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The South Florida Roundup

Miami-Dade Reducing Age Cap For COVID Vaccines, Nursing Home Lawsuit And Fake Political Candidate Charges

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava gives a thumbs up after getting her first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine from Capt. Will Hall, COVID-19 Vaccine Branch Director for the county, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, at the Miami-Dade County Tropical Park COVID-19 vaccination site in Miami.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava gives a thumbs up after getting her first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine from Capt. Will Hall, COVID-19 Vaccine Branch Director for the county, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, at the Miami-Dade County Tropical Park COVID-19 vaccination site in Miami.

People as young as 40 years old will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Miami-Dade County soon. A Delray Beach nursing home is the target of a COVID-19 lawsuit. And two arrests in the case of a straw political candidate.

One week from Monday many more people will be able to get vaccinated in Miami-Dade County.

"They just have to be 40 and older. That’s it," said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, on the South Florida Roundup Friday.

Also on this week's program, we spoke with the attorney of a family who has filed one of the first COVID-19 liability lawsuits against a South Florida nursing home. And prosecutors file charges against two people accused of staging a straw political candidate in 2020.

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Lower Age Eligibility

Miami-Dade County will drop the age eligibility for vaccines to 40 years old with no underlying medical condition beginning March 29. The state age requirement drops to 50 years old a week early, but Cava is comfortable with moving ahead of the state.

"We think we're well within the cadence of moving gradually downward and it's based on both supply and demand," she said.

Appointments will be required through the county's vaccine registration website, www.miamiadade.gov/vaccine, and state rules limit doses to Florida residents only.

"The vaccine that we're getting is an allocation that comes from the state, but it is operated by our county staff as compared to the state sites, which are operated by state staff and the federal sites which have had the support as well of the federal government," the mayor said.

The drop in age eligibility comes as FEMA announced it will begin limiting its vaccine site at Miami Dade College North Campus to second doses only in the week ahead. The 40-year-old age limit will be the rule for sites run by Miami-Dade County – including Homestead Sports Complex, Tropical Park, Zoo Miami and ambulatory sites.

"Wherever the county is administering vaccines, we will have to new eligibility," Levine Cava said.

COVID-19 Lawsuit

Nearly 11,000 people living in long-term care facilities in Florida have died from complications with the virus, according to the state health department’s latest data. Almost 100 workers at those facilities have died as well.

Florida lawmakers are moving to pass legislation that would grant long-term care facilities and other healthcare providers, like doctors and hospitals, liability protections for COVID-related lawsuits. The legislation also includes businesses.

State Senate President Wilton Simpson called the protections a priority.

In South Florida, at least two COVID-related lawsuits have made headlines. The first is against grocery chain Publix in the death of a Miami Beach deli worker.

The second was filed last week by the family of Sara Schleider. She was 81 years old and living at Grand Villa of Delray East in Palm Beach County when she contracted the virus during an outbreak at the facility in May. She died a month later.

Spencer Kuvin is the lawyer representing Schleider's son and daughter who filed a civil lawsuit against the facility.

"Once the lockdown occurred, they had no contact and eventually they weren't even allowing phone calls in and out of the facility," he said. Visitors to long-term care facilities were banned from mid-March 2020 through early September.

The facility was investigated by the Agency for Health Care Administration last spring for its COVID-19 protocols and practices. In a final order, filed Friday, Grand Villa of Delray East agreed to pay a $1,000 penalty.

"AHCA only determined that Grand Villa failed to properly document COVID-specific training at the time (the death) occurred," said the facility in a statement to WLRN.

"It's flatly not accurate," said Kuvin. "The state agency investigator went into the facility with their own eyes and they documented by photographic evidence the fact that they were mixing COVID laundry. In other words, laundry from patients that had been diagnosed with COVID with clean linens. They documented cleaning units and mops and buckets from COVID patients into other rooms [of] patients [who] did not have COVID. They documented patients walking around without masks, staff walking around without masks."

Among other deficiencies, the state investigation found the facility was not following Centers for Disease control guidelines for residents wearing facial masks outside of their rooms until after a resident tested positive for the virus. Another problem identified by the state regulator was fewer than half of the home's staff were trained in March with how to use personal protective equipment.

"A training failure is still negligence," Kuvin said. "These facilities had access to the training available. They were told what they needed to do and how they needed to conduct their activities, and they didn't do it."

Grand Villa of East Delray said, "We are reviewing the allegations made because we take any allegations, no matter the severity, very seriously. Part of our commitment to our residents and family members is open communication, so we look forward to being able to fully address these claims as soon as we have enough information to do so."

The lawsuit was filed as the state Legislature is preparing to limit the legal liability faced by businesses, including health care providers, because of COVID-19. The state Senate passed the limits on Thursday.

A judge must decide if a company made a “good faith effort” to follow government health standards, according to the requirements in the bill. The legislation also raises the legal standard to gross negligence from a lower preponderance of evidence requirement.

Fake Campaign Charges

More than 6,000 people voted for Alex Rodriguez last fall to be their state senator in a district that stretches from downtown Miami to Cutler Bay, from Coral Gables to Key Biscayne.

Jose Javier Rodriguez was the Democratic incumbent in the race but he lost by 32 votes.

This week, prosecutors charged that Alex Rodriguez’s campaign was fake — created and paid for by former Republican state senator Frank Artiles. Both men were charged in the ghost candidate scheme.

"The 25-page affidavit that was released Thursday was pretty detailed," said Miami Herald reporter Ana Ceballos. "It was quite stunning to see how it started with a 4 a.m. Facebook message from the former GOP senator to this auto-parts dealer named Alex Rodriguez."

The two have known each other for more than 20 years according to prosectors but they hadn't spoken to each other in recent years before Artiles allegedly hatched the scheme. The former state senator allegedly paid Alex Rodriguez nearly $50,000.

An open question continues to be who paid for Alex Rodriguez's campaign materials. He ran as a no-party candidate in the state senate District 37 race, but he did not campaign himself. Voters in the district received mailers, however.

"There were mailers that had gone out linked to political committees that were funded by money sources. We don't really know who was behind them," said Samantha J. Gross, a Miami Herald reporter.

There is no allegation the winner of the race, Republican Ileana Garcia, had any knowledge of the alleged straw candidate.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.