Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provide utility workers with access to the COVID-19 vaccine before the 2021 hurricane season.
Speaking at the Florida Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the CFO and state fire marshall announced that he issued a letter to the agency requesting they coordinate with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to best provide and protect linemen and other utility personnel with the newly released Pfizer’s COVID-19 before Florida’s hurricane season begins on June 1.
“As you may know, we have recently taken issue with the way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has refused to classify firefighters as health care professionals. Another issue, however, that must be addressed is prioritizing utility workers for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. As the current CDC’s guidance classifies utility workers as part of “1b essential workers,” Florida’s lineman must be provided extra consideration, as they are critical personnel who provide life-saving resources to our communities, especially during perilous emergency situations,” Patronis says in the letter.
“More directly stated: we need to ensure that guidance is crystal clear that utility workers must have access to the vaccines before the next hurricane season. Therefore, I am requesting FEMA coordinate with the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the CDC to develop more detailed guidance on providing utility workers the COVID-19 vaccine with the stated goal of having these heroes covered before the 2021 hurricane season, which begins June 1.”
Patronis, a top advocate for Florida’s first responders, says it is vital that utility workers — who work tirelessly during hurricane season to keep the state’s infrastructure online — are taken care of within the next five months.
“With respect to protecting our utility workers, we must be proactive and not reactive. The record-breaking 2020 Hurricane Season was historic, bringing 30 named storms to the United States. The 2021 Hurricane Season will begin in June and that leaves roughly five months to ensure our linemen and women are vaccinated so they are standing ready to support our communities at a moment’s notice,” Patronis continued. “After Hurricane Michael hit my hometown of Panama City as a massive Category 5 storm, you and I toured the devastation together and saw first-hand the heroic actions of these highly trained linemen and the importance of their profession to Florida families and businesses. Just like our firefighters and other first responders, we must do all we can to protect them as they work to support our communities.
Patronis also noted that failing to protect utility workers would directly impact public facilities and other essential businesses vital to the state’s economy.
“For those that may not live in communities that are more prone to hurricanes, I cannot overstate how important our linemen and women are to Florida. Moreover, policy leaders must understand that utility workers are often deployed to other states to respond to major weather events,” he said. “Thus, if the nation finds itself in a situation where we have major weather event that impacts Texas, Florida, Louisiana or New Jersey, we will have utility workers deployed throughout the entire nation – and if they’re not protected from COVID-19, it will impact our ability to get our hospitals, schools, shelters, gas stations, etc., back online to support recovery efforts.”
To view the full letter to FEMA, click here.