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Covid-19 and news, Peter Schorsch shares predictions on reopening dates

Megan Holmes



The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights.

On this episode, Peter Schorsch, publisher of the news blogging site Florida Politics, joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the Chamber, and St. Pete Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton to talk about how media is covering Covid-19 on a state and local level.

Florida Politics, which began locally as SaintPetersBlog, now has the largest political reporting footprint in the state of Florida. In a time when other news organizations have cut back, furloughed and laid off employees, Florida Politics continues to expand its offerings. The online publication boasts reporters in every part of the state, from South Florida to Jacksonville, Orlando, Naples, Tallahassee and, of course, Tampa Bay. Through it all, Florida Politics tries to bring a statewide perspective to political news.

Schorsch says that during the pandemic, Florida Politics has seen more traffic than ever. In March, traffic was three times more than the busiest month the site had previously seen, which was an election month. His newsroom covers everything from press conferences to governmental responses on every level, to unemployment news and scoops on outbreaks such as the one at the Freedom Square nursing home.

The one thing Schorsch says is truly missing from all Covid-19 coverage? Context. He says that the role of news in times like these is explanatory journalism. Why is the testing rate, infection rate or antibody testing important? What does it mean for the state to obtain thousands of N-95 masks? Is that a lot or a little?

He says journalists should be explaining models and helping readers understand why they change and why they are inherently self-defeating. Now is not the time to say that we as a country or state or community overreacted, Schorsch says. Rather, because the public responded to the models and practiced social distancing, we didn’t have the numbers we could have had.

Still, a record 83 Floridians died yesterday of Covid-19. Some will say that as a percentage of the state’s population, it’s not worth ruining the economy for, Schorsch said, but “if a bomb went off and 83 Floridians were killed, we would go to war.”

Schorsch gives his take on President Donald Trump and Governor Don DeSantis’ responses to the virus, and explains why he thinks more of the public is listening to doctors over politicians as the pandemic rages on.

He also shares why he believes Tampa Bay has fared so well during the pandemic. While geography has some role, he also believes that the area’s leadership has been some of the best in the state.

“We’re going to write about the heroes of the pandemic,” Schorsch said, “and [Tampa Mayor] Jane Castor will be up there, [St. Petersburg Mayor] Rick Kriseman will be up there, [Hillsborough County Sheriff] Chad Chronister will be up there, [Pinellas County Sheriff] Bob Gualtieri will be up there.

“I don’t care where you come down on some of this stuff, curfews or not, beaches opened or not, small businesses opened, you can’t tell me that these folks aren’t putting 100 percent of their thinking into how to solve these problems. Bob Gualtieri, to his everlasting credit, wrestles with decisions like a Shakespearean character. He is not afraid to back off a decision that he made a couple of weeks ago because new data has come in. We don’t see a lot of politicians like that.”

Schorsch shares his final thoughts, providing some future predictions of how the reopening of Florida will play out. “I think the biggest factor was Donald Trump and Georgia’s governor getting into a spat about him reopening too early. That gave Ron DeSantis some breathing room. That’s why a week ago, you saw Ron DeSantis saying, we’re probably going to open up May 1st, and then this week, Ron DeSantis is saying, ‘Hey let’s take baby steps.'”

Schorsch predicts reopening to begin around May 8-15. He expects elective surgeries, barbershops, and some small businesses to begin to reopen between May 11 and 18, as well as some soft re-openings restaurants. Schorsch predicts that 40 percent of the state is back online by Memorial Day.



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