Eviction moratorium ends as coronavirus deaths continue to mount

Five days after allowing all businesses in the state to reopen so idled workers can return to their jobs, Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted a moratorium that protected people from losing their homes during the pandemic.



A West Palm Beach Emergency Management employee shows off masks that the city's Fire, Police and Emergency Management Departments are distributing to 17 elementary, middle and high schools in West Palm Beach city limits Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. The distribution of approximately 26,000 reusable, washable cloth masks is the city's effort to ensure students in the city have facial coverings when in-person schooling resumes. The masks were donated by Palm Beach County, purchased with funds from the CARES Act. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, is the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by congress. [LANNIS WATERS/palmbeachpost.com]


© Lannis Waters
A West Palm Beach Emergency Management employee shows off masks that the city’s Fire, Police and Emergency Management Departments are distributing to 17 elementary, middle and high schools in West Palm Beach city limits Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. The distribution of approximately 26,000 reusable, washable cloth masks is the city’s effort to ensure students in the city have facial coverings when in-person schooling resumes. The masks were donated by Palm Beach County, purchased with funds from the CARES Act. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, is the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by congress. [LANNIS WATERS/palmbeachpost.com]

With a nearly six-month moratorium on evictions and foreclosures set to expire late Wednesday, DeSantis opted not to extend it.

Fred Piccolo, the governor’s director of communications, said that the moratorium on evictions is no longer needed because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently launched a program that protects cash-strapped renters across the country from losing their homes and apartments through Dec. 31.

A state order would just cause “confusion,” Piccolo said in an email announcing the end of the moratorium.

More: Coronavirus Florida: Latest charts and case counts

Under the CDC program, renters have to fill out paperwork, swearing that they are unable to pay their full rent because of job losses related to the pandemic.

While the program that the CDC initiated will protect renters, it provides no relief to those who could lose their homes to foreclosure, housing advocates said.

But Palm Beach County renters and homeowners can seek financial help through programs the county established with money it received through the federal CARES Act program.

The county’s Department of Community Services has paid roughly $3.8 million to roughly 2,100 people who were unable to pay their rent or utility bills. More than 6,600 people requested assistance. While nearly 1,100 requests were rejected, about 4,400 requests for help are pending.

Another pot of federal money was set aside to pay up to $10,000 to help homeowners cover their mortgage payments or association fees for six months.

Roughly 900 homeowner were helped during the first round of the program that is operated through the county’s Office of Housing and Economic Stability. A new round of applications will begin being accepted on Oct. 9.

While Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock previously described the looming deluge of eviction cases as a “nightmare,” on Thursday she was more measured. In part, it was because of the relief possible through the CDC program.

“When the courts begin issuing writs of possession, we will be working to efficiently and effectively carry out our responsibilities for both the landlord and the tenant,” Bock said in a statement.

In addition, to lifting the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, DeSantis also ordered governmental bodies to resume in-person meetings on Nov. 1.

His continuing efforts to peel back rules designed to protect people from the deadly virus came as the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to climb throughout the state, according to a daily update from Florida Department of Health.

More: DeSantis to hand out rapid-result coronavirus tests

An additional 2,628 cases and 127 new fatalities were reported statewide on Thursday.

Another 14 deaths were reported in the county. That means more than 1,400 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The deaths, well above the daily average of nine that have been reported over the last two weeks, comes as a new normal emerged in the county.

While social-distancing guidelines and a mask mandate remain in place, county officials on Tuesday said DeSantis forced them to allow all businesses to reopen at full capacity instead of limiting some, like restaurants, to 50%.

On Friday, DeSantis declared that all businesses in the state would be allowed to enter Phase 3, which allows all to reopen. He also sharply limited local officials from continuing to impose any limitations on how many customers can be served.

The losses of the lengthy shutdown were ruinous to the state’s economy and workers and business owners throughout the state, he said.  “We’re not going to be closing anything going forward,” he pledged.

While a high number of deaths were reported in the county on Thursday, the 146 new cases is about average for the last two weeks. The additional cases means 46,698 people in the county have been infected.

Statewide, 709,144 people have been diagnosed and 14,619 people, including 175 nonresidents, have died of the highly contagious respiratory disease, state health officials said.

More: Nearly 4,700 coronavirus cases in schools statewide

While the number of new cases reported in Florida on Wednesday was eclipsed by four other states, the Sunshine State continues to be among the national leaders in the total number of people diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

California and Texas, far more populous than Florida, continue to have the most cases.

The percentage of people in Florida testing positive dropped to 4.65% on Thursday. Global health experts say the rate must consistently remain below 5.0% before meaningful steps can be taken to curb the spread of the virus. The state’s positivity rate has averaged 4.61% over the last 14 days.

The county’s rate, which indicates the prevalence of the disease, inched up slightly to 4.26%. Still, over the last 14 days, it has averaged 3.8%.

The number of people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 continues to drop, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

There were 2,082 people hospitalized throughout the state on Thursday, roughly 1,500 fewer than on Sept. 1.

The patient counts in the county dropped to 110, the agency reported. By comparison, 215 were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sept. 1.

jmusgrave@pbpost.com

@pbpcourts

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Eviction moratorium ends as coronavirus deaths continue to mount

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