- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Sept. 8

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on local mask ordinances:

For months, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been all about local control when it comes to mandatory mask rules: “I’ve encouraged the locals to fashion those policies that fit their communities, and I think that they’ve done that,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in June.

At the time, DeSantis was facing pressure to enact a statewide mask ordinance in the face of mounting coronavirus infection and death rates. The community-control mantra was a convenient workaround – even if it did result in a crazy quilt of local ordinances, with rules and penalties that varied wildly.

Now, Florida’s numbers have declined considerably. Over the past few weeks, the governor has been buzzing around the state with a relentlessly sunny message, promoting tourism in Daytona Beach and talking about re-opening bars in St. Petersburg. Last week, he jaunted to Tallahassee, The Villages and Tampa with Dr. Scott Atlas, President Trump’s controversial new coronavirus adviser. At several of these events, DeSantis shunned a face mask.

That could provide significant context for a missive DeSantis’ office dropped on local officials late Friday. In it, the governor requested all information regarding local mask ordinances, including the full text of local rules, any clarification of the rules provided to local businesses or law enforcement, the fines or penalties attached to each ordinance, the number of citations issued and the termination dates of each local order. He asked for the information by Sept. 15.

The governor didn’t say why he wanted the information – and it’s hard to figure out why he would need it, if he still thinks local officials are the best people to make decisions for their communities. But many on social media speculate that he’s about to issue a statewide order that shuts down all local mask ordinances. If so, he’s making a big mistake – unless he replaces the mishmash of local regulations with a single, enforceable statewide requirement to wear masks in public places where social distancing is not possible.

Because masks – combined with social distancing and other prudent precautions – work. Nobody can say for sure whether Florida’s cases have declined, in part, because of the local ordinances. But based on prevailing medical evidence, it seems likely. Businesses have used the local rules to bolster their own resolve when requiring face coverings of customers. A statewide rule would be even better.As St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch (an early proponent of masks) points out, a uniform rule would make enforcement easier and provide backup for stores, restaurants and other businesses when dealing with their customers.

There are other reasons to seek this information. DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar speculates the governor could be gathering evidence that a statewide mask order isn’t necessary. DeSantis could also be targeting jurisdictions that levy excessive fines – up to $500 for a first offense. That would be reasonable.

Because Florida has a declared coronavirus emergency, the constitution gives the governor broad powers, so DeSantis probably has the authority to preempt local mask ordinances. (In April, he wielded his authority to keep local officials from prohibiting in-person church services). It would be wrong, however, for the governor to take the power granted to him by the coronavirus emergency, and use it to make communities across Florida less safe than their local leaders intend. We hope that’s not what the governor had in mind.

Online: https://www.news-journalonline.com/


Sept. 4

The Orlando Sentinel on ride safety in theme parks:

You have a far better chance of getting hit by lightning than being injured on a theme park ride in Central Florida.

You also have a better chance of getting hit by lighting than finding out just how safe those rides are.

Such information is wrapped in a cocoon of privacy granted decades ago by the Florida Legislature. It allows amusement parks with more than 1,000 employees to inspect their rides, regulate repairs and report accidents.

This from a state that inspects everything from tattoo parlors to RV parks to vending machines, and meticulously documents violations.

A restaurant inspection will report details down to the number of rat droppings under a sink. But if a tourist is paralyzed on a water slide, theme parks can report the condition as “numbness.”

That is sheer dumbness.

Florida’s regulations are built on the premise that theme parks are hugely motivated to keep customers safe for humane and business reasons. There’s no debating that, but there’s also no question consumers deserve a system that doesn’t leave them hopelessly groping for safety information.

The Legislature needs to overhaul the system, starting with reporting requirements. Large theme parks only have to report ride-related accidents and illnesses every three months. And those are just incidents that required the victim to be hospitalized for at least 24 hours.

There were 47 such incidents in 2019 at Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld and Legoland. That’s out of about 75 million tourists who came to Central Florida.

The actual odds of getting injured at a theme park are one in 18 million, according to an industry study. And those odds of getting hit by lightning? One in 500,000.

There’s not a safety crisis at hand. The problem is, no one knows how many people were actually injured on rides or what the theme parks do about it.

Most amusement ride injuries are treated at the parks, or victims reported them later from home. If someone sues over an injury, a judge could dismiss the case since many incidents are due to rider negligence.

Most other cases are settled out of court with no admission of fault and the terms are sealed. All that makes it virtually impossible to know how many injuries there really are and how theme parks handle safety procedures. But a couple of recent lawsuits gave a peek behind the curtain of privacy.

In one, a tourist named James Bowen sued Universal over injuries suffered riding the Punga Racers water slide at Volcano Bay. Despite being sealed, the case documents were briefly available on the Orange County Circuit Court website.

According to those documents, Bowen’s head snapped back when he slid into the pool at the bottom of the ride last July. He lost feeling in his extremities and needed extensive rehabilitation to relearn how to walk.

A Universal spokesman told the Sentinel 1.5 million people have ridden Punga Racers and Bowen was the only “reportable” injury. That’s because he was the only rider who spent more than 24 hours in a hospital.

Documents show at least 114 other visitors reported injuries on Punga Racers, and that the ride has undergone a series of modifications to lessen risks since opening in 2017.

Another lawsuit was filed by the insurance company for ProSlide Technology, which built Punga Racers and other rides at Volcano Bay. It showed 73 injury claims were filed on a variety of rides at the park.

That list includes Bowen’s paralysis, which Universal reported as “numbness” in the quarterly report filed with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees ride safety.

Another visitor’s injury was reported as “back pain.” He actually had a fractured pelvis, a torn abdominal muscle and scrotum injuries that eventually required him to receive an inflatable penile prosthesis.

In the court documents, ProSlide said theme parks typically contact it immediately after accidents so the company can help address safety issues. ProSlide said Universal waited two years before notifying it of any claims.

The kicker here is the smaller amusement parks don’t have three months to report accidents to the state. When a guest is transported to the hospital, the park has four hours to call in the accident and 24 hours to file a written report.

Theme parks say the injury descriptions on the reports are imprecise because they are written almost immediately after the incident. But the reports are filed every three months. That should be ample time to note that the initial “back pain” was actually a fractured pelvis.

The system cries for reform. At the very least, large parks should have the same reporting requirements as smaller ones.

Injuries that don’t require hospitalization should be recorded. The state doesn’t need to completely take over inspections, but it needs more oversight into safety operations.

“We regularly communicate with Florida’s largest theme park companies, always encouraging maximum possible accountability, transparency, and safety,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told the Orlando Sentinel in an email.

Mathematically speaking, riders don’t have much to worry about. It’s the accountability and transparency that needs to change.

When it comes to amusement ride safety, the public has been riding in the dark long enough.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/


Sept. 3

The Miami Herald on cyber attacks on Miami-Dade Public School District:

Chalk it up to another only-in-Miami moment. The Miami-Dade Public School District, the fourth largest in the nation, is under a barrage of cyber attacks from forces within and outside the United States, federal law-enforcement sources have told the district.

If the hackers’ odious mission is to disrupt, the culprits have succeeded, making it a difficult situation - distance learning in the age of COVID-19 - even harder for the district’s 2750,000 students and 20,000 teachers.

If - and when, we hope - they are caught, they should face more than a trip to the principal’s office.

For the third day in a row, they managed to prevent students and teachers from logging into a controversial virtual school system the district is using, My School Online, from a company called K12. There were at least 12 cyber attacks on the system on Wednesday.

What is the district going to do to get learning back on track? As students struggle to engage in a new type of learning, how disheartening to be bumped off. By Day 4, we wouldn’t blame some from saying enough of this and totally disconnecting.

But cyber attacks are not the sole problem. It appears K12 is having its own issues. Other districts across the country are having problems with the platform.

In Miami-Dade, the 6-12 teaching program has been subpar.

And Carvalho told the Editorial Board the hack attempts have clouded the district’s ability to gauge the company’s entire work.

“One of the disappointing consequences of the continuous cyber attacks is that they hampered our ability to detect, diagnose and resolve platform-related issues because students and teachers need to connect for us to understand what the challenges are,” Carvalho told the Board.

Sounds like a Catch 22. It was revealed at Wednesday’s virtual School Board meeting that the district and K12 are not operating under a signed contract.

Whether this will become a $15 million boondoggle for the district is unclear, but the relationship, possibly, is escapable, if need be.

Regardless, a resolution that brings back learning must be found - and fast.

Carvalho told the Board he has a timeline of action for the next few days, which he was preparing to present to the School Board on Wednesday night.

First, the district will attempt to bypass the glitches and demand that Comcast intensify the protection of connectivity from the attacks.

Second, the district will provide teachers new protocols that reestablish protected Zoom sessions through Microsoft Teams connections for direct and continuous instruction this week.

Third, if K12 does not address pending issues by Friday, Sept. 11, while teachers and students interact through Microsoft Teams/Zoom, the district could cease its “unsigned” contract with K12.

That means the district would go back the distance-learning platform it used during the spring.

Unfortunately, that system also had its shortcoming, but at least it’s the devil they know.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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