COVID Cases Rise at Local Hospitals, Boca to Propose Structure Recertification

Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

The rise in COVID-19 infections has begun to affect Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

A spokesman said Wednesday that the hospital is now using two units for patients with the virus. “The vast majority of these patients,” he added, “have not been vaccinated against the disease.”

It’s the same across South Florida. Hospitals in Broward and Miami-Dade are getting more COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated. Because Gov. DeSantis ordered the state to release information only once a week, rather than daily, it’s hard to know current conditions. But cases and hospitalizations in Palm Beach County have been rising. Florida has the fourth-highest hospitalization rate, after Nevada, Missouri and Arkansas.

Though Palm Beach County has done better than other parts of Florida, fewer than 58 percent of residents have received at least their first shot. “We strongly urge eligible members of the community,” the spokesman said, “to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Recertification proposal

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It might be a very good time to be a structural or electrical engineer in and around Boca Raton.

Next week, the city council will introduce an ordinance in response to the condo collapse in Surfside. The draft proposal–which likely will change–would require safety recertification for any structure that is at least 30 years old and qualifies as a “threshold building” under state law. The definition includes structures that are higher than three stories or 50 feet or that have more than 500 occupants. Single-family homes and duplexes are exempt.

Buildings to which the ordinance applies would have to hire a structural and electrical engineer to determine whether they are safe. If necessary, the engineers would have to identify any “deficiencies” and recommend “repairs or alterations” to correct the deficiencies.

The city would want to know how long the work would take. According to the ordinance, the city generally would ask that repairs take six months, but the deadline could be sooner if the need is urgent.

If, say, a homeowners association wanted more time, it could appeal to the city’s chief building officer, Michael DiNorscio. If he denied the extra time, the HOA could appeal to the Permitting and Construction Review Board.

The city has not determined how many buildings the ordinance would affect. Staffers have identified 1,080 parcels that might have at least one threshold building.

In addition, the staff is still developing “guidelines and criteria.” Those will be ready, the staff memo says, for the Aug. 24 meeting when the council plans to hold its hearing on the ordinance. On Tuesday, council members only will introduce the ordinance without public discussion, though there may be some during Monday’s workshop meeting.

Not surprisingly, council members likely will move carefully. Property owners will incur costs for the inspections themselves and perhaps much higher costs to fix problem they have ignored or didn’t know they had.

The staff memo predicts “significant backlogs” from the initial rush of recertifications. City officials would prioritize structures based on such factors as age of the building, location and materials.

Failure to comply with the ordinance would result in fines or the city ordering that repairs be made. In the most extreme case, the city could remove all the occupants.

Less than one month after the collapse, Boca Raton is moving faster on this issue than Palm Beach County and other South Florida cities. Only Broward and Miami-Dade counties have safety recertification rules–every 40 years, in both cases. Boca Raton is lowering that by a decade and adding the requirement every 10 years after that.

Based on staff comments, City Manager Leif Ahnell recommends that the council adopt the ordinance. I’ll have more next week.

Downtown Delray incident

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Interim Delray Beach City Manager Jennifer Alvarez issued a statement Tuesday after a video showed two men shouting obscenities and Asian-American slurs last week in front of Ramen Lab Eatery in Pineapple Grove.

The men tried to sit and eat pizza, which they had bought elsewhere, as the staff was putting up the tables for the night. When owner Louis Grayson asked them to leave, one responded by telling him to “Take your f—ing China flu and shove it up your a–.” For good measure, he added, “I hope you f—ing die of Corona.”

Alvarez said, “The hatred, ugliness and disregard for common decency exhibited by these two men outside of Delray Beach’s Ramen Lab are the exact opposite of the core values of inclusivity and diversity that are at the heart of the Delray Beach community. I condemn their actions and language, reject their hatred, and stand in support of Ramen Lab’s staff, who exhibited grace during a stressful, and potentially dangerous, situation.”

Coincidentally, the restaurant is just down the street from the city’s PRIDE crosswalk, which a man defaced last month while participating in a rally for Donald Trump. He faces criminal charges.

Another sale in Midtown

CP Group has sold another property in Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood.

With its partner, Siguler Guff, CP Group sold One Town Center for $99.5 million to a Singapore-based real estate investment trust. That company, according to a news release, will retain CP Group to manage the 10-story, Class A office building.

CP Group was formerly Crocker Partners. Tom Crocker built One Town Center in the late 1980s. Crocker Partners reacquired it in late 2014. Since then, according to the release, CP has raised the occupancy rate from 30 percent to 95 percent. The company recently renovated the outside of the building.

The acquisition of that property and others–including Boca Center–seven years ago anticipated creation of a redeveloped Midtown that would include housing. But the city council rejected a proposal by CP and other landowners. This sale leaves CP with just one Midtown property–the nearby office building Two Town Center.

Boca schools are a success story

If it seems sometimes that government can’t do much right, take some optimism from the Palm Beach County School District.

When voters approved the one-cent sales increase for construction in 2016, they provided money to rebuild and expand Addison Mizner and Verde elementary schools in Boca Raton. Verde reopened last year. Addison Mizner will reopen next month.

Both project were completed on time. Even better, Verde came in about $900,000 under budget. That money will go into a construction contingency fund. According to a spokeswoman, the district also expects to return some money to the fund from the Addison Mizner project.

Whoever succeeds Donald Fennoy as superintendent will want to retain Chief Operating Officer Wanda Paul. She’s in charge of construction.

Oxy settlement update

I wrote Tuesday about Delray Beach’s lawsuit against the maker of OxyContin and the city commission’s unhappiness with the potential payout.

On Wednesday came news of a settlement in the related lawsuit against three companies that distributed the prescription painkiller. The announced amount nationwide is $26 billion. I’ll have a follow-up when Delray Beach knows how much the city might get.

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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.