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Health News Florida

More Vaccine Sites And Questions, Sewer Saga Lessons, And The Fate of The Homestead Migrant Center

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There are more places to get vaccinated and more people who can get the shots. Also, the saga of sewers in Fort Lauderdale and a controversial immigration detention center may reopen in Homestead.

There were a number of changes to COVID-19 vaccinations in South Florida this week; a major safety-net hospital lowered the age of eligibility for some people, more pharmacies began accepting appointments, and new efforts to reach into Black communities were among the developments.

Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County began giving doses to people as young as 55 years old if they have any of 13 specific underlying medical conditions: including breast cancer, heart bypasses, and morbid obesity. It represents the first expansion of who is eligible to receive the vaccine beyond health care workers and people 65 years old and older.

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All Publix pharmacies — including those in Miami-Dade and Broward counties — began scheduling vaccination appointments. All South Florida availabilities filled up within about two hours of opening.

Almost three dozen Navarro Discount Pharmacies in Miami-Dade County and another 35 CVS y más pharmacies also began scheduling vaccination appointments.

"Lots of changes," said WLRN health care reporter Verónica Zaragovia. She noted a doctor's note is needed for people under 65 years old seeking to be vaccinated at Jackson adding that,"it is a hurdle for some who don't have a physician."

Statewide, fewer Floridians continue getting vaccinated week-over-week. The number of people receiving their first doses dropped 33% from Feb. 18-24 compared to the previous seven days. Two percent fewer people received their second shots versus a week earlier.

"It seems that the demand has softened somewhat for people over 65," said NBC 6 investigative reporter Tony Pipitone. The expansion, "makes sense from a health standpoint because those are people, obviously, who are at greater risk of serious complications."

On Tuesday in Hialeah, Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested what would be a further expansion of vaccine eligibility when four FEMA sites open Wednesday in locations including Miami Dade College North Campus near Opa-locka.

"We want [those sites] for 65 and up," the governor said, "but we also want [them] to be open [to] any sworn law enforcement [officer], teacher. I think we'll start age 50 or above."

Pipitone was at the Hialeah announcement. '

"I got there early. Before anyone got there, there was a large contingent of Police Benevolent Association officials there," he said. "So, lo and behold, when the governor came out ... [he brought] up the police and teachers 50 and over."

Efforts to increase vaccination sites include work to get into Black communities. Vaccination rates for Black Floridians are far below other racial groups. For instance, hospitals have partnered with Black churches for outreach, organizing and operating vaccination sites.

However, Zaragovia pointed out, "the state had not until this week, after plenty of criticism, announced that Broward College North Campus in Coconut Creek and another site in Overtown that are aimed at helping Black Floridians get vaccinated."

Sewer Saga

In December 2019, Fort Lauderdale sewage mains seeped more than 211 million gallons of raw sewage into people’s yards, canals and waterways. The problem? Pipes built in the 1970s, when there were a lot fewer people calling Fort Lauderdale home.

As the city has grown with new buildings — more homes and condos and offices and hotels — the aging pipes have remained under it all, going years without maintenance and upgrades.

WLRN reporters Caitie Switalski Muñoz and Jenny Staletovich examined the sewer troubles and how Fort Lauderdale isn't alone in needing to address the issue.

"The big sewer main that was the biggest problem is under repair right now," said Muñoz, "and part of that's already been turned on."

There have not been spills on the level of those experienced in 2019 since.

The pandemic quieted down tourism but not construction. Home prices have been climbing and demand is strong. Real estate development has remained robust through the pandemic and during the 2019 sewage trouble.

"I think that that caused a lot of consternation to people in Fort Lauderdale who were wondering why the city was continuing to approve developments when they were still wrestling with the sewer problem," Staletovich said.

Florida's modern economy has been built on population growth and real estate demand. Only the housing collapse of the Great Recession interrupted an otherwise steady stream of people moving to Florida. That population growth, and subsequent building of homes, condominiums, apartments, stores, schools and everything else that comes along with a growing population strains infrastructure that was designed at least a generation ago.

"I think the big thing that stands out is that if we're going to continue to allow growth, we need to make sure that our infrastructure can keep up with that," Staletovich said.

The tension between the Fort Lauderdale city commission and some residents worried about the stress on infrastructure existed prior to the massive sewage spills.

"At every city commission meeting I've gone to where Fort Lauderdale leaders are discussing approving a new hotel on the beach or approving a new hall apartment high rise, there's always a group of residents that says, for one reason or another, "Please don't approve this." And the sewage spills took that to a whole new level," Muñoz said.

Climate change also is a growing consideration. Rising sea levels and higher groundwater levels put additional pressure on sewer systems.

"We're facing these aging systems that are increasingly failing. Fort Lauderdale is a perfect example," Staletovich said.

Return Of The Homestead Detention Center?

A facility in Homestead that housed undocumented teenage migrants may reopen. The Miami Herald reported this week that the Biden Administration is preparing to possibly send unaccompanied migrant teenagers from the U.S.-Mexico border to what is now called the Biscayne Influx Care Facility.

This is the same place that served as a political backdrop for critics of President Trump’s immigration policies before it was closed in 2019. It shut down in August of that year after the Herald revealed it had no hurricane evacuation plan despite housing more than 1,000 child migrants.

Current centers are at 90% capacity according to the Biden Administration and "the number of unaccompanied minors continue to grow at the border," said Miami Herald immigration reporter Monique O. Madan.

The pandemic also plays a role, as social distancing and other public health protocols require more space and mean fewer people can be held at facilities.

"The government is looking to open at least three facilities, one of them being Homestead," Madan said.

The South Florida facility has been used to house undocumented teenagers who crossed into the U.S. without a biological parent. It first opened during the Obama Administration but became a popular backdrop for critics of President Trump's hard line immigration policies.

"I think a lot of immigration advocates and activists are severely upset. They are up in flames," Madan said. "They worked really hard to, in their eyes, shut down the facility and they're planning on it again."

There is no official confirmation, nor any timeline for a possible reopening. However, Madan reported the government has solicited potential contractors and held a virtual meeting with potential bidders discussing operational requirements.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Several new vaccine sites began taking appointments in the last week of February, including more CVS pharmacies in South Florida. On Friday, Feb. 26, many of those appointments had been booked.
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Several new vaccine sites began taking appointments in the last week of February, including more CVS pharmacies in South Florida. On Friday, Feb. 26, many of those appointments had been booked.

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