Florida coronavirus deaths reach 218, cases top 12,000. Numbers expected to go up over the next two weeks.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The coronavirus death toll in Florida has now reached 218 people and total cases have topped 12,000, according to statistics released by the state Department of Health this morning.

A security guard directs customers to enter the Walmart Supercenter located at 15885 SW 88th St, as the coronavirus pandemic continues on Sunday, March 5, 2020 in Miami. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

The deaths have been heaviest in South Florida, where three counties have totaled 120 fatalities. That includes the deaths of Sgt. Jose Diaz Ayala of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday and Deputy Shannon Bennett of the Broward Sheriff’s Office on Friday.

Palm Beach County has had 49 deaths, followed by Broward County with 40 and Miami-Dade with 31.

The Department of Corrections also reported Sunday that two inmates and five staff members at a Santa Rosa County private prison have tested positive for the virus. Statewide, 26 state and private prison employees have tested positive, but the Blackwater River Correctional Facility is the only prison with inmates who have tested positive.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario-Diaz Balart of Miami, the first member of Congress to test positive for the coronavirus, announced on Twitter that he was now rid of the disease.

“Today, after being deemed #COVID19 free by my doctor, I was able to reunite with my family in Miami. Though still a bit weak, I feel well,” Diaz-Balart said, adding that he applied to participate in a Red Cross plasma donation program to help others stricken with the illness.

Meanwhile, a Princess Cruises ship that docked in Miami on Saturday with coronavirus victims, including two fatalities, was still trying to disembark passengers. The Coral Princess had 1,020 passengers and 878 crew members.

Buses waited near the cruise terminal Sunday to take passengers showing no signs of the illness to the airport. The cruise line said Saturday that the process would take several days. Passengers and crew who showed symptoms or were recovering from the disease were to remain on board until medically cleared.

Princess Cruises didn’t immediately respond to an email and a phone message on Sunday.

The state’s famous beaches remained under restrictions. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay at home order last week, but it allows exercise such as walking, running and swimming.

In Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, officials initially closed beaches entirely, but decided Saturday to allow some activity consistent with the governor’s order. Sunbathing and sitting in chairs is prohibited, but fishing, surfing, walking, running and other physical activity are allowed if social distancing is practiced.


Associated Press writer Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg contributed to this story.