up is when we have issues in a specific nursing home or multiple nursing homes,” Migoya said.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says this hospitalization number is absolutely critical for making decisions about when to open up restaurants, beaches, gyms and all the other parts of the economy.

“That’s monitored everyday. And if we find that somehow there’s some kind of an uptick in the number of infections none of this is written in stone, it’s written on paper. It can be rescinded,” Gimenez said.

But this absolutely critical number of hospitalizations? There’s a little problem with it. That information is not publicly available.

Mayor Gimenez in Miami-Dade has made the county’s hospitalization data public. But for the rest of the state?

“The emergency managers have that information, the general public doesn’t,” Trepka said.

Again, epidemiologist Mary Jo Trepka.

“That is being used by the policy makers to decide what to do. Because the big issue is are we keeping COVID-19 under control enough that the healthcare system can handle it?”

So in short, just be aware that none of these numbers are perfect.

When it comes to reopening, the state of Florida is asking for your trust.

NASCAR race in Homestead will have live audience for first time since March

Daniel Rivero, WLRN

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic brought a state of emergency to South Florida, a major sporting event will feature a live audience.

About a thousand members of the military and first responders will be allowed to watch a NASCAR Race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday. Their family members also will be able to attend.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez approved a plan to host the event over the weekend.

Tickets will not be available for sale to the general public, but it does mark the beginning of the return for NASCAR racing.

The event in South Dade will be the first race to have fans in the stands since March. Some NASCAR races have been held, but they’ve been in front of empty stands.

Like what you just read? Check out our other coronavirus coverage. 


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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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