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Your Thursday Update: Brightline Suspends South Florida Service, Jobless Claims Continue to Rise, Volusia County Beaches Reopen

Photo: Khachik Simonian
Photo: Khachik Simonian

Furloughs becoming layoffs at Trump resort in South Florida

The Associated Press

DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Some furloughs at a Trump golf resort in South Florida are becoming permanent layoffs.

A notice that the Trump National Doral Miami filed with the State of Florida last week says it is permanently laying off 250 of the 560 employees who were furloughed in March.

The positions include cooks, housekeepers, servers, engineers, golf concierges and service attendants. None of them are union jobs.

Back in March, the Miami-area resort along with other nonessential businesses in Florida closed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. The resort's manager says that while some parts of the resort have reopened, other parts will remain closed.

Brightline suspends South Florida train service for months

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Officials at Virgin Trains USA say they're suspending operations between Miami and West Palm Beach “for the coming months" because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In posts on social media the high speed train company cited social distancing, the work from home mandates and other considerations as reasons it will take longer for service demands to reach pre-virus levels.

The company says construction will continue on a planned West Palm Beach to Orlando route. Work is also moving forward on adding two stations in Miami-Dade County and one in Boca Raton.

Numbers show jobless claims continue to pour in

Tom Urban, WLRN
More than 223,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed last week in Florida, a slight uptick from the previous week, as the state widened its economic reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday an estimated 223,927 initial claims were submitted in Florida during the week that ended May 16. Florida’s estimate was up slightly from the previous week. The numbers come as Florida has tried to bolster its troubled CONNECT online unemployment system and as Governor Ron DeSantis has moved forward with the first phase of an economic-reopening plan. “This is a difficult time. I think we're transitioning, hopefully, into a time where the economy can start to do a little bit better and hopefully much better in the not too distant future," DeSantis said. The DeSantis administration has continued to face criticism about the processing and approval of claims. The governor has ordered an investigation into the 77.9 million-dollar CONNECT system, which went live in 2013 but was quickly overwhelmed when jobless claims started skyrocketing in mid-March. Democrats, including State Senator Gary Farmer say the investigation should include the current administration’s handling of the system. “These are proud Floridians. This is not a narrative of people looking to game the system to get by. These are people in need, and they are counting on their government. We are supposed to be better than this," Farmer said. The state Department of Economic Opportunity will release April unemployment figures on Friday. The national unemployment mark hit 14.7 percent in April.

Volusia County has reopened it’s beach access ramps for visitors to park ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Beachgoers can once again park on Volusia County beaches, but now they’ll have to park at a blue post or conservation post which are placed 25 feet apart. The county is also asking people to limit groups to six people or less and maintain a distance of 10 feet between groups. 

Car ramps are open from 8 am to 7 pm.

Volusia County anticipates a busy Memorial Day weekend, so they’ve listed access ramps in less populated areas on their website.

For the full list of ramps, visit volusia.org/beach driving. Earlier this month, Brevard County reopened some beach parking lots and parks. 

COVID-19 testing in communities of color is often insufficient in part because it’s done in the form of “pop-up sites” that are only open for a limited number of days

Nicole Darden Creston, WMFE

That’s the message shared by community advocate Lawanna Gelzer during last night’s “COVID-19 & Community of Color” virtual town hall meeting.

Gelzer hosts the weekly meetings to help provide underserved communities with accurate statistics, resources and data.

She says the data helped convince local leaders that a testing site was needed in the Parramore area. 

She says many residents couldn’t access the first testing site at the Orange County Convention Center.     

“We justified it with data and information. And we could prove that drive-up testing was great for certain communities, but some people could not even get to the convention center on a bus because it would take them two and a half hours to get there," Gelzer said.

West Orlando spent the first month of the pandemic without a testing site, before the opening of a site at Camping World Stadium.

Survey shows effect of virus on food scarcity, rent payments

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — More than 10% of households in a survey last week said they couldn’t get enough of the food they needed.

The Household Pulse Survey released Wednesday also showed that almost a quarter of respondents said they had trouble paying their rent or mortgage.

The survey was released by the U.S. Census Bureau and five other federal agencies.

It shows that 40% of respondents said last week they had delayed seeking medical care as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and almost 100% of respondents with kids in school had their education disrupted by school closures, transitions to online learning or having parents teach at home.

'Orlando is suffering,' tourism officials tell Pence

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tourism leaders in Florida told Vice President Mike Pence that the state's largest industry is taking new safety measures as businesses battered by coronavirus-related lockdowns start reopening.

Theme park executives, restaurant owners and hoteliers told the vice president at a roundtable discussion that the damage caused by shutdowns from the virus was unprecedented in an industry that survived the 9/11 attacks and the recession a dozen years ago.

Pence’s visit coincided Wednesday with the limited reopening of an entertainment complex at Walt Disney World, the area’s biggest tourist destination. Walt Disney World and crosstown rivals Universal Orlando and SeaWorld have been closed since mid-March.

As states locked down in March, motor vehicle fatality rate spiked by 14%

Hannah Hagemann, NPR In March, as states around the country began implementing stay-at-home orders and commuters got off the road, traffic dropped, but a new  National Safety Council report finds that the number of motor vehicle fatalities per miles driven increased by 14% compared to the March 2019 rate. The total number of motor-vehicle-related deaths dropped by 8% in March of this year compared to March 2019, but the number of miles driven dropped by over 18%, due to myriad COVID-19 related impacts. The National Safety Council analysis counts a fatality as anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident; drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists. When the Council compared the number of fatalities to the number of miles driven in March 2020 to March 2019, that's where analysts saw the 14% spike. "What really strikes me is the incredible speed of the changes we're seeing on a roadway," Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council told NPR. "Looking at other recessions what you usually see is a decrease in the number of deaths, or the injuries and fatality rate holding steady or decreasing slightly." The Council also found that for every 100 million miles driven in March there were 1.22 deaths on the road, compared to 1.07 in March 2019. "When we see the combination of both a dramatic decrease in number of total deaths coupled with a dramatic increase in the fatality rate on our roads that was very surprising," Kolosh said. In particular during the first three months of 2020, states such as Connecticut, Louisiana, New York and California saw significant jumps in roadway fatality rates. The new nationwide data comes as some regional officials have reported that during the pandemic  people have been driving more recklessly and there have been local upticks in car crashes. The number of pedestrians and cyclists that have been killed by motor vehicles has gone up in recent years. In 2018, the number of both  pedestrianand cyclist deaths shattered decades-long records.

Survey says: Two-thirds of Floridians have lost wages or had job disrupted

Steve Newborn, WUSF
A new survey shows one out of four people in the state have had their work hours cut because of the pandemic. Nearly 18 percent have been laid off from work.

The survey of six hundred people was done by Nielsen and the University of South Florida. USF assistant professor Joshua Scacco says six out of 10 are concerned about the effect the economic shutdown is having on their finances. "We're talking about widespread economic concern, anxiety and disruption from this. You're seeing across the board, from individuals who are still employed to individuals who are now unemployed, economic disruption because of the novel coronavirus," Scacco said. Scacco says the racial divide is vividly illustrated in the survey. African-Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to have their hours cut and have filed for unemployment; and Hispanics have more than twice the average rate of being laid off and taking a financial hit.

Cities have never seen a downturn like this, and things will only get worse

Jim Zarroli, NPR The coronavirus has taken a hatchet to municipal budgets everywhere, forcing cities and towns to lay off librarians, parks workers and even first responders like police and firefighters. From big cities like Detroit to small towns like Ogdensburg, N.Y., workers are being furloughed, programs are being cut and major capital projects are being shelved. Houston, which has been hard hit by the  drop in oil prices, is grappling with a sharp drop-off in sales tax and fee revenue that has left the city with a deficit of almost $170 million. "This virus has had a much deeper adverse impact on the city of Houston than Harvey did, when more rain fell on this city than any other city in the history of the country," says Mayor Sylvester Turner. Turner recently proposed a budget that would temporarily furlough all city employees except for police, firefighters and solid waste department employees and delay incoming police cadet classes. Nationwide, almost a million government workers were laid off in April alone, according to the Labor Department, and the numbers are almost certain to climb, as sales and income tax revenue dwindles. "We will see an intense drop-off in sales tax and especially in your income tax collection between now and November, December and certainly we're looking two years out," says Emily Swenson Brock, director of the Federal Liaison Center at the Government Finance Officers Association. While many cities have tried to spare first responders from job cuts, the International Association of Fire Chiefs says nearly 1,000 firefighters have been laid off and  projects that 30,000 positions could eventually be affected. The downturn for cities has been as sudden as it is severe:

  • In Detroit, casinos have been forced to close, depriving the city of a major source of revenue and leaving it with a $350 million deficit. Most city workers are having to take pay cuts and the city has had to tap into a $100 million program to tear down abandoned buildings.
  • Las Vegas has asked city workers to accept pay cuts and has told its unions it may lay off as many as 200 employees. "We are in the midst of the most serious fiscal crisis I think the city of Las Vegas has ever faced," City Manager Scott Adam said recently.
  • Los Angeles faces a deficit of nearly $600 million next year. Mayor Eric Garcetti has moved to cut many employee salaries by 10% and says many departments "will have to operate at sharply reduced strength."

Big cities like these have been able to tap into an unprecedented amount of federal aid, including a $500 billion short-term lending facility created by the Federal Reserve, and $150 billion in money from Congress, under the CARES Act. Smaller cities aren't eligible for the programs, unless their states choose to pass on some of the money to them, Brock says. With restaurants and stores closed, Newport News, Va., has seen a sharp drop-off in sales tax revenue and has had to cancel big capital projects like the construction of a downtown parking garage. "You know we can't jeopardize our safety services like a fire and police, so we have to make sure those things are in the forefront before we look at projects on the wish list," says Mayor McKinley Price. Projects like these are meant to help lure businesses into the city, and canceling them could hurt the city's economy long-term, he says. "So it's kind of a domino effect when you start seeing things like that decrease," Price says.

Miami researcher looks into COVID-19 impact on older people living with HIV

Alexander Gonzalez, WLRN
A South Florida researcher is looking into the impact of COVID-19 on older people living with HIV.

Among the preliminary findings — the pandemic increased stress levels for older people living with HIV. Angel Algarin is the lead author of the article and a public health doctoral student at Florida International University. "You know, feeling vulnerable because of their financial situation or just feeling vulnerable because they know that they’re immunocompromised," Algarin said. The CDC says people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk from COVID-19. "Being immunocompromised means that your immune system might not be equipped to take on other types of infections," Algarin said. The agency reports that people with HIV might be at higher risk for severe illness but it’s not conclusive.

UF/IFAS study: Most agricultural businesses surveyed stayed open through COVID-19 disruption

Ryan Dailey, WFSU
Economists with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have completed their first round of collecting surveys from businesses around the state. The team collected surveys from businesses in the agriculture and aquaculture industries from mid-April to May 15.

Researcher John Lai focused on the agricultural industry. Of 729 responses from agricultural businesses, about half were small businesses. The majority reported that they were open, and operating in some capacity. "Sixteen percent report that the coronavirus situation hadn’t begun to impact their agricultural operation yet. But, for those whose operations have felt impacts, 20 percent of respondents reported impacts over the course of about one to one and half months. And another 11 percent felt impacts for a little bit longer – two to two and a half months, so far," Lai said. Of the agricultural businesses that reported being closed, Lai explained 93 percent say they expect to reopen at some point in the future. "Some of the top reasons for shutting down are also shown here. 29 percent reported shutting down due to local or municipal mandates. And 27 percent reported they shut down because their operation was unable to find customers or sell products," Lai said. Florida farmers collectively grow more than 200 agricultural commodities. The UF/IFAS study found average sales revenue loss across all commodity groups ranged from 18 to 46 percent. The university’s team of researchers say more surveys will be conducted going forward.

Seniors in Palm Beach County experience a 43 percent increase in homelessness

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN
Palm Beach County released its annual count on homelessness on Wednesday. More than 190 volunteers from non-profit organizations helped with the field outreach. The county is making efforts to prevent and house the unsheltered. The county’s Homeless and Housing Alliance and several non-profits say they counted 1,510 homeless people during the annual Point-In-Time Count. Seniors are experiencing a 43 percent increase in homelessness, but the situation improved for military veterans and people between the ages of 18 to 24. The county has now partnered with several organizations to create prevention and sheltering strategies for the senior homeless population.

Apalachicola National Forest opening motorcycle trail and recreation area Thursday

Blaise Gainey, WFSU
The US Forest Service is reopening the Springhill Motorcycle Trail and Trout Pond Recreation Area in the Apalachicola National Forest. The spaces will be open to visitors starting Thursday morning—just in time for the long weekend.

Forest Supervisor Kelly Russel of the National Forests in Florida says she hopes the opening will bring families together for Memorial Day weekend. But officials are reminding visitors to keep best practices in mind to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. That includes avoiding congregating in groups of ten or more. Park rangers also strongly recommend following local and state guidelines for social distancing.

CDC publishing data that expert says mixes 'apples to oranges'

Daniel Rivero, WLRN
A nationwide analysis of COVID-19 data released this week shows broad discrepancies between what some states are reporting to the public, and what they are sharing with the CDC. Florida had one of the biggest differences. That’s because the CDC is doing strange things with the data.

The dashboard released by the CDC listed more than 200,000 more COVID-19 tests that had been conducted in Florida - than the state was reporting. We asked the CDC about it, and what they told us shocked some experts. The federal government is including antibody tests in their totals - even though those tests don’t check for current infections. "The two tests measure two different things." Mary Jo Trepka is a professor of epidemiology at Florida International University. "It gives you an idea of how many people have ever had any kind of a test, but it doesn’t tell you the number of people who have actually been tested for an acute infection. So I think it’s more informative to look at the numbers of those tests separately," Trepka said. Mixing the two kind of tests together could make it seem like the US has done more testing than it really has. That can make the positive test rates look artificially low, and Trepka said it generally makes the data hard to interpret. The CDC also told WLRN that it is taking an in-depth look to understand differences between state and federal data, across the country.

A double-barreled approach to antibody testing could improve accuracy

Richard Harris, NPR Last month the White House issued guidelines suggesting a way to reduce the number of false positive results in antibody tests: Run two tests. But that strategy has not yet been validated for coronavirus testing. And the details matter. Antibody tests identify people who have been previously exposed to the coronavirus. But false positives are  a big concern. A test that has a 99% specificity is still wrong 1% of the time. And if it's being used to test a population where 1% of people are infected, half the time a positive result will be a false positive. This phenomenon may help explain why researchers from Stanford University reported a high rate of coronavirus infection in California's Santa Clara County – vastly more than would be expected based on known diagnoses. That problem concerned entrepreneur Michael Wohl, as he set about starting a business to provide quick and reliable testing for coronavirus. "I started doing the math of what can be done and figured out that we could do a second test," says Wohl,  who directs a program at the University of Rochester's business school to teach entrepreneurship. The two-test system would cost more. Wohl says he's seen antibody tests priced from $30 to $100 or more. But theoretically at least, the approach could dramatically improve the outcome — provided, that is, that the second test is distinctly different from the first one, so it's not making the same error. "When I came up with this idea, I put together a PowerPoint and sent it to the governor's office in New York and the health department. And it propagated between various government agencies," he says. He got a lot of positive feedback and was excited to  see the concept embraced by the White House at the end of April. But the White House testing guidelines have an important omission. The guidelines just say test twice, but they don't say to use two different tests. "One can infer, actually if you look at the guidelines that it's the same test given twice. But it's critical that the two tests are uncorrelated," Wohl says. When a person is infected, the immune system produces multiple antibodies, targeted to attach to various features on the coronavirus. Wohl says this double-testing method should look for two different antibodies, targeting two different regions of the virus. And there's another shortcoming of the White House guidelines. Nobody seems to have conducted real-world tests to see if the concept actually works for the coronavirus. So Wohl looked up a cousin at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and asked him to see about gathering evidence for this idea. The cousin, physician-researcher David Wohl, in turn got his colleague  John Schmitz, interested in the question. "This is really modeling off what we do for a variety of other tests in our lab, like HIV testing," says Schmitz, who is a pathology professor and lab director at UNC. A positive antibody test for HIV is routinely confirmed with a different kind of test, because a false diagnosis can have huge consequences. So, while the concept is sound, Schmitz wants to see evidence. He's starting to run his own tests. One hypothetical worry is that some common factor could cause two tests to both provide false results. "In most cases, we don't know what causes a false positive, to be honest with you," Schmitz says. Sometimes people with autoimmune disease produce antibodies that trigger false positives in tests like this. Some antibodies that target similar viruses can also create a false signal. And laboratory processes can also contribute. "Given the pervasive talk in the field — in the lay field even — you hear about false positives, false positive, I thought we ought to look at this to get around that problem as best we can," he says. He figures it will take a couple of months to get results from his study of the issue. That thought has also occurred to a group at the University of California, San Francisco and UC Berkeley. They  have been running careful comparisons of some of the many antibody tests to measure the performance of those that are already out on the market.  Dr. Alex Marson at UCSF says they may be able to take the data they've already gathered and reanalyze it quickly, to see if different tests produce a different pattern of false positives, as would be needed for the two-test strategy. He's also thinking about broader questions, such as when it would make sense to spend the money on two tests, as opposed to running a single slower but highly accurate test in a lab. Part of the appeal of the two-test strategy is it can use handy tests that are like an early-pregnancy test. These are called  lateral-flow tests and require just a drop of blood and can provide results in minutes. Another approach would be to use a much more sophisticated test called an  ELISA test to look for antibodies. (ELISA stands for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). These tests need to be run in a sophisticated lab, but some are highly precise. Marson says, depending on the circumstances, it might make sense to run one of these highly accurate tests rather than running two with lower performance – or perhaps using the disposable test to screen a population and then follow up with the ELISA. But getting accurate test results only solves one of two major questions around antibody testing. The other is knowing what a positive result really means. "If you know there are antibodies in your blood, are you safe from future infections?" Marson asks. "That we do not know the answer to." Antibodies do signal that someone has been infected with the coronavirus. But it's not clear yet whether that exposure means people are in fact immune, and if so for how long. Evidence is starting to accumulate that there is at least passing immunity, but scientists would like stronger evidence before they deem these tests trustworthy. Even if antibodies don't indicate immunity, because they are markers of exposure, they are still useful for studying the spread of coronavirus throughout the population. But the results would not provide actionable information to individuals.

Two independent contractors struggle to get through Florida’s unemployment system

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU
Governor Ron DeSantis is deflecting criticism for the state’s unemployment system by blaming those who apply for reemployment assistance. He says it’s up to applicants to fill out their form correctly and says most claims brought to him by the media are from ineligible applicants. But for some people who are ineligible, they still have to go through Florida’s system to get federal aid. For two independent contractors, that’s been difficult.

Gina Gaudreau worked at a nail salon before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The salon closed due to the governor’s stay-at-home order and Gaudreau wasn’t able to work. Because she’s an independent contractor, Gaudreau isn’t eligible for state unemployment benefits, but she still had to apply through that system to get federal assistance. “I would log in, it would kick me out and this would happen probably about 15 times a day until it finally went through and I would just keep trying and trying," Gaudreau said. Gaudreau says she then had to wait about 5 weeks before getting her claim denied—which is what she expected—again, that rejection allowed her to apply for the federal benefits. She says it took her 3 days to finish the federal application because the website kept timing out and when she finally got a letter in the mail, it said she was ineligible. “It was a little upsetting since I spent eight weeks on—trying to get through to that website and trying to get something. They said I was ineligible because they said I didn’t make enough money to get those benefits," Gaudreau said. It’s a challenge Sarah Mueller is going through as well. She worked for a Delaware Public Radio station before getting laid off. She applied for unemployment in November before getting hired as a reporter for a Florida political blog. Then COVID-19 hit and she was laid off again—this time in early April. But because she filed for unemployment in Delaware in November, the state withdrew her Florida claim. “So basically I don’t have any recourse. They just withdrew it. And so I’ve had to go back now and I called Delaware unemployment and you know, it seems just as bad as it is here, so I spent an hour on the phone with the department of uninsurance—or you know, in Delaware and I was like, can I reopen my claim in Delaware? And they were like, 'well, you know, the only way you can reopen your claim is to submit a new claim'," Mueller said. She did that and is now waiting for a letter to come in the mail so she can apply for federal unemployment through Delaware’s system. “I just feel like government right now is just really failing people and I just don’t think it’s right," Mueller said. Gaudreau, the nail salon worker, says she’s been able to get back to work, but at reduced hours.

League of Women Voters want DeSantis to answer election supervisors request

Blaise Gainey, WFSU
The League of Women Voters of Florida, is pressing Governor Ron DeSantis to give local elections officials more leeway. The Florida Supervisors of Elections Association sent a letter in April asking for changes. The administration has not responded. League President Patricia Brigham led a conference call Wednesday morning to urge DeSantis to act.

“On May 13 a second letter was sent by the Supervisors of Election Association reminding the governor of these requests, while additionally pointing out that Florida was behind other states in securing CARES Act money for the elections," Brigham said. Florida’s secretary of state is asking for 20 million dollars from the federal government to spend on election safety in relation to COVID-19. The supervisors are asking the state for flexibility on voting sites, expanding early voting days and an extension on vote-by-mail deadlines. This comes in the run-up to the August primaries and November presidential election.

Keys officials worry about lobster mini season but say this year they really need it

Nancy Klingener, WLRN
The Florida Keys are preparing to reopen for tourists on June 1. Some there are already worried about the impacts of the two-day mini season for lobster in late July.

Every year, some locals in the Keys are horrified by the two day recreational lobster mini season. "Frankly, it's the Calgary stampede of the Keys." Stuart Shaffer is with the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association. He asked the Monroe County Commission to send a letter to the state, asking them to cancel the mini season this year. "This is a special year we've got COVID-19 all around us. What we see every year during mini season are too many people on each vessel," Shaffer said. But the mini season was put in place to reduce conflicts between commercial and recreational fishers when the season opened for everyone at the same time. "I really don't like mini season but I don't think this is the year that we want to put a stop to it," Murphy said. County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy says the Keys need tourists and it's a chance to remind people that there's more to do on the islands than drink and carouse. "This year I think it might be a blessing," Murphy said. The mini season is set for July 29 and 30. The regular season starts, as always, on August 6.

Expect to wait on calls about jobless claims

Tom Urban, WLRN
Floridians who call the state for help with unemployment claims should expect wait times to surpass an hour. The average hold time for specific claim information reached 99 minutes on Monday, according to Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter. He was put in charge of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s troubled CONNECT online unemployment system in April. As part of changes to improve the system amid massive job losses because of the coronavirus, the state has scrambled to bring in more computer servers, set up a backup system for people to apply and allowed people to submit claims on paper applications. Satter says the hour and a half wait time needs to improve. “It’s really long, and that is the reason why we have scaled up from about 40 people answering the phone to 6,000. We have hundreds of people that are in different stages of training, so we can get those wait times down," Satter said. The agency got one million phone calls on Monday and has received 15 million calls over the past two months. So far, the state has paid out 2.6 billion dollars in benefits to nearly one million Floridians. Since mid-March, DEO had received more than 2 million applications for unemployment, of which about 1.49 million were considered “unique.” Another 370,000 have been deemed ineligible.

Tampa Bay Comic Con moves forward with July dates, METROCON cancels

Daylina Miller, WFSU
A comic convention that attracts thousands of people to downtown Tampa each summer is moving forward with its July event. It's getting mixed reactions from fans. Organizers of Tampa Bay Comic Con announced on Facebook they plan to hold their annual convention at the Tampa Convention Center from July 10 through 12. Safety precautions will include temperature screenings, hand sanitation stations, one-way walkways, occupancy restrictions, and increased cleaning and disinfection procedures. On the convention’s Facebook announcement, comments ranged from excitement that the con is still happening, to dismay and accusations that organizers were disregarding public health. Meanwhile, METROCON, the state’s largest anime convention, has canceled a July 23 to 26 convention in the same location. Organizers say it's irresponsible for them to hold the event - and that the quality of the convention would be diminished with restrictions.

Banners honor graduates along Florida Keys Overseas Highway

The Associated Press ISLAMORADA, Fla. (AP) — Banners featuring scores of yearbook photos are hanging next to the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. They will honor graduating seniors who're missing out on traditional ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic. Several residents in Islamorada knew COVID-19 would affect celebrations for the 177 graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School in the Upper Keys. Local businessman Mike Forster helped finance the project to transform yearbook portraits into banners. Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews hung them from powerline poles. Each banner has four senior pictures. Senior Bridget Dougherty says it’s reassuring that people are aware of what the senior class is going through.

Ex-NFL star Chad Johnson leaves $1,000 tip at Florida eatery

The Associated Press

COOPER CITY, Fla. (AP) — Former NFL star Chad Johnson left a $1,000 tip for his waiter after dining at a restaurant in Florida that recently reopened amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Johnson posted a photo on Twitter Monday that shows his $37 tab and his note congratulating the restaurant for reopening. Havana’s Cuban Cuisine also shared a photo of Johnson’s receipt on Facebook and thanked the former NFL wide receiver for his generosity.

Restaurants in Broward County were allowed to reopen dine-in service Monday with 25% limited indoor capacity. Restaurants with outdoor seating would have to keep tables 6 feet apart.

Like what you just read? Check out our other  coronavirus coverage.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.