“It’s Every Man for Himself”

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S1: Last week, a bunch of local leaders in central Florida got on a conference call.

S2: We’re going to start called the meeting to order.

S1: This is a meeting of the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group. They were considering a countywide stay at home order to fight the Corona virus. And if you want to understand why these decisions have been so hard, it helps to listen in here. You see what these county commissioners and mayors are all talking about, who they’re listening to on this call. The dean of the local medical school was one of the first people to speak up. She said telling people to stay at home was a good idea. The CEO of a local health system weighed in, said, look, this is your call, but we’ve got your back.


S3: Anything that we can do to Blunt won the the surge is a good thing to do and it’s in the county or city. Besides, social distancing is what they want. Excuse me. A stay at home order is what they want to do. We can get behind that order. I want to be here.

S1: Then the politicians started to pipe up.

S4: Thank you, Commissioner. And I just want to emphasize that the county attorney’s office has not drafted any orders whatsoever. We were directed.

S1: They seemed caught off guard, cautious. This is the mayor of Plant City, Florida.

S5: You know, we have to stick with what you said earlier, Mr. Chairman, that we have to be one voice and we’re not long run longer one voice. We are deathly going to have chaos in our communities. I will not be voting for this motion. Thank you.


S1: The whole time there was this one mayor just pushing the group to do more. Jane Castor, she runs the city of Tampa.

S2: And if we’re going to wait on the governor, he clearly has no intention of calling for any statewide action. So and he said that in the media. So we need to make a decision at.

S6: What they kept saying to me is you need to slow down, you need to slow down. And I kept saying to them, no, you need to catch up or you need to keep up with us because this is going to hit like a tidal wave.

S7: I called Mayor Kastor up because I wanted her to put me in the room where these kinds of decisions are being made.


S8: And I really feel that there was a lack of urgency and or an inability to comprehend the significance of a. On whose part? On on the public’s part, but really more importantly, on the leadership of of our county.

S7: After that conference call, Mayor Kastor basically decided to shut her city down on her own with or without the county support.

S9: When the mayor describes the way she’s struggling with the coronavirus, she talks about it in these very Floridian terms. She compares it to the way it feels when a hurricane is on the way. Only with COVA 19, there’s no National Weather Service, no one telling a mayor like her. Here’s what you need to do.


S10: You know, nobody’s call and say, you know, we’ve got this hurricane, this tropical depression. It’s turning into a hurricane. We think it’s gonna go this way. I mean, this hit us like a Mack truck. And we have got to address it with the information that we have.


S11: Make sure we’re getting good information and some approaches may not work. And, you know, others will. And so we’re not going to know until we come out the other end exactly what the best approach was.

S10: So we need to do everything we can from every single angle to try to get control.

S7: Today on the show, In the Eye of the Storm with Mayor Caster. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.


S12: So we’re speaking Monday, March 30th. What is the situation right now in Tampa? Like, how many cases do you have and how are your how are your health care systems doing?

S10: Well, there is in our state there’s four thousand seven hundred sixty eight, you know, positive cases and 60 deaths. We’ve had two here in our community. But really from the testing front is where I feel we were woefully underprepared and have not caught up.

S6: Frankly, I think we’ve lost that approach. The testing approach, if you look at literature from Taiwan, they were they were testing 20000 people a day. And we you know, here in in Hillsborough County, we received 900 collection kits over a week ago. We went through those in two days and we just received another thousand. And we’ll be through those in two days as well.


S12: Can we talk about just how frustrating this must be, leader? Because, I mean, I was looking at what was happening in Tampa. And it sounds like you guys would pop up a testing facility and then have to shut it down a couple of days later. And, you know, it’s unclear where to go. I mean, it just it’s someone like you who’s your job is to give clear information to the public. It must have driven you nuts.


S10: Well, you really can’t focus on that. You know, I’ve I’ve been in law enforcement for 31 years. And you just have to you know, you have to understand the steps that need to be taken and then basically focus on that. Drop your head and move forward. If you’re wasting time being frustrated, then you’re wasting Don.


S12: So what’s a day in the life like for you? Do you just constantly talking to other mayors or county officials or even the governor? Like, how often are you able to kind of get everyone together and coordinate your response?

S10: Yes, we are constantly I’m a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and I’m also lucky enough to be in the Bloomberg Harvard mayor’s cohort. There’s 41 mayors from around the world. It’s the third year he’s done it. And he brought everyone together for a week up in Bloomberg headquarters in New York. And then we are in constant communication, but in communication. So that’s very helpful. I can talk to London Brede, who’s the mayor in San Francisco, one of the first mayors that that called for the stay at home order.


S12: It stands out to me that you’re mentioning this coalition of mayors that’s not coordinated by the federal government or by your state government. It’s done through a completely different system. Right. Does that stand out to you, too?

S6: Well, I don’t want to go too deep into that.

S10: But the one thing I will say on the federal level is that in 31 years of law enforcement, having worked in emergency management, I have never seen this level of unpreparedness from the federal government and not just in the very beginning. I mean, you can you can give leeway for that. And even Mayor de Blasio, we were on a call the other day with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and he was asked, what’s the one issue that surprised you the most with this cobh at 19?


S6: And he said the speed with which it expanded, he said it was unbelievable. And so, you know, to a degree, everyone was was sort of caught short on it. But the fact that there really hasn’t been any attempts to catch up, I mean, after all of these weeks and we still don’t have the swabs for the collection kids, everybody’s running short on the PPE, the personal protection equipment on the state level. I’m in contact talking to other Florida mayors. We’re all in constant communication as well. And we all did these safer at home orders.

S12: Basically, at the same time, someone you’re not mentioning here is your governor. Ron DeSantis.


S13: I mean, you said I wish that this stay at home was a statewide order, that it wasn’t me having to come out as a mayor or these other people as mayors having to come out. I’m wondering if you’re noticing any kind of partisan difference in terms of how leaders are responding.

S6: I don’t feel that it’s being approached in a partisan manner. It’s and and we’re probably ahead of the curve because we deal with hurricanes on a regular basis. So, you know, we’ve been through this. Granted, it’s the first time the governor has been through it as governor. And you know, what a hell of a test this is. But, you know, they’re working as hard as they can to get the supplies out when they receive them. It’s just that there’s 50 other states. That are all vying for the same supplies and the governor is responsible for our economy and the economy focuses to a large degree on tourism.


S14: If we sent all those spring breakers back is a little petri dish, all those spring break events that were happening. And so now all those young kids have gone back across the nation and who knows how many they’re going to spread it to.

S13: You know, you mentioned being on this conference call and listening to Mayor Bill de Blasio speak about his experience in New York. I wonder when you look at what’s happening in New York or say, Seattle, what are you most trying to prevent happening in Tampa?

S10: The spread and really getting into those individuals that can least afford to have it.

S6: Those that have the more morbidity and the elderly, again, the the information that’s coming out from the health care community and from the scientists say that there are so many people that have already had this and gotten over it. I think that’s the data that we need to focus on now because there is so little ability to test. I think that that’s not a lost cause. We need to continue to do that. But really looking at those antibodies down the road to get people back out in the community that have already had it and can go back to work or can go and help care for those individuals that are in the high risk categories, I think will be a focus in the next couple weeks.

S12: You sound really optimistic to me because like how many eternal optimist?

S13: I mean, I’m in I’m in New York. And, you know, the concerns here are like nine one one is never seen so many calls and E.M.S. workers are going out and they don’t have the gear. And not only that, but they they can’t help people. They’re making decisions on the fly. Who am I going to bring to the hospital and who do I leave here in their houses because I can’t help them. Right. But it sounds like you’re not worried about that as much. I wonder why.


S10: Oh, no. I’m worried about that. Trust me. And I’m on the phone with the heads of our local hospitals on a regular basis, daily basis with our our trauma one hospital. And I’m very worried about that in the surge as well. I have no doubt that that’s coming. And I’m trying to be very realistic for our community.

S6: I’m not painting any kind of a rosy landscape for my city. This is real. People are going to die.

S10: We just have to deal with this very realistically and not try to bury our our heads in the sand. But I do feel that if we can focus on the antibody portion of it, we will be able to stop the transmission, especially to those high risk individuals, and then we can get people back out and active in our community. And I think that that will bring relief and it will bring more of a sense of hope to communities across the nation.

S7: As pragmatic as Castro is and as aggressive as she’s being with all the tools she’s got, she’s only one mayor in the nation’s third most populous state. So there’s only so much she can do.

S12: I noticed this video from this weekend from a local church, the river. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it. Oh, yes. It is a packed church service, and it’s not just that it’s a packed church service because in the middle of the sermon, the pastor basically says he doesn’t care if he spreads this disease.

S15: We’re not worried about our safety.

S16: I know one thing is certain every living member here has some type of God, regardless of what takes place. We need dancing in streets today. Are you going to dance? I’m free to go this way.


S12: Do you feel. It’s this sort of nihilistic idea of we’re going to have in any way. And so it doesn’t matter.

S13: And I was watching this video, having just read an article about how a choir rehearsal in Washington state where no one touched each other ended up being a spreading event.

S6: Yeah, that’s the those are the events that make me bounce my head off the desk. And that actually was out in the county just as a point of reference. Not in the city of Tampa, but that should have been shut down on Friday. That pastor indicated that he was going to have that service. And apparently he had single handedly eradicated the Zika virus. So he felt he was going to do the same thing with Kobe at 19. But that should have been shut down on Friday. The governor has put a statewide order that you will have no law, no larger congregation than 10 individuals at 6 feet that are all six feet apart. So that’s an enforceable order. And that is where enforcement should have come in on Friday saying that you’re not going to have this service and then have the deputies standing at the doors of that church. One individual showed up to say that, you know, we’re not going to have this service. That’s just unbelievably irresponsible. I mean, you can’t have hundreds of people come into a room. What did he say? That the virus was gonna be basically zapped at the church door. So it it was just ridiculous. And one more example of the flawed. You know how always happens in Florida.

S9: That frustration you hear in Mayor Castro’s voice. It seems to be fueling her right now. She knows she’s making decisions blind since her counties run out of testing kits. She doesn’t really know who is positive and who isn’t. But even when she eventually gets more test results, she isn’t sure they’re going to be complete. So she’s trying to cobble together more information. However she can.


S10: We’ve got the University of South Florida. Some of their students in the infectious disease area. Researchers putting together a dashboard of information that we need, collecting ages of individuals and then collecting geographic locations of all of those that call in to try to get a test. You know, from the areas that we can we can bring the hospitals and the health department. We can get all those that data in a stream.

S6: But to bring all that and then look, measure where the positive tests are coming from.

S10: And those would be our hot spots. Clearly, we as fast as this virus spreads, we would be a little behind the curve on that, but at least we would be addressing it in a logical fashion, you know, instead of shotgun style.

S12: But that really stands out to me, because what you’re saying is your own individual municipality is taking on this big data crunching thing. And normally that wouldn’t be like on the city of Tampa to do.

S10: Well, you know, it’s really it’s kind of every man for himself in this virus. Again, that, you know, the states helping out. We work well with our county. Again, like I said, going at it from every single angle, because this is not a normal situation. This this isn’t a hurricane. This isn’t the emergency that we deal with on a daily basis. It’s new territory, uncharted waters for everybody nationwide. And so if we can hit it from as many angles as we possibly can and the data and analysis angle is something that I have seen be very successful in the past, and I think it will be successful as well. We just have to to make sure we’re getting the right data.


S17: But you’re saying it’s every man for himself, which strikes me as true. But this has to be a collective solution. It does. It does.

S18: But sometimes it’s hard to get individuals to listen. So, you know, again, with if you can show them the actionable data, then people may listen. You know, with the stay at home, you know, that like this changes every single day. And we went from when I proposed that to the point that the emergency policy group wouldn’t even vote to discuss it, not even discuss it. So we went from that meeting to two days later that we were we were voting on this day for it home for the entire county.

S12: That’s fast.

S18: Yeah, but that’s why I told everybody, you know, when they say slow down, slow down.

S17: I said, no, you need to keep up. I mean, you mentioned I just hope I can show the data to people and they can come around. Who do you want to show the data to the world.

S18: Really? The entire nation. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones doing this. There are others around the United States that are doing this as well. And, you know, to bring those voices together as they mount the individuals that said, oh, we’ll never go to a shut down, oh, this will never come to our country. And every one of those sort of naysayers have been proven wrong in very short order.

S19: So everyone needs to understand the severity of this. The speed with which it spreads and the need for action now, not tomorrow. Mayor Castor, I’m really grateful for your time today. My pleasure, you guys take care up there. Safe.


S20: Jane Castor is the mayor of Tampa, Florida.

S21: One final note here, after we recorded this interview, we learned the pastor of that church, the river, he was arrested by the county sheriff for putting his congregation and the community at risk. And that’s the show we’ve been listening to, all the voicemails you guys are sending us from around the country. We know you’ve got a lot going on.

S22: Hi, Mary. I love the show. My name is Michael Farfrom in Morristown, New Jersey. I’m a rabbi, but also a father of young kids. My wife is also rabbi. We’re home with the kids, trained to do all their schooling, but also reaching out to the congregation, sending videos, teaching classes, streaming services. It’s a lot to take care of your family and help a lot of other families.

S23: Hi, Mary. I’m calling from Pittsburgh. My name is Avi. I’m in kind of a funny situation that’s probably not unique. Tomorrow’s my birthday, so I don’t know how I’m going to celebrate that while we’re all under quarantine. I do my work from home, but it’s still really depressing to not be able to do a birthday or basically do anything outside the house. So I hope you’re doing well. Thanks for having this sort of thing where people get the call in. It’s nice to hear from other people who are also going through similar kind of like mundane but not normal circumstances.

S21: Happy belated birthday, Abby. If you tweet tweeted me at Mary’s desk, I’ll even send you a video of me and my kids singing your birthday song because you know what we are stuck at home to. How have you been coping in the time of coronavirus? Call and tell us our number is 2 0 2 8 8 8 2 5 8 8. What next? Is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Morris Silvers, Mary Wilson and Jason de Leone. I’m Mary Harris. Catch you back here tomorrow.