It was another week of very limited supply and overwhelming demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in South Florida. The number of people receiving first-dose shots dropped in the past week compared to a week earlier.
But some vials that were destined for Publix pharmacies in Palm Beach County instead will be going instead to the agricultural communities along Lake Okeechobee.
We spoke about vaccine supplies and distribution plans with two locally elected leaders: Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.
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On the program, we also hear from a Broward couple using social media to spread the word about where and how to get vaccinated in South Florida. Later, a discussion about how the pandemic is impacting housing affordability.
From Publix To Western Palm Beach
Palm Beach County saw the highest number of first-time vaccinations among the South Florida counties this week, with almost 30,000 people receiving their first doses. Sixty-seven Publix pharmacies are where most people got their shots, under a pilot plan announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
It's a strategy that Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay called "disgusting" on Tuesday.
"I am incensed right now that we are dealing with a situation in a county as large as ours — geographically, and by population — where more than half of our county is geographically located in an area not serviced at all by a single Publix," she said.
But on Friday, McKinlay learned some of those doses Publix is due to receive will instead be diverted to the county's division of the state Department of Health, to be distributed in the western part of Palm Beach County.
McKinlay said she spoke with Florida Emergency Management Department Director Jared Moskowitz Monday before learning the county's entire vaccine supply would be directed toward Publix. Then she said Moskowitz called her Friday, just after noon.
"He called me about 45 minutes ago to let me know that he would be diverting a portion of the vaccines allocated for Publix to the health department in the health care district to serve the communities that are not serviced by a Publix pharmacy," she said on the South Florida Roundup. "We shouldn't have had to have that conversation in the first place."
McKinlay did not know how many doses would be diverted or when they would be delivered, but she pledged the Palm Beach County office of the state health department "will be able to distribute this efficiently."
Miami-Dade Mayor Not Holding Back Second Doses
Miami-Dade County plans to receive 2,900 doses of vaccine next week. That's the same it received this week, according to Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. This allotment is the county's share of vaccine supply sent to the area.
"The demand is so impressive and we just need more vaccine. We are ready to quadruple the delivery in Miami-Dade County across all of our distribution sites. And we want it. We need it. We're clamoring for it from the federal government and from the state government," she said.
The county is not holding back second doses as Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees advised hospitals this week.
"We've been assured that second doses are coming and second doses have been coming," the mayor said. The county has not been asked to hold doses in reserve according to Levine Cava.
Through Thursday, about 24,000 people in Miami-Dade received their first dose of a vaccine. That is a big drop from a week earlier when more than 42,000 were vaccinated for the first time.
Levine Cava said the county will launch a new vaccine sign-up system next week allowing people to register instead of "refreshing their browser" or "repeatedly calling."
That site launched Friday, you can learn more and pre-register here.
Social media support and resiliency
Phone numbers, voicemails, emails, website forms — just trying to navigate how to get an appointment to be vaccinated is tough. And then there’s the challenge of actually securing an appointment to roll up your sleeve for a dose.
Katherine Quirk and Russ Schwartz are not social media influencers, but they created a Facebook group that has become a place for people to find and share information about how to get vaccinated in South Florida. It's called South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info and more than 100 volunteers are helping the couple's efforts. Quirk is a nurse at Broward Health Medical in Fort Lauderdale and Schwartz is an elementary school principal in Davie.
Social media can be fraught with bad information and bad behavior, but Schwartz said they started out with a ground rule not to allow it in their group.
"The purpose of the group is to get vaccination information to people who want and need the information. If you don't want any information, then you don't really need to be there. And if you are jumping on the page and posting these conspiracy theories or debating with people, then we'll remove you, because that's not the purpose of this page," he said.
The group works to list information from counties, health departments and other primary agencies regarding vaccine sign-ups and availability. It is information that can change at the speed of a tweet.
"Because so much of that information is so volatile, it has truly become a second job for the both of us," Quirk said. "We work very hard at our full-time day jobs. And then at night we come home, we say hi to our kids and make sure they've had a good day. And then we're off and running with our Facebook group that we've created."
"The amount of support that we see on the page for strangers is is remarkable," Schwartz said. "I think part of it is people are realizing that they're not in it alone and they're also realizing that each person who gets the vaccine is one step closer for this being over."
Pandemic Not Cooling The Housing Market
Even as the pandemic rages on, home prices keep climbing across the region. There are the traditional buyers looking to escape cold weather up north, and now with work from home practices in place, why not do it from sunny South Florida instead of snowy New York, Boston or Philadelphia?
And locals, after being cooped up in a condo for months, may be looking for more space and a yard. Low mortgage rates, and a tight supply of homes have also helped boost prices.
"There's a frenzy," said South Florida Business Journal real estate reporter Brian Bandell. Sales volumes are up. Average sale prices are up. "And for single family homes especially, there's very little supply. The average home is selling about 19 days after being listed, sometimes even faster than that."
The region was also wrestling with a housing affordability challenge before the pandemic. It is putting more pressure on the rental market, too, according to Miami Homes for All executive director Annie Lord.
"You're seeing increased interest for real estate developers and investors to buy multi-family properties that have rental housing in them," she said.
Commissioner Melissa at a September 15 commission meeting
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald
County Mayor-elect Daniella Levine Cava speaks with constituents while making a stop at Tequeno Mania in Doral for a quick snack, as she tours Miami-Dade on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Levine Cava becomes Miami-Dade’s mayor on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald
Katherine Quirk and Russ Schwartz started a South Florida COVID-19 Vaccination Info Facebook Group in early January 2021.