Thursday, September 28, 2023

Issues Abound With COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout in Palm Beach County

As with the rest of Florida, Palm Beach County’s vaccine rollout is moving in fits and starts.

Everything changed when Gov. DeSantis ignored Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and made anyone 65 or over eligible for a vaccination, not just health-care workers. In Palm Beach County, that added about 375,000 people, or one-fourth of the population, to the front of the line.

In Boca Raton, Delray Beach and areas out west, the percentage of older residents is even higher. More of them than younger people will want the vaccine.

A hotline to take appointments by phone crashed last week. Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso told me that the problem was a vendor the state recommended. But people can request appointments online, through this address:

Senders must include names, dates of birth, addresses and phone numbers. A do-not-reply confirmation of receipt will follow. Alonso said Monday that she hopes people will receive responses—by email and phone calls—“within the week” after making their request.

People can make appointments outside their home county. Broward’s appointment website—which at the moment is down with no timetable for being back up—is I know of one South Florida couple who plan to drive to Brevard County.

As Alonso pointed out, however, “Everything depends on the vaccine,” meaning the supply. “We may have to adjust.” The county received 4,500 more doses on Monday, a tiny amount compared to the demand. As of Monday morning, Alonso said, the health department had vaccinated 15,000 people.

Apparently, it helps to live in a large retirement community that offers high visibility for a political photo-op. Kings Point, west of Delray Beach, last week got 300 doses and visit from DeSantis. Similar handouts occurred at Century Village in Palm Beach County and John Knox Village in Pompano Beach.

According to at least one report, people under age 65 got the vaccine at Kings Point. Alonso said all those events ran through the state and are separate from what the health department is doing in Palm Beach County.

Alonso has no problem with cross-county applications. She notes that the state-run COVID-19 testing sites accepted everyone, regardless of address.

The biggest problem is logistics. Robert Weinroth is the county commissioner who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Weinroth told me Monday that he has heard from numerous homeowner associations willing to serve as vaccine locations. Because Tallahassee keeps such tight control over local health departments, however, the county must wait on a distribution plan.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker, Weinroth said, “is very frustrated.” Weinroth said his email “has melted from all the people who want answers, and we can’t give them many.” Weinroth believes that the state may need to use the National Guard.

On Monday, DeSantis announced measures to speed up distribution and make it fairer. State-run testing sites—one of them has been the South County Civic Center—will administer the vaccine. In communities of color, churches will serve as vaccination sites. Residents at places like Kings Point and Century Village are mostly white.

“We are asking people to be patient,” Alonso said. “Not everyone can be first.”

New surge

palm beach county mask

One reason for the strong vaccine demand is the surge in new cases, combined with reports that a more transmissible mutation of the virus is in Florida.

So it was discouraging over the holidays to see so many photos of large, maskless gatherings in downtown Delray Beach. Admittedly, DeSantis hamstrung cities and counties by preventing them from enforcing mask mandates on individuals. But local governments still can enforce restrictions on businesses.

During her regular appearances before the county commission, Alonso frequently has singled out East Atlantic crowds for criticism. So has Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s chief medical officer, Samer Fahmy.

Mizner Trail golf course sold

country club

Boca Raton-based Compson Associates finally has sold the former Mizner Trail golf course.

Compson bought the roughly 125 acres in mid-1998 for $8 million. The property then was the south course at Boca Del Mar, just west of Boca Raton on Southwest 18 Street. Compson closed the course in 2005 and began trying to develop it.

Neighbors whose homes had looked onto the course objected, claiming that Compson never intended to operate the course. In 2014, after a long court fight, the county commission approved a plan for 252 houses on the site.

Having secured the approval, Compson put the property on the market. The buyer is Concord Wilshire, a national developer with offices in Miami, Los Angeles and Atlanta. The property appraiser’s office hasn’t recorded the sale, but Concord Wilshire lists Mizner Trail among its projects on the company website.

William Vale, one of those neighbors who opposed development, told me that the sale price was $33 million. On its website, Concord Wilshire lists the “land assembly” budget as $31.5 million and the “development and construction budget” as $135 million.

Local pardons

Just before Christmas, President Trump pardoned former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty, who also served on the Delray Beach City Commission.

McCarty’s brother, lobbyist Brian Ballard, has strong ties to the Trump administration. He’s also a member at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. No pardons came for Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti, the other county commissioners who went to prison and whose misdeeds made Palm Beach County “Corruption County.”

In 2009, Mary McCarty pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and served 21 months in prison. She steered bond underwriting business to her late husband, Kevin McCarty, and accepted free and discounted lodging from Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties. McCarty voted to give Ocean Properties the contract for the county’s convention center hotel. Federal prosecutors called the bid “fixed.” Because of the real estate crash and the McCarty prosecution, Ocean Properties couldn’t finish the project.

Trump administration officials noted that Supreme Court rulings have limited prosecutors’ ability to pursue charges of honest services fraud. Just after the pardon, McCarty was at Trump International Golf Club near West Palm Beach at a gathering that included Roger Stone, the Republican trickster whom Trump also pardoned.

In addition, Trump pardoned James Batmasian, co-owner of Boca Raton-based Investments Limited. In 2008, Batmasian pleaded guilty to not paying $253,000 in federal withholding taxes. Batmasian repaid the money and was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Delray City Manager plan?


On today’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting agenda is an item titled “Discussion of city manager hiring.” The only backup material has the same words.

According to City Attorney Lynn Gelin, Commissioner Julie Casale said last month that she would like to “commence the process” toward a successor to George Gretsas. The commission fired him in November.

Jennifer Alvarez, the former purchasing director, continues as interim manager. With Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel up for re-election March, this commission might authorize a search with a decision to take place after the election.

I’ll have a report after the meeting.

Request for COVID-19 expenses

Also on today’s agenda is a request from Delray Beach for up to $619,000 in COVID-19 expenses from Palm Beach County’s share of the CARES bill that Congress passed last March. There is no money for state and local governments in the second relief bill that Trump signed last week.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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