With Coronavirus Concerns Growing, How Will Boca and Delray Respond?

mizner park amphitheater
Courtesy Mizner Park Amphitheater

During Monday’s workshop meeting, Boca Raton City Council members praised the annual Festival of the Arts, which concluded Sunday at Mizner Park Amphitheater. They also enthused over Boca Bacchanal, the annual fundraiser for the historical society, held Saturday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

Those events took place as scheduled and drew lots of people. What happens from here?

Whether to cancel events at the amphitheater will be just one of many decisions administrators consider as the coronavirus spreads, according to a city spokeswoman. If cancellation seems a remote possibility, consider that the National Basketball Association’s current contingency plans include playing games in empty arenas.

For now, the spokeswoman said, Boca Raton is reacting much as businesses and other governments. The city has cancelled business-related travel for 30 days and especially advised employees to stay home if they feel sick. Departments have identified which people could work from home. Officials ordered extra hygiene supplies last week.

As of Monday, Florida had 12 confirmed coronavirus cases. None were in Palm Beach County, though three were in Broward. If the outbreak worsens severely, Boca Raton might have to use the city’s emergency fund, which administrators normally tap during hurricanes.

Boca Raton’s website includes an item on the virus, though it’s below the lead feature on the new Hillsboro El Rio Park South. On Monday, Councilman Jeremy Rodgers said he had “fielded many questions” from residents about the city’s preparations.

Mayor Scott Singer responded that the city has “a whole range of plans,” including financial, if the outbreak ravages the economy the way it’s ravaged the markets.

Then Singer switched to a tone more like President Trump’s. He wondered if the virus had been “in the news a little too much” and urged “perspective.”

Singer noted that lower interest rates and oil prices could help the economy. In fact, those indexes are crashing because of threats to the economy from the virus.

The spokeswoman said Boca Raton’s priority is to get as much “accurate information” as possible. Amen. That will depend on the federal and state governments. So it’s like when a hurricane is out there: Start planning for the worst and hope for the best – or at least the less bad.

St. Patrick’s Day in Delray

In Dublin, Ireland, officials have canceled the St. Patrick’s Day parade because of the coronavirus. In Delray Beach, the annual parade – which always draws a big crowd — will go on Saturday as planned.

City Manager George Gretsas told me Monday that his office has received “several calls” asking about scheduled events. It’s “too soon,” he said, to make any changes.

Gretsas recalled going through the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009-10 when he was city manager in Fort Lauderdale. Then, as now, things changed quickly. “We are exchanging information” with other cities. The next city commission meeting is not until March 20, and that’s only to certify results of the election three days earlier.

Contingency plans at local hospitals

boca regional
Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

One concern with the virus is whether hospitals would be prepared for a rush of patients. They anticipate surges each winter from the flu, but the increased demand could exceed the number of critical care beds.

I wanted to hear what the three hospitals in the Boca Raton-Delray Beach area were thinking. I heard from Boca Raton Regional, which since last summer has been part of not-for-profit Baptist Health South Florida. I did not hear back from West Boca and Delray medical centers, which are part of for-profit Tenet Healthcare.

Here is the statement from Boca Regional:

“We have a cross-functional team of experts that assists with training, clinical protocols, protective equipment, supply chain management, communication and more to help us respond. Currently, our task force is active, and we have been preparing for the potential local spread of the COVID-19 virus for several weeks.

“We have an adequate supply of masks and other necessary protective equipment.

“We are working very closely with the (Florida) Department of Health to identify patients who may need to be tested. If a patient who may meet the criteria is identified, our protocol is to immediately notify the health department and work with them to determine next steps.

“If the patient does not require hospitalization, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the patient may be asked to self-quarantine at home under the guidance and monitoring of the Department of Health.

“We’re also working to ensure our employees are protected- providing education on protective measures and ensuring the proper supplies are well-stocked. Communication is key, and we’re constantly in communication across our system to ensure our employees, clinicians and staff are well-informed and prepared to respond.”

Update:

Tenet Healthcare, which operates West Boca and Delray medical centers, has changed its visitation policy “out of an abundance of caution.” It is now prohibiting all children under the age of 12 from visiting its hospitals. It is also now screening all patients and visitors for fever and cough prior to admittance, and will be inquiring about out-of-country travel.

Little League playing it safe

Preventive measures are going on at all levels. As of Saturday, the Boca Raton Little League asked teams to avoid the usual postgame handshakes. A wave or a tip of the cap will do for now.

New tenants at BRIC

innovation campus
Boca Raton Innovation Campus (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Crocker Partners has announced two new tenants at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

In a news release, Crocker said the additions are the investment banking firm National Holdings Corporation and technology firm BCN Telecom. They join, among others, Modernizing Medicine at what once was the complex where IBM developed the personal computer.

Crocker bought the campus in 2018. Managing Partner Angelo Bianco said the company is continuing its “repositioning plans” with $100 million of improvements to the buildings to create a tech and life sciences hub for the Southeastern United States.”

According to the release, 64 percent of the 1.7-million-square-foot campus was leased when Crocker bought it with two partners. Now the campus is 92 percent occupied. The renovation will add a presentation hall, a STEAM – Science, Math, Engineering, the Arts and Medicine – lab, a food hall and two coffee shops. The first is named for Marcel Breuer, who designed the campus, and is expected to open next month.

The campus is the largest single-facility office building in Florida. With the nearby Park at Broken Sound – formerly the Arvida Park of Commerce – it forms Boca Raton’s largest job cluster.

Corey Isle

In October 2015, former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja killed Corey Jones. Raja became the first law enforcement office in Florida in three decades to be convicted of a crime arising from excessive use of force. Raja drew a 25-year sentence.

Corey Jones was a musician, but his day job was with the Delray Beach Housing Authority. His family owns a restaurant in the city called The New Vegan.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will hold a groundbreaking for the 10-unit Corey Isle Workforce Housing Project. It will be at Southwest Seventh Avenue and Southwest Fourth Street. Members of Corey Jones’ family will attend.

According to the CRA, Bahamians and other Caribbean Islanders settled this part of Delray Beach. To preserve that cultural history, the homes – between 1,800 and 2,300 square feet – will be designed in the American Craftsman style that dates to the late 19th century.

Rental regulation

One of the Legislature’s major attempts to preempt local control seems dead.

Lobbyists for Airbnb and its competitors had pressured legislators to exempt vacation rentals from city and county regulations. Instead, regulation would fall to the state, with one set of rules throughout Florida.

Though vacation rentals, done properly, can complement the tourism industry, abuse can turn single-family homes into 24-hour-party sites that disrupt neighborhoods. Some investors have bought multiple units in condos, turning them into businesses.

Preemption bills had advanced through the required committees in each chamber. On Feb. 26, however, the House version was temporarily postponed. Last week, the same thing happened to the Senate version.

The legislative session concludes this week. Bills that get temporarily postponed usually don’t return. I’ll have a wrap-up on the session next week.