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COVID-19 Morning Update

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Florida Department of Health
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Over the weekend the total number of positive cases of coronavirus in Florida grew to 1,007 people with the death toll now standing at 13.  According to the Florida Department of Health there are still more than 900 tests pending results, with the number of confirmed cases expected to increase.

Public beaches throughout Southwest Florida remain closed.  Violators can face fines of up to $5,000 dollars.

In a series of news conferences over the weekend, Governor Ron DeSantis said he's taking action, noting that the capacity for coronavirus testing and treatment is scaling up significantly in Florida.

Federally supported test sites are opening throughout the state, he said. On Saturday, a site opened in Jacksonville at Jaguar stadium. Sunday, a site opened in Miami at the Hard Rock Stadium. And on Wednesday, a site is slated to open in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center. The sites will test people 65 and older who have symptoms, as well as first responders and healthcare workers regardless of symptoms. 

Jared Moskowitz, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, announced that 300,000 N95 masks arrived in Florida on Saturday. He expects 2 million more in the next two weeks. The masks are protective gear for healthcare workers. 

In addition, the state has made 3,000 ICU beds available, with medical personnel on standby. Field hospitals with 250-person capacities will open in Broward and Dade counties in coming days. 

Florida recently received 5,000 coronavirus testing kits, which were sent to Broward County. An assisted living facility in Broward was found on Friday not to be screening staff. As of Saturday, DeSantis said, 10 residents there had been infected with COVID-19 and three had died from it.

DeSantis added that while fatalities have been higher in older people, the majority of COVID-19 infections in the state are in people under the age of 60. Moskowitz emphasized that social distancing works, and urged young people to do their part by staying home and giving up their spring break, saying, “The beaches will still be there.” 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried a number of emergency orders and rules, Friday.  Fried also statement calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide "stay-at-home" order.

In her statement, Commissioner Fried acknowledges the “difficult choices” Gov. DeSantis has been making in recent days, including the shuttering of all bars and his executive order, Friday, calling for the closure of all restaurant dining rooms and gyms for the duration of Florida's current State of Emergency.  The current State of Emergency declaration is set to expire May 8th, but could be extended.

A number of municipalities throughout Florida have already taken the steps of imposing curfews and forcing the closures of hotels.  The impact of job losses in the hospitality industry so far are largely anecdotal, but data released Thursday from the American Hotel & Lodging Association says about 400,000 jobs have been cut from hotels and related businesses.

In her statement, Fried said, "Shutting down one of the nation's largest states is a decision that will have an economic impact - but it is a decision that will save lives. Based on the data, we know we are a week behind California's vast increase in COVID-19 cases.”

The Florida National Guard has been called upon to assist in distributing medical supplies to coronavirus hotspots throughout the state. In a news release, the Florida National Guard says it has 1,010 members on active duty, and they’re preparing to expand their support to community-based testing sites in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Orange counties in the near future. Their main mission, they say, is to deliver supplies and help set up testing sites wherever counties ask for their assistance. 

Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor sent out a bulletin this weekend addressing concerns from her constituents about the presence of military vehicles—allegedly including tanks—spotted on Southwest Florida roadways. Taylor shared the following from Dan Summers, Collier County’s Emergency Operations Center Director: "I have spoken with the Florida Department of Emergency Management and unquestionably there are no tanks moving across the state. The State Emergency Management office is also seeing these “fake-news” discussions and are working to correct rumors and/or false videos."

He goes on to advise people to right-click on the picture or video to verify the age of the image.

Major retailers in Southwest Florida are adapting to the growing spread of the coronavirus by adjusting their hours of operation to accommodate shoppers in high-risk demographics.

Beginning March 24, Publix grocery stores will dedicate the 7:00 a.m. to 8 a.m. hour each Tuesday and Wednesday to elder shoppers at higher risk from contracting the coronavirus.

Target stores will also be setting aside the first hour of shopping hours each Wednesday to high-risk patrons beginning March 25.

Walmart stores, formerly open 24 hours-a-day, have been reduced to operation between 7:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.  Walmart’s more than 5,000 stores nationwide are opening an hour early each Tuesday morning for people 60 or older through at least April 28.

Winn-Dixie grocery stores have set aside the 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. hour each weekday to high-risk shoppers until further notice beginning today/Monday, March 23.

Publix also says it wants to hire “thousands of associates” by the end of March to respond to unprecedented demand prompted by COVID-19.

The Lakeland-based grocery store chain says it wants to fill positions in its stores and distribution centers across its seven-state operating area.

That includes distribution centers in Lakeland and in Orlando. Publix is encouraging applications from those faced with joblessness because of the coronavirus.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.