Today’s Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard showing Coronavirus cases in Southwest Florida by Zip code. Note the highlighted button on the lower band that takes a user to counties and Zip codes.
April 13, 2020 by David Silverberg.
Residents of Southwest Florida—indeed, all Floridians—can now see the numbers of Coronavirus cases in their Zip codes in addition to their counties.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a respected independent population health research center at the University of Washington,, has re-evaluated its projected peak infection rate for Florida from last week, now projecting it as arriving on April 26.
Projected Coronavirus deaths in Florida. The shaded area shows the range of uncertainty in the projection (how high or low the death rate per day could go), the dotted line is the projected deaths and the solid line shows actual fatalities. (Chart: IMHE)
It also lowered its projection of Florida’s deaths per day in the state to 112, down 130 from its previous week’s estimate. It is now projecting a total of 3,999 deaths in Florida by Aug. 4.
The latest IHME estimate also foresees no shortages of hospital or intensive care unit beds in Florida.
A chart showing the estimated peak of the Coronavirus pandemic in Florida. (Chart: IHME)
April 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a respected independent population health research center at the University of Washington, has revised its estimate of the peak Coronavirus impact in Florida to April 21, 15 days from today.
This is 12 days earlier than a previous estimate of one week ago, which put the peak at May 3. It means Floridians can look forward to the worst days of the siege being over sooner than previously expected.
The change in estimate is chiefly due to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ issuance of a stay-at-home order on April 3 and government-ordered social distancing measures. However, DeSantis has not closed essential services or severely restricted travel, which are measures taken into account by the IHME estimate. Those measures would further flatten the curve of infections.
The IHME estimate also lowers the estimated shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Florida from 843 to 769 beds. It estimates that 2,095 ventilators will be needed by the state.
Flattening the curve only slightly alters the expected number of deaths to 6,770, down just six from last week’s estimate of 6,776. However, the estimated number of COVID-19 deaths per day go up from 174 to 242 at the peak, the point when the numbers of infections are worst.
Nationally, IHME is estimating infections to reach their peak on April 15, nine days from today. It’s anticipating a shortage of 36,654 hospital beds and 16,323 ICU beds. It projects a need for 24,828 ventilators. At its peak, IHME expects 3,130 deaths nationwide on April 16 and total deaths at 81,766—375 fewer than projected a week ago.
Yesterday, April 5, Vice Adm. Dr. Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general warned on Fox News Sunday that the next two weeks were going to be the worst nationally.
“Well, it’s tragically fitting that we’re talking at the beginning of Holy Week because this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” he told host Chris Wallace. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that. But I also want them to understand that the public, along with the state and the federal government, have a power to change the trajectory of this epidemic.”
He continued: “I want Americans to understand that, as hard as this week is going to be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part for the next 30 days.”
While in-person political campaigning is suspended, vigorous discussion of the issues is still essential. With that aim in mind, The Paradise Progressive asked the two Democratic congressional candidates in Florida’s 19th Congressional District the question:
If you were in Congress right now, what actions would you take to serve SWFL regarding the Coronavirus pandemic?
The answers are presented below. Regrettably, our format does not permit side-by-side layouts so the answers are presented sequentially, in alphabetical order by last name. The length of the answers was left up to the candidates.
The answers are in full with very minor editing for grammar and to fix any typographic errors.
I support the components of the CARES Act and the previous two COVID19-related bills. I think it was particularly important for that bill to include provisions around the basic care and support of individuals, as well for small businesses and students. I would have voted for the bill and advocated for provisions related to the areas above to keep people moving through the necessary suppression actions to stem the outbreak and to keep our healthcare system from collapse.
In a fourth emergency bill, I would like to see an extension of direct cash support to individuals, as well as an expansion of unemployment benefits and community and food support. We will also need more funds to healthcare providers for equipment and a strategy and funding for more widespread testing and research to accelerate progress toward a vaccine and treatment. There also needs to be a strategy and coordination around getting healthcare workers to the hardest hit areas to prevent further American lives lost to the disease. Investments into transitioning state election processes to accommodate social distancing and maintain our democracy will need to be included. I would advocate for these items, as well as push for this bill to be crafted and voted on as soon as possible. This next bill should be designed to get us through the suppression of the pandemic in the US.
Following the suppression of the pandemic, Representative Cindy Banyai would work to craft a bipartisan stimulus bill to recover the economy and help struggling families. This bill will need to include fiscal stimulus policies, such as infrastructure investments, to get people back to work and get money flowing in the economy, and tax breaks for working class people. There should also be mandates related to investments in public health and pandemic readiness. We will need education supports to help students get their careers back on track and to help retool displaced workers into new and growing areas of the economy. There will need to be policies and supports to help individuals maintain their housing and fix credit issues. SBA [Small Business Administration] funding policies will need to be designed to provide funding to start or re-start small businesses and to help them explore innovative endeavors to take our economy into the future.
In terms of the procedures of Congress, I would also be advocating for telecommuting options for members, including remote voting, to ensure our government can continue to operate in emergencies like this.
SWFL is at an especially precarious position during this pandemic: a large swath of our population is in the most at-risk category, and our coastline community is based around seasonal tourism. Our economically vulnerable hospitality industry is already stretched thin during off months. I fear this crisis has caused the industry to snap, and hard-working small business owners and their employees are now vying for limited government relief loans. Our health system will be next to fold if we don’t take dramatic action on a federal level to aid hospitals and healthcare workers. There were periods of time where Collier didn’t even have testing facilities (and its current facility can only test 50 patients a day). We’re underprepared, but we don’t have to be.
We need a follow-up bill to the CARES Act that’s similarly robust. Because of the inaction of our Republican representatives at the federal and state level, this pandemic and its associated economic injuries will persist longer than was ever necessary. This extended shutdown will cripple large and small businesses who will lay off employees at an increased rate since they are not incentivized properly (yes they don’t have to repay loans if they retain staff, but more needs to be done) to keep employees on the payroll. We need $300 billion more to go to small businesses. On the individual level, more than a one-time injection of $1,200 needs to go to working people. We need a system more akin to Canada’s, who will pay households $2,000 every month the crisis persists. More has to be done to protect our students, a significant portion of whom won’t receive that $1,200, including forgiving swaths of student loan debt. We must reopen the health insurance marketplace with affordable, quality plans. We also need another cash injection into hospitals and healthcare centers. If America can spend $400 billion on a fighter jet that can’t fly, we can spend the same on saving our healthcare workers.
Finally, we must put a stop to the damage this administration is allowing to happen while we’re all distracted with the dire issues at hand. States around the country, like Texas, are essentially barring abortions from taking place. This is unconstitutional and just another GOP grab to control women’s bodies in a crisis. Access to all healthcare needs to be built into federal guidelines. In addition, this administration is rolling back several environmental protections, like car emission standards and limiting the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency, the latter of which severely impacts a coastal community like SWFL. Imagine an especially heinous red tide coupled with even sludgier blue-green algal blooms attacking our lungs and waterways at the same time as COVID-19, all to protect corporate polluters during a pandemic. People first, always.
All of the above is to say the issues we’re seeing are simply an illumination of the cracks chiseled into our social bedrock for over 40 years by hard-right, Republican extremists. The job of a congressional representative is to bring America back to trusting experts, respecting human life, crafting policy for working people not corporations, working towards single-payer healthcare, progress on civil rights, protecting our precious environment—the list is truly never-ending for a public servant. I vow to create the space necessary for real change not only in our district but throughout America.
Lee and Collier counties show fewer fevers than neighboring counties to the east, according to data from a medical supply company. (Maps and charts: Kinsa)
April 2, 2020 by David Silverberg.
Southwest Florida is becoming less feverish, according to mapping by a digital thermometer company that tracks cases of atypical temperatures in users of its thermometers.
According to the company, Kinsa, based in San Francisco, Calif., this means that social distancing is working in bringing down contagious fevers.
“Social distancing is slowing the spread of feverish illnesses across the country,” the company states on its website.
The dark blue indicates a reduction in the number of reported fevers, which have been declining statewide but particularly in Collier County.
However, the company cautions that this does not necessarily mean that cases of COVID-19 are declining—in fact those are expected to rise.
Nonetheless, it does show a decline in cases of atypical temperatures across the nation.
In Lee and Collier counties the cases of atypical temperatures declined by 11.9 percent from their peaks, which occurred on March 18 and 19.
Nationally, fevers peaked on March 17, according to the company.
The data and what the company calls its “Healthweather Map,” comes from its QuickCare and Smart Ear digital thermometers. These connect to a Kinsa App digital application that collects the information from the thermometer and provides personalized guidance and information for the user. It also uploads anonymous data on local illnesses and fevers to Kinsa, allowing the company to map global trends.
“We believe that the biggest problem in healthcare globally is the spread of infectious illness. The key to stopping the spread is better information on where and when it is starting,” states the company’s mission statement. “Our mission is to stop the spread of contagious illness through earlier detection and earlier response.”
Kinsa was founded in 2012 by Inder Singh, a former executive vice president of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Health Access Initiative, a global non-profit organization fighting malaria and other diseases. Following clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the company began manufacturing and distributing its thermometers in 2014, initially aiming to track the seasonal flu and other diseases that caused fevers.
The company was perfectly positioned to track the rise of fevers associated with COVID-19 when the pandemic broke out.
The peak day is projected to be May 3—33 days from now.
By August, the Institute projects that Florida will have suffered 6,766 deaths, reaching a rate of 174 deaths per day at its peak. Deaths should cease by the end of June.
The projections do not break down by county, so a separate projection for Southwest Florida is unavailable.
Florida has the resources to cope with the pandemic, according to the Institute. On May 3, when demand will be highest, it will have 20,184 hospital beds to handle demand for 16,861 beds. However, it will require 2,538 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and be short 843. It currently has only 1,695 ICU beds. The state will also need 2,029 ventilators.
The IMHE model was cited by Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus taskforce, in an interview with journalist Chuck Todd yesterday, March 29, on “Meet the Press“.
“No state, no metro area will be spared,” warned Birx. “And the sooner we react and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they’ve put in full mitigation, at the same time understanding exactly what their hospitals need, then we’ll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans.”
To date Florida has not implemented a stay-at-home order, closed non-essential services or severely limited travel within the state. It is testing incoming travelers at its northern and western borders.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is coming under increasing pressure to implement strong measures like New York’s but has so far resisted. The Lee and Collier County councils have similarly resisted strong measures, fearing their impact on the state and local economy.
The IMHE model does not project the Florida infection and death rate if such measures are taken.
Nationally, IMHE projects peak resource use on April 15, when American hospitals will need 224,321 hospital beds and be short 61,509. The US will also be short 15,103 ICU beds and need 33,440 and will require 16,753 ventilators. Ultimately, it projects 82,141 American deaths from COVID-19.
This is lower than the number cited by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Yesterday he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100 and 200,000 (deaths). But I don’t want to be held to that.” Fauci added that there could be “millions of cases” of Coronavirus infection.
Yesterday President Donald Trump dropped the idea of opening the nation for business on Easter and allowed social distancing standards to remain in force until April 30.
In the same press conference Trump said that when it came to vital supplies, “Florida has been taken care of.” In response to a follow-up question he added “Florida I looked, they’re very aggressive in trying to get things and they’re doing a very good job.” He went on to say that all governors are committed to responding to the pandemic and that most states were “very happy” with the federal response.
“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile,” states the article. “The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later, according to figures from the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”
“‘The governor has spoken to the president daily, and the entire congressional delegation has been working as one for the betterment of the state of Florida,’” said Jared Moskowitz, the emergency management division’s director. “‘We are leaving no stone unturned.’”
Florida’s treatment is in contrast to states like Michigan and New York, whom the president has criticized as being disrespectful to him and where officials are complaining about being shortchanged by the federal government.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the Coronavirus support bill today.
March 27, 2020 by David Silverberg.
Updated at 6:12 pm with Trump signature and Republican candidate chart, also at 10:20 pm with Rooney and Steube tweets.
This afternoon the US House of Representatives approved the CARES Act, (HR 748) providing $2 trillion in relief for Americans and businesses hurt by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The measure passed on a near-unanimous voice vote, so the votes of Southwest Floridian representatives were not individually recorded. The measure had bipartisan support in both the Senate, where it passed 96-0, and the House and was endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump signed it shortly after receiving it, enacting it into law.
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) praised Pelosi for the bill’s passage in a tweet: “Thank you
@SpeakerPelosi for moving the CARES Act quickly and safely through the House of Representatives, and for your work on this legislation. As Americans, we must come together to defeat this virus. #Coronavirus.”
However, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) still found cause for complaint. “Explain to me how allocating $1 billion of taxpayer money to fund an Obama era program that provides discounted phone service for people will save lives? Pelosi put this in her COVID-19 response bill. She is exploiting this national crisis to push her politics!” he tweeted yesterday.
Nonetheless, Steube managed to eke out praise for Congress and the legislation itself in a pair of tweets once it passed. “This bill will provide assistance for families, small businesses, and health care providers working on the front line to combat the virus. Although not perfect, and there are many pieces of this legislation I do not support, I think it’s important for unemployed workers and small businesses to get economic relief now so that we can quickly get our economy back on track.”
New candidate in the 19th
As though we did not have excitement enough, yet another Republican candidate is aspiring to attain the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney.
This time it’s Michigan businessman Casey Askar. Askar filed on March 20 and sent out a press release stating that he felt called upon to serve the nation.
According to his announcement, Asker, a Christian born in Iraq, came to the United States at the age of 7, attended Oakland College, a school in southeastern, Michigan, joined the US Marine Corps and then graduated from Harvard Business School.
Askar is a very busy entrepreneur. He started the Askar Family Office portfolio, which promotes food brand franchises. He distributes food to Askar Brands restaurants through ASC Foods. He’s involved in commercial real estate through Askar Properties and manages back office operations for franchisees. He’s also a franchisee for brands such as Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Askar doesn’t say if he lives in Southwest Florida full time or resides in District 19. His campaign committee’s mailing address is a post office box in Naples. Representatives are required to reside in the state they represent.
“My life is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Askar stated in his campaign announcement. “From fleeing tyrants in Iraq at the age of seven, to enlisting in the US Marines at eighteen, to watching President Donald Trump get elected president, I am so grateful for the life I have been able to build in my great country,”
Like all the Republican candidates in the 19th District, Askar is a passionate Trumper.
“Now, watching President Trump fight the rise of socialism and a world-wide pandemic, I feel called to serve again. America has given so much to me, my family, and my children, it’s time to give back and save our land of opportunity for future generations. Our country’s future is worth fighting for.” His campaign video shows Democratic politicians while it excoriates socialism
Other than his allegiance to Trump, Askar makes no mention of policy positions on any other issue and certainly doesn’t address local or environmental issues on his website, which only asks for donations. He lists no political or government experience.
Askar is the father of six children. He does not give his age in his campaign materials.
Askar’s entry brings the number of Republican congressional candidates to nine and keeps the total number of candidates at 12, with two Democrats and one Independent.
AQUINO, DARREN DIONE
AQUINO FOR CONGRESS
CASEY ASKAR FOR CONGRESS
BYRON DONALDS FOR CONGRESS
DANE EAGLE FOR CONGRESS
FIGLESTHALER, WILLIAM MATTHEW MD
WILLIAM FIGLESTHALER FOR CONGRESS
HEATHER FITZENHAGEN FOR CONGRESS
RANDY HENDERSON FOR CONGRESS
CHRISTY FOR CONGRESS
SEVERSON, DANIEL MARK
SEVERSON FOR CONGRESS
Republicans currently running for the 19th Congressional District seat and their campaign committees.
The number of Republicans running dropped by one when Ford O’Connell ended his campaign on March 19. Another candidate announced suspension of his campaign the same day, but…
The unsuspension of William Figlesthaler
On March 19 Dr. William Figlesthaler solemnly announced the temporary suspension of his congressional campaign and conversion of its phone lines to Coronavirus response hotlines.
“My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty,” he stated in an announcement at the time.
Normally, temporary suspension of a campaign is code for “it’s over, folks,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. New Figlesthaler campaign ads are appearing on Southwest Florida television channels and there’s no indication of any slowdown in his media platforms.
Commentary: The suspension, such as it was, seems to have lasted a week— perhaps in keeping with President Trump’s view of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Figlesthaler has issued a video explaining his positions and, of course, his loyalty to President Trump.
In the video, against an inset of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he denounces Democrats, whom he says “want socialized medicine,” then he turns to the other side, saying, “while establishment Republicans have failed to implement President trump’s aggressive free market solutions”—and he shows an inset of Republican Sen. John McCain—who died two years ago.
This is the “establishment Republican” Figlesthaler is running against: a dead American hero.
It will be interesting to see if he can win against live Republicans.
Both Democratic and Republican candidates have been seeking a delay in Florida’s Monday, March 23rd deadline to turn in ballot petitions to get on the August 18 primary ballot. They argued that with the Coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to collect petitions or canvass neighborhoods. The alternative to a petition drive is payment of a $10,044 fee.
On Tuesday, March 24, Laurel Lee, Florida’s secretary of state, issued a statement to Florida Politics: “As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”
An inquiry to the Division of Elections by The Paradise Progressive received a response that a reply would be forthcoming.
If the state chooses not to waive or postpone the deadline or make some other accommodation for petitions, the congressional field of candidates in the 19th District could be considerably reduced.
Union vote for local journalists postponed
Political elections are not the only ones being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic; union elections are impacted too.
Since local print journalists have endured repeated layoffs and employment insecurity, back in February they decided to unionize.
“We, the journalists of the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle, are unionizing,” they declared. “We want a seat at the table and a stable work environment where outstanding journalism matters most.”
The Southwest Florida News Guild, a unit of the Newsguild-Communications Workers of America, was to have held its union election on Wednesday, March 25. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board is putting off all union votes until April.
“Newspapers have reached a critical juncture as financial pressures and corporate mergers have decimated the staff of local newsrooms, including ours. A merger between our parent company, Gannett, and GateHouse Media will continue to gut our newsrooms. Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” the organizers stated.
“The Southwest Florida News Guild is being born from these conditions. Gannett has made bargaining as individual employees ineffective, which makes bargaining as a unit imperative. Collectively, we can fight for better pay, improved benefits and a diversity in our newsrooms that better reflects the communities we serve.”
Republican Ford O’Connell has dropped his bid for Congress in the 19th Congressional District currently held by fellow Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.
He is the first candidate and the first Republican to withdraw from the race. There are now 11 candidates seeking the office: Eight Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent.
In a statement issued at 11:00 am this morning, the former Fox News pundit stated that he could not run the race he had planned due to the Coronavirus outbreak. He did not endorse any other candidate. He stated he was donating his remaining campaign funds to local charities but did not say if this included the $200,000 loan he made to his campaign committee.
O’Connell was a fierce defender of President Donald Trump.
His full statement, issued as an e-mail to supporters, follows below:
After much thought and careful consideration, it is with a heavy heart I announce that I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for the FL-19 U.S. congressional seat.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Lives are at stake. The time for action is now. As a result of the Chinese coronavirus outbreak, we cannot run the type of campaign we wanted to run; one where we go to local events and meetings, schools and libraries, museums and restaurants, and speak to voters and hear about the issues that matter to them, where we get our message out face-to-face with citizens at the grassroots level through an exchange of ideas, having real conversations that matter, rather than in 30-second TV ads. Public safety is paramount, and an election where voters’ health may be endangered to run a campaign by, for, and of the people is not one in which I can in good conscience continue.
To that end, I have decided to donate a portion of my campaign funds to the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida and to the American Red Cross to assure our friends and neighbors are taken care of during this difficult and uncertain time.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my fiancé, Sarah, my family, my dedicated campaign staff, my friends and supporters; to everyone I spoke with over the past several months who shared their story, their concerns, their humanity – to each and every one of you – thank you. I am humbled by your support and by your belief in me and in what we stand for.
We fought a good fight, and we should all be incredibly proud of that. Now, we turn our battle to a new horizon; one with much higher stakes and that will in the coming days and months impact us all. Stay safe. Stay strong. Together, there is nothing America can’t do. While this campaign has reached its end, know that I’m not done fighting for you, for Southwest Florida, and for our great nation.
Southwest Florida’s congressmen split three ways on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (House Resolution 6201), passed last night by a vote of 363 to 40.
The bill provides for free Coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, employer protections for health care workers, food assistance and unemployment benefits during the Coronavirus pandemic. It was endorsed by President Donald Trump in cooperation with House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent from the voting. He has not issued any statement as of this update.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for the bill.
In a tweet he stated: “Tonight, I proudly voted for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a bill that will provide much-needed additional resources to expand our testing capabilities and accessibility, and it will also ensure that American families are prepared to address this pandemic.”
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it, along with 39 other Republicans. Late Saturday afternoon he issued a statement explaining his reason:
“Last week, I voted for $8.3 billion in funding to directly address the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States. This funding sped up the development of vaccines, increased access to testing and treatment, and expanded access to telemedicine services.This package also included nearly $1 billion for state and local response,$300 million for the CDC’s Infectious Diseases Rapid Response,and much more. Yesterday, the president declared a National Emergency, which opened up an additional $50 billion that we can use to address the outbreak. The bill that was rushed to the floor early this morning with only 30 minutes to review over 100 pages-expanded unemployment insurance and welfare programs, increased additional spending not related to the Coronavirus without an offset to the deficit, placed mandates on private companies, temporarily removed work requirements from SNAP, and allowed for uncapped federal spending. The bill was filled with policy positions I could not in good conscience support.”
Allen Ellison, Steube’s Democratic challenger, also issued a tweet stating: “In the face of a pandemic, #RepGregSteube voted “NAY” on the #Coronavirus Relief Bill: #HR6201. Whether it’s hurricane relief or environmental protection, he has failed the residents of FL. It’s time to chart a new path forward. Together we can do this.”
The coronavirus crisis has elicited different responses from Southwest Florida’s elected officials and candidates—but they’ve also been busy on a variety of other fronts.
The most important measure taken in Congress regarding Coronavirus was passage of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (House Resolution (HR) 6074) providing $8.3 billion in funding to fight the disease.
The bill passed the House by a whopping 415 to 2 vote on Wednesday, March 4. Among the Southwest Florida delegation, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) did not vote on the measure. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted in favor. (The two “nay” votes were Reps. Andrew Biggs (R-5-Ariz.) and Ken Buck (R-4-Colo.)).
The bill was rushed over to the Senate where it passed the next day by an overwhelming margin of 96 to 1, with both Florida’s senators voting for it. (The lone opponent was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)). Immediately thereafter, President Donald Trump signed it and it became Public Law 116-123.
Other than that major action, Southwest Florida reactions have varied.
Rep. Rooney: On March 3, Rooney posted a generic Coronavirus information page on his website but did not explain the reasons for his absence from the appropriations vote and all other votes since Feb. 26.
In other matters, on March 4, Rooney’s Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (House Resolution (HR) 3297) was unanimously passed by the environmental subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The legislation exempts the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science from government shutdowns, an issue that arose during the 2019 government shutdown.
Interestingly, the bill now has 14 co-sponsors, 10 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with heavy support from the Florida delegation. It next needs to be passed by the full committee and sent on to the full House.
Rep. Diaz-Balart: Diaz-Balart’s seat on the House Appropriations Committee affords him an active role in considering Coronavirus funding and he made the most of publicizing his vote for HR 6074. He also took credit when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention announced its allocation of $27 million for Florida to fight the virus out of $560 million nationwide, part of the initial Coronavirus appropriation.
Rep. Steube: Steube tweeted out a list of links to get more information about the Coronavirus and let constituents know that the Capitol and House office buildings are closed due to Coronavirus. He voted for HR 6074.
Otherwise, his attention went from life-saving to life-taking. On March 5 Steube introduced a bill to speed approval of applications for gun silencers (technically known as suppressors) by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE). The ENDS Act (End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors Act) (HR 6126) would amend the tax code to give the ATFE a deadline of 90 days to decide whether to approve a suppressor application.
Steube argues that the ATFE is deliberately too slow in processing civilian applications for suppressors, which are used for silent killing. His bill would speed up the process and impose a deadline, getting more gun silencers into more hands more quickly.
“I have personally experienced the unnecessary delay of a suppressor application and as a member of Congress, I have met with many Floridians who have also experienced similar delays,” Steube complained in a press release. “A policy of delay, delay, delay is unacceptable and frankly violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
In other activities, Steube proposed ensuring that veterans have access to state-approved marijuana and introduced an amendment to Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020 (HR 5602) to include Antifa, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and a group called Anti-Police to the list of white supremacist groups to be monitored for terrorist activities. The amendment was approved and passed by the Judiciary Committee.
Coronavirus has made normal political activities like rallies, meetings and town halls nearly impossible—and canvassing and petition collecting are especially hard hit.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate, issued a call Wednesday, March 11 to delay the deadlines for petition submissions due to the Coronavirus, which is making face-to-face petition collection nearly impossible. Deadline to turn in the petitions is noon, March 23 for verification and April 20 to 24 is the general qualifying period.
To get on the federal ballot for Congress a candidate has to either pay $10,440 to the state of Florida or submit signatures equal to 1 percent of the district’s registered voters, which in the case of the 19th District comes to 5,052 signatures.
“By not waiving or extending the deadline for candidates to reach their petition numbers, you are effectively disenfranchising many grassroots-funded candidates who are unable to pay for the filings fees,” Banyai stated, directly addressing the Florida Department of State’s Election Division. “Governor DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency amid the spread of the coronavirus and he needs to step up to allow enough time for candidates to strategize about the next steps for their campaigns and ways to keep their communities safe.”
According to her statement, she is being funded by over 450 donors contributing about $50 each and she is refusing corporate or political action committee contributions. Since entering the race she intended to get on the ballot through petition signatures.
Among Republicans, State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on March 6 tweeted that there was no need to panic over the virus and urged caution: “Unfortunately we have confirmed that a Lee County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This is the 6th confirmed case in Florida & 1st in Lee County. While there is no need to panic, it is extremely important that all take the necessary precautions to reduce risk.”
He was also at pains to defend Trump from accusations that he was responsible for a virus-related stock market crash that has been called the “Trump slump,” tweeting yesterday, March 12:
“For those that are blaming @realDonaldTrump for the stock market dip, just ask yourselves this: Did Trump sell out our manufacturing jobs to China? The answer is no. Establishment Republicans & Democrats like Joe Biden did. This would be much worse if Biden was President.”
The lone medical doctor among the candidates seeking the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler, issued a statement on his Facebook page urging calm and praising Trump for his measures shutting off travel to Europe.