Monday, October 25, 2021

Vaccine Rollout Mess Meets Surge in Cases

On Monday morning, County Commissioner Robert Weinroth held a conference call with mayors of cities within his district, which includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach. The mayors wanted an update on COVID-19 vaccine plans.

They didn’t hear much new. Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso also was on the call. She explained to them—as she explained to me in a series of text messages—that it’s all a question of math.

On Dec. 23, without any notice, Gov. DeSantis informed Florida that he would deviate from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and make the vaccine available immediately to anyone 65 and over. In Palm Beach County, that order made about 400,000 people eligible.

But the county, Alonso said, is “receiving only 4,500” doses per week. At that rate, distribution “is going to take months, not days.”

Before DeSantis’ order, the health department was overseeing the vaccination of health care workers and paramedics with the limited amount of doses available. Hospitals and long-term care facilities were under separate programs.

I asked Weinroth why Broward County has been giving vaccines at designated sites, even if the wait can be as long as four hours. He said that Broward received more doses—and more of them earlier. When you see reports of a vaccination at Kings Point or Century Village, that is an event organized by the state—meaning DeSantis. Doses that go to those chosen communities are doses that don’t go the general public.

For now, Weinroth and Alonso said, the county continues to compile a database of requests for appointments sent to the designated email address,  chd50feedback@flhealth.gov.

“In the next several weeks,” Alonso said, “we will create responses so senders understand where they stand in the queue.” By that time, Weinroth hopes that the county will have received enough doses to begin “large-scale vaccination efforts.”

Like county commissioners, local officials are getting many emails and phone calls from constituents. Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer took questions Sunday night through an online forum. At last week’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked openly if the city could help.

On the call, Singer said, “I reiterated that our city and many businesses and groups in our city are eager to help in many ways and offered additional suggestions to (the health department) to better inform residents in the lag time in answering emails.”

Weinroth said the Palm Beach County Health Department is training people to give the shots. But he also noted, correctly, that the governor “has made a lot of promises.” The lack of cohesion exacerbates the vaccine shortage. The state gets only a week’s notice from the federal government about how many doses will come in the next shipment.

As of Monday, according to the Florida Department of Health, almost 37,000 people in Palm Beach County have received their first doses. About 800 people have received their second doses.

Alonso, who will make a presentation at today’s county commission meeting, asked again for patience. “In every vaccination plan,” she said, “new vaccine production starts out slowly and eventually continues to grow, to the point that enough vaccine is available for the general population.

“We will get to that third phase and will make sure that every person who wants to be vaccinated in Palm Beach County will be able to get that vaccine.”

Special treatment?

Hospitals and other health care facilities have drawn criticism for offering COVID-19 vaccines to donors, thus allowing them to jump the lines. News reports show that Baptist Health South Florida, which owns Boca Raton Regional and Bethesda hospitals, has done so.

On Monday, I asked a spokesman if Boca Regional has vaccinated some of its donors. I did not hear back by my deadline for this post.

Cases surging

covid

One reason that so many people want the COVID-19 vaccine is that COVID-19 cases again are surging. Last week, Florida set another record for daily cases: almost 20,000.

As I have written, public health experts regularly have cited large, maskless crowds at bars and restaurants on and near East Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach as examples of why the virus is spreading. I asked City Commissioner Ryan Boylston for his response to criticism that the city hasn’t done enough to address the reckless partying.

Boylston sighed. “We’re all trying to work together.” He noted that the police and fire departments themselves had “a rough November and December” with their own cases. But he also acknowledged that when he sees coverage of places such the Tin Roof, he gets exasperated. “Come on.”

At last week’s meeting, Boylston’s colleagues also expressed frustration at the governor’s order in late September that forbids cities and counties from enforcing local mask ordinances on individuals. The commission approved a resolution asking DeSantis to back off.

Other cities have passed similar resolutions. The governor responded that he won’t change his attitude.

Constance Scott endorsements

Constance Scott has announced two major endorsements of her campaign to return to the Boca Raton City Council.

Scott has the backing of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and the firefighters union. The chamber endorsement tends to result in campaign contributions. The union endorsement also tends to bring lots of members who work on campaigns.

After being term-limited in 2015, Scott is running for Seat C, which Jeremy Rodgers will leave in March, also because of term limits. Scott’s opponent is Yvette Drucker, whom Singer and council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke named to fill the seat on an interim basis. Rodgers was called to active duty in the Navy last summer and likely won’t be back before the March 9 election.

Coastal Resiliency project plugging along

boca raton

As if the pandemic and domestic insurrection weren’t enough to worry about, climate change isn’t going away. The local effort to deal with it continues.

Recently, the Coastal Resiliency Partnership updated its progress. The project, which began in 2017, includes Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County and other oceanfront cities in the county.

Researchers note that sea level rise, this area’s most immediate effect from global warming, is a “threat multiplier.” It increases the risk of hurricane surges and the frequency of tidal flooding, which is especially bad in Delray Beach. In addition, rising seas worsen the risk of saltwater intrusion into public drinking wells.

The project’s next step is to complete a vulnerability assessment, which will determine how much danger each community faces. Eventually, local politicians will have to determine how much they believe their community must spend to neutralize the threat.

New elementary school land transfer

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will finalize the transfer of 15 acres of land to the Palm Beach County School District for an elementary school next to Don Estridge Middle. It will open as a standard K-5 campus, but the design will allow the district to add middle school grades if there is demand for them. The district has budgeted construction for the school, which has not been named.

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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