Florida to receive $8.3B in federal assistance, joins New York in buying anti-malarial drug

(The Center Square) – The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will deliver $8.3 billion in direct aid to Florida state and local governments by mid-April.

Florida state and local agencies, health-care providers and businesses also can tap into several funds created by the CARES Act, including a $130 billion hospital fund, $45 billion Disaster Relief Fund, $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund – $13.5 billion for school districts, $14.25 billion for higher education institutions – and $31.1 billion in assistance for health agencies, transit systems, National Guard deployments and election security, according to a Florida TaxWatch (FTW) analysis.

The addition of $8.3 billion in federal aid to the $3.9 billion already in the state’s reserves means the “state appears to be in good shape for COVID-related costs,” FTW said.

Then the other shoe drops.

“If the expected drop in Florida tax revenue occurs,” FTW said, ”the state will still be short of paying for other costs that the federal bill will not cover.”

The same day President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act – the largest economic relief package in American history – he approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for a Federal Major Disaster Declaration, which greases the administrative rails for faster delivery of federal resources and opens access to other funding sources for services such as crisis counseling.

DeSantis, at a Monday news conference at the Hard Rock Stadium drive-thru testing site in Miami Gardens, announced an executive order urging Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe county residents to stay home through “mid-May” and addressed how the state would spend its share of the federal assistance package, which FTW estimates to be about $4.6 billion, with $3.7 for local governments.

Timing, as in when the federal money materializes, is among critical factors but Florida is likely to direct federal funding into two initiatives it already is spending money on: buying hydroxychloroquine and as much medical gear and many test kits as possible.

DeSantis said Saturday the state is conducting its own survey on the effectiveness of anti-malarial drugs in fighting COVID-19, noting experiments under way in New York and elsewhere in the use of hydroxychloroquine, promoted by Trump as a possible “game-changer.”

Shipments of the drug have been ordered for hospitals in Dade, Broward, Orange and Hillsborough counties to “be something doctors can have at their disposal,” he said.

“I am not telling anyone to take it or not to take it,” DeSantis said. “But I do believe in the idea of a right to try if somebody is in really bad shape and there’s no other treatment available. We actually had a Floridian who used this, was in very bad shape. It seemed to clear up the lungs and the virus.”

DeSantis said Sunday that Trump told him Florida would be on the list of states to immediately receive a coronavirus test authorized by the FDA that produces results within 15 minutes when they become available.

Right now, tests, on average across the state, are taking three-to-five days to produce results, not necessarily because of the test time, but also because of manpower and logistics challenges in the state and at private labs.

DeSantis has received virtually everything he’s asked of Trump, who has ensured his newly adopted home state with 29 electoral votes and a history of razor-thin elections has not lacked in federal attention.

On Sunday, Trump shrugged off complaints Florida is receiving preferential treatment.

“Florida, look, they’re very aggressive in trying to get things and they’re doing a very good job,” he said.

As of Monday morning, the Florida Department of Health reported 5,473 COVID-19 cases, including 63 deaths and 652 hospitalizations.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 2,854 deaths in the U.S., with nearly 156,000 confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

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