June 30, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

High-rise complexes everywhere will certainly see increased inspections as the result of the disaster in Surfside, Florida. But also, without a doubt, condominium association boards will feel new responsibility to members to pay intensively close attention to maintenance and repairs and keep owners informed. 

As we learned in the last day, the Champlain South Towers condo board informed members in April that the structural problems that an inspector spotted in 2018 had gotten much worse and repairs would be north of $15 million.

Keep in mind, Sarasota Magazine reminds us, “Florida is home to 23,149 condominium associations and 1,516,375 condominium units, more than any other state. Most of them were built in the last 50 years.”

Tony D’Souza writes for Sarasota Magazine that modern condo associations have a lot more power than you would think. In some cases, they have more power than local governments. They also carry a ton of responsibility when things go bad.

D’Souza details another condo saga like the one unfolding in Surfside. This story is about a condo that was certainly heading for collapse — except a condo association president sounded the alarm. And with so many aging condos, D’Souza reports, owner associations nationwide are about to face a comeuppance:

Few purchasers factor in the cost of possibly drastic future repairs, and few owners fully understand how extensive their association’s powers really are.

Backed by the full force of Florida law, condo associations have the rights to enforce code over common areas, roofs, plumbing, electrical wiring and other shared building structures; to levy fines; and to borrow money or pledge association assets as collateral in emergency situations, such as before or after a hurricane.

Florida law gives condo associations a long governing leash. As long as associations keep public records, adhere to regular public meetings, and follow their incorporation documents, their decisions over owners will stand. If most owners in an association want disco balls hanging in their building’s common areas and approve it by vote, then there will be disco balls in the common areas. And if a disco ball causes an expensive electrical fire, all the owners — even those who voted against the disco balls — are responsible for the repair bill. Florida does maintain an Office of the Condominium Ombudsman to serve as a neutral party in disputes between boards and individual owners, but the ombudsman’s powers to intervene are weak.

This brings me to a report by WJXT-TV that may send shudders down the spines of condo board members everywhere:

Florida Bar Board Certified Condominium and Construction Law Attorney Barry Ansbacher told the News4Jax I-TEAM that repairs would have been the responsibility of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association’s board, which is made up of people who owned condos at the building.

“They are elected by the association to be the leadership and they have a responsibility to everyone in that building, that the building is being properly kept up,” Ansbacher said Monday. “If there’s deferred maintenance, that it’s being dealt with. … If they knew about the problem, they certainly had a duty to make sure that it’s acted upon.”

Generally, Ansbacher said, members of condominium associations in Florida work on a voluntary basis and cannot be held responsible for poor decisions, acts of omission or negligence. But he said there are exceptions in certain circumstances.

“If a board member acts with what’s considered recklessness, meaning there’s a high probability that someone can be hurt or endangered on their property, in those instances they could be personally responsible as well as the condominium association itself,” he said.

Dozens of sudden heat deaths have occurred

Salem Fire Department paramedics and employees of Falck Northwest ambulances respond to a heat exposure call during an extreme heatwave in the Western U.S. on Tuesday, June 26, 2021 in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

A heat wave that is breaking century-old records in the Northwest U.S. and Canada appears to be contributing to a number of deaths.

In Oregon, health authorities believe two men who were homeless died in the heat. Urgent care facilities have been flooded with heat-related cases, too.

In Arizona, Maricopa County authorities are investigating 53 deaths that appear to be heat-related.

CTV in Canada reports:

Mounties in Metro Vancouver say there were more than two dozen reports of sudden deaths in a 24-hour period in just one city.

The Burnaby RCMP said they received 25 calls during a record-breaking heat wave. The temperature is believed to be a contributing factor in the majority of the deaths, they said in a statement Tuesday.

Many of those who died were seniors.

AARP compiled a list of the deadliest heat waves in recent decades. In 1980, 10,000 Americans died in a heat wave that baked crops and cost the economy more than $33 billion.

Veterinarians say their offices are flooded with pets in heat distress.

WHO and Los Angeles County recommend masks again — but the CDC does not

This is not going to be popular, but then again we are in a pandemic, not a popularity contest.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is recommending that all residents wear masks in public indoor spaces — regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

That recommendation follows the World Health Organization’s similar announcement from a few days ago.

Let’s be clear, the COVID-19 vaccines are working. In fact, they are working very effectively. The concern is for unvaccinated people who are now being exposed globally to a variant of the virus called the delta variant.  Los Angeles health authorities stressed that “fully vaccinated people appear to be well protected from infections with delta variants.”  

As if to emphasize that, of the 123 people in Los Angeles County who have been infected with the delta variant so far, 110 of them were unvaccinated and another three people had only gotten one dose of the vaccine. And even those fully vaccinated people who were infected did not suffer serious illness. The vaccines work.

The Los Angeles Times includes this quote, with the context that more than three in five Californians are vaccinated:

While not a new mask mandate, L.A. County is urging that, as a precaution, “people wear masks indoors in settings such as grocery or retail stores; theaters and family entertainment centers, and workplaces when you don’t know everyone’s vaccination status.”

“Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions, like physical distancing and capacity limits,” officials wrote in a statement.

Los Angeles County’s announcement follows what World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Dr. Mariangela Simao said: “People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not joined the WHO, sticking to its May 2021 guidance that fully vaccinated people do not need masks indoors or outdoors.

All of this happens in the shadow of discomforting data. In the last week, 23 states had more cases than the week before. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows half of the states in the nation also saw an uptick in deaths compared to a week ago.

Here is the newest trend map for new cases from Johns Hopkins:

(Johns Hopkins)

Beyond the U.S. borders, the delta variant is spreading quickly. From Columbia to Russia, South Africa to Australia, new COVID-19 cases are way up. USA Today reports only 5% of Australians are vaccinated:

Several of Australia’s major cities are under COVID-19 lockdown following a recent outbreak of the delta variant.

Perth, the capital of Western Australia, began a four-day lockdown Tuesday and made masks compulsory after a resident tested positive, according to Reuters. Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, will also enter lockdown Tuesday.

Most of the new cases are linked to an unvaccinated Sydney limousine driver who tested positive June 16 after transporting a foreign air crew from the airport while reportedly not wearing a mask.

(Johns Hopkins)

(Johns Hopkins)

85 people were infected at an Illinois summer camp. The state will not name the camp.

85 teens and adult staff members at an Illinois summer youth camp have tested positive for COVID-19. One young adult who was not vaccinated was hospitalized.

The state health department says even though the campers and adults all qualified for vaccinations, few of them had been vaccinated. A state health department news release said, “The camp was not checking vaccination status and masking was not required while indoors.”

“The majority of the 85 COVID-19 cases associated with the youth camp are among teens,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “The perceived risk to children may seem small, but even a mild case of COVID-19 can cause long-term health issues. Additionally, infected youth who may not experience severe illness can still spread the virus to others, including those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who don’t build the strong expected immune response to the vaccine.”

In a head-scratchingly ridiculous move, the state’s news release didn’t name the camp. Enterprising journalists noted that a Pike County Health Department statement warned about a recent COVID-19 outbreak of at least 50 confirmed cases at Crossing Camp in Rushville, a church camp located in Schuyler County. The camp’s website says nothing about the outbreak.

Why is it important to know the name of the camp? For one thing, WEEK-TV reports, “A couple of individuals who were at the camp also attended a nearby conference, which resulted in 11 additional cases. At least 70% of those cases were unvaccinated.”

The Chicago Tribune reports:

This is the second instance this month of possible community exposure to COVID-19 linked to the church affiliated with the camp, The Crossing, a “multi-campus, nondenominational church,” with locations in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.

You may notice a trend here. A summer camp does not require kids or adults to be vaccinated, does not check vaccinations, does not require masks for unvaccinated people and has outbreaks. The outbreaks affect people who are also unvaccinated.

232 counties where young men are more likely to die of colorectal cancer

A study published in the American Journal of Cancer Research shows 232 U.S. counties where men under the age of 49 are at unusually high risk of dying from colorectal cancer. 92% of the counties are in the South.

(National Center for Biotechnology Information)

These so-called hot spots affect Black men more than any other group. StatNews reports that younger people are surprised that they are at risk:

Colon cancer was never on their radar because it is typically seen as a disease that affects older people. But since the 1990s, even as colorectal cancer rates have declined for people 50 and older, they have more than doubled among American adults under 50, according to the National Cancer Institute. By 2030, predicts a study published in April, colorectal cancer will be the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in people aged 20 to 49. The reason behind the rise remains a mystery.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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