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The highs and lows of the week across Tampa Bay and Florida
Slipping on COVID-19, the aquarium’s success, engineers step up and the Coast Guard clams up.
Vials containing doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine pictured on April 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Vials containing doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine pictured on April 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. [ MARIO TAMA | Getty Images North America ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jul. 10, 2021

Setback on the coronavirus. Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are moving in the wrong direction. Nearly 16,000 new coronavirus cases were detected in Florida last week, a 35 percent increase over the week before. Florida also saw 1,963 new hospitalizations from June 27 to July 4, an increase of 18 percent. Several factors are to blame for a resurgence that’s gripping dozens of states across the country — lagging vaccination rates, a more infectious variant of the virus and more people getting together. In Florida, 65 percent of adults have been at least partially vaccinated, and 56 percent have been fully vaccinated. That’s far short of President Joe Biden’s goal of having immunized 70 percent of the adult population by Independence Day. And it will be another week at the earliest before the nation sees signs of the virus’ spread from the long July 4 holiday weekend. There’s no excuse for most Floridians to continue putting off a shot that’s safe, readily available and free. To those holding out, talk to your doctor. New spikes in even isolated communities mean more needless grief, continued strain on the health care system and further roadblocks to economic recovery.

The aquarium’s breakthrough. The Florida Aquarium has marked another achievement in its service to the Sunshine State. Scientists bred grooved brain corals collected near Fort Lauderdale and matured in the lab with wild samples from more southern waters. The outcome? Golden brown coral babies, living on small ceramic tiles at the aquarium’s Apollo Beach campus. As the Tampa Bay Times explained this week, the effort created offspring with greater genetic diversity and disease resistance than those populating the Florida Atlantic coast. That means they may be better equipped to withstand the threats ravaging the world’s third largest reef, including climate change and ocean acidification. Imagine rebuilding devastated ecosystems with stronger corals, not only in Florida, but by sharing these findings worldwide. Through its research and rescue efforts, the Florida Aquarium has again lived up to more than its name.

Let’s hear from the engineers. Everybody has a theory of what caused a 12-story condominium tower to collapse last month in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, leaving 78 confirmed dead as of Friday, with dozens more missing. But now members of four major engineering associations in Florida have convened to come up with potential recommendations for the Legislature to improve building safety. While the cause of the collapse is unknown, engineers are assembling data and holding weekly calls in advance of legislative meetings this fall. The solutions could include everything from mandatory reinspections of tall buildings to tougher requirements for beachfront property, which gets hammered by saltwater spray. What’s special here is the approach — the methodical way of problem-solving for which engineers are famous. This is an exercise in fact-finding, not finger-pointing, and the millions in Florida who live in condos will be safer for it.

Transparency overboard. The Coast Guard last week shut down what it called an illegal charter carrying nine passengers. The 50-foot boat was intercepted by a Coast Guard vessel from Sector St. Petersburg on July 2 in an undisclosed location “near Tampa Bay.” The Coast Guard said the craft was not an inspected passenger vessel and that it exceeded regulations allowing only up to six passengers for hire. The Coast Guard was rightly proud of the interdiction, issuing a press release vowing it would “continue to aggressively pursue vessel operators who needlessly place the lives of patrons at risk.” But the Coast Guard didn’t name the captain or crew, or the name of the boat, or where the vessel operated from, or where the boarding took place. The Tampa Bay Times called and emailed the Coast Guard, but those queries went unreturned. Why leave the public in the dark? If the goal here is to safeguard the public by empowering consumers with information, the Coast Guard’s silence made its own effort fall short, an unforced error for this valued organization.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.