DeSantis: Vaccine age eligibility will lower to 50 on Monday

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Floridians age 50 and up will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine beginning Monday, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday.

DeSantis said nearly 70% of Florida’s senior citizens have been vaccinated and demand is dropping among those currently eligible for shots. Right now, Florida is vaccinating people aged 60 and up, healthcare workers and first responders over 50.

“We’re excited about the progress,” DeSantis said. “I think the demand is softened enough that opening up to 50-plus will be good. We’ll monitor to see how next week goes.”

DeSantis said the next step will be to open vaccines up to anybody who wants one.

“I can’t tell you when exactly that will happen, but I can tell you it will definitely be before May 1. That’s not even a question, so stay tuned on that,” DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, a handful of students who were disappointed that the University of Tampa is holding a virtual spring graduation ceremony have planned their own in-person ceremony.

When university officials announced last month that the Class of 2021 would have an online ceremony due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, Jacie Steele sprang into action, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Steele, a graduating senior, started a change.org petition asking UT president Ronald Vaughn and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, among others, to reconsider the decision. She noted that the university had been holding most of its courses in-person since last fall. And the university said it would host other in-person graduation week events for seniors, including photo opportunities.

“I’m baffled,” Steele told the newspaper. “I’m confused. I don’t understand why we can’t have an in-person ceremony when I see so many in-person things in Tampa.”

The petition received more than 3,500 virtual signatures from people who supported an in-person graduation for the school’s 1,850 expected graduates. However, the university responded that the decision was final.

Steele, along with students Allison Clark and Emma Stange, started organizing their own ceremony for May 8 at the Tampa Convention Center. It will follow the university’s online version.

Clark started a GoFundMe drive that’s raised more than $1,200.

“After this whole past year, we’ve all had to learn to adapt to a new way of life, and that’s what we’re doing,” she told the newspaper. “We’re going to have a safe, in-person, socially distant graduation, the way the university could have done — the way universities across the country and high schools across the country are doing. We just want to give students the recognition they deserve.”

They’re still looking for a keynote speaker and will finalize the details after they receive a count of participants by the end of the month, the newspaper reported. So far about 150 students have expressed interest.

University of Tampa spokesman Eric Cardenas said Thursday that the university was aware of the students’ plan, but would not be sponsoring or supporting it.

“We are unable to ensure that this independent event will follow the University’s Spartan Shield Health Safety Plan or CDC regulations,” he said. “Nor can we ensure the event will accurately represent or reflect the mission of the university.”

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday sued the Florida Department of Health for the second time in four months over the release of public records on the virus. The news organization says the Department of Health is violating the state’s public records laws by refusing to release detailed information about the locations of mutated strains of the virus, according to the lawsuit filed in state court in Tallahassee.

For more information about vaccination sites in Florida, click here.

If you would like to pre-register for a vaccine at FEMA-run sites in Florida, click here.

Anyone with questions and concerns about the coronavirus can call the Florida Department of Health’s 24-hour hotline at 1-866-779-6121.

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