Reporting from across the state on two of the biggest issues facing Florida – the pandemic and the environment
Public media reporting on COVID-19, schools and vaccination efforts. Plus how the federal government sells homes in Florida flood zones.
Florida has been at the forefront of responding to COVID-19 by re-opening up the economy, including public schools and growing tension between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and some local governments.
Ronnie McBrayer predicted the long road of the virus and its ongoing impact in the early days of the pandemic.
"I anticipate that this disruption will be much longer than two weeks. And the impact will be far reaching in a way that exceeds anything anyone on this planet has ever witnessed," he said. This was part of his sermon on March 15, 2020 — a sermon he called “Love in the Age of COVID-19.”
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McBrayer does not work in public health. He’s not an economist or an epidemiologist. He is a pastor in Walton County in Florida’s panhandle.
"And even after the virus wanes and normalcy returns, the economic and communal fallout, the recovery is going to take a very long time," he warned his congregation then.
WUWF-FM Reporter Jennie McKeon caught up with the pastor this fall.
Making of a mask mess
For months, a debate has raged over masks in Florida schools — over who has the ultimate say and if parents can opt out of mask mandates. The argument has pitted some of the state’s largest school districts against the governor, and the state Board of Education went so far as to fine school boards that put mask mandates in place.
It’s a battle over control between the state and local school boards. And it all started back in the early months of the pandemic.
Spillover to School Board Meetings
As the infection rate has dropped and more children are eligible for a vaccine, school districts that had mask mandates have dropped them, allowing parents to opt out.
The rules for masks in schools spilled out in public school board meetings, with some people repeating disinformation about the science during public comment periods and some board members reporting being threatened.
When COVID-19 vaccines first received their emergency approval late last year, Florida was the first state to prioritize older residents. The vaccines have now received full authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. More than nine out of 10 Floridians 65 years old and older have received a full vaccine.
However, how the COVID-19 vaccine has been distributed in Florida has exposed inequities in Florida's health care system.
As the pandemic has dragged on, vaccination rates have been climbing, but numbers keep lagging in some groups of people. Younger people are vaccinated at lower rates than older people. And Black Floridians have been vaccinated at a lower rate than White Floridians.
A variety of techniques has been used to encourage Floridians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they can — public service announcements, free vaccine sites, and mobile vaccination efforts.
Selling Florida's flood risk
The Florida real estate market has been red hot this year, thanks to the pandemic and low interest rates. But the whole situation is putting pressure on finding affordable housing — a familiar challenge in some communities. That affordability is pushing up against environmental concerns.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is supposed to provide quality affordable housing and protect consumers. An NPR investigation this fall found that across the country, HUD sells a disproportionately high number of homes in vulnerable FLOOD zones — hundreds of those homes are in Florida.
Community and climate change
De'Andre Long’s family stretches back five generations in Tampa. He moved to Riverview more than a decade ago after noticing cooler temperatures there.