Florida's focus remains on COVID-19 response and recovery. Statistically, the number of new cases in the state is increasing at a lower rate. As of Sunday morning, 30,680 total cases had been reported - an increase of 4,366 new cases. The state has seen 4,957 hospitalizations and 1,074 casualties as a result of the pandemic. The number of cases in the state are overwhelming concentrated in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, with these two counties accounting for 52% of statewide cases.
On Monday, Governor Desantis announced the creation of the "Re-Open Florida Task Force" to make recommendations and suggestions for reopening Florida's economy after the statewide Stay-at-Home Order expires on April 30. The executive committee and working groups will submit their recommendations to the Governor's staff. The Governor's staff will then compile the recommendations into a report and allow the executive committee and working groups to review the report before submitting to the Governor for final approval. In addition to these measures, the Governor launched a Re-Open Florida Public Comment website that will allow members of the public to submit recommendations and suggestions for reopening the state.
Uber continues to lead the way in private-sector COVID-19 response. This week, Uber launched two new programs - Uber Direct and Uber Connect. Uber Direct will allow manufacturers and retailers to ship products directly to consumers in a safe and efficient manner. Uber Connect will allow users in select cities to send packages to friends and loved ones. This feature will let packages be sent via same-day, no-contact delivery at a reasonable cost.
Dr. John Schultz, a Master Corporal with the Florida Highway Patrol and a Liberty Partners of Tallahassee alumni, is joining the National Police Foundation in an advisory role. A decorated state trooper, Dr. Schultz currently serves as Master Corporal in the Florida Highway Patrol's Traffic Homicide Advanced Investigation and Reconstruction Team. With more than 28 years of experience, Dr. Schultz has received numerous accolades and honors, including the Florida State Trooper of the month for Troop-F in 2016 and 2017, the Sons of American Revolution Law Enforcement Commendation 2016 Award, and the Governor's Medal of Heroism Award in 2017. We are extremely proud of Dr. Schultz and are proud to call him a friend and former member of the Liberty Partners team.
On Friday evening, Senate President Bill Galvano released a memo that provides key updates on the March General Revenue Collections Report and COVID-19. In the report, President Galvano commends the work done by healthcare professionals in the state and touts the state's response to the coronavirus. Galvano also thanks the Department of Economic Opportunity for their hard work in processing and paying out unemployment claims. On Friday afternoon, the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) released their final General Revenue Collection Report for March. While state sales tax collections came in $12.4M lower than previous projections, overall tax collections were $61.3M more than previous projections. EDR cautioned against being overly optimistic, noting that the report only accounts for one week of collections in March. President Galvano noted that $4.6B in federal CARES Act funding has been given to the state for funding stabilization. Galvano is hopeful that this funding - combined with Florida's strong reserves - will allow the Legislature to not meet for a Special Session.
Read below to catch up on all the key events that took place across the state last week.
STATE SEES DECREASE IN NEW COVID-19 CASES
Floridians are beginning to see signs of hope, as the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the state is decreasing. While the state reported 26,314 cases last week, as of Sunday evening, the state reported 31,528. This statistic reflects the fact that many statewide leaders believe Florida has reached a plateau and will begin seeing a consisten decrease in cases per week. The state did, however, see a significant increase in the amount of Floridians hospitalized due to the virus, with the total number of hospitalizations rising to 4,957. The state also saw 300 additional Floridians succumb to the pandemic this week, bring the total number of casualties to 1,074. The majority of cases continue to be concentrated in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
A main priority of Governor DeSantis remains increasing testing throughout the state. As the number of tests administered increases, the number of positive cases can also expect to increase. However, Florida has seen and is projected to continue to see a low percentage of the total population infected with the virus. Many citizens have taken advantage of the state's drive-thru testing sites in a convenient and simple manner. Additionally, individuals in underserved communities have seen increased access to testing by using the state's new walk-up testing sites.
It is our hope that by continuing testing and identifying asymptomatic carriers of the virus, the state can move toward reopening and overcoming this global health crisis in a safe and efficient manner.
To read more statistics and receive frequent updates, visit the Florida Department of Health's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard.
As the pandemic spreads and impacts individuals across the nation and world, state officials and agencies have provided an extensive list of resources for Floridians during this time. Click the links below to learn more and remember that you are #SaferAtHome.
RE-OPEN FLORIDA TASK FORCE MEETS
Governor DeSantis and the State of Florida are taking steps to reopen Florida's economy and put Floridians back to work. On Monday, DeSantis announced the appointment of a Task Force to Re-open Florida comprised of elected officials and business leaders. The task force structure includes an Executive Committee and three working groups:
- Executive Committee - This group includes 22 people total - 10 are elected officials from Cabinet members to legislators to mayors. The group is chaired by Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez.
- Industry Working Group on Agriculture, Finance, Government, Healthcare, Management and Professional Services. The group includes 30 members and is headed by Senate President-Designate Wilton Simpson.
- Industry Working Group on Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation headed by Dana Young, VisitFlorida CEO. The task force includes 35 people.
- Industry Working Group on Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Utilities and Wholesale is headed by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. There are 24 people in this group.
During the working group meetings, officials and industry leaders presented recommendations and outlined strategies for reopening the state. These comprehensive discussions allowed the working groups to discuss best practices and share ideas in a thoughtful manner.
The working groups met from Tuesday until Friday and discussed measures that could be taken in their respective industries to get Florida back on its feet. Meeting a total of nine times, the groups heard from a variety of leaders and had robust discussions on the most effective ways to open up the state in a safe manner. Leaders of the working groups provided summaries of their meetings and shared recommendations during the executive committee meetings each afternoon.
On Monday, the Governor held his first conference call with the Re-Open Florida Task Force Executive Committee. A series of presenters spoke to the committee on the steps that Florida is taking to combat COVID-19 and what Phase 2 will look like moving forward.
DeSantis began the call by touting measures that the administration has taken for elderly and vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities and hospitals. He also announced that the state will ramp up coronavirus testing efforts and is exploring options for receiving test results quickly. The Governor noted that it is important for businesses to have guidelines to follow once they reopen and that instilling consumer confidence will be key once they reopen.
Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson and Chief Economist Dr. Jerry Parrish provided an overview of Florida's economy to task force members. During their presentation, Wilson noted that Florida has the 17th largest economy in the world and that people from around the world are watching Florida's response to the pandemic. He also spoke to the importance of the tourism industry, which employs 11% of the state's workforce and saw 127 million tourists visit the state last year. Dr. Parrish spoke to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and shared that the risk of unemployment varies depending on different job sectors. According to Dr. Parrish, the healthcare industry is likely to see small unemployment numbers, while the manufacturing industry can expect to see moderate rates of unemployment. He concluded his presentation by noting that rural counties will have the most difficulty recovering economically from the pandemic.
Following Dr. Parrish's presentation, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz summarized the division's efforts in response to COVID-19. Director Moskowitz applauded private businesses that have donated equipment and supplies and assured the task force that the agency is taking all necessary steps to fill in the supply gaps. Moskowitz concluded by noting the increase in testing across the state and recommending that the task force look at data-driven approaches.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees then gave the task force an overview of COVID-19 cases and health information. Dr. Rivkees warned of the symptoms of the virus and emphasized that younger individuals can be asymptomatic carriers. Rivkees also urged the task force to analyze the data and highlighted the state's response.
Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Mary Mayhew concluded the meeting by highlighting the strong partnerships between state and local healthcare officials. Mayhew noted that has increased data reporting on hospital capacity, rate of hospitalizations and hospitals' PPE needs.
The executive committee met five times last week and will play a critical role in helping the Governor set the framework for re-opening Florida's economy. More information about the Governor's Task Force to Re-open Florida can be found here.
Members of the public can submit their comments and suggestions to the Task Force through the Public Submission Portal.
SENATE PRESIDENT GALVANO RELEASES REVENUE REPORT AND SENATE UPDATE
On Friday evening, Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) released a memo that consisted of the March General Revenue Collections Report and COVID-19 updates. In the memo, President Galvano notes that Florida has tested more than 300,000 individuals - putting Florida in the top three for testing nationwide. He also highlights the fact that the state has contracted with two new testing laboratories that will allow 18,000 more test results to be processed each day. Galvano also noted that hospital capacity has actually increased during the pandemic and that Florida has seen a steady rate of new cases and hospitalizations for the past two weeks.
Senator Galvano applauded the hard work that is being done by the Department of Economic Opportunity in processing and paying unemployment claims in wake of the pandemic. From March 15 to April 23, the department has paid 153,788 unemployment claims, totaling $157,507,046.
On Friday afternoon, EDR released their final General Revenue Collection Report for March. State sales tax collections were $12.4M lower than the Revenue Estimating Conference's previous projections. EDR cautioned that this slight decrease mainly represents the month of February and only accounts for one week of the impacts felt by COVID-19. EDR explained that the relatively positive outlook of this data is likely influenced by the fact that consumers began buying goods in preparation of the virus. While there was a modest loss in sales tax revenue, overall tax collections were $61.3M more than previous projections and $202.4M more than prior year-to-date estimates.
On Thursday, Galvano received a letter that was sent to Governor DeSantis on behalf of the Senate Democratic Caucus. In the letter, the caucus expresses concerns regarding Florida's reemployment system, COVID-19 testing and available food resources. The letter also suggests that legislative action be taken to address the impact the coronavirus will have on the upcoming primary and general elections. To see the steps that President Galvano and Florida's Supervisors of Elections are taking to address these election concerns, click here.
The Senate President also refers to Florida's Division of Bond Finance's Voluntary Disclosure Regarding Impacts of COVID-19. This document is resourceful and affirms timelines and benchmarks that the Senate's professional staff has advised.
The memo concludes by noting that as of Friday, $4.6B in federal CARES Act funding has been deposited into Florida's state treasury for the purpose of state funding stabilization. This funding will assist the state in funding expenses through March and can possibly reduce the need for the Legislature to return for a Special Session in the wake of the pandemic.