Florida State News http://feed.informer.com/digests/IAUFVSYFP4/feeder Florida State News Respective post owners and feed distributors Wed, 19 Aug 2020 17:29:50 +0000 Feed Informer http://feed.informer.com/ Florida adds 12,311 COVID-19 cases and 153 deaths as positivity rates drop statewide https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248717335.html Florida urn:uuid:daebbaa9-9510-37e6-f838-adc37030b2b1 Sat, 23 Jan 2021 19:49:03 +0000 <p>Florida’s Department of Health on Saturday confirmed 12,311 additional cases of COVID-19 to bring the state’s known total to 1,639,914. Also, 153 resident deaths were announced, bringing the resident death toll to 25,164. </p> Naked Florida man arrested after stealing marked police vehicle and crashing it https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/florida-man-police-car-crash-b1791715.html The Independent - Florida urn:uuid:f4717497-116b-6678-9c4b-1a99e4f00bc0 Sat, 23 Jan 2021 16:39:02 +0000 <p>Jacksonville Sheriff's Office assistant chief Ellis Burns says Joshua Shenker was ‘possibly intoxicated or high’</p> Can you be overdue for your second COVID-19 vaccine dose in Florida? https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248665930.html Florida urn:uuid:bbaf903b-e72b-bb4a-508c-5b4009362072 Sat, 23 Jan 2021 13:00:00 +0000 <p>As Florida struggles to meet demand for COVID-19 vaccinations while grappling with a <a>slowdown in federal vaccine supplies</a>, state records show more than 40,000 people are overdue for their second dose.</p> Governor DeSantis orders National Guard troops in D.C. to return to Florida https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/governor-desantis-orders-national-guard-troops-in-d-c-to-return-to-florida State urn:uuid:f303abec-61af-39bf-3072-855e8ed06708 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 22:55:21 +0000 Governor DeSantis ordered Thursday night that all Florida National Guard troops currently in Washington D.C. come back home. Governor DeSantis ordered Thursday night that all Florida National Guard troops currently in Washington D.C. come back home.As many as 15,000 National Guard members are preparing to leave Washington, D.C., and head home now that the inauguration of President Joe Biden is over. Enforcement agencies say the inaugural went off with only a handful of minor arrests and incidents. The National Guard Bureau said Thursday that of the nearly 26,000 Guard troops deployed to D.C. for the inaugural, just 10,600 remained on duty. The bureau says the Guard is helping states with coordination and the logistics so troops can get home. Guard forces were scattered around the D.C., helping to secure the Capitol, monuments, Metro entrances and the perimeter of central D.C., which was largely locked down.DeSantis said they are soldiers and not "Nancy Pelosi's servants." There’s a new federal plan to combat COVID. Here’s what it means for Florida. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248699710.html Florida urn:uuid:2e4ba72a-c766-ff78-8a4e-222d347798c0 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 22:15:59 +0000 <p>President Joe Biden ran on beating the coronavirus.</p> Trump administration’s $1.5 billion healthcare gift may hurt push for Medicaid expansion https://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article248676290.html Florida urn:uuid:870c6fe3-fe96-fdfa-0ff9-3c4b7add225a Fri, 22 Jan 2021 21:53:06 +0000 <p>At first, Florida only wanted the federal government to re-up the state’s Medicaid program into 2024.</p> She died in a freak garage accident. Now this former FAU dancer is being remembered https://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article248694270.html Florida urn:uuid:a47caa44-56ff-e421-0b19-1ecd52d192bd Fri, 22 Jan 2021 20:55:49 +0000 <p>A graduate student who was killed in a freak accident in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this week is being remembered by her old college friends in Florida.</p> Florida leads nation in COVID-19 variant cases, health experts urge virus protections https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/florida-leads-nation-in-covid-19-variant-cases-health-experts-urge-virus-protections State urn:uuid:967f2438-3c9d-994d-27eb-755a8fea0b55 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 20:46:45 +0000 Florida leads the nation when it comes to the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant. Florida leads the nation when it comes to the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant.According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases of the "UK variant" B.1.1.7, discovered in the United Kingdom last September, have reached 46 in the Sunshine State. California comes in second place with 40 variant cases.SPECIAL COVERAGE: CoronavirusEpidemiologist Mary Jo Trepka said there are likely many more infections than what officials are aware of. The Florida International professor believed most labs are probably not equipped to test for the new strain. The CDC's numbers are likely just a sampling from state surveillance."Not every test that is done on a person is sequenced to find out if it's a variant or not," Trepka said. "So, most assuredly, we have way more than those cases."The big takeaway, Trepka said, the variant is in Florida and is spreading.President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser gave an update on the variant, Thursday. Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s about twice as contagious -- and new UK reports suggest more deadly. Vaccines, however, look to be just as effective.Fauci warned the nation to keep its guard up."If you have a virus that is more transmissible, you're going to have more cases," Fauci said. "When you get more cases, you’re going to get more hospitalizations, and when you get more hospitalizations -- you're ultimately going to get more deaths."Florida already has hospital capacity concerns. About 81% of beds are filled, according to federal data from the Department of Health and Human Services. It's ninth fullest in the nation, when including Washington, D.C.For weeks, state officials have said they're working with the CDC to identify variant cases and will follow any further guidance from the organization. Meanwhile, Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said last month he has the supplies to react as needed."Tens of millions of gloves, and masks, and gowns, all sitting in warehouses ready to go in case there is a change here," Moskowitz said. "I think the information is just starting to come out. So, obviously, we're ready to react."Epidemiologist Jason Salemi explained the best thing the public can do is follow current virus protection measures. The mutation may be more transmissible, the University of South Florida professor said, but social distancing and mask-wearing can keep it at bay."What we do stays the exact same," he said. "It, maybe, just increases the urgency with which we do it.”The UK variant is not the only one out there. Mutations in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to current vaccines, but there are no confirmed cases in the U.S. yet. Florida adds 13,719 COVID-19 cases, 272 deaths — its most since August as positivity soars https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248691220.html Florida urn:uuid:12b6cfcb-b161-3e9f-61ec-f4c93841b804 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 19:58:33 +0000 <p>In one of its grimmest reports since the pandemic began nearly a year ago, Florida’s Department of Health on Friday confirmed 13,719 additional cases of COVID-19 to bring the state’s known total to 1,627,603. Also, 272 resident deaths were announced, bringing the resident death toll to 25,011. </p> Mega Millions jackpot swells to $1 billion ahead of Friday night's drawing https://www.fox4now.com/florida-lottery/mega-millions-jackpot-swells-to-1-billion-ahead-of-friday-nights-drawing State urn:uuid:7ba80fe7-80bf-2ad5-0975-5708899c6edd Fri, 22 Jan 2021 17:20:02 +0000 The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game has grown to $1 billion, hours before numbers will be drawn Friday night. The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game has grown to $1 billion, hours before numbers will be drawn Friday night. Watch the drawing live Friday night on FOX 4The Mega Millions website says the jackpot is $1 billion, but if the winner opted for the cash option, it would be $739.6 million. This is only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large, the last time in 2018. The growth is thanks to more than four months without a top prize winner, 37 number draws have failed to produce a grand prize winner. Mega Millions is played in 45 states across the country, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A grand prize winner must match all six numbers and the gold "Mega Ball". Gov. DeSantis orders Florida National Guard to return home from U.S. Capitol https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/gov-desantis-orders-florida-national-guard-to-return-home-from-u-s-capitol State urn:uuid:5c3fb88f-69a1-f4b0-734a-e29a4474f4d4 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 13:27:52 +0000 Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered the Florida National Guard soldiers stationed at the U.S. Capitol to return home.Gov. DeSantis said he ordered Florida’s Adjutant General to bring the soldiers home Thursday night.The announcement comes after POLITICO, who first broke the news, Washington Post and CNN reported that thousands of National Guard troops were forced to vacate congressional office buildings at the Capitol on Thursday, the order from Capitol Police allegedly forcing them to rest in nearby parking structures.Friday morning, Gov. DeSantis said he would be making a "major announcement" on Fox and Friends, though he opened his appearance by decrying the images of the National Guard members, saying they are soldiers and not "Nancy Pelosi's servants.""After everything went seamlessly, we were deemed useless and banished to a corner of a parking garage," one guardsman told CNN on Thursday.Photos of the troops in the garage also drew outrage from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Thursday night.One lawmaker, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), took matters into his own hands and visited the soldiers, bringing them pizza.Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), among others, also tweeted about the situation. Just after midnight, she said that all the troops had been allowed back into the Capitol.In a statement sent to ABC News, Capitol Police didn’t seem to address the controversy, instead mentioning a shift from a 12-hour to an 8-hour work schedule.The full statement from the United States Capitol Police can be read below:According to the Associated Press, the National Guard Bureau said Thursday that of the nearly 26,000 Guard troops deployed to D.C. for the inaugural, just 10,600 remained on duty.The Guard also told the AP that it may take several days to make all the arrangements to return the troops home, but said it should be complete in five to 10 days. COVID vaccine live updates: What you should know in South Florida on Friday, Jan. 22 https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248689525.html Florida urn:uuid:0ccbb8b3-7c48-7437-3228-738087fbe425 Fri, 22 Jan 2021 12:18:40 +0000 <p>COVID-19 vaccines are now available in South Florida, and the rules on who can get a shot, where and when can be confusing.</p> Experts predict challenging legal battle for former state of Florida employee Rebekah Jones https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/experts-predict-challenging-legal-battle-for-former-state-of-florida-employee-rebekah-jones State urn:uuid:0053de8e-e274-9178-1cef-6229e3fba50b Thu, 21 Jan 2021 23:03:15 +0000 Former state employee Rebekah Jones is likely to face a challenging legal battle, experts say. Former state employee Rebekah Jones is likely to face a challenging legal battle, experts say.Fired for insubordination after claiming the state was manipulating COVID-19 case data, Jones now faces a felony charge after someone illegally accessed state systems in November.During a raid last month, state police recovered Jones' computer. Authorities then conducted a forensic analysis and allegedly found cookies -- digital fingerprints -- showing a user illegally breached state systems and downloaded contact info for nearly 20,000 people.According to the arrest affidavit, a short time later, someone using Jones' IP address sent a message to more than 1,700 state employees, urging them to speak up."It's time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead," the message read. "You know this is wrong. You don't have to be apart of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it's too late."Derek Smart is a video game designer who has done private digital forensic work. He said the cookies, in particular, pose a challenge for Jones."It's a serious problem," Smart said, creator of 3000AD, Inc. "It's a very serious problem. People have gone to prison for less."Cookies, Smart said, can be recovered even if deleted and store data like time, date, even a user's name. The Fort Lauderdale-based computer expert believed the evidence might be hard to dispute."Short of proving that somebody else used the device, either locally or remotely, I don't see how she gets out of this," Smart said.Data security attorney Al Leiva isn't involved in Jones' case but thinks her attorneys will now focus on discrediting the evidence collected."They’re going to have to poke some holes in what the state is alleging here," Leiva said.Most likely, a defense expert will review the evidence, the South Florida attorney said. He believed they would look at whether police made flaws during analysis or had a chain of custody issue."There are various things that can be brought up," Leiva said. "It’s really going to come down to the evidence the state has collected."Jones has denied the charge, a third-degree felony, and her attorney has promised a vigorous defense. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.Jones has also filed a civil suit against the state. She has alleged her constitutional rights were violated and that the December raid at her home was an act of retaliation for speaking out. COVID-19 surge on Florida campuses inspires partnership to offer eligible teachers vaccine https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/covid-19-surge-on-florida-campuses-inspires-partnership-to-offer-eligible-teachers-vaccine State urn:uuid:394f2bbd-7f10-d786-e5c2-420022b50ecb Thu, 21 Jan 2021 22:13:26 +0000 The COVID surge in Florida schools is prompting new pleas to the Governor and new action by local school districts desperate to keep teachers safe. The COVID surge in Florida schools is prompting new pleas to the Governor and new action by local school districts desperate to keep teachers safe.The post-holiday COVID surge of cases among teachers and students in Florida is a battle still exhausting some school districts.“We’re seeing the impact of winter break now,” said Seminole County school district spokesperson Michael Lawrence. Since students and staff returned to campus this month, the district has reported 200 new cases, about a third of all cases reported during the first semester.In Manatee County, the district quarantined 300 students and staff due to possible exposure on Tuesday alone.While transmission of the virus in schools is still widely considered low, the increase in cases among students and staff is inspiring new appeals to the Governor. Last month, the Florida Superintendents Association sent a letter to Governor DeSantis encouraging teacher vaccinations. This month, several school districts have sent their own letters urging the Governor to fast-track vaccines for teachers.In a letter sent last week, nearly three dozen Tampa Bay business executives including former Florida CFO Alex Sink, added their own two cents of encouragement. “We strongly encourage you to prioritize the inoculation of K-12 teachers in the state vaccination plan. We believe that this decision will have a positive impact on the safety and in-person education of our children and will greatly enhance the effectiveness of our workforce,” the letter stated.Still, the Governor isn’t budging. According to spokesperson Meredith Beatrice, “seniors 65 and older account for over 80% of the morality rate and prioritizing seniors for the vaccine is one of the most effective tools we have to combat the pandemic.”Beatrice added as soon as more supply becomes available, the state will quickly distribute to priority groups which also includes frontline healthcare workers.“It’s unfortunate that our Governor hasn’t stepped up in the same way so many other Governors across the country have been honoring what the CDC has said to give educators access to that vaccine,” said Andre Spar, head of the state’s teacher’s union and vocal critic of how Governor DeSantis has handled the pandemic.But in response, we’ve discovered a growing number of school districts are now partnering up with local health departments and hospitals to do it themselves.Districts including Hillsborough County, Lee County, Orange County and Miami-Dade County along with others are working with health departments or hospitals to vaccinate school employees who are 65 and older and meet the state’s priority criteria.In Seminole County, nearly 350 school district employees were inoculated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday. The local health department provided the vaccines, while the district used school nurses to administer the shots in a school cafeteria.“It’s not mandatory, it’s completely optional,” said district spokesperson Michael Lawrence. “We’re just giving those employees an option to make it a little bit easier to get them the vaccine a little bit faster. Where it helps us is, it helps them get back to the workforce 100%.”President Biden will also be encouraging states to move teachers up on lists of vaccination priorities. In Florida, both Governor DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran agree that until vaccine supply becomes more abundant, those under 65 will have to wait. Only Florida residents can receive first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Sunshine State https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/only-florida-residents-can-receive-first-dose-of-covid-19-vaccine-in-sunshine-state State urn:uuid:3b445f4b-0c13-bfdf-3318-5bbb976677cd Thu, 21 Jan 2021 20:54:30 +0000 Starting on Thursday, only Florida residents will be allowed to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Sunshine State. Starting on Thursday, only Florida residents will be allowed to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Sunshine State.State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees issued a public health advisory that prioritizes Florida residents to receive COVID-19 vaccinations within the state.Under the order, "every vaccine provider in Florida should ensure the recipient of the vaccine is either: 1) a resident of the state of Florida able to demonstrate residency" or "an individual present in Florida for the purpose of providing health care services involving direct contact with patients."Dr. Rivkees said this new measure applies to people receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, not those who have already gotten their first dose and are awaiting their second.In his order, Rivkees said "the COVID-19 vaccine remains scarce within the United States and vaccine availability in Florida is extremely limited."This means seasonal residents who don't list Florida as their primary residence, along with visitors from other states, are not eligible to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida.Earlier this month, Florida's Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz called "vaccine tourism," where people come to the state to get vaccinated, abhorrent."People who live here, rent, own a house, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy, they are eligible," Moskowitz said.You can read the public health advisory by clicking here. At Publix, will you be in a long line to get COVID vaccine? Here’s how the process works https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article248664075.html Florida urn:uuid:e43c9fd5-791c-e2aa-dd5e-199f0ea9fe0e Thu, 21 Jan 2021 19:55:41 +0000 <p>Publix joins other vaccination sites across Florida that have been inundated with appointments, even though the grocer is administering the vaccine in 242 Florida stores.</p> Florida state rep hopes to rename highway in honor of former President Donald Trump https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/florida-rep-sabatini-hopes-to-rename-highway-for-president-trump State urn:uuid:e917e5f2-f6be-8287-c362-52cac8398e96 Thu, 21 Jan 2021 17:49:41 +0000 Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini (R - Lake County) announced Tuesday that this legislative session he will be sponsoring an amendment to rename U.S. Highway 27 as the “President Donald J. Trump Highway.” TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini, R-Lake County, announced Tuesday that during the current legislative session he will be sponsoring an amendment in the hopes of renaming U.S. Highway 27 as the “President Donald J. Trump Highway.”"Looking forward to working on this important designation honoring one of the greatest Presidents in American History," Sabatini tweeted.U.S. 27 is a 481-mile-long roadway that runs north and south from Miami up through to Tallahassee in the panhandle portion of the state.U.S. 27 runs through the northside of Tallahassee and is better known as North Monroe Street. It also continues through the eastern half of the city as Apalachee Parkway once reaching Florida's Capitol building.While Sabatini's bill would only rename the portion of the highway that runs through Florida, U.S. 27 runs north through five states before ending in Indiana.This story was originally published by WTXL in Tallahassee, Florida. What will a new president mean for Florida's COVID-19 fight? https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/what-will-a-new-president-mean-for-floridas-covid-19-fight State urn:uuid:eb9d08b4-895e-4fe9-2a88-3807d301da79 Wed, 20 Jan 2021 22:14:24 +0000 What will the nation’s new leader mean for Florida’s fight against COVID-19? President Joe Biden has promised to vaccinate 100-million people in his first 100 days. While some have cheered the goal, others are worried about what comes next. What will the nation's new leader mean for Florida's fight against COVID-19? President Joe Biden has promised to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days. While some have cheered the goal, others are worried about what comes next.The new commander-in-chief takes office as Florida continues its battle against the deadly pandemic. The state's 4.3 million seniors are desperate to vaccinate against it."We're going to be in fine shape," said Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.Moskowitz is helping oversee Florida's vaccine distribution. He told us recently to expect a smooth transition. The former state lawmaker was certain Biden wouldn't play favorites as dose distribution becomes a major challenge nationwide."I don't think he's going to use the vaccine to, you know, reward friends and punish enemies," Moskowitz said. "That's not going to happen. We've had that for four years, quite frankly."For weeks Florida has struggled with limited vaccine supply and a lack of transparency from the federal government. State officials have reported only getting six-day notice on weekly shipments, with dose totals hovering around 250,000. At that rate, it could take nearly two years to vaccinate the state's more than 20 million residents.Biden has pledged more openness and supply, which Florida International Epidemiologist Mary Jo Trepka believed was critical. The professor was hopeful the president would deliver, saying America has the power. It just needs the will."We are a wealthy country with lots of resources, financial, technical, intellectual," Trepka said. "There's no reason we can't do a massive vaccination campaign and do it well."Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, has made public concerns about Biden's future pandemic plans. At a Tuesday news briefing in Cape Coral, the Republican said making radical changes in the middle of the vaccine rollout could be "potentially problematic."Specifically, DeSantis said he was opposed to opening federal vaccine clinics, something the new president wants to use to boost distribution."How long is that going to take?" DeSantis said. "And then are you going to divert vaccine away from my efforts and the efforts here -- where we're doing 70,000 to 80,000 people a day?"Some pandemic researchers also worry the new administration will eliminate a Health and Human Services hospital capacity tracker, which Trump officials created. The CDC has since been trying to absorb the responsibility believing it could do better."No data set is perfect, but it's providing us with really reliable information," said Professor Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida.Salemi said it took a while to get the government to publish the details, and he would hate to lose time waiting for a rebuilt alternative."Dismantling it and stating it from scratch at a time when we have got so many cases in the United States, we’ve got the vaccine under development," Salemi said. "We're trying to track so many things -- I just think would be a major setback," he said.What comes next will be up to Biden, who has prepared a slew of policy changes for day one. Time will tell what happens next. Florida car dealer mistakenly sells man a Ford Bronco Sport display model, demands its return https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/florida-car-dealer-mistakenly-sells-man-a-ford-bronco-sport-display-model-demands-its-return State urn:uuid:10cfb092-3a41-3ac9-c0d7-2d734bc2fa5d Tue, 19 Jan 2021 20:30:07 +0000 A Tampa Bay area Ford dealer demanded a customer return a brand new SUV one day after purchase. Turns out the Ford Bronco Sport was a mannequin vehicle that was not supposed to leave the car lot. Nostalgia and the need to unload an old sedan sent Adam Sidoti on the hunt for the newly released Ford Bronco Sport.“It is just a unique look, and I fell in love with it when they released it,” Sidoti said.But the day after he purchased the 2021 SUV, Sidoti told ABC Action News the dealership started calling and demanding he return it to the showroom.“They wanted me to bring it in by 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve!” he said.Sidoti’s contract showed he traded in his vehicle, put nearly $2,500 down and obtained financing before driving off the lot December 22. WATCH VIDEO REPORT Sidoti said he spoke to the sales manager and even wrote a letter to customer service. The dealer admitted they had accidentally sold him a demo or mannequin model that was supposed to sit on display.“It was a mannequin or demo model that Ford had sent them,” Sidoti said.+MORE: Worldwide computer chip shortage leading to slowed car productionWhen the car lot refused to back down, Sidoti made a call for action to Jackie Callaway. She contacted the dealer’s parent company to find out what was going on. A spokesperson explained the Bronco Sport Sidoti had purchased was supposed to be on display in the showroom for four months before being sold.Sidoti says he got a call hours after ABC Action News reached out on his behalf, telling us, “You jumped on it and got their attention.”+BUYER BEWARE: Gift card balances can be stolen before you use themFord released a statement in an email: “After speaking with our team, as soon as we were made aware of this situation on Dec. 29, 2020, we made sure the customer is able to keep the vehicle.”Here’s the good news for other car buyers: What happened to Adam Sidoti is rare. Joe Exotic: New evidence was part of pardon application presented to White House https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/new-evidence-presented-to-white-house-to-support-pardon-of-tiger-king-joe-exotic State urn:uuid:4429200a-a200-8c79-230f-1ee85695dc6d Tue, 19 Jan 2021 16:20:00 +0000 New evidence has been sent to the outgoing Trump administration for their consideration when deciding whether to grant a pardon to Joe Exotic, made famous last year by a Netflix documentary. TAMPA, Fla. — New evidence has been sent to the outgoing Trump administration for their consideration when deciding whether to grant a pardon to Joe Exotic — the imprisoned former zoo owner and made famous last year by Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."People close to the reality TV star — who was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot and several violations of the endangered species act — say that his legal team has obtained audiotapes they hope will free Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage.The case of Joe Exotic got widespread attention in early 2020 when Netflix released "Tiger King": the salacious story of how Exotic and his Oklahoma zoo went to war with Carole Baskin, the owner of a Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa, Florida.“Maldonado had made his threats online over a period of years,” Baskin said after Joe Exotic's arrest.“There are a lot of crazy characters. A lot of twists and turns. And just when you think you can’t get any more strange it does,” retired U.S. Secret Service Agent Jim Rathmann said.Rathmann teamed up with television producer Theresa McKeown to investigate Exotic's case.“There’s so much more information that’s going to come out over time. There’s so much, it’s overwhelming,” McKeown said. “When I saw that article last night that Trump has 100 people he’s gonna pardon, I’m thinking Joe’s probably one of them. Or so I hope.”“There are 257 pages for the pardon. That’s made it up to its way to the White House. But what they’ve gotten recently is this new evidence,” Rathmann said.Rathmann, now a private investigator, first talked to Joe Exotic last year when the Investigation Discovery Network hired him to look into the case of Baskin's missing husband, Don Lewis.McKeown, a former Inside Edition producer, met Joe Exotic in 2014 when he pitched a reality show.“He was such a live wire and he was at war with PETA at the time, so none of the networks really wanted anything to do with it,” she said.In recent months, McKeown and Rathmann have helped uncover what they say are issues with Joe Exotic's original trial that could be used in his pardon application and appeal.“You find your evidence and you let the evidence take you wherever the case is going to take you. And in this particular case keeps bringing me down the path that this murder-for-hire never happened,” Rathmann said.Rathmann and McKeown were recently contacted by former Indiana zoo owner Tim Stark, who knows most of the people in the Tiger King.Stark, who faces multiple criminal charges in Indiana related to the operation of his zoo, provided Rathmann and McKeown with tapes of phone conversations he believes calls into question the testimony of some witnesses.Stark confirmed that he recorded the phone calls, the nature of the contents and that he provided them to Rathmann and McKeown.“It’s pretty explosive, in my opinion. I’m not an attorney, but I’m looking at that going ‘Oh my God!’” McKeown said.They say recordings were rushed to the White House as part of the pardon application. Rathmann says they will also be used by Joe Exotic’s attorneys in an upcoming appeal.“I would have loved this information to have been out two years ago before his trial so he never would have been convicted overall. But since that isn’t what happened, it’s better late than never. And in this particular case, he has an appeal. He has oral arguments that are coming up on the 20, which is also the same day as the inauguration,” Rathmann said.This story was originally published by Adam Wasler on WFTS in Tampa, Florida. Unemployment overpayments turned over to collections, despite payments sent to the state https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/unemployment-overpayments-turned-over-to-collections-despite-payments-sent-to-the-state State urn:uuid:f402afe7-dc7c-c212-aec9-332996c6b7f9 Tue, 19 Jan 2021 15:48:26 +0000 Overpayments from Florida's unemployment office are being turned over to a collection agency, strapping already struggling Floridians with extras fees and fear of knocks to their credit. Overpayments from Florida's unemployment office are being turned over to a collection agency, strapping already struggling Floridians with extras fees and fear of knocks to their credit. I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern revealed the problem of people returning money to the state, only to then be hit with a collection letter, back in November. RELATED: Overpaid in unemployment? Delays in returning money could strap Floridians with collection feesSince that time, more people have contacted the I-Team saying they, too, have received a letter from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's (DEO) collection agency, demanding payment and tacking on fees to a debt they've already paid to the state or are working to pay off. Shannon Combs and her fiance Emory Salter consider themselves lucky. Salter was able to land a new job during the pandemic. But even after updating Salter's account to reflect he had been hired and calls to DEO, unemployment payments kept loading onto his Way2Go Debit card. The couple told the I-Team, at the time, they thought the money was retroactive payments of what they were still owed after weeks of waiting on unemployment checks. “We got our first notice, it came through on August 1," Combs said, of the overpayment notice from DEO. "I literally picked up the phone and made the phone call and was like, ‘What is going on?' Because we weren’t expecting that.”Salter owed the state $687. In an email to the I-Team, a DEO spokesperson said people are allowed to make voluntary payments until the debt is paid up. There was no mention of a minimum payment. DEO's unemployment resource guide also states, "If you are unable to make the repayment in full, you may make payments on a monthly basis. DEO will accept any repayments toward an overpayment."Combs said she sent $10, what she and her finance felt they could afford at the time. “It was the end of the month," Combs said. "They didn’t say there had to be a minimum payment, so we just sent in something small and I was like then we’ll send in $100, $200, whatever next month." Then, Salter received a letter from DEO's collection agency, United Collection Bureau, with a $120 collection fee added. “We spent the last two years building my credit and worked really hard and buckled down, so getting a kick in the boot is pretty bad," Salter said. Combs said for her and her fiance, the unemployment checks that were actually overpayments came with a hidden burden. “They’re now putting Floridians into a situation where it’s going to be even worse on them," Combs said. "We’re dealing with kind of the repercussions of those things that we thought were going to be sort of a lifesaver for us, but now is more of a hindrance to us.”Earlier this year, Jay Laurie showed the I-Team a collection letter he received after mailing in all of the money he was overpaid by the state. It wasn't until after the I-Team contacted DEO that the state finally cashed the check -- nearly three months after Laurie said he mailed it. RELATED: I-Team: Fighting for your unemployment claimsAt this time, he's still out the extra fees he paid to collections. The I-Team reviewed DEO's contract with United Collection Bureau and found the company is paid solely through the fees it tacks on to each debt received from the state's unemployment office. Vanessa Brito, a community activist helping people navigate the state's unemployment system, said another issue is people who've paid money to DEO they did not actually owe to try to unfreeze their unemployment account. “Some had legitimate overpayments and some had overpayments that were caused by glitches in the system," Brito said. Brito said she worries about the lasting impact. "This is not just, you know, an issue within DEO and the unemployment system. This could potentially affect people’s tax returns," Brito said. DEO has yet to answer the I-Team's repeated questions about a backlog in processing payments and has not provided the number of people turned over to collections. RECOMMENDED: DEO: Unemployment overpayment informationIt's important to know you do have a right to appeal a notice of overpayment from the state and dispute any notice from a collection agency. Disney World suspends sales of new annual passes https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/disney-world-suspends-sales-of-new-annual-passes State urn:uuid:756dd07b-4d34-12d7-e9d9-f3d1ebc0d1d0 Mon, 18 Jan 2021 16:30:51 +0000 Disney World announces plans to suspend sales of new annual passes to the park. ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Looking to buy an annual pass at Walt Disney World? You’re out of luck unless you’re a current passholder. The Florida theme park said it will renew passes for current owners, but won’t sell new ones.The announcement comes as the Disneyland California theme park halted its annual pass program entirely. Disneyland made the announcement earlier this week after it allowed county health officials to use its parking lot for a large-scale coronavirus vaccination site. The Florida theme park reopened in July under new rules including masks and social distancing, but the California park has been shuttered since March.+MORE: Florida Theme Park News Black farmers in our area say long legacy of institutional racism has led to their disappearance https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/black-farmers-in-our-area-say-long-legacy-of-institutional-racism-has-led-to-their-disappearance State urn:uuid:7fed1c05-ba24-ba42-0361-81f5c04e3fa3 Mon, 18 Jan 2021 16:16:28 +0000 Many Black farmers in our area say they’re struggling to survive and it’s not just because of the pandemic. They say racism and discriminatory practices in the farming industry have made it impossible to stay afloat. Many Black farmers in our area say they’re struggling to survive and it’s not just because of the pandemic. They say racism and discriminatory practices in the farming industry have made it impossible to stay afloat.ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill dug deeper into their concerns and pushed leaders in the agriculture industry for answers.Since the beginning of this country’s inception, Black people have had a connection with the land. For many, owning cultivating land signifies a sense of freedom.“I love farming. I like to watch it grow.” Willie Joe Woods has been a farmer in Brooksville for 42 years and he’s grown practically everything, “like watermelon, cantaloupes, eggplants, squash, you name it,” said Woods.For Willie, farming the land is a lifestyle and growing food to feed us is his passion, but he says, this lifestyle has been anything but easy, “I had to quit,” he said. Willie stopped growing produce in 2015. Now, he just raises cattle. He says there just isn’t enough financial assistance to help struggling farmers. “You do need a little boost to help you along, you know, and it’s not there,” he said.Willie says he’s not the only one who’s struggling. He says over the years, many Black farmers, in particular, have been forced to go out of business in our area. I was shocked by his observation. So, I decided to look at the Census of Agriculture to see if the numbers backed his claim, and what I found was eye-opening.According to the Census of Agriculture, 100 years ago, in 1920, there were about 13,000 Black operators of farms in our state. Today, that number sits at about 2,000, and it's not just Florida. The national stats are just as shocking. There were nearly a million Black farmers in the country in 1920. Today, there are about 45,000So why are we seeing fewer and fewer Black farmers in our area? One expert on the matter says it’s because of a long legacy of racism and discriminatory practices by the USDA and private lending institutions. So, I went to Brooksville to talk to her. I wanted to find out what exactly are those discriminatory practices, in her view, have made it hard for Black-owned farms to stay afloat.“A lot of those discriminatory practices were still on-going,” said Dr. Latrecia Wilson from the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association. She’s an expert on the history of Black farming in Florida.“We noted that our Black farmers were losing their land at alarming rates,” she said. Dr. Wilson says, one of the major reasons why we’re seeing fewer Black farmers is because they aren’t always offered the same financial opportunities as White farmers. “What they found was that, unfortunately, they would give other farmers help and financial support during hard times, whereas Back farmers were not given any, or very little,” she said.The Pigford Lawsuit was the largest agricultural, class-action lawsuit to date. It all started in 1996 when thousands of Black farmers banded together to sue the USDA for racial discrimination in how they allocated farm loans and assistance. The Black farmers won and the federal government had to pay more than one billion dollars to thousands of Black farmers.However, Dr. Wilson says, even after more than two decades of the Pigford lawsuit victory, many Black farmers still complain of discriminatory practices because there were no repercussions for those that were involved. "So, these people are still sitting in these offices, but now as managers making those decisions for the farmers," she said.I requested an interview with our area’s Farm Service Agency, which is an extension of the USDA. I wanted to find out what they’re doing to ensure that Black farmers here have the support they need. They declined my request, but it does appear that on their website they have loans geared toward people of color.This topic is even starting to get the attention of Congress. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is sponsoring a piece of legislation called the “Justice for Black Farmers Act.” If passed, the act would do three things:- Protect remaining Black farmers from losing their land- Provide land grants to the next generation of Black farmers- Create systemic reforms within the USDA so that it’s more inclusiveLocal Black farmers say, this legislation is long overdue and would right some of the wrongs done against them.The Farm Credit of Central Florida is a farm cooperative based in Lakeland. They lend farmers, who are members, money to maintain and grow their farms. They say they want local Black farmers to join them and take advantage of their services. “Obviously, we want to see agriculture grow. I mean, there’s less than 2% of the population now that has a tie back to agriculture in this country, so if we can help our Black farmers grow then that’s what we want to do,” said Johan Dam from the Farm Cooperative.As for Willie, he says no matter what he’ll continue to farm and work the land. “It’s rough, but I can’t lay and do nothing. No, I can't lay and do nothing.”Black farmers in our area say they hope that under a Biden Administration they have more access to tools and resources to help them excel in an already difficult profession. I'll continue to dig into these issues impacting our area's Black farmers and future farmers. In inaugural address, Biden will appeal to national unity https://www.fox4now.com/news/election-2020/in-inaugural-address-biden-will-appeal-to-national-unity State urn:uuid:d6fc7a02-afb6-774f-d879-6d1ca8b075d9 Mon, 18 Jan 2021 10:30:18 +0000 President-elect Joe Biden will deliver an appeal to national unity when he's sworn in Wednesday and plans immediate moves to combat the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies. President-elect Joe Biden will deliver an appeal to national unity when he's sworn in Wednesday and plans immediate moves to combat the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies. That's according to his incoming chief of staff. Biden intends a series of executive actions in his first hours after his inauguration, an opening salvo in what is shaping as a 10-day blitz of steps to reorient the country without waiting for Congress. Aide Ron Klain tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that Biden, in his address to the nation, will deliver “a message of moving this country forward. A message of unity. A message of getting things done.” New details emerge as Florida plans statewide vaccine registration system https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/new-details-emerge-as-florida-plans-statewide-vaccine-registration-system State urn:uuid:c509ebd6-03f1-9253-ad4d-304a7e5547f2 Sat, 16 Jan 2021 00:48:17 +0000 There are new details about Florida's planned statewide vaccine registration system. Health officials are rolling it out after frustration from seniors getting shots. There are new details about Florida's planned statewide vaccine registration system. Health officials are rolling it out after frustration from seniors getting shots.Florida's current vaccine effort means signing up for shots depends on where you live. Different hospitals and different counties are all using different systems, causing complaints of slowdowns, site crashes and limited availability.SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus"I know it feels chaotic," said Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who spoke to lawmakers Thursday. "Sixty-seven different counties, systems interpretations, but health care is delivered at the local level. It is a decentralized effort."Moskowitz promised the registration system would help and expected it would be online soon. Our questions to Florida Health on when, who'll have access, and what users can expect haven't yet been returned.We gleaned some additional insight from Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Shamarial Roberson. She told senators this week the system has started as a pilot program in a few counties. If successful, she said, it will be offered to any that want it."We hope to have it available in the coming weeks so that counties may opt into the solution and help with some of these problems we are hearing about," Roberson said.State officials also said the registration issues would further be alleviated when more vaccine was available. That would allow for more shot sites to open, decreasing demand on those already operating."There are a number of vaccines in phase-three clinical trials," Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Wednesday. "We anticipate we will have other vaccines in the future."Florida is holding out a lot of hope for the upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The single shot is still in trials, but experts said it could be ready as soon as next month. 'Do you need help?': Florida waitress slips boy note after noticing bruises, calls police https://www.fox4now.com/news/national/do-you-need-help-florida-waitress-slips-boy-note-after-noticing-bruises-calls-police State urn:uuid:bf2477f1-c3c4-0a6c-5113-13ff03a763f0 Fri, 15 Jan 2021 22:00:10 +0000 A Florida waitress who noticed bruises on an 11-year-old boy flashed him a handwritten note asking him if he needed help. A Florida restaurant manager noticed a family was withholding food from a boy at the table,and that the boy had bruises on his body. So she wrote a simple note asking him if he needed help, and when he nodded yes, she called the police, authorities said.Orlando police credited Flaviane Carvalho, who manages Mrs. Potato Restaurant, with coming to the 11-year-old boy's aid on New Year's Eve when the child's parents weren't looking. Police took the boy to a hospital where doctors found bruises on his face, earlobes and arms. He also was 20 pounds underweight, Detective Erin Lawler told local media."'Abuse,' I say lightly," Lawler said Thursday at a news conference. "It was torture."The boy told detectives that he had been tied by his ankles and neck and hung upside down from a door in his home. He also told detectives that his stepfather beat him with a wooden broom, a back scratcher and closed fists, and that he'd been handcuffed and tied to a large moving dolly, according to the Orlando Sentinel.The boy's 34-year-old stepfather was arrested on charges of child abuse and neglect on the night the waitress called police, according to an arrest affidavit.The child's 31-year-old mother, who was also at the restaurant, was arrested a week later on a child neglect charge.An online court docket showed no attorneys listed for either the stepfather or mother. Lakeland Regional Health leads the state in COVID-19 blood clot research https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/lakeland-regional-health-leads-the-state-in-covid-19-blood-clot-research State urn:uuid:21fe9afb-e788-1b26-9711-478309e48944 Fri, 15 Jan 2021 15:31:54 +0000 Doctors at Lakeland Regional Health have joined a national study to find the best way to prevent blood clots from forming in people who’ve had COVID-19. Lakeland Regional Health is doing ground-breaking research that is answering crucial questions to help prevent complications from COVID-19.According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), many patients who died from COVID-19 formed blood clots throughout their bodies.“As a person’s recovering from COVID there is a lot of inflammation. We know that inflammation can also cause blood clots within the various blood vessels and those could lead to heart attack, stroke,” said Dr. Daniel Haight, Director of Infection Prevention at Lakeland Regional Health.Doctors at Lakeland Regional Health have joined a national study to find the best way to prevent blood clots from forming in people who’ve had COVID-19.“We want to know what’s the best advice to nationwide to give patients that are recovering from COVID, to avoid complications like blood clots. Should we just warn patients on what to look out for and how to get them treated quickly, or should we use common medications like a blood thinner or aspirin?” Haight explained.Participants in the trial are given blood thinners to test their safety and effectiveness. “That is used for 45 days and another 30 days to follow up after the medications are finished. Once a week we check on the patients through text messaging, emails or phone calls,” he said.Researchers at Lakeland Regional are leading the state in this trial and are looking for more participants.Criteria to participate include:Age 40 years and olderDiagnosed positive with COVID-19 within the last 10-14 daysExhibited symptomsDid not require hospitalizationNot already a taking blood thinnerThose who meet the above criteria and are interested in participating in the study should contact the ACTIV-4 COVID Research Team at (863) 284-1515. Florida not revealing how contact tracing is going, other states struggling to keep up https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/florida-not-revealing-how-contact-tracing-is-going-other-states-struggling-to-keep-up State urn:uuid:ae7b321b-9e48-6998-a560-9750e49b30f1 Thu, 14 Jan 2021 23:35:01 +0000 Failing, overburdened and outpaced by COVID-19, that’s how some are describing the state’s contact tracing program. Failing, overburdened and outpaced by COVID-19, that’s how some are describing the state’s contact tracing program. Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone finds out where the program stands despite the state revealing little about its effortsTouted as a major weapon in the war to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Florida’s contact tracing program remains an active part of the state’s ongoing battle but detail appears to still be shrouded in secrecy.For months, we’ve reported on the state’s slow and struggling efforts to successfully contact trace. Despite repeated requests for basic information including the most current number of tracers, success rates and other program details, Florida’s Department of Health (FDOH) has not provided any information.So we asked cities and counties for insight. Most county health departments referred us to the FDOH.But Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber didn’t hold back when asked how contact tracing was going in his city.“It’s failing,” Gelber said. “Contact tracing still remains one of many weak points in our [the state’s] approach to this pandemic."Gelber has been an outspoken critic of the state’s overall response to the pandemic.“Unfortunately it's deja vu because it happened precisely like this over the summer and we didn’t even have enough people to make the calls at that point. Now we just have a terrible program, “ he said. His city and Miami-Dade county run general remains an epic-center for positive cases, deaths and a continuous surge.“When you don’t have contact tracing, you have the surge and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said.State draft reports about contact tracing in Miami Dade County Gelber provided to us show over a two-week period in December, less than half the number of people who tested positive were interviewed by a tracer within two days, records show.“We are not even reaching 50% of those infected on a daily basis,” he said. But tracing during the holidays is likely to cause challenges. Gelber said he receives updated reports every two weeks and a less than 50% contact rate is consistent in the county.It’s unclear if that’s true and for how long. We asked FDOH for copies of all county reports on contact tracing going back to Nov. 1. In an email, a spokesperson with FDOH said our public record request, “is currently being processed.”Across the county, contact tracing is a struggle for states and communities experiencing surges in positive cases.“When cases are so high there’s only so much you can do,” said Adriane Casalotti with the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Casalotti has encouraged contact tracing since the beginning of the pandemic. She said the surge coupled with people’s refusal to cooperate with tracers has left state contact tracing efforts severely weakened around the country.“There are just some places that are not even attempting contact tracing to certain levels at this point depending on how their community spread is going,” Casalotti said. Other states and communities are changing the way they trace by focusing only on populations most at risk of dying or spreading the disease.Last summer, Florida contracted with an outside firm, Maximus Inc, to ramp up its contact tracing efforts. The state has three contracts with the Virginia-based government contractor worth a total of $70 million, according to the state’s government contract website. As of August, the state with the help of Maximus had 4400 tracers working to stop the virus’ spread. Where that number stands now remains unknown.In an email, a Maximus Inc spokesperson said, “Maximus continues to support the state in their contract tracing efforts, and we are working closely with the Florida Department of Health to provide any support they need to address the current COVID-19 cases in Florida.”What that means and how it’s all going, like contact tracing itself in Florida, remains a question the state has yet to fully answer. State leaders push vaccine as Florida enters 'full COVID-19 resurgence' https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/state-leaders-push-vaccine-as-florida-enters-full-covid-19-resurgence State urn:uuid:42597938-5e94-202b-fb1c-ccb84a1ee8aa Thu, 14 Jan 2021 23:04:35 +0000 The state is in full COVID-19 resurgence. That’s according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report. The state is in full COVID-19 resurgence, according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report.The reports are sent to governors weekly. Some states publish them, but others do not.SPECIAL COVERAGE: CoronavirusFlorida is one of at least 13 states not making the info public, despite the vital insight it might provide.The Jan. 10 release painted a bleak picture of the Sunshine State, saying, "Florida is in full COVID-19 resurgence, which will drive significant fatalities for many weeks and stress the staffing of the hospital system."The report, made public by ABC News, recommended "aggressive immunization" ASAP."Everyone wants to get to the end of this as fast as possible," said Florida Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. "People are anxious."Moskowitz has been coordinating the state's vaccine effort. About 770,000 getting shots have been given to date, he said, despite a bumpy start for seniors.More shots are expected in the coming weeks, but the director believed limited supply from the federal government had become an issue for the time being.“It’s not that they can't get it because of anything we're doing," Moskowitz said. "They can't get it because we have 4.3 million 65 and older people, and we're getting 250,000 a week. It's just supply and demand."While Florida waits, the White House report also strongly urged continued use of face masks, strict social distancing and other mitigation. Those are protections Florida's governor is against mandating."Mandates, lockdowns, fines -- we're just not doing that," DeSantis said during a news briefing last week. "They are not effective. Let me tell you that right now."The limited-government Republican has also issued an executive order to keep locals from enforcing their mandates. Democrats have insisted he rescind it, worried it's helping fuel the state's case surge."A lot of this has been a lack of leadership from Gov. DeSantis, in really tying the hands of local governments to have the sort of measures that they need," said State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. "When you politicize a public healthcare crisis, then that means that people are no longer as willing to listen to the health care professionals."Time will tell if residents do listen as Florida enters COVID's dark winter.Read the full report for each state below: Florida to begin statewide appointment system for COVID-19 vaccine https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/florida-to-begin-statewide-appointment-system-for-covid-19-vaccine State urn:uuid:d37a64cc-f837-fd2a-27b3-2ab153d50c17 Thu, 14 Jan 2021 19:45:52 +0000 Florida's director of emergency management says a statewide appointment system for COVID-19 vaccinations will bring order to the chaos marking the first weeks of the state's rollout to its most vulnerable residents. Florida's director of emergency management said a statewide appointment system for COVID-19 vaccinations will bring order to the chaos marking the first weeks of the state's rollout to its most vulnerable residents. Director Jared Moskowitz told a legislative House committee Thursday that the online portal could be ready in weeks. Moskowitz also blamed the federal government for not moving fast enough in releasing enough supply to meet demand in Florida.The order by Gov. Ron DeSantis to make coronavirus vaccines available to seniors 65 and older prompted a crush in demand at vaccination sites. In Delray Beach, for instance, a limited supply of 200 doses of the vaccine was available, but appointments filled up just eight minutes after they were made available online.As of Tuesday, more than 707,000 Floridians had at least one of the two necessary shots.RELATED: COVID-19 vaccine information, county by countyDeSantis has been aggressive in the state's mantra of putting seniors first, announcing earlier this week that several additional Publix pharmacies throughout the state will be offering the vaccine.The governor also met with Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine rollout. Although DeSantis didn't speak, Kerner said the governor is looking at a distribution plan involving Publix in Palm Beach County."We'll find out here shortly more details on the Publix distribution plan," Kerner said.While announcing 56 more Publix sites to receive the vaccine, DeSantis vowed Wednesday to make sure that every senior who wants the vaccine will be able to get it."We're not stopping here," he said. Florida lawmaker calling on state to boycott social media that blocked Trump https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/florida-lawmaker-calling-on-state-to-boycott-social-media-that-blocked-trump State urn:uuid:091303f4-b5d0-9344-c141-180c4b94b56c Thu, 14 Jan 2021 12:28:35 +0000 Ironically, he posted his letter on Twitter and Facebook. A Florida lawmaker is preparing legislation that would force state and local governments to boycott Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Android and Amazon as a reaction to President Donald Trump being banned from social media.Republican Rep. Randy Fine made his plans known in a letter to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the independently elected Cabinet in which he also asked them to divest state investments in the companies. Ironically, he posted his letter on Twitter and Facebook.“If the President of the United States can be silenced by these companies, then so can anyone,” Fine wrote. “It is clear that Twitter and Facebook are engaged in one-sided viewpoint discrimination targeting conservatives."He said the bill he is drafting would prevent any government money be spent on advertising, services or any product or equipment produced or sold by the companies.In addition, Republican Sen. Danny Burgess has filled a bill that would require social media companies to give notice to account holders within 30 days of the deactivation or suspension of an account explaining why the action was taken.Lawmakers begin their annual 60-day session on March 2. Florida health leaders give little indication when teachers will get COVID-19 vaccine https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/florida-health-leaders-give-little-indication-when-teachers-will-get-covid-19-vaccine State urn:uuid:05fc7333-fcc0-5097-c086-c304a578a650 Wed, 13 Jan 2021 23:12:38 +0000 The pressure is mounting as more teachers want Gov. Ron DeSantis to make them a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. State officials, however, maintain they're focused on those 65 and older, giving little indication Wednesday as to who comes next. The pressure is mounting as more teachers want Gov. Ron DeSantis to make them a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. State officials, however, maintain they are focused on those 65 and older, giving little indication Wednesday as to who comes next.SPECIAL COVERAGE: CoronavirusIn the Senate's Health Policy committee, Florida's Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told lawmakers that seniors will stay the priority, for now. They make up 85% of the state's COVID deaths."We are in a supply-limited situation," Rivkees said. "Hopefully as more vaccine becomes available, hopefully as more manufactures are able to get EUA approval, we can move beyond this group."The governor has previously said teachers won't be a priority. His executive order targets the most vulnerable and has the backing of some medical experts.University of Florida Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Fred Southwick hasn't agreed with the governor's lax mitigation methods but said he's with DeSantis on the current vaccine hierarchy."What I would aim for is to reduce the number of deaths," Southwick said. "I don't want anyone to get the message that they don’t deserve the vaccine. It's just a matter of priorities and who is most vulnerable and who is most likely to die."New research in the last month supports lower priority for teachers. Two national studies suggest schools can operate safely, with precautions, as long as community spread isn't too high.Tulane’s specifically found no evidence reopening in-person or hybrid increased hospitalizations for communities already low.Florida's Education Association, however, is undeterred. Andrew Spar, the president of the teacher's union, said prioritizing educators and staff would ensure a return to normality."COVID cases are not just going up in our communities, they’re going up significantly in our schools," Spar said. "Other states have already done it. The governor is one of the few saying, 'I'm not going to prioritize those on the front lines.'"Spar said he was hopeful the incoming Biden administration would prioritize teachers as the president-elect has promised to increase supply. Publix in Collier County to offer COVID-19 vaccines in some Florida counties DeSantis announces https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/publix-to-offer-covid-19-vaccines-in-some-florida-counties-desantis-announces-1 State urn:uuid:bf604024-a24a-b559-f81a-9c7219c4a569 Wed, 13 Jan 2021 13:42:39 +0000 Starting later this week, you'll be able to a COVID-19 vaccine at Publix stores in three Florida counties. Starting later this week, you'll be able to a COVID-19 vaccine at Publix stores in three Florida counties.Calling it one of the "most exciting" announcements to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday that Publix is launching a pilot program to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to Florida residents who are 65 and older."Of all the things we've done, this Publix announcement is one of the most exciting because of the potential convenience for seniors, but then for the potential for this to be a major force multiplier throughout the state of Florida," DeSantis said during a news conference in Ocala.In a press conference today, Governor DeSantis announced 56 additional Publix Pharmacies including one here in Collier County. Governor DeSantis is expected to speak here in Naples at The Shoppes at Pebblebrooke at noon.WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE IN NAPLES:WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE IN PONTE VEDRA BEACH:DeSantis added that if the pilot program is successful, he'd like to see it expand to other Publix pharmacies throughout the state.To see a list of the participating Publix stores in Marion, Citrus, and Hernando counties, click here. Lawmakers announce bill to fix Florida's broken unemployment system https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/lawmakers-announce-bill-to-fix-floridas-broken-unemployment-system State urn:uuid:062ebb49-a0d6-7d59-65ba-6cc2dc983dad Wed, 13 Jan 2021 00:00:28 +0000 Lawmakers have filed a bill they hope will help fix the state’s broken unemployment system. Lawmakers have filed a bill they hope will help fix the state's broken unemployment system. For months people have complained as the current system struggles to meet demand. Small payments, slow approval, and crashing websites have been the most common frustrations.The bill is the first effort from Democrats who failed to persuade the GOP majority to hold a special session last year to address the issues."We've seen the worst things that are happening to people continue to happen," said Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach. "That's why we've decided to take action."Powell is working on the Senate version of the bill, which has yet to receive a filing number. The policy would provide more oversight and establish a timeline for state officials to rule on claims within 21 days. It also increases max weekly benefits from $275 to $500 and more than doubles the length of payments from 12 to 26 weeks."This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue, but an issue for people who have not had access to benefits that they have paid into," Powell said.The bill may deter Republicans as it will cost the state more money when revenue is down dramatically. But to date, members haven't filed a bill of their own.They’re likely awaiting the results of an outside audit of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity commissioned last year. Its new director, Dane Eagle, told us last month it would identify flaws, which he would then take to lawmakers."We'll be asking them for tools to move forward and make sure that is fixed, so we don't go through this again," Eagle said.In a statement, DEO officials said vendor ISF has yet to complete its work."This is an ongoing project that our team will continue to prioritize with ISF to help enhance the claimant's experience within CONNECT," said DEO Press Secretary Paige Landrum. "We anticipate that our team will receive the results to review sometime this spring."Those results will need to be on time. The lawmaking session begins March 2 and is expected to be busy as legislators continue to deal with the pandemic and billion-dollar budget shortfall. Sheriff: Florida deputy killed while on duty was just 1 shift away from retirement https://www.fox4now.com/sheriff-hillsborough-deputy-killed-after-suspect-intentionally-rams-into-the-deputys-vehicle State urn:uuid:4ee404f8-2863-49b6-61fd-c0d8911f7501 Tue, 12 Jan 2021 22:08:09 +0000 A Florida sheriff's deputy who was just days away from retirement died in the line of duty Monday evening. A Florida sheriff's deputy who was just days away from retirement died in the line of duty Monday evening.Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said deputies were responding to a call for service from management at the Paddock Club Apartments around 3:42 p.m. Monday.The caller said the man had been throwing furniture and clothes out of his apartment window and front door. The caller also said this individual has threatened to harm staff in the past. Deputies were not able to make contact with the man and left the area.About an hour later, deputies were called back to the apartment complex."The resident is now naked and throwing cookies at neighbors outside his apartment. Deputies arrived on scene and make contact," said Chronister.The suspect, 28-year-old Travis Garrett, struck a deputy in the head with his fist, according to Chronister.Chronister said deputies deployed a taser, but it was not effective.Garrett left the area in his car and led deputies on a chase.Chronister said Garrett was driving at a high rate of speed when he intentionally rammed into the driver's side of Corporal Brian LaVigne's car. There were no skid marks on the scene indicating trying to stop, the sheriff said."Mr. Garrett intentionally switches two lanes and goes into the turn lane to strike LaVigne's vehicle," said Chronister.LaVigne, 54, was responding to the call for service.Chronister said LaVigne was trapped inside his car and unresponsive. Deputies tried to get to him."The deputies can't get to him to perform life-saving measures. He's unconscious. They're doing everything they can from breaking windows and trying to crawl in through the back window, but the corporal was trapped," said Chronister.Fire rescue used the Jaws of Life to free LaVigne out of the car. He was later taken to Tampa General Hospital where he died from his injuries."This Corporal was murdered, intentionally killed by Travis Garrett," Chronister said.Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted his condolences about the incident:WATCH SHERIFF CHAD CHRONISTER'S FULL PRESS CONFERENCE BELOW:LaVigne was a 30-year veteran with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and was days away from retirement. Chronister said LaVigne had one more shift left."Cpl. LaVigne was a great family man, someone who served this community... mentoring the young troops. He had a passion for service," Chronister said.He is survived by his wife and two daughters, one of who is also a Hillsborough County deputy, the sheriff said."Master Corporal Brian LaVigne has been a part of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office family since 1990, and he was just days away from retirement," said Chronister. "We will never forget Master Corporal LaVigne for laying down his life in the line of duty or the response of his squad members who did everything they could to ensure that the individual responsible for his death was apprehended."The suspect Travis Garrett was charged with First Degree Felony Murder, DUI Manslaughter, Vehicular Homicide, Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer (2 counts), Resisting Arrest with Violence (2 counts), Felony Criminal Mischief, and Aggravated Fleeing to Elude.This story was originally published by Lisette Lopez at WFTS. Nearly 350,000 Florida seniors have gotten COVID-19 vaccine, governor says https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/nearly-350-000-florida-seniors-have-gotten-covid-19-vaccine-governor-says State urn:uuid:e829cc87-57e2-54a7-eb78-4be31c2a7121 Tue, 12 Jan 2021 19:49:06 +0000 Gov. Ron DeSantis is holding a news conference in The Villages. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that almost 350,000 seniors in Florida have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.DeSantis provided an update on the state's vaccine rollout during a news conference in The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida.The governor has repeatedly spoken about putting residents 65 or older first on the list when it comes to receiving the limited supply of the vaccine. He reiterated that stance Tuesday."Putting seniors first was the right decision," DeSantis said, speaking at a vaccination site that he said is handling between 800 to 1,000 vaccines per day.DeSantis said he only expects more seniors to receive the vaccine as the state receives an anticipated shipment of 250,000 doses."The vast majority of our total vaccinations are going to seniors, and that percentage is going to grow more disproportionate in favor of seniors as we get through the next many, many weeks," DeSantis said.DeSantis also said he has urged the federal government to consider releasing more of the vaccine to fill the demand."What they've done up to this point is, anyone that's gotten the shot up to this point, there has been a shot that's basically held in reserve by the federal government, so when it's time for the booster, they then send the booster," DeSantis said. "So if a hospital's done 10,000 shots three weeks ago with Pfizer, they're gonna get 10,000 booster shots."DeSantis said he remains committed to ensuring that Florida's senior population will be able to get the vaccine."If you can get Florida more, you know, we have the throughput to be able to get the shots in seniors arms," DeSantis said. Child battling cancer raises money for animal shelters, inspires Humane Society of St. Lucie County https://www.fox4now.com/news/state/child-battling-cancer-raises-money-for-animal-shelters-inspires-humane-society-of-st-lucie-county State urn:uuid:670bbee1-4090-c8b3-1309-fb16ce9efe78 Tue, 12 Jan 2021 19:34:25 +0000 A child fighting cancer hundreds of miles away is inspiring South Florida. A child fighting cancer hundreds of miles away is inspiring South Florida.Her kind deeds are prompting St. Lucie County residents to pay it forward with kindness.Melissa McInturff, the Humane Society of St. Lucie County's executive director, sees a lot of mail coming through the doors of her operation.But she said one letter she received during the holidays from a Pennsylvania girl named Avery really touched her."[It was a] gut punch to the soul. That's what I compared it to when I got on the Pawsitive Change page that Avery and her family created," McInturff said.Avery is a 14-year-old girl who loves animals and wants to own a shelter of her own one day.But for now, she's battling cancer and doing what she can do to help out shelters across the country with $5 gift cards."I think with generating $5 gift cards, that's encouraging other shelters to maybe send a $5 or $10 gift card to a neighboring shelter, and everybody gets in this cycle of paying it forward, and that's based on the will of a teenage girl," McInturff said.McInturff was so moved by the gesture she wanted to show her thanks. She then posted on Facebook asking for help from the greater St Lucie County community, and they responded by making Avery's mission their own.They created a Florida box for the cancer fighter complete with handmade get well and thank you cards.With a following of more than 5,000 people on social media, Avery's Pawsitive Change is making a difference around the country and on the Treasure Coast."We're all fighting a battle, and it's up to us to assist people and give them a helping hand and help them fight that battle," McInturff said.So far, she's written more than 2,000 similar letters to shelters and humane societies."If you ask me who my heroes are, my answer is always fellow rescuers and my shelter staff, and now I add Avery into that mix. She's handling herself with grace and with a charitable heart, so this gal In Pennsylvania is my new hero," McInturff said.Once Avery is feeling better, she has been invited to visit the Treasure Coast and take the helm as executive director for the day at the humane society. Employees at nursing homes, assisted living facilities in Florida reluctant to take COVID-19 vaccine https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/employees-at-nursing-homes-assisted-living-facilities-in-florida-reluctant-to-take-covid-19-vaccine State urn:uuid:05e80c87-cf16-8d17-e9e2-43771e101231 Mon, 11 Jan 2021 22:00:25 +0000 New numbers reveal few long-term care center staffers in Florida have received the COVID-19 vaccine and it’s not because they don’t have access to the shot. New numbers reveal few long-term care center staffers in Florida have received the COVID-19 vaccine and it’s not because they don’t have access to the shot. Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone explains.It’s a problem state healthcare leaders predicted and now it’s real and here. Many staff members in Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities are choosing not to take the COVID-19 vaccine.“This is concerning,” Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said, during a call on Thursday with Florida’s Healthcare Association, the state’s leading nursing home association.During the call, Rivkees revealed:46% of long term residents in Florida have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine75% of facilities have had at least one employee or resident take the vaccine20% of long term staff members have received the vaccineThe low rates among staffers raise alarm in a state that has made vaccinations in long-term care facilities the highest priority because aging residents are among the most likely to die from the virus.“They are concerned about the speed with which the vaccine was developed, they are waiting to see how it affects their colleagues who are taking it. They have concerns about fertility issues if they intend to have children,” said Willa Fuller, President of Florida’s Nurses Association. “Some of them question the effectiveness of the vaccine because not enough time has passed."“We always knew this would require some education,” said Kristen Knapp, spokesperson for Florida’s Healthcare Association, which focuses on nursing homes in the state. “You’re going to do what your friends do, that’s human nature."As a result, the association is ramping up its own statewide information campaign. In addition, it’s also featuring long-term care staffers who have received their shots in hopes of encouraging others in the field to do the same.Falon Blessing is a nurse practitioner at a long-term care center in Pinellas County. She has received both doses of the vaccine.“One of the responses I got when I told someone I got the vaccine was, ‘wow, you’re so brave’ and it’s no, quite the contrary. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of long term effects. I’m afraid of making people I love and care for the sick. I’m afraid of what the world will look like if we don’t take immediate steps to do what we can to stop this from spreading further,” Blessing explained.Around the country, staff apprehension has slowed the rollout of the vaccine in long-term care centers.CVS and Walgreens are working with states, including Florida, to get more shots in resident and staff arms.This week, Florida begins working with the national health firm, CDR Maguire, to administer shots in assisted living facilities. It’s another attempt to speed up the number of people vaccinated in the state as the number of positive cases here continues to rage.Right now, vaccines in long-term care centers remain voluntary for both residents and staff. When asked if vaccines could become mandatory for staff members of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Knapp said: “that would be up to state leaders.”COVID-19 Screening and infection controls remain active at centers around the state.“Everyone wants normal, this is something we need to get back to normal,” said Blessing. Professor in Florida says COVID-19 mutations will continue, but vaccines should still work https://www.fox4now.com/news/coronavirus/usf-professor-says-covid-19-mutations-will-continue-but-vaccines-should-still-work State urn:uuid:3794a12e-79f3-b028-0b5a-bfad6621faa5 Mon, 11 Jan 2021 20:42:38 +0000 At least 50 cases of the Coronavirus mutation have been found in the United States, and almost half are in Florida. At least 50 cases of the Coronavirus mutation have been found in the United States, and almost half are in Florida.But USF Professor Dr. Tom Unnasch says the virus is very good at what it does. Mutate.“It’s not really a big surprise that we are starting to see these variants that are coming up that are making the virus more efficient," says Unnasch.Experts say this mutation, first discovered in the UK is much more contagious than the original.But Dr. Unnasch he’s confident the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations will work against it.“It’s probably going to take those companies less than a week to modify that vaccine and get a new version out that will now attack the new mutated version.”Dr. Unnasch says it’s likely there are more than 22 cases of the variant detected in Florida so far.And he says mutations of this virus won’t end anytime soon.“It’s going to be a little bit of a game of whack-a-mole like we have with influenza. Everybody has to get a new shot with influenza every year because it mutates every year.”Despite the new challenges, Dr. Unnasch says he’s optimistic about how science is dealing with the pandemic.But he does want to see the logistics of getting people vaccinated improve.“The more people we can vaccinate and the more rapidly we can get them vaccinated, the more pressure we are going to put on the virus. And we may be able to push this down to a point where it’s not much of a health problem anymore.”New research confirmed the Pfizer vaccine can protect against the mutation. But it hasn’t been reviewed yet by outside experts.This story was first published by Erik Waxler at WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida.