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Universities Require Vaccines, Schools And Masks, Workers Sue State To Get Unemployment Benefits Back

Students wearing masks cross in front of a school bus at Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 in this Oct. 5, 2020 photo.
Miami Herald
Students wearing masks cross in front of a school bus at Carrie P. Meek/Westview K-8 in this Oct. 5, 2020 photo.

Private universities begin to require COVID-19 vaccines. Public school districts are struggling with best practices to protect students and staff as coronavirus cases are on the rise. And Florida ended federal benefits months before they expired — now there’s a lawsuit.

On this, Monday, Aug. 2, episode of Sundial.

Universities Require Vaccination

Nova Southeastern University and the University of Miami — both private universities — are requiring that faculty and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine as they get ready to begin the fall semester.

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NSU has made it particularly clear — get your shots by Sep. 20 or risk losing your job.

Students will not be required but are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated as well. UM has similar policies in place for students.

“Our intent is to work with every employee to, if possible, seek accommodation for them depending on their individual circumstances, whether it's health-related, religious-related, to work with them so that if there is the opportunity to work remotely, they can do so,” said Dr. Harry K. Moon, the executive vice resident and chief operating officer of NSU. He is also the former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic of Florida.

He believes a substantial number of faculty and staff will have been inoculated by the deadline.

The university does anticipate legal pushback but they are confident in choosing to require the vaccine.

“We are on strong ground and strong precedent in what we're providing. And what we're trying to do is provide for the greatest safety of our faculty, our staff, our students and our university community by taking this direction,” Moon said.

Universities Require Vaccine
To more fully understand vaccine-induced immunity, researchers are comparing antibody levels in people who received the Moderna vaccine but still got COVID-19 with levels in people who got the vaccine but didn't fall ill.

Mask Mandates For Schools

Schools are getting ready to open for in-person classes and masks may not be required.

Gov. Ron DeSantis made his position clear Friday after signing an executive order banning mask mandates.

“This way, parents are able to make the decision that's best for their families. And I think that that's the fairest way to do it. And I also think that that's really the most consistent with the data that we have seen over the last school year,” DeSantis said.

The governor’s order came just days after the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to mandate masks in the classroom, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

Florida is among the national hotspots for coronavirus cases, reaching record numbers for the pandemic this past Saturday.

WLRN education reporter Jessica Bakeman joined us on Sundial to discuss. Find more of her reporting here.

Schools And Masks
High school students wear masks inside a classroom.

Workers Sue State To Get Unemployment Benefits Back

A group of workers in Broward County is suing Gov. DeSantis for ending federal unemployment benefits early.

The federal government extended the $300 weekly payments until September. Florida cut off those benefits at the end of June — saying that the money would discourage residents from going back to work and hurt the economy.

“For 11 consecutive months, Florida’s unemployment rate, currently at 5.0 percent, has remained below the national rate, which is currently at 5.9 percent. For 14 consecutive months, Florida has continuously gained jobs ... there are more than 520,000 job postings currently available across Florida,” wrote Andrew G. Nixon, from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in an email to Sundial.

The workers represented by the lawsuit say they would rather work than collect unemployment benefits. But they have several hurdles, like homelessness and access to childcare that hold them back from finding a stable job.

“Losing my job, losing my business. I had to lay off my only three employees that I had. And then from my savings, I was surviving through [the pandemic] throughout the year,” said Ivan Varela, one of the displaced workers who joined the lawsuit.

Before the pandemic he had his own insurance agency and was in law school. He was eventually evicted a few months ago and is experiencing homelessness as he searches for a job to help him get back on his feet.

The lawsuit argues the state doesn’t have the authority to cut people off from benefits coming directly from the federal government.

“The statute says they shall cooperate with the federal government and they shall receive benefits that the federal government makes available to the unemployed and they shirk that obligation under the statute,” said Scott Behren, with the Behren Law Firm. He is one of the attorneys working on the lawsuit on behalf of workers.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in multiple states that also cut the benefits prematurely. Courts have ruled in favor of reinstating federal unemployment benefits to workers in Arkansas, Maryland and Indiana.

Workers Sue State To Get Unemployment Benefits Back
Envelopes from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Reemployment Assistance Program are shown, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. Through April 2021, Florida has regained about half the number of jobs lost in March and April of 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.