September 10, 2016

There are problems with how Florida is reporting Zika cases

via @dchangmiami

For months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state agencies have reported almost daily on the public health crisis posed by the spread of Zika.

From the first three travel-related cases identified in January, to the emergence of local Zika infections in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood in July, followed by the discovery of mosquitoes infected with the virus in Miami Beach in September, the governor and state officials have vowed to keep Floridians informed so they can prepare.

“We're going to put out accurate and timely information,” Scott told a group of reporters following a Zika roundtable with civic leaders in Miami Beach in August. “We want everybody to be prepared. We all have to take this seriously.”

But the information issued by the governor and state agencies has not been timely or accurate — cases announced as “new” are often several weeks old, due to a time lag in diagnosis — and excludes details that public health experts say would allow people to make informed decisions and provide a complete picture of Zika’s foothold in Florida.

“I don’t think the message has been strong enough, in terms of ‘We have a problem’,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics for New York University Langone Medical Center. “It makes no sense — unless you see it through the eyes of the impact on tourism. I think that’s money driving reporting rather than public health.”

Over the past month, as local Zika infections have spread beyond Miami-Dade, with cases cropping up in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, Florida officials have:

▪ Stopped providing detailed information on epidemiological investigations into local Zika infections;

▪ Refused to identify all the locations where Zika-positive mosquitoes were trapped in Miami Beach;

▪ And under-reported the number of local Zika infections in Florida by excluding anyone who is not a state resident.

More here.

September 09, 2016

Scott reschedules trip to D.C. to lobby for Zika funding


Florida Gov. Rick Scott will travel to Washington on Tuesday to ask Congress to set aside money to fight the Zika virus, his office said Friday.

The governor was supposed to go to Capitol Hill this week, when lawmakers returned from their summer recess, but he stayed behind in Tallahassee to deal with Hurricane Hermine cleanup.

Scott will remain in D.C. through Wednesday.

Hermine blew through Tallahassee and exposed tensions, flaws and agendas

Tallahassee Utility trucksWhen Hurricane Hermine blew through Florida’s capital Sept. 1, it was accompanied by a string of firsts: the first hurricane in Tallahassee in more than 30 years and in the state in 11 years; the first big storm to test the skills of Gov. Rick Scott and the city’s new mayor,
, and the first recovery effort staged in the age of social media.

The combination proved to be a volatile mix that unleashed a torrent of complaints that the seat of government in the third most populous state was unprepared to handle a widespread power outage. It launched a public spat between the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor over whose approach was the most responsible, and it spewed partisan politics into disaster recovery.

With winds of 65 mph and the center of the Category 1 storm just miles from the heart of downtown Tallahassee, Hermine severed power for two days to a week to more than 75,000 customers of the city’s municipally owned electric system and 20,000 customers of the neighboring cooperative electric company, Talquin Electric. The primary cause of the damage: downed limbs and trees from Tallahassee’s famed canopy.

Scott, who has become accustomed to crisis responses this year, quickly positioned himself as facilitator-in-chief. Beginning the first night after Hermine hit, he staged a series of public meetings with state and local officials and representatives of the state’s largest utilities to discuss maximizing resources to get power restoration and debris removed. Story here. 

September 06, 2016

September 01, 2016

State offices closed in 37 counties on Friday due to Hermine


State offices will remain closed in 37 counties on Friday -- including those in the Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas, Gov. Rick Scott's office announced this evening.

The threat of what's now Hurricane Hermine forced the closure of state offices in 51 counties and some judicial offices starting noon Thursday.

Scott had earlier said in an afternoon briefing that he hadn't decided yet whether he'd also close state offices Friday. Hermine is expected to make landfall overnight in Florida's Big Bend region along the Gulf of Mexico, with potentially severe flooding and wind damage expected.

Judicial officials at the Florida Supreme Court and First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee made the call Thursday morning to keep those courts closed through Friday.

Those counties included in the Friday closure of state offices are:



Hermine storm surge predictions escalate in two Gulf Coast counties

Scott at eoc 090116


Not only is Hermine now a Category 1 hurricane, but the storm is expected to bring even higher storm surges to coastal areas of two counties in Florida's Big Bend.

Up to 12 feet of storm surge is now possible in Taylor and Dixie counties, southeast of Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told reporters this afternoon in his first press briefing since Hermine was upgraded from a tropical storm earlier this afternoon.

MORE: The latest on Hurricane Hermine

Storm surges are also still expected in Citrus, Levy, Wakulla and Franklin counties.

Scott said 5-10 inches of rain are also likely in affected areas, "but there's a potential of up to 20 inches of rain."

Scott reiterated his message from earlier today that Hermine is "life-threatening."

"We can rebuild a home. We can rebuild a business. We cannot rebuild your life," Scott said.

State officials did not have an estimate available late this afternoon on how many people were under mandatory evacuation orders issued in portions of five Gulf Coast counties -- Franklin, Taylor, Dixie, Wakulla and Levy -- nor how many people had already relocated to emergency shelters.

"The good news is the majority of these are fairly small towns," said Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management. But the consequence of that is it could make it more of a challenge to rescue those in need who ignored the evacuation order, he added.

"Those are remote locations. That, coupled with the wind, could make it extremely difficult and dangerous for first-responders," Koon said.

"They should go to the shelters now," Scott urged residents.

Scott spent part of Thursday afternoon in Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee, where he said he met with county Sheriff Charlie Creel, St. Marks Mayor Chuck Shields and other local leaders.

"You're already seeing high water levels down there," Scott said. "You can see the water is coming in. ... We're seeing a little bit of street flooding; we're going to see a lot of flooding down there."

State offices in 51 counties were closed at noon today in advance of the storm's arrival this afternoon and overnight, but it's unclear yet whether they'll be closed Friday.

"We'll make a decision later on today," Scott said.

Koon said he spoke today with both the regional and national administrators of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A FEMA liaison is also based in the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

Damage assessments after the storm will help determine whether Florida will seek a federal disaster declaration, Koon said.

In preparation for Hermine's landfall overnight, utility companies have pre-positioned trucks along portions of Florida's Gulf Coast and 6,000 National Guard members are ready to be mobilized, Scott said.

Photo credit: Florida Gov. Rick Scott updates reporters on the status of Hurricane Hermine during a briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

August 31, 2016

Scott praises Beruff after loss then (13 hours later) Rubio on victory

Beruff rubio

@JeremySWallace & @ByKristenMClark

Carlos Beruff may have lost badly in his race against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, but his effort is still winning praise from Gov. Rick Scott who helped encourage Beruff to run and heaped praise on him during joint speaking events with Beruff. Within minutes of Rubio salting away the win, Scott took to Twitter and Facebook to congratulate Beruff -- not Rubio.

Beruff wasn't the only one to get praise from Scott. The governor also celebrated Republicans Matt Gaetz and Francis Rooney for winning GOP primaries for Congress.

But Scott conspicuously waited almost 13 hours to congratulate Rubio -- the Republican incumbent who trounced Beruff 72 percent to 18 percent in unofficial results from Tuesday's primary.

The Facebook post this morning praising Rubio came shortly after a Herald/Times reporter asked Scott's spokeswoman why the governor had congratulated Beruff but not Rubio.

Gov. Scott declares emergency in 42 counties as Gulf storm expected to make landfall Thursday

Scott at eoc 083116


Almost two-thirds of Florida's counties are now under a state of emergency because of a tropical depression that's intensifying in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall Thursday afternoon as either a tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued the state of emergency for 42 counties on Wednesday morning, while he attended a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. Metro areas covered by the emergency declaration include Tallahassee, Tampa Bay, Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville and the Space Coast. South Florida is "in the clear," one state official said.

(See Scott's emergency declaration here for the full list of affected counties.)

Tropical Depression 9 is still moving slowly in the Gulf at about 2 miles per hour but it's starting to take shape. The storm is expected to pick up steam and veer northeast toward Florida's Big Bend over the next 24-36 hours, said Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Coastal areas from Walton and Bay counties to the Anclote River are under a tropical storm warning, and much of that same area is under a hurricane watch.

MORE: "Swath of Florida Gulf Coast under tropical storm warning"

State officials expect landfall in Florida's Big Bend by late afternoon or evening Thursday, with the worst of the impacts overnight on Thursday.

Affected areas could see 5-10 inches of rain, with up to 15 inches in some areas. Three- to six-foot storm surges along the coast are expected from Indian Pass to Bonita Beach; they could be as high as 7-9 feet, depending on the intensity of the storm, officials said.

Any school closures necessary because of the storm are expected to be announced later today.

Speaking with reporters after the morning briefing, Scott urged preparation and vigilance.

"You've got to take care of yourself and be prepared," Scott said.

He advised Floridians to make sure they have battery-powered radios so they can monitor the weather and be alert of storm or tornado warnings. He also cautioned residents against driving in flooded waters and approaching downed power lines.

Photo credit: Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses the media after a storm briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

August 30, 2016

With tropical depression in Gulf, Rick Scott goes to Tampa for storm prep



Rick Scott's office announced the Republican governor is traveling to Tampa this afternoon for briefings on storm preparation, while a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to strengthen and make landfall along Florida's west coast in the next 48 hours.

Scott will monitor the storm from the Emergency Operations Center in Tampa and hold a press conference at 5 p.m.

"Florida families on the Gulf Coast and in the Tampa Bay area need to prepare for five to 10 inches of heavy rainfall as well as potential tornadoes," Scott said said in a statement. "Floridians should always remember to never drive on flooded roadways, seek shelter in the event of severe weather and always have a plan in place to keep your family safe."

To reduce the chance of Zika virus spreading, Scott also advises homeowners to dump standing water, which can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Officials elevated the status of the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to Level Two this morning in preparation for the storm, currently called Tropical Depression 9. Level Two means the activation of mission-specific emergency support and planning functions.

The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will strengthen to tropical storm status today -- with the potential to produce coastal and inland flooding, storm surge, rip currents and strong winds. It's expected to reach Florida's coast by Thursday.

"Whether this is your first tropical storm or you’re a seasoned veteran of past hurricanes, you need to take this storm seriously and be prepared for the very real threats it could produce," advised Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Photo credit: AP

August 25, 2016

Rubio raps FEMA over algae blooms

Senate 2016 Rubio_Ordo (1)-082516


Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.

"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.

Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.

"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."

The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.

"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.

For more on Rubio's response:

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press


Read more here: