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Law Enforcement Asks For More Time to Apply for PTSD Workers Comp

October 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s Police Chiefs are calling on lawmakers to allow more time for their officers to be eligible for workers comp benefits when it comes to PTSD.

Police say the limited timeframe has made it near impossible for officers to qualify.

Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter said the number of officers suffering from post traumatic stress is greatly underestimated.

“I’d venture to guess that you’d probably have a hard time finding any officer that doesn’t have some form of it,” said Slaughter, who also works as the parliamentarian for the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

It was only three years ago PTSD was added as a recognized line of duty injury covered by workers comp.

Still, many are slipping through the cracks.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Atkinson told lawmakers of a deputy sheriff who had survived a shootout.

Five years later he was up for promotion and turned in his badge out of the blue.

“Had not even spoken to his wife and children. He just wanted to walk out right there because of an incident that happened that had festered over the course of five years,” said Atkinson, who is a past president of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Law enforcement said a big part of the problem is that in order to qualify for workers comp, officers have to point to a specific incident that caused their PTSD and apply for compensation within a year.

“The nature of PTSD, the science shows that you don’t know when those symptoms are going to manifest themselves,” said Slaughter.

 

Police are hoping lawmakers can tweak PTSD coverage in the 2022 legislative session.

At the top of the list: giving officers more time to apply.

“It’s an arbitrary time limit that just doesn’t make any sense. The officers, they may start showing symptoms later on in their career or there may be an accumulative effect of multiple events and right now the current legislation doesn’t do that,” said Slaughter.

And law enforcement also told us they believe better PTSD coverage and access to mental health resources could help with officer retention.

They said better trained and more experienced officers will translate to greater public safety as a whole.

According to bluehelp.org, 11 Florida law enforcement officers took their own lives in 2020.

Already, seven have been lost to suicide this year.

If you or a loved one are in crisis, call the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255.

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Leon County Ground Zero in Culture War

October 14th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The local governments surrounding Florida’s State Capitol have been the most vocal in their opposition to state mandates on masks and vaccines.

They are becoming the epicenter of the current culture war.

In Leon County, Nearly six of ten voters chose Andrew Gillum over Ron DeSantis.

“The Governor is pulling all the strings,” said Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna

The School Board has been cited for violating the state’s mask mandate ban.

“Our community is very different than Miami-Dade, or Duval, or Hillsborough,” said Hanna.

And Leon County is the only one so far to have been issued a notice of violation for requiring employees to be vaccinated.

Now, the city is joining a legal challenge of HB 1, the so-called ‘anti-riot’ legislation.

It’s over a provision that allows the state to intervene if local government’s defund police.

“The voters here in Tallahassee and the people who live here expect us to make a decision with their tax dollars and we need to have the ability to do that,” said Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow.

The clash is proof all politics are local.

“I not only voted for it, but I spoke in favor of it on the House Floor,” said Representative Chuck Brannon.

Rep. Brannon chairs the House Criminal Justice Sub Committee.

“No, no negative feedback at all,” said Brannon.

In 2018, Ron DeSantis made only private appearances at the Capitol, but for Democratic candidates it’s a regular stop.

Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist used the Capital Thursday as a backdrop to call for the full legalization of marijuana.

“Because I believe if you can brew your own beer, you can brew your own weed,” said Crist.

Congressman Crist told reporters he would use tax revenue from legal marijuana to fund other criminal justice and sentencing reforms.

There are two democrats running against Ron DeSantis.

A third is likely, and these culture wars won’t likely be decided until 2022.

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Transgender Activists Lay Out 2022 Agenda

October 14th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

LGBTQ activists rallied in the State Capitol Thursday morning touting their legislative priorities for 2022.

This year they want to undo the trans-athlete ban and provide more gender identity options on drivers licenses.

During the rally trans activists said their community is ‘under attack’.

Activists have their cross hairs set on repealing the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’.

Passed last year, it bars trans women from competing in women’s only sports.

“You have just as much right to run onto a field or a court as any other girl in this state,” said State Senator Gary Farmer.

Activists are also backing a bill that would provide an option to choose non-binary, which means you neither identify as male or female, as your gender on your driver’s license.

“A gender neutral ID allows them to display a more accurate gender marker on their ID,” said sponsor Representative Kristen Arrington.

Trans-activists are also fighting against a bill they describe as the most radical yet.

It would prohibit children from recovering gender-affirming medical care.

That includes the use of puberty blockers, hormone therapies and gender reaffirming surgeries.

“Access to hormone replacement therapy is a matter of life and death,” said Chloe Illcus with the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed support for legislation banning gender reaffirming surges for children.

However, the legislation was filed this year by one of the most outspoken Republicans in the Legislature, who has often found himself in conflict with legislative leadership.

But the odds are likely also stacked against the passage of either bill supported by the trans-community.

Sponsor of the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’ Senator Kelli Stargel told us her view on trans-athletes competing on women’s sports teams hasn’t changed.

“Women should be playing women’s sports with their muscular make up and not be playing against men, biological men,” said Stargel.

The trans-activists said they believe Republican’s actions on trans athletes will back fire in the 2022 election.

Only time will tell whether the issue will translate to a Democratic edge at the ballot box.

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Florida Property Insurance Industry Still in a State of Crisis

October 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida property insurance market is still in a state of crisis, suffering a nearly $1 billion loss in 2020 alone.

The losses have led to consumers flocking to the state’s insurer of last resort at a rate the company describes as unsustainable.

Roughly 5,600 Floridians are leaving their private insurer each week for Citizens, the insurer of last resort.

“Now we’re finding that it seems to be the market of only resort,” said Representative Michele Rayner.

The company told lawmakers private insurers are having to ditch policies because heavy litigation continues turn their profit margin red.

Citizens President & CEO Barry Gilway said a litigated claim costs $48,000, versus $10,000 for claims that don’t end up in court.

“At the end of this year we will have over 100,000 litigated cases,” said Gilway.

There were 105 rate increase filings in excess of 10 percent in 2020 alone.

If the litigation isn’t dealt with, Gilway expects to see more policies dropped and rates rise even higher.

Citizens did say there have been some indications laws passed in recent legislative sessions have put a dent in the number of litigated claims.

But lawmakers questioned why, even after the reforms, litigation continues to be the biggest issue facing property insurers.

“We continuously find the same results and find ourselves in these sticky situations,” said Representative Evan Jenne.

Gilway said one of the big issues, is what he described as ‘manufactured claims’.

“Phony claims. You know, when you buy an insurance policy, you’re not buying a homeowner’s warranty,” said Gilway.

Another issue raised by Citizens is its inability under state law to raise rates fast enough to keep a competitive market place.

Citizens rates are cheaper than the private market 91 percent of the time.

Citizens projects its rates could rise five percent in 2022, while the private market is expected to raise rates by five to ten percent next year.

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Lawmakers May Expand COVID Protections

October 13th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Senators asked COVID-related questions and got few answers Wednesday from both the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

One question not asked was about was pending fines for businesses and governments who have been accused of asking for proof of vaccination.

When the Department of Health appeared before lawmakers Wednesday, it wasn’t asked about the $3.57 million fine it is imposing on Leon County for its vaccine mandate.

So we asked after their presentation in the Senate committee.

“We’ll get back to you as soon as possible,” said Department of Health Spokesperson Megan Moran.

Democratic State Senator Janet Cruz alleged the Department wouldn’t speak in person because everyone is following a script.

“It’s about control. You know, it’s about the mask mandate. It’s about denying science,” said Cruz.

The Department of Health did respond with a statement later in the afternoon.

“Under the rule, the Florida Department of Health now has the authority to enforce penalties on applicable entities and institutions that require documentation of vaccination or post-exposure status. To ensure accountability and enforcement of this law, the Department of Health, Floridians and visitors can submit complaints to the Florida Department of Health at VaxPassFreeFL@FLHealth.gov,” said DOH Communications Director Weesam Khoury.

Leon has 21 days to file an administrative appeal.

In a statement the county said it will seek legal relief.

The fine comes as the Department of Health is investigating at least 120 businesses who may have required a vaccine to enter.

The author of the legislation now said lawmakers should look at stopping not just government, but businesses from mandating shots for employees.

“I think everything should be on the table during this unique and unprecedented time, because what we have here is a workforce issue to begin with,” said State Senator Danny Burgess.

The idea isn’t sitting well with Cruz.

“Taking local control away from people that believe in science is a little bit ridiculous,” said Cruz.

Lawmakers are likely to move cautiously, as some the state’s biggest employers, including Disney, have already mandated shots.

“I think that’s a moving target. I think conversations will be had,” said State Senator Manny Diaz.

Wednesday’s presentation did show hospitalizations and deaths declining.

If the trend continues, the political appetite for tougher sanctions against governments and businesses may wane as well.

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Bill Would Ban Retail Sale of Dogs and Cats

October 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The sale of all dogs and cats would be banned in retail stores under legislation recently filed in the state Capitol.

Animal activists say the policy would cut down on puppy mills, but some store owners argue a blanket ban may go too far.

The dog days may soon be over for pet retailers that sell dogs and cats in their stores.

Legislation banning retail sales of the animals is the top legislative priority of the Humane Society.

“Five states have passed a similar bill,” said Kate MacFall with the Humane Society.

MacFall said dogs and cats sold by retailers are often sourced from puppy mills.

“Which are commercial large-scale breeders who put the profit above the welfare of the animals,” said MacFall.

Under the legislation you would only be allowed to adopt a cat or a dog from a shelter or you could purchase an animal from a trusted breeder.

Carol Hoover, owner of Carol’s Critters in the capital city no longer sells dogs in her store, but when she did, she sourced them from local breeders.

“I visited the breeders. I went to their actual houses,” said Hoover.

She said she understands the concerns that come with larger retailers, but worries a blanket ban on sales could cut of opportunities for breeders and consumers to connect.

“A lot of people didn’t want other people coming to their house. they had a few puppies, they didn’t want to have them come by. This was another outlet for them,” said Hoover.

But MacFall argued banning sales in stores will prevent impulse purchases, which could hopefully reduce the amount of cats and dogs ending up in shelters.

“That’s the old puppy in the window. You know that whole theme,” said MacFall.

The bill has an effective date of July 1st 2022, but the Humane Society told us it envisions a gradual rollout to give retailers time to sell pets already in store.

If passed, retailers caught selling cats or dogs in their storefronts would face a fine of up to $500.

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Advocates Push for Gender to Be Added as a Hate Crime Class

October 12th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The father of a young woman killed by a woman-hating man in a Tallahassee yoga studio three years ago is unhappy his daughter’s death is not subject to a hate crime enhancement.

Mara Binkley and Nancy VanVessen died November 2, 2018.

Four others were wounded.

The killer was a known INCEL, someone who blames their inability to have sex on women rejecting them.

Legislation to make gender a status class has been filed, but has not gotten traction in the past.

Father Jeff Binkley said the lack of action is disrespectful.

“It is profoundly disrespectful to Mara, to our family, and to her legacy. It is also profoundly disrespectful to the legacy and family of Dr. Nancy VanVessen, who also lost her life, as it is to the other victims. Four other women were shot, their lives changed forever,” said Binkley.

Legislation filed this year would add gender to the list of eligible hate crimes.

It also would include transgender individuals.

Conviction with a hate crime elevates penalties to the next most severe sanction.

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Florida Bankers in Uproar Over Biden Plan

October 12th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Tuesday was “National Savings Day”, a day when spending less and saving more is emphasized.

But a proposal by the Biden Administration to snoop on your bank account could result in less savings and fewer people using banks.

Under the plan being pushed by the White House, banks would be required to share your account information including what went in, what came out and where it went.

The information would be reported regularly.

It would also track transactions of $600 or more.

“You’ll encourage more underground economy,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Nearly two dozen state financial officers have written to say its a bad idea.

Patronis is one of the signers.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think having Uncle Sam sitting in my bedroom, finding out what I’ve purchased over the last thirty days is any of their business,” said Patronis.

Florida bankers have begun an uproar.

Florida Bankers Association President Alex Sanchez called the plan expensive and disruptive.

“It’s just wrong. It’s an incredible invasion of privacy by the Biden Administration, by the Internal Revenue Service,” said Sanchez.

We did talk to three Democrat State legislators.

All were unaware of the plan.

Only one would go on the record.

“There is a reason why we need to have a strong government, to have this kind of oversight, to make sure that folks are held accountable when they are not paying their taxes,” said State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

The bankers did tell us they are making headway with moderate Democrats in DC, but they worry customers will lose trust if banks are forced to provide the info.

“And I think what the Biden Administration should do is go after the high income tax evaders that are either persons or corporations, and audit them,” said Sanchez.

The motivation to catch tax cheats is seen by most as a good thing, but the plan is also likely to be costly for average Americans who get audited over otherwise innocent transactions.

Florida CFO Patronis also told us he has directed the Department of Financial Services to try an find a way to exempt state residents from the plan if it becomes law.

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State Representative Promotes Breast Cancer Awareness

October 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Orlando’s State Representative Anna Eskamani and one of her constituents who is a breast cancer survivor are getting the word out about early detection as part of Breast Cancer awareness month.

Breast cancer awareness advocate Susan Fatutta discovered she had breast cancer just a month after her mother passed away from the disease.

She pointed to the recent diagnosis of Florida’s First Lady as an example of why women of any age should be proactive and always on the look out for possible signs.
“If something feels wrong get it checked out, okay? Look at here in Florida, our Governor’s wife just was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s in her early 40’s right? There’s stories of teenagers, I have women on my team that were in their 20’s and early 30’s that had breast cancer. Don’t think it can’t happen to you,” said Fatutta.

Eskamani and Fattua also promoted upcoming Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events this month.

You can find an event in your area at cancer.org.

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Freedom and Marketing Credited with Keeping Florida Tourism Alive

October 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The state’s tourism marketing agency says the state’s tourist economy is well on the road to recovery.

The decision to continue advertising during the pandemic and some of the state’s less restrictive pandemic policies played a major role.

Letters provided by the Governor’s Office describe a Florida vacation during the pandemic as ‘a breath of fresh air’ and a ‘refreshing experience’.

“If people go on vacation, they want to be able to be on vacation,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a Friday press conference.

DeSantis said he regularly hears from visitors to the state talking about how a vacation to Florida helped them over the past year.

“Just for their physical and mental wellbeing,” said DeSantis.

Along with the freedom oriented policies making the state attractive, VisitFlorida played a key role in marketing the state throughout the pandemic.

“My counterpart, the President and CEO of Visit California, said straight out: Florida is eating our lunch,” said VisitFlorida President and CEO Dana Young in a Senate committee Monday.

Young told lawmakers the agency took an aggressive strategy.

Florida was the only state marketing itself as a tourist destination across the country for a seven month stretch during the pandemic.

“I think Florida does offer tremendous freedom in many ways and people saw that. And that is reflected in the six percent increase that we saw in visitation over 2019,” said Young.

VisitFlorida’s funding is set to expire in 2023, but lawmakers hope to push it back until at least 2031.

“With what they were dealing with, to keep our economy like it is, I think it shows more than ever the importance of having that statewide agency,” said Senator Ed Hooper, who plans to filed the extension in the coming legislative session.

The agency is asking for an annual budget of $75 million.

It said marketing to international travelers will be the next step, ahead of boarders reopening in November.

State economists projected the state’s tourism economy won’t fully recover until at least 2024.

VisitFlorida’s CEO called that ‘unacceptable’ and vowed to beat that estimate.

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DOH Identifies More than 100 Entities Violating Vaccine Passport Ban

October 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Department of Health has identified over 100 violations of the state’s ban on vaccine passports and is preparing to issue fines the the organizations, businesses and public entities and officials breaking the law.

Included on the list are multiple cruise lines and concert venues, the Alachua County Commission, the Leon County Administrator, AT&T, Starbucks, Raytheon Technologies and Northrop Grumman.

Florida House co-minority leader Representative Evan Jenne said he disagrees with the state’s ban on vaccine mandates and expects the law to be challenged in the courts.

“These are privately owned companies, and look it wasn’t my decision to say that corporations are people too. These were their folks that said that. You have to live with the consequences because like everything else in policy they’re all blades that cut both ways,” said Jenne.

Violators of the vaccine passport ban could be fined $5,000 for every person who was asked to prove they had been vaccinated.

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Mask Rule Faces New Challenge

October 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Eight Florida School districts are weighing their options after being found out of compliance with a state mask rule requiring a parental opt out. Six districts filed an administrative complaint this week challenging the rule, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the states Agriculture Commission is accusing the state of playing games over school masks.

The administrative complaint, which has yet to be scheduled, says the Department of Health exceeded its authority because the rule is about protecting parents rights, something not in DOH’s jurisdiction.

Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna is one of the plaintiffs. “One, we believe it’s an overreach of authority by the Department of Health. That they have operated outside what is statutorily allowed for them to do with a parent opt out. That’s not their area. Their area is to keep people safe and healthy. And number two, we believe we are operating under the Parents Bill of Rights” Hanna told us Friday afternoon.

Duval County would not comment on the pending litigation,  but it did say in a statement it has a responsibility to provide a safe environment for learning.

Gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Fried sided with the school districts, again, telling reporters: “Governor DeSantis, stop playing politics.”

Fried today called on the White House to continue backfilling school district budgets to make up for financial sanctions about to be imposed by Commissioner of Education. 

“I’m calling on the White House and the US Department of Education to use the full weight of the Federal government to stop the DeSantis administration  from defunding our schools” she says.

The mask rule was adopted September 22nd…just days before a previous rule was about to go to trial at the Division of Administrative Hearings. And when the new rule was adopted, the previous challenge was stopped in its tracks.

There is nothing to stop the state from changing the rule again right before a hearing. When asked about it, Fried said…“Stop playing games. Let’s do this right.”

Like Duval County, the Department of Health said it could not comment on pending litigation.

A circuit court judge threw out the mask mandate as unconstitutional, but the ruling was put on hold by the First District Court of Appeal, which has yet to consider the case.

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Ag Commissioner’s Analysis of School COVID Cases Suggests Mask Mandates Work

October 7th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Before Thursday’s vote by the state Board of Education on school mask mandates, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture held an event to say mask mandates in schools do work and that she had compiled case numbers from 33 school districts to prove it.

The data complied by Nikki Fried comes from 33 local school district dashboards.

She said districts without mask mandates had 3.5 times as many cases as those that required masks from the start.

“This is indisputable evidence, as if we already didn’t know, that masks work,” said Fried.

Our analysis of the 30 districts with complete data sets, found 4.7 percent of students contracted COVID since the start of the school year in districts with no mask mandate or that allowed parents to opt-out.

That’s compared to 2.2 percent in districts with strict mask mandates.

The numbers suggest mask mandates cut case rates in half.

There are 2.7 million students in the state.

Taking our findings to their logical extreme, nearly 127,000 students would have gotten COVID if there were no school mask mandates at all, compared to only about 60,000 if there had been a universal mask mandate.

“Ron DeSantis is lying to you about masks in schools,” said Fried.

But the Governor’s Office called the reliability of Fried’s data into question, pointing out there’s no way of verifying whether reported infections actually happened within a school.

They noted that the data doesn’t adjust for vaccination rates, previous infection rates or community infection rates.

The Governor’s Office also highlighted that new cases among school aged children and cases reported by districts have fallen drastically since school started.

The decline has been virtually identical regardless of school district masking policies.

We requested a full comparison of COVID infection rates in all 67 school districts from the Governor’s Office, but we have so far not received the data.

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Grow Your Own Amendment Filed

October 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A group calling itself “Sensible Florida” is back with a new constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana on the 2022 ballot.

It comes after the state Supreme Court threw two amendments off the ballot.

Because of the previous decisions the latest effort is the simple, it just allows people to grow their own.

Eighteen states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana.

Sensible Florida filed its new amendment in mid-September.

It also raised $121,000 during the month.

Organizer Michael Minardi said the money was used to mail petitions to voters.

“Well over 466,000 petitions were sent out, and we’ll be launching another mail campaign within the next couple weeks,” said Minardi.

Unlike past efforts that have run afoul of the state Supreme Court over terms like ‘limiting use’ or not telling voters marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, this effort simply allows adults to grow up to nine plants or a max of 18 per household.

“This is ultimately for the benefit of the people because it allows them to take their health and wellness back into their hands. It allows them to be able to not be afraid of getting arrested,” said Minardi.

In the past, marijuana amendments have been opposed in court by the Florida Chamber.

“If this latest paid petition proposal achieves the required signatures for judicial review, the Florida Chamber’s Litigation & Regulatory Reform Center will review its available options to keep Florida, Florida, and ensure efforts to utilize ballot initiatives to circumvent the appropriate legislative process are unsuccessful,” said Mark Wilson, CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Minardi believes just one to three percent will actually grow their own marijuana, but this amendment doesn’t set up a retail market.

Creating that retail market would be up to the Legislature.

“You know, really, this helps a lot of patients that have trouble affording medication, even having trouble affording doctors as well, as exploring opening up the market to legal sales,” said Minardi.

The campaign is on a short timetable.

So far it has no verified signatures, and it needs more than 891,000 by the first of February.

 

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Vaccines Saved an Estimated 2,400 Florida Seniors Between January and May

October 6th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Vaccinations saved the lives of an estimated 2,400 Floridians aged 65 an older between January and May of this year according to a new report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Health care groups point to it as evidence the state’s ‘Seniors First’ vaccine rollout strategy paid off.

The HHS report ranked Florida fourth in the total number of estimated elderly lives saved, behind only California, Texas and New York.

“Florida absolutely stood out,” said Florida Hospital Association CEO Mary Mayhew.

Mayhew said Florida was a leader when it came to prioritizing the elderly for vaccinations.

“Governor DeSantis made clear that our number one priority to deploy the vaccine was for our elderly population,” said Mayhew.

When asked for a reaction to the HHS report, Christina Pushaw, the Governor’s Press Secretary sent us an emailed statement.

“Although COVID-19 can infect people of all ages, an 85-year-old (on average) is 570 times more likely to die from a COVID-19 infection than a 25-year-old (on average). This is why Governor DeSantis prioritized vaccines for Seniors First, from the very beginning of the vaccine rollout – and the CDC ultimately changed its guidelines to reflect the same approach Governor DeSantis chose based on the science and empirical evidence,” said Pushaw.

While the HHS estimates don’t include the latest Delta surge, Kristen Knapp with the Florida Health Care Association said the state’s efforts to prioritize longterm care facilities for vaccination kept nursing home cases and deaths low despite the dramatic rise in community spread.

“We know it’s the safest way not only to protect our residents, but protect ourselves against this virus,” said Knapp.

Mayhew also credited early treatment efforts for protecting seniors during the Delta surge.

“It played a significant role,” said Mayhew.

The Governor’s Office told us it estimates as many as 84,000 hospital admissions were avoided thanks to monoclonal antibody treatments.

“And that’s the kind of infrastructure that we’ve got to have at the ready, to the extent that we see a future surge,” said Mayhew.

The Florida Hospital Association emphasized encouraging younger Floridians get vaccinated at higher rates will help reduce the severity of a future case spike.

The Florida Health Care Association said its next focus will be administering booster shots to the state’s longterm care residents.

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