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As the first vaccines for the novel coronavirus were administered Monday, Florida reached a grim milestone in cases and deaths.

More than 20,000 Floridians have died from the virus, according to data released by the state on Monday.

The Florida Department of Health reported 8,542 new infections bringing the state’s total to 1,134,383. Meanwhile 540 cases have been reported in Wilton Manors: 20 new cases in the last week, and 146 in the last 30 days. The cases in Oakland Park are up to 1,664: 57 new ones in the last week, and 298 in the last 30 days.

“Broward County — like most of the U.S. — saw a rapid rise in new COVID-19 cases following the holidays. With so many Americans attending holiday parties, we can expect to see this trend continue, unfortunately,” said Chris Caputo, a recently elected Wilton Manors city commissioner. “While a vaccine is finally a reality, we will have a way to go before things return to normal. I urge all of our residents to observe physical distancing, wear a mask, wash their hands regularly [we have sanitation stations along the drive] and avoid contact with others if you are experiencing any symptoms.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s plan calls for 179,400 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be sent to hospitals and pharmacies. Frontline health care workers, residents and caretakers at skilled nursing facilities are expected to receive the first immunizations, which consists of two inoculations, three weeks apart.

“I am optimistic about the rollout of the vaccine but urge everyone to remain vigilant in protecting themselves and preventing the spread of the virus,” said Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Paul Rolli. “It will be a few months before it is available to the entire community, meaning we must continue social distancing and wearing masks. If we are truly going to get through this together, we must each be responsible to play our part.”

DeSantis has been heavily criticized for his handling of the pandemic. He has refused to issue a statewide mask order, while declining to close businesses and set social distancing procedures.

Added to the deadly mix is a recent raid on the home of the former chief COVID data scientist which has raised concerns of information suppression.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, tweeted DeSantis’s “failed leadership is a tragedy Florida has had to endure.”

Closer to home, a source in the Wilton Manors code enforcement department told SFGN enforcing CDC guidelines has been difficult due largely in part to the state’s indifferent approach. The source, who declined to speak on the record, said the majority of complaints involve noncompliance with mask-wearing and social distancing.

A dashboard set up by Broward County shows 52 COVID warnings and seven citations have been issued in Wilton Manors.

Meanwhile local businesses are still struggling. Bona Italian Restaurant is down between 40-60% from last year. The restaurant has spent the money it received from the Paycheck Protection Program and is now relying on a small business administration loan to stay afloat.

“We have lost money every week since the pandemic shut us down in March. We hate looking at the year over year numbers,” said Co-owner Glen Weinzimer. “After 42 years on the drive, and four years in our stewardship, we are determined to survive and end up better for it.”

Even though things have been challenging Weinzimer still looks for the positive.

“As a result of COVID-19 we had the time to look at how we do business and make adjustments. We now prepare smaller batches of food like sauces and soups which means a higher quality product that will continue on,” he said. In addition they worked with the city to have outdoor dining around the large windows on the street.

Despite the obstacles Bona has faced he’s continued to hold his weekly givebacks Monday evenings for local non-profits.

“We believe the community has been so supportive during the pandemic that we need to continue to do what we can to show appreciation,” he said. “Bona Italian is looking forward to having 2020 in the rearview mirror. When it comes down to it, we have to see a silver lining and it is our hope with a new administration in January and the promise of the vaccine that brighter days lie ahead.”

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