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The South Florida Roundup

The Latest From Surfside, Rising COVID-19 Numbers, Donald Fennoy's Resignation, & Protests in Cuba

Charles Burkett, mayor of Surfside, stands and talks with Rachel Spiegel, whose mother was killed in the Champlain Towers South collapse as others console her and look on
Charles Burkett, mayor of Surfside, Fla., (left) talks with Rachel Spiegel, whose mother was killed in the Champlain Towers South collapse.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett gives an update on the building collapse, an infectious disease expert weighs in on rising COVID-19 numbers in Florida, Palm Beach County's superintendent gives his 90-day notice, and an update on the anti-government protests happening in Cuba and South Florida.

Surfside Update

Recovery efforts continue in Surfside after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South building last month. But those efforts could end soon. The death toll is at 97 and the Miami-Dade Police Department announced Thursday that 93 victims have been identified so far.

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Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the investigation into the cause of the collapse is well underway.

“You know we’re looking very carefully at the sister building for clues. Our expert has called it a science lab because it’s substantially the same building, built at the same time, probably with the same contractor, probably with identical plans and probably with identical materials,” Burkett said.

Burkett also said he wants change in the regulation of condo safety.

“The book is going to have to be rewritten once we understand why this building fell down. Because as I’ve said before, buildings in America don’t just fall down,” he said.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is conducting an investigation into the cause of the collapse. On Friday, NIST gave an update on what they've found so far.

COVID-19 On The Rise (Again)

Florida COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Miami-Dade County reported 4,362 new cases at the end of last week. That's despite 73% of residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine. Experts throughout South Florida say we’re now battling highly infectious variants of COVID-19, specifically the Delta variant.

Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease expert at Florida International University, said vaccines can stop the worst symptoms of the coronavirus.

“It’s preventing long COVID. And that is very important because that’s one of the worst complications that we’re seeing,” Marty said.

While vaccination is important, Marty said using a method of layering protection is best.

“Yes it is the absolute best single way of protecting ourselves, but every form of protection has holes. And so, as you layer your protection in different settings, you’re going to decrease your overall risk,” she said.

In an appearance on WLRN's Sundial this week, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava recommended people continue to wear masks.

Superintendent Donald Fennoy's Tenure

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy gave his 90-day notice to the school board this week. His resignation will become official in October.

The announcement was a surprise to Frank Barbieri, the school board’s chairman.

“I received a call from Dr. Fennoy very early yesterday morning. As I have told the media, his decision was unexpected. I think everyone needs to recognize the huge challenges faced by a superintendent of a very large school district,” Barbieri said.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous year for the district’s first Black superintendent. He clashed with school board members over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At a school board meeting this week, Fennoy gave a simple reason for his departure.

“I look forward to continuing to serve our community in other ways while also spending more quality time with my family,” he said.

School board members will now begin their search for a new superintendent. It will be their fifth superintendent search to fill the position in 10 years.

WLRN education reporter Jessica Bakeman said Fennoy’s contract requires him to stay through October.

“I think the school board could decide to allow him to leave sooner but they have not said at this point that they intend to do that,” she said.

A Historic Week In Cuba And South Florida

Thousands of people in Cuba took to the streets this week to protest the Communist Party that has been in power for more than six decades.

As videos of the protests spread like wildfire online, people in South Florida — and across the state — mobilized in solidarity with the Cuban people.

The Cuban government cut off the internet in the country, prompting lawmakers like Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez, who represents Florida’s 26th congressional district, to urge the Biden administration to provide internet for the island nation.

“Find the technologies, fund the technologies, put them to work in Cuba so that the people of Cuba, my home country where I was born, can finally say free at last, we are free at last,” he said.

The government shut off internet access to the island late Sunday night. Communication via social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp remains blocked.

"It's important for people to realize that all the internet comes through a Cuban state company, so they can turn on the communications or they can turn them off," said CNN international correspondent Patrick Oppman.

Kristin Moorehead is a 2021 WLRN summer intern and recent graduate of the University of Florida with a B.S. in Telecommunication.