MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians to stay home and not panic about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which had infected at least 1,000 people across the state as of Sunday.
Twelve people have died, including the first fatality in Palm Beach County. Nearly half of the state’s positive cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
But DeSantis stressed that the results should not cause undue concern.
“The vast, vast majority of people are testing negative for this,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis held a news conference at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Less than two months after hosting the Super Bowl, the stadium is now the home of a drive-thru testing site recently opened by the National Guard. On Sunday, they were only testing first responders and health care workers. On Monday, they planned to expand it to people at least 65 years old who are showing symptoms of the illness. A testing center at Marlins Park will also open in the coming days, officials said.
According to state figures, more than 11,000 people have been tested for the virus. That’s more than most states, but less than New York.
Also Sunday, students at multiple Florida colleges were found to have the virus. Ten students and one employee at the University of Florida in Gainesville, six students at University of Tampa, and one student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg all tested positive, the schools announced. The University of Miami also said a student had the virus.
In addition, a fourth TSA worker at Orlando International Airport has tested positive, officials said. The Transportation Security Administration said the screening officer, last worked March 16 and is quarantining at home.
Around the state, the virus rippled through communities — figuratively, if not literally. Boat ramps were closed, more businesses were shuttered, and officials warned that residents should brace themselves for difficult times ahead.
“I want everybody to get mentally and emotionally prepared,” he said.
During a news conference Sunday, Orange County Mayor Val Demings said the county would offer rental assistance for those who have lost jobs.
In Southwest Florida, two Fort Myers restaurants prepared about 2,000 meals Saturday and gave them away to hospitality industry workers who have been laid off. On Friday, DeSantis ordered restaurants statewide to close their dining rooms in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. The order could last through May 8 or longer — a devastating blow to a state whose lifeblood is tourism.
DeSantis has not called for a “shelter in place” order, unlike governors in California, New York and Illinois, who have ordered such restrictive measures.
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators.
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