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Your Saturday Update: Florida Traffic Accidents Cut in Half, NBA Season Will be in Orlando, Hero Pay Ends for Workers

SpaceX's LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center launches the company's Falcon Heavy rocket. Photo: SpaceX
SpaceX's LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center launches the company's Falcon Heavy rocket. Photo: SpaceX

Quarantine cuts number of Florida traffic crashes in half

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Highway officials say the number of traffic crashes in Florida dropped by 50% in April compared to the same time last year.

With residents holed up at home during quarantine and working remotely, rush hour traffic has dipped considerably. Bars and restaurants have been shuttered, meaning fewer drunk drivers on the roads.

According to data from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Florida drivers were involved in 16,191 crashes last month compared to 33,692 in April 2019.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the dip started in March as the pandemic spread. Florida’s crash data showed a 25 percent decrease in March compared to last year.

SpaceX presses ahead in historic 1st launch of astronauts

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Despite more storms in the forecast, SpaceX is pressing ahead in its historic attempt to launch astronauts for NASA, a first by a private company.

Forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at 50-50 for Saturday afternoon's planned liftoff, the first launch of NASA astronauts from the U.S. in nearly a decade.

SpaceX and NASA are monitoring the weather not just at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, but all the way up the East Coast and across the North Atlantic.

The wind and waves need to be within limits in case the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule — carrying Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — needs to make an emergency splashdown. They're headed to the International Space Station.

As more Americans prepare to vote by mail, postal service faces big challenges

Brian Naylor, NPR

Eight states and the District of Columbia are holding primary elections next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, and voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail in record numbers.

It is likely to be a preview of what's to come in the fall, and some worry whether the U.S. Postal Service is up to the challenge.

A lot of people like the Postal Service; according to a recent Pew poll, 91% of Americans had a positive view, higher than any other branch of government. But it's an agency with some big problems.

To start, President Trump has called it a joke, demanded it raise its rates and and made unfounded claims that mailed ballots will be "substantially fraudulent" and that mail boxes will be robbed.

That's a false assertion, says Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser to the Democracy Fund. She tells NPR that voters need options like voting by mail during this pandemic.

"For many, many people this year, it's going to be: get their ballot delivered to them by the United States Postal Service. Now, calling that into question, saying that people will be taking mail out of mailboxes — that's just not going to happen."

Read the full article here.

Take 2 for SpaceX rocket launch, officials recommend fans watch at home during pandemic

The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX is taking a second shot at launching astronauts, but rain and storm clouds are threatening more delays.

Elon Musk's company came within minutes Wednesday of launching NASA astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the U.S., before lightning interfered.

Managers considered bumping the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of a slightly better forecast at Kennedy Space Center. But NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that no decision was made Friday.

Bridenstine says the safety of astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken is the top priority, no matter how many times it takes to launch them to the International Space Station.

As 'hero' pay ends, essential workers wonder what they are worth

Alina Selyukh, NPR

Hero pay. Thank You pay. Service pay. Hazard pay.

These were the many names for temporary pay bumps that some stores, warehouses and factories gave to workers who risked their health to continue to show up on the job during the pandemic.

It's hard to say that an extra $3 an hour made a dramatic difference in Sammy Сonde's budget. Maybe a few more groceries — soup is a dinner favorite — or an occasional treat of a takeout meal after a particularly tiring workday.

Conde is a Starbucks barista in Orlando, an essential worker keeping locals caffeinated via drive-through windows and curbside pickup. Like many corporations that asked employees to work in a health crisis, Starbucks added new safety measures and perks — like new health and leave options, and a big one: a temporary pay bump of $3 an hour.

That bumped Conde's hourly wage to $13. But the raise goes away this weekend.

"It feels like Starbucks could've been paying me this the whole time, and they're just choosing to do it now to help me feel better, but it's not really paying what I need," says Conde, who's part of a worker advocacy group Fight for $15, which argues, alongside other labor activists, that temporary pandemic raises should be permanent.

Read the full article here.

AP sources: No consensus yet on NBA return-to-play plan

The Associated Press

The NBA Board of Governors met again without a consensus opinion emerging on how many teams should be back on the floor for the planned late-July resumption of the pandemic-interrupted season.

Three people familiar with details of Friday's call spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no details were publicly released.

The people say Commissioner Adam Silver is still collecting information on multiple options ranging from 16 to all 30 teams returning to action when the season begins again near Orlando, Florida.

Trump tweets federal funding coming to bus project linking St. Pete to beaches during pandemic

Stephanie Colombini, WUSF
A planned bus corridor linking downtown St. Petersburg with St. Pete Beach is getting nearly 22 million dollars in federal funding. President Trump announced the move in a tweet Thursday night.

Learning about the funding by "presidential tweet" was surprising for Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. But he says that didn't make the news any less exciting. Miller says the money from the federal government was the missing link in the 44 million dollar bus rapid transit project and now he's confident plans can move forward. "It really will be a catalyst for our tourism economy, our workers who work at the beach or in downtown St. Petersburg will use it," Miller said. PSTA has had to adjust some plans to address complaints from the beach community. It reduced the size of buses that will be used and moved the end of the route on Gulf Boulevard further north than initially planned. Some construction has already begun, and Miller says it should really start picking up this summer. Once complete, the 10 mile route will be the first dedicated bus corridor in the Tampa Bay region.

Gov. Desantis Announces New Testing Sites At Home Depot, Publix

Wilkine Brutus, WLRN
Gov. Ron Desantis has announced new COVID-19 micro-testing sites. There will be three sites each in the parking lots of some Home Depot and Publix stores. Speaking at a press conference Friday, Desantis says he wants to make COVID-19 testing more convenient.

One of the testing sites was opened yesterday at a Home Depot in West Boca Raton. Director of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz said the sites are aimed at shoppers who show no symptoms of the coronavirus. "These sites are not meant for people who feel sick. If you feel sick, you have symptoms. We're not asking you to come drive here. We want you to go to the testing site we've set up," Moskowitz said. Florida’s "tax holiday" on hurricane supplies like generators and batteries started Friday and ends June 4th. Home Depot and Publix will release the locations of the other COVID-19 testing sites at a later date.

The time machine: How nostalgia prepares us for the future

Hidden Brain, NPR Over the past few weeks, our TVs have become a time machine. They've transported us to our past, to scenes of crowded subway cars and chaotic playgrounds. Where faces are unmasked and people sit shoulder-to-shoulder. I've found myself marveling at movies where carefree characters hang out at sporting venues and music clubs. It makes me remember a time when I didn't have to think twice about hugging a friend, or stopping by a café with a colleague. It's hard to imagine being quite so carefree again, even as many communities in the U.S. and across the globe make tentative steps to reopen. The ache we feel for a world before COVID-19 may seem unproductive. What's the value in looking back at lost freedoms and comforts? Why focus on things we cannot change? Of course, this is how the mind works. As World War II was coming to a close,  researchers in Minnesota put volunteers on a starvation diet as part of a research experiment on how to help starving people in war-torn areas. As the volunteers got hungrier and hungrier, their minds became consumed by food.

Coronavirus FAQs: Is it safer to fly or drive? Is air conditioning a threat?

Laurel Wamsley, NPR  I need to take a trip that would be either a few hours flying or multiple days driving. Which is safer? As lockdown orders are relaxed to some capacity in countries around the world, travel is starting to see an uptick for the first time since mid-March. But when it comes to taking a longer trip, is it better to travel by car or by plane? Dr. Henry Wu, a professor of infectious disease medicine at Emory University and director of its  TravelWell Center, says there is no definite answer — but it all comes down to planning ahead. Regardless of whether you fly or drive, Wu says that the first thing to keep in mind is that until a vaccine is developed and proven effective, it's impossible to fully mitigate all the coronavirus risks, including those associated with traveling. That means that in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's  guidance, travel should still be limited to circumstances in which it's absolutely necessary. And for people who are immunocompromised or at high risk of developing severe illnesses, it should be avoided as much as possible.

If you feel you need to take a trip, one main benefit of driving is that it gives you a greater sense of control over your surroundings — although that doesn't mean it's necessarily safer than flying. Lawrence Gostin, director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, says the key to staying safe is taking measures like wearing a mask and carrying hand sanitizer when in public spaces. He worries, from a behavioral point of view, that people are less likely to follow hygiene protocols over the course of several stops on a long drive. Here are some essential steps Wu and Gostin suggest to prepare for a road trip:

  • Pack as much food and water as you can to minimize stops.
  • Whenever you do stop for food and gas, practice good hand hygiene by sanitizing often and choosing takeout/drive-through options.
  • When possible, take meal breaks outside in areas without crowds or in your car.

However, both Wu and Gostin point out that there are certain unavoidable risks that come with driving — like the chances of getting in an accident or having car trouble. And you should always consider your own comfort level with long road trips and unknown highways. Read other expert travel recommendations here.

Hurricane preparedness tax holiday runs through June 4

Robbie Gaffney, WFSU

Hurricane supplies are tax free in Florida now through June 4.

The Hurricane Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday gives shoppers a break on items for hurricane kits like flashlights, batteries, and generators.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging Floridians to buy whatever they need as the season gets underway.

“We want people to plan. Have a plan for their family, prepare, and hopefully we get spared having major storms hit the state of Florida but as we know going through this every year, you got to be prepared for the storms to come and if you’re prepared then you’ll be able to weather the storm effectively,” DeSantis said.

Other tax-free items include ice packs, certain radios, and coolers. Hurricane season starts Monday.

Listen again: Reinvention

Ted Radio Hour, NPR

Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew.

From our economy, to music, to even ourselves—TED speakers explore the power of reinvention.

Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Like what you just read? Check out our other  coronavirus coverage.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.