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MDC's New President, Vaccine Distribution And Elon Musk's Miami Tunnel Plan

The project recently passed a full systems test on the 500-meter Hyperloop One track in Nevada.
Elon Musk recently proposed a tunnel system for the city of Miami. His Hyperloop project recently passed a full systems test on the 500-meter Hyperloop One track in Nevada.

Madeline Pumariega explains her vision as Miami-Dade College's new president. Plus, hundreds of thousands of South Floridians have already received their COVID-19 vaccine doses, who's next on the list? And Elon Musk proposes building a system of tunnels under Miami.

On this Thursday, Jan. 21 episode of Sundial,

New Miami Dade College President

Madeline Pumariega was selected late last year as Miami-Dade College’s new president, becoming the first female president in its history. It’s a return home for the Hialeah native; she also attended MDC, played basketball and taught as a professor there.

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The college system is facing a number of challenges including a drop in enrollment that directly impacts their budget in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We're in a hiring freeze, so that's one of the cost saving measures that we've put in place. Another, in alignment with national experts, is travel. Our faculty and staff used to travel to conferences for professional development and that has all stopped. We've also looked at tightening our materials and instead supporting areas where we've been able to move those services virtually. So we are continuing to take cost cutting measures,” said Pumariega on Sundial.

She says in spite of these measures, MDC is still taking steps to ensure the college can continue its operations. These include prioritizing enrollment, lobbying the Tallahassee delegation to maintain funding and working with the federal government to obtain CARES funding to support students.

Miami Dade College is one of the largest college systems in the country, with thousands of employees and tens of thousands of students.

“I understand the seriousness of the moment and the need that the college is in to have a leader that understands the uniqueness and specialness of our community. I'm just thrilled to be back and work with the great, talented professionals at the college to usher in that next era of excellence and help the college navigate this time,” Pumariega said.

Vaccine Distribution

Although the COVID-19 vaccines have been rolling out in South Florida for over a month, rules on who is eligible for a vaccine and how they can get in line can be confusing.

“Aside from healthcare workers, you have staff members and residents of long term care facilities who can get vaccinated. Also, seniors 65 years and older. Then in a very few number of hospitals in our region, you can be younger than sixty five and get vaccinated if you have an underlying condition,” said Verónica Zaragovia, WLRN’s healthcare reporter.

The two vaccines currently available are from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. It is expected that Johnson & Johnson will be submitting a vaccine to the FDA for review, although there are no specifics as to when it will be available to the public.

At Jackson Health System, roughly 40% of their staff who got vaccinated, while Memorial Health in Broward told Zaragovia about 33% received the vaccine.

“Some people feel like they don't want to be guinea pigs, they want to wait and see what happens, because a lot of people still haven't gotten their second dose. Some people have underlying health conditions and they're nervous. But, the vaccines have been tested on mice and monkeys and on more than 70,000 humans.They have been tested and they have gone through the typical clinical trials. But it was fast. And that’s what causes people’s concern," Zaragovia said.

Tunnels in Miami

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, tweeted out last week his interest in developing a tunnel system under Miami to alleviate the city’s long standing traffic issues. He has since spoken with Gov. Ron DeSantis by phone and has been tweeting with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Mayor Francis Suarez — who also responded on Twitter.

Musk has proposed tunnel systems as alternative forms of transit in different metropolitan areas across the country. However, experts have raised concerns about Miami-Dade’s porous limestone foundation and the dangers posed by flooding and sea level rise.

We spoke with Jean-Pierre Bardet, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Miami, to find out whether the proposal could be feasible here.

“There are many, many tunnels going underwater. You just have to keep the opening of the tunnels safe from flooding. Usually the tunnel itself is safe, the lining of the tunnel is impermeable. So, you don't have to worry about it. I think it's even manageable to have tunnels here in this zone which we think is threatened by sea level rise,” Bardet said.

Bardet explained the PortMiami tunnel is an interesting recent example of a construction project underground that was built to resist water intrusion. But the price tag for the Port, $668 million, is another consideration for any future tunnel projects. Bardet argued Miami does need to expand its transit options and a tunnel system could be one alternative.

“Tunnels are used extensively in major cities. They allow public transportation to flourish. Imagine Miami, with a transportation system like London or Paris. I mean, people could actually go to the beach in 10 minutes or less. Miami could benefit greatly from tunneling and underground transportation,” Bardet said.

Suria is Sundial's fall 2020 high school intern and a production assistant.
Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.