- Associated Press
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Nov. 25

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on suicide awareness and prevention:

It’s a strange place for an anti-suicide message, blazoned across the front of a sleek and speedy stock car. It must have been even stranger to see the words “Race to Stop Suicide” printed on the tickets for the 55th Annual Governor’s Cup Race at the New Smyrna Beach Speedway.

But what’s truly remarkable is how the logos got there – and how every step along the way connected people who knew someone who had contemplated suicide or taken their own lives.

That’s because suicide is far more pervasive than many realize, thanks to the silence that for too long surrounded the topic. It’s the eighth-leading cause of death in Florida, but that number surges among younger people. For people aged 10-24, it is third. For those aged 25-34, it is second only to “unintentional injury,” a vast category that includes drug overdose and motor vehicle accidents. St. Johns, Volusia and Flagler counties all have suicide rates well above the state’s, though St. Johns and Flagler counties have both seen declines in 2019 figures from recent historic highs.

Many still don’t talk about it, but too many Floridians’ lives have been touched by suicide. For 16-year-old Daniel Dye, a rising star in short-track racing who placed a remarkable second at the Governor’s Cup race earlier this month, that connection hit at a young age: When he was 14, Daniel told his father, he’d talked two friends out of taking their own lives.

Randy Dye, who owns a big Daytona Beach car dealership and is active on several local boards, had the connections to make something happen. Among his many philanthropic efforts, the elder Dye has helped raise more than $30,000 to support children’s mental health services through Halifax Health, which is one of the sponsors of his son’s No. 43 car. The idea to paint “Race to Stop Suicide” on the hood was a brilliant stroke, one that has helped start conversations about suicide prevention, Daniel Dye told The News-Journal’s Nikki Ross when the car debuted last year.

This year, the Dye racing team carried that mission to the next level when they worked with the Hart family (who owns the New Smyrna Speedway) to name the three-day Governor’s Cup weekend for the effort. Bill Gallagher, owner of Solar-Fit in Holly Hill and another sponsor of Dye’s racing team, has also pledged support for the Race to Stop Suicide. Again, these connections weren’t hard to make: Both Gallagher and the Hart family know families touched by suicide, and they didn’t hesitate to speak out about it.

These conversations may be sparked by a painted logo on a race car, the plot of a TV show, or an ad on a billboard. The important thing is that they are taking place. Americans are coming to the realization that talking about suicide – looking for warning signs or simply asking someone if they are OK – can become a lifeline in a time of desperation. And that awareness is needed now more than ever: A survey conducted in June by the Centers for Disease Control found that more than 40 percent of adults said they were struggling with mental health problems and 11 percent said they’d seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. Since then, things have gotten worse for many Americans; federal unemployment benefits have run out, frontline health care workers are exhausted and many people have been cut off from coworkers, friends and family for nearly eight months now.

Florida lawmakers passed a bill in this year’s session that expands the responsibilities of the Statewide Office for Suicide Prevention to include collecting and analyzing more in-depth data on suicide, including trends by gender, age, profession and other criteria. The legislation emphasizes greater efforts to prevent suicide among first responders and service members. The information will be particularly timely as lawmakers prepare to deal with a $5.4 billion budget deficit; the state already ranks at the bottom of 50 states for per-capita mental health funding. Cuts should spare crisis intervention and mental health services if at possible.

“Let’s face it, suicide touches us all,” Daniel Dye said in a pre-race Facebook video. It will take ordinary Floridians – and extraordinary ones, like Dye – to bring that message home to state lawmakers.

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

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Nov. 22

The Miami Herald on reversing Trump’s climate policies under a Biden presidency:

This doesn’t seem normal. Tropical Storm Eta, after making landfall in the Florida Keys this month, dumped almost 14 inches in 24 hours in Miramar.

Miami Lakes experienced “flooding we haven’t seen in modern times,” according to resident and Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago.

Sections of North Miami received about 7 inches of rain, while parts of Kendall were hit with about 6 inches. Overall, Miami-Dade saw 4 inches to 8 inches of rain, compared with normal rainfall of 3.27 inches for all of November.

And rainwater so overwhelmed Hollywood’s sewage treatment plant that officials told residents to shorten their showers, cut their use of washers and dishwashers and flush toilets less often.

Climate change is coming to your bathroom, and it doesn’t smell so good.

Eta was the 29th named storm of the year.

While it isn’t clear that climate change is responsible for increasing the number of hurricanes, scientists are certain that it’s changing tropical storms’ behavior: Warmer water is fueling them to be more powerful. It’s increasing the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold, producing more rain.

WE’RE GROUND ZERO

This isn’t news to South Florida. There’s almost no place in America - except for those growing parts of the West Coast where massive forest fires have turned the sky to orange and the ground to embers - that feels the impacts of climate change as we do. We’ve been drawing attention to this reality for more than two years with our ongoing series of editorials and expert columns, The Invading Sea.

Of all the damage that Donald Trump has done in his destructive presidency, perhaps none will be as consequential as his climate-change denial. It’s not merely that Trump took no action to curb the rapidly approaching point of danger that will be extremely hard to escape. His actions have sped up the timetable toward that calamity.

Placing agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department in the hands of extraction-industry lobbyists like lambs for the slaughter,

Trump reversed almost 100 rules and regulations that had been reducing pollution to our air, water and atmosphere. With perverse relish, he pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, the best attempt yet by the world’s governments to slow the rising accumulation of CO2.

Thanks to the increasing use of natural gas, U.S. emissions of CO2 have been falling (2.9 percent in 2019 alone). Even so, global CO2 reached 417 parts per billion in May, the highest level in human history.

China and its heavy reliance on coal plants are much to blame.

But America’s withdrawal from leadership is making it harder for the world’s nations to pressure the Chinese to improve.

Much can be repaired. But not greenhouse pollution. Heat-trapping gases remain in the atmosphere for decades.

Enter President-elect Joe Biden. Biden won election partly by making climate a central plank of his platform. Crucially, he rebutted the paralyzing argument that fighting climate change threatens economic growth.

Biden says we can have both. Emerging green industries, such as in solar power and electric cars, can add and sustain millions of new jobs. Biden’s goal - zero net emissions by 2050 - may be too slow a schedule, but it’s a start in the right direction. And at this point, aiming in the right direction is no small thing.

REVERSE EXECUTIVE ORDERS

Right away, Biden can sign executive orders to undo dozens of executive orders that Trump signed to erase the environmental achievements of President Obama. He can quickly restore, for example, the Obama-era regulations on emissions from cars and trucks.

Of course, Biden could do much more if he had a Senate willing to work with him on legislation. For that, we must rely on the voters of Georgia to turn the Peach State’s senatorial representation blue by electing Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock in an all-important runoff election Jan. 5.

If the two Democrats defeat the Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the two parties will be tied in the U.S. Senate, 50-50, leaving the deciding vote to the incoming vice president, Democrat Kamala Harris.

This would mean a new day for South Florida local governments, which have striven for at least a decade to prepare our region for the many impacts of sea-level rise. It’s been a lonely effort. Our counties and cities have received precious little help from Washington, and barely more from Tallahassee.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gave many hope that “climate change denial” would no longer carry the day in our state when, among other things, he hired a chief science officer and chief resilience officer.

But the latter office has been largely dormant since the first appointee left months ago, and there is scant evidence the former has had any impact on addressing threats like sea-level rise.

With Biden assuming the presidency, there now exists the chance of real progress.

All eyes on Georgia.

“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com

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Nov. 22

The Palm Beach Post on the need for leadership as COVID-19 cases surge in Florida:

News about the spread of the coronavirus continues to be grim. Worse, much worse, our state leaders appear content to do little, or nothing to stop it.

In the week that saw Florida approach a once unimaginable 20,000 COVID deaths, Palm Beach County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso told commissioners that infections in the county are spiking for the third time since the pandemic first began affecting us, in March. But this spike is different.

“This one is what we call exponential growth,” Alonso said, pointing to the line showing new infections. “It goes straight up. There is no curve to it.”

Crowded bars and restaurants are fueling the infection rate among young people, she said. The test positivity rate was nearing 10% on Nov. 17, far above the 5% that public health officials consider containable.

It’s a surge that started in early October as kids returned to in-person classes and Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed all bars and restaurants to fully reopen while removing counties’ authority to close them. By now, Florida has tallied more than 900,000 infections - almost a quarter of them since Sept. 25, when DeSantis issued his reopening order. The state ranks fourth in infections of the 50 states. Our 18,000-plus deaths (as of Friday) are exceeded only by New York, Texas and California.

Now is no time “to ask uncle Joey from Wisconsin to come for a visit,” Alonso added, for the virus spreads easiest when people gather in closed spaces, their masks off and guards down.

Witness Palm Beach Central High School, where, as of Nov. 16, 62 football players were quarantined; 16 players and four coaches tested positive, and one coach and one teen were sick. The outbreak likely stems from Halloween day, when the team was stuck on buses during a two-hour rain delay. But contact tracers also cited a social scene in which students neglected masks and ignored rules of distancing before and after games.

But county commissioners - who through the spring and summer had taken such bold moves as mandating mask-wearing to curb the virus’ spread - listened to Alonso’s latest report and did … nothing.

DeSantis has handcuffed them. And the county leaders were disinclined to ask him for an exception. They showed little interest in again limiting the hours that businesses stay open or narrowing the number of customers served. Or regaining the ability to fine a person who doesn’t wear a mask inside a public indoor space.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the goal, for now, “was to keep businesses operating.” But perhaps she and the others understood that coronavirus fatigue has soured much of the public on the steps needed to fight the virus.

Or maybe they’ve sensed that any pleas to the governor for permission to reimpose even mild restrictions would fall on deaf ears, especially after Republicans’ strong showing in Florida in the Nov. 3 election. It seems clear that “we’re not shutting down,” as DeSantis has declared in step with President Donald Trump, is a political winner in the Sunshine State.

“The negative effects” of shutting down again would be far worse than “any gains you’re getting,” DeSantis said as far back in June, adding that he’ll “protect the most vulnerable.” In this, DeSantis reflects the views of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who plays epidemiology expert on Fox News and in the Trump White House.

DeSantis toured the state with Atlas in September. And true to Atlas’ lunatic “herd immunity” philosophy of letting the virus take its course, Florida now has the third or fourth weakest containment policies in America. Only South Dakota, Iowa and North Dakota compare, according to the University of Oxford. And their rates of infections and hospitalizations are the nation’s worst. Mercifully, Florida’s rates per 100,000 people are much better, possibly because people here can spend much more time in the breezy outdoors.

Across America, some governors are responding to the current third wave by once again shutting indoor dining at restaurants; New York City’s mayor has again closed schools. Even some Republican governors are mandating masks, something they had previously left up to citizens as a matter of personal responsibility. Now, they say, their overwhelmed hospitals cry out for a coordinated public response.

It would be bordering on malfeasance for Sunshine State officials to sit back, wait and rejoin these states as a COVID hot spot. According to Dr. Edwin Michael, a public health expert from the University of South Florida who used to forecast pandemics for the World Health Organization, the worst is just ahead.

“We are getting into the next wave and I think in December, you know, the prediction is, we’re going to hit 20,000 cases daily,” Michael told Tampa Bay’s WTSP - double the current highs. Further projections: 30,000 cases daily by mid-January; 36,000 or more a day in February.

“This is where I think, you know, governance comes into play. You need to have leadership from the top,” Michael said.

We agree with the mayors of Miami Beach, Sunrise, St. Petersburg and two other cities. On Nov. 18, they beseeched DeSantis to institute a statewide mask mandate, ramp up testing and restore local governments’ authority to try to keep the virus in check.

But DeSantis, mostly AWOL since the election, is evidently putting all his chips on a vaccine. He met with federal officials last week to ensure that Florida is among the first jurisdictions to deliver COVID-19 shots once the FDA approves.

That’s great. But a vaccine’s arrival remains months away. Thousands of Floridians will get sick in the meantime - unnecessarily - because of this governor’s twisted belief that inaction is the best policy. Hundreds could die.

Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But there is still a lot of treacherous tunnel to go.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com


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