The public health and economic challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic are testing our state’s resilience.
Over the next several months, it remains critical that we continue to mask up, social distance and observe the protocols that can keep one another safe and slow the spread of the virus.
New COVID-19 cases in Florida rose 26 percent to more than 90,000 cases last week with 13.1 percent of test results coming back positive, up from 9.1 percent the week before. A more contagious variant of COVID-19 also was detected for the first time in Florida last week. Even with businesses reopening, an estimated 651,000 Floridians — 6.4 percent of our work force — remained unemployed as of November. And, Florida’s economy is expected to contract by 2.4 percent year-over-year in 2020, according to a November estimate by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Forecasting.
But there’s reason for hope, as we slowly roll out effective COVID-19 vaccines. It’s clear that vaccinating as large a portion of our population as possible will eventually end the pandemic and is the surest path to our state’s economic recovery. It’s especially important that Florida’s business community take the lead and assist our elected officials and public health community in this important endeavor.
Yes, in the truest sense, now is the time for all of us to roll up our sleeves.
The good news is that through every stage of this crisis, the overwhelming majority of Floridians have responded with courage, compassion and a deep sense of community. As we finally see light at the end of the tunnel, we need to stay true to these commitments.
It will take effort and example to persuade some of our citizens to say “yes” to vaccines. The most recent survey of Americans indicates that 27 percent of U.S. adults say they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, which means execution of a vaccination plan that needs 80 percent of the population vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity will take education and commitment.
Over the coming weeks and months here in Florida, people will be looking to employers and health care providers to not only make vaccinations conveniently available, but also to encourage participation by communicating honestly and building trust in the safety and efficacy of the treatments. Given the urgency and promise of this initiative, large and small businesses may choose to require their employees to be vaccinated or offer creative incentives and rewards to encourage vaccination.
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Hopefully, when offered the opportunity to become vaccinated, informed Floridians will be further motivated to say yes by the courage they’ve witnessed every day from our frontline health providers and essential services providers who have been leaving the safety of their homes every day for the greater good.
Compassion will also play a key role in our success, especially when it comes to prioritizing vaccine distribution. People across our state have displayed touching compassion over the last 10 trying months as loved ones fought for their lives, senior homes were closed to visitation, and thousands of our citizens were taken from us.
While Florida initially focuses on providing the vaccine to our large senior population and health care workers with direct contact with patients, we must ensure that future phases of distribution live up to our sense of community.
While we’re all in this together, it’s clear that communities of color have suffered disproportionately. The mortality rate among Black and Latino people infected with COVID-19 is 40 percent higher than the rate in white populations. Our Black and Latino citizens make up a large share of workers in essential roles and are far less likely than other populations to have the flexibility to work from home. They are the backbone of our health care workforce, but have less access to timely, affordable health care.
These systemic inequities cry out for long-overdue attention. We must focus special efforts in underserved communities and among essential workers in our vaccine rollout.
While we await broad availability of the vaccine in our state, it is imperative that we continue to be vigilant in wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and confined spaces and washing our hands. These basic tasks are essential to managing the spread of coronavirus while vaccine distribution ramps up over the coming months.
Underscoring the importance of getting our own house in order, it’s not an exaggeration to say the nation is watching to see what we make of this precious opportunity. Before COVID-19, 131 million visitors came to Florida each year, spending more than $94 billion annually on lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and transportation. They will only return if they feel safe visiting our world-class attractions.
A smooth vaccine rollout, facilitated by our state’s business community, will go a long way toward winning back this lifeblood of our economy. The time to roll up our sleeves is now!
GuideWell & Florida Blue President and CEO Pat Geraghty wrote this column on behalf of a coalition of 157 Florida business, health care and non-profit leaders that include:
· Pat Geraghty, President & CEO, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation & Florida Blue
· Ronald Albert Jr., Partner, Harper Meyer Perez Hagen Albert Dribin & DeLuca LLP
· Maria C. Alonso, President & CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade
· Tony Argiz, Principal, Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra
· Mario J. Artecona, CEO, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami
· Brian E. Auld, President, Tampa Bay Rays
· Dr. John Avendano, President, Florida State College at Jacksonville
· Doug Baer, President & CEO, Brooks Rehabilitation
· John D. Baker II, Chairman & CEO, FRP Holdings, Inc.
· Anthony K. G. Barbar, President, Barbar & Associates, LLC
· Christine Barney, CEO, rbb Communications
· Rodney Barreto, Chairman & CEO, Barreto Group, Inc.
· Jason Barrett, President & CEO, Flagler Health+
· Dr. Wael K. Barsoum, President & Chief Transformation Officer, Health Outcomes Performance Company
· Richard A. Beard, President, R.A. Beard Co.
· Brian E. Best, President & CEO, GTE Financial
· Elaine Bloom, President & CEO, Plaza Health Network
· Kristen E. Blum, Former Senior Vice President & CIO, Latin America, PepsiCo, Inc.
· Michelle Braun, President & CEO, United Way of Northeast Florida
· Mark Brewer, President & CEO, Central Florida Foundation
· Henry Brown, CEO, Miller Electric Company
· Sylvia M. Burwell, President, American University
· Walt Bussells, CEO, Forbes Street Capital
· Brian Butler, President & CEO, Vistra Communications
· Rogers Cain, President, Northeast Florida Medical Society Foundation
· Daniel Cane, CEO, Modernizing Medicine
· Kathleen Cannon, President & CEO, United Way of Broward County
· Dr. Ravi S. Chari, President & CEO, HCA Healthcare West Florida Division
· Gary Chartrand, Philanthropist
· Wendell Chindra, President, Clay County Chamber of Commerce
· Robert M. Clements, Chairman & CEO, Covius Holdings, Inc.
· Bob Clifford, Vice President, WSP USA
· Bruce Jay Colan, Attorney
· C.L. Conroy, APR, CEO Founder, The Conroy Martinez Group
· Christopher Corr, President, Raydient Places & Properties, Rayonier
· Tim Cost, President, Jacksonville University
· John D. Couris, President & CEO, Tampa General Hospital
· Thomas B. Crowley Jr., Chairman & CEO, Crowley Maritime Corporation
· Steven C. Currall, Ph.D., President, University of South Florida
· Daniel Davis, President & CEO, JAX Chamber
· Albert E. Dotson Jr., Managing Partner, Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP
· G. Ray Driver Jr., Founding Partner, Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, PLLC
· Juan D. Estrada, MD, CEO, Guidewell Sanitas I, LLC
· Charles E. Fagan III, President & CEO, PSCU
· A. Zachary Faison Jr., J.D., President, Edward Waters College
· Mark Faulkner, President & CEO, Baptist Health Care
· Aurelio M. Fernandez III, FACHE, President & CEO, Memorial Healthcare System
· Michael A. Finney, President & CEO, Miami-Dade Beacon Council
· Nathaniel Ford, CEO, Jacksonville Transportation Authority
· Jeffrey P. Freimark, President & CEO, Miami Jewish Health
· Deborah C. German, MD, Vice President for Health Affairs University of Central Florida and Dean, College of Medicine
· Tim Giuliani, President & CEO, Orlando Economic Partnership
· Rick Goings, Chairman Emeritus, Tupperware Brands
· Danette Gossett, President, Gossett Marketing
· Raymond E. Graziotto, President & COO, Seven Kings Holdings, Inc.
· Steve Griggs, CEO, Tampa Bay Lightning
· Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO, UF Health Jacksonville and Dean, UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville
· Steven T. Halverson, Retired Chairman & CEO, The Haskell Company
· George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D., President & CEO, Nova Southeastern University
· M.C. (Ceree) Harden, CEO, Harden
· Debbie Harvey, President & COO, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Inc.
· Jeff Hayward, President & CEO, Heart of Florida United Way
· Roy Hellwege, Chairman & CEO, Pilot Bank
· Adolfo Henriques, Vice Chairman, The Related Group
· Sara Barli Herald, Partner, Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP
· John Hogan, President and CEO, Capital Health Plan
· Rick Homans, President & CEO, Tampa Bay Partnership
· Anthony Hucker, President & CEO, Southeastern Grocers
· Richard Hume, CEO, Tech Data
· Richard Hutchinson, CEO, Discovery Senior Living
· Kevin E. Hyde, Managing Partner, Foley & Lardner, LLP
· Pam Iorio, President & CEO Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
· Virginia A. Jacko, President & CEO, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Inc.
· Leerie T. Jenkins Jr., Chairman, RS&H
· Joseph G. Joyner, Ed.D., President, Flagler College
· Kenneth Kahn, President, LRP Media Group
· Wendy E. Kallergis, President & CEO, Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association
· Jeanine Karp, Vice President & Partner, rbb Communications
· Brian E. Keeley, President & CEO, Baptist Health South Florida
· Scott P. Keith, President, North Florida Region, Truist
· Sydney Kitson, Chairman & CEO, Kitson & Partners
· Keith Koenig, CEO, City Furniture
· Thomas G. Kuntz, Retired Chairman, President & CEO, SunTrust Bank of Florida
· Mari Kuraishi, President, Jessie Ball duPont Fund
· Mark Lamping, President, Jacksonville Jaguars
· Matthew Whitman Lazenby, CEO, Whitman Family Development
· Tracy Leinbach, Retired Exec. VP & CFO, Ryder System, Inc.
· Senator George LeMieux, Chairman of the Board, Gunster
· Paul Leone, CEO, The Breakers Palm Beach
· Dan Lindblade, CAE, President & CEO, Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce
· Dr. Charles J. Lockwood, Dean, Morsani College of Medicine, Senior VP USF Health, University of South Florida
· Kim A. Lopdrup, CEO, Red Lobster Seafood Co.
· Sareet Majumdar, President & CEO, ICTC Global Manufacturing Solutions
· Eric K. Mann, President & CEO, YMCA of Florida’s First Coast
· Steven E. Marcus, President & CEO, Health Foundation of South Florida
· Alex Martins, CEO, Orlando Magic
· Brett McClung, President & CEO, Baptist Health
· Gepsie M. Metellus, Executive Director, Sant La, Haitian Neighborhood Center, Inc.
· Miami Marlins Organization
· Carlos A. Migoya, President & CEO, Jackson Health System
· David Miller, Executive Chairman, Brightway Insurance
· Elizabeth M. Miller, President & CEO, Sunshine Health
· Jeanne M. Miller, Esq., President & CEO, Jacksonville Civic Council, Inc.
· Harold F. Mills, Former Chairman & CEO, ZeroChaos
· Harold W. Mullis, President Emeritus,Trenam Law
· Michael Munz, President, The Dalton Agency
· Jessica Muroff, CEO, United Way Suncoast
· Dr. David R. Nelson, Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, President, UF Health University of Florida
· Rusty Newton, Chairman, Timucuan Asset Management
· Gary Norcross, Chairman, President & CEO, FIS
· Jim O’Connell, President, Vinik Family Office
· James O’Leary, President & CEO, Haskell
· Donna Orender, CEO, Orender Unlimited
· Dr. Peter Paige, Chief Physician Executive, Chief Clinical Officer, Jackson Health System
· Lisa Palmer, President & CEO, Regency Centers
· Lou Plasencia, CEO, The Plasencia Group
· Cary Putrino, Regional President, Fifth Third Bank, North Florida
· John Quelch, Dean, School of Business, University of Miami
· John B. Ramil, Retired President & CEO, TECO Energy, Inc./Chair of the Board, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation & Florida Blue
· Olga M. Ramudo, President & CEO, Express Travel
· Steven Raney, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Bank
· Paul Reilly, Chairman & CEO, Raymond James Financial
· Amy F. Rettig, SVP Community Engagements, Nielsen
· Frank A. Rodriguez, Founder & Chairman, Miramar Group LLC
· Peter S. Rummell
· Mike Santarone, CEO, Stellar
· Maria Sastre, Former President & COO, Signature Flight Support
· Frank P. Scruggs Jr., Partner, Berger Singerman
· Yvette Segura, Regional Vice President, USAA
· Mel Sembler, Chairman Emeritus, The Sembler Company
· Kathleen Shanahan, CEO, Turtle & Hughes
· Darryl Shaw, CEO, Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners
· Kent Shoemaker, CEO, Lipman Family Farms
· Stu Sjouwerman, President & CEO, KnowBe4 USA
· Kelly Smallridge, President & CEO, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, Inc.
· Bobby Stein, President, The Regency Group
· Cindy Stover, North Florida Market President, TD Bank
· Jay C. Stowe, Managing Director & CEO, JEA
· Dr. John Strong, Chairman & CEO, Bankers Financial Corporation
· Bob Swindell, President & CEO, Greater Ft. Lauderdale Alliance
· T.J. Szelistowski, President, TECO Peoples Gas
· Dr. David M. Szymanski, President, University of North Florida
· Bradley S. Talbert, FACHE, President & CEO, Memorial Hospital Jacksonville
· Troy D. Taylor, Chairman & CEO, Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, LLC
· Rasesh Thakkar, Senior Managing Director, Tavistock Group
· Russ Thomas, CEO, Availity
· Patricia H. Thompson, Arbitrator and Mediator, JAMS
· Vanessa Tinsley, Executive Director, Bridge to Hope
· Daryl Tol, President & CEO, AdventHealth/Central Florida Division
· Nancy Tower, President & CEO, Tampa Electric
· Tom VanOsdol, President & CEO, Ascension St. Vincent’s and Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast
· Jeff Vinik, Owner, Tampa Bay Lightning
· Nathan H. Walcker, CEO, Florida Cancer Specialists
· Will Weatherford, Managing Partner, Weatherford Capital
· The Most Rev. Thomas G. Wenski, Archbishop of Miami
· Eric Woolworth, President, Business Operations, The Miami Heat
· Dr. Barry Wright, president, Northeast Florida Medical Society