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COVID-19 Morning Update

Florida Department of Health

More than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Florida Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 6,741.  The Florida Department of Health also reported 14 new coronavirus-related deaths, Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 85. 

The list of fatalities now includes a 28-year-old man in Sarasota County, who is now the youngest of Florida’s coronavirus deaths.  Lee County saw two new COVID-19 deaths, Tuesday, including a 62-year-old woman and a 96-year-old woman, bringing Lee County’s total number of deaths to eight.

South Florida remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the state with Broward and Miami-Dade Counties combined accounting for half of Florida’s documented COVID-19 cases.

More younger people are testing positive for the virus as well, including Tuesday’s report of a 16-year-old boy who tested positive in Collier County.  The Naples Daily News reports that comes less than a week after a 10-year-old boy in Lee County tested positive.

Lee Health officials announced, Tuesday, that a 216 hospital bed expansion planned for Gulf Coast Medical Center in South Fort Myers will come into service Thursday, ahead of schedule.  Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said when that happens, Gulf Coast Medical Center will have 250 dedicated beds for treating patients with the coronavirus and those suspected of having the virus.

Lee Health has 140 employees under quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job. 

In Collier County, 30 NCH Health System staffers are under quarantine due to exposure on the job.

Florida's Congressional Democrats are criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis' continued refusal to issue a state-wide 'stay-at-home' order to help combat the spread of COVID-19, saying the governor's decision will result in thousands of unnecessary deaths.  The AP reports, Florida's Congressional Democrats also say the decision increases the risk to the health of front-line medical staff and threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

Democrats continue to urge DeSantis to end his "county-by-county" approach and follow the lead of governors in other hard-hit states by closing all non-essential businesses and ordering people to stay home except for necessary trips such as buying groceries.  DeSantis defends his approach, saying businesses and employees in unaffected counties should not be punished.

Democratic Florida lawmakers say a Florida Supreme Court order suspending evictions doesn’t go far enough. The order stops law enforcement from serving eviction notices, called “writs of possession,” but it doesn’t stop tenants from incurring fines and fees.

The order expires April 17. State Senator Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens), said the moratorium should be extended. “We have to assume that this is going to happen for a while,” said Sen. Braynon.  “And if you look at some of the other states, they’ve put in place eviction moratoriums until the end of the crisis and I think that’s what we’re asking for.”

The Florida Supreme Court’s order was issued before the federal government extended social distancing guidelines until April 30.

In a move similar to the one made by the City of Sanibel last week, members of the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach voted in favor of prohibiting accommodation rentals during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda said it was necessary for the town to adopt its own version for prohibiting rentals in the foreseeable future.

“We felt it was essential because as one community shifts, another community is effected,” Cereceda said during a virtual council meeting held Monday.

Council members voted to cancel stays for the next 90 days at hotels, motels, timeshares and any other place of public accommodation that provides lodging to transient guests.

For now, hotels and other lodging providers will be able to take reservations when those 90 days are up.  But, the council said the prohibition period will remain fluid as long as the town remains under a state of emergency.

The Holland America cruise ship with sick passengers on board still has to wait to hear if it will be allowed to dock at Port Everglades this week.  Broward County Commissioners did not make a decision at a meeting, Tuesday, after hours of questioning port and cruise officials.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony told commissioners the cruise line needs to provide more of a plan for the ship’s passengers.

“We’re still trying to outline some of the specifics as to what is going to be the best strategy put forth that will mitigate any type of harm that could impact our community,” said Sheriff Tony.

Holland America is a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation. Carnival's Chief Maritime Officer William Burke also spoke to the commission.

“We are coming to the place of last resort and we will submit the next plan as soon as I can get back and look at it,” said Burke.

Another cruise ship with sick passengers called The Coral Princess is on its way to Port Everglades. It is expected to arrive on April 4.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is directing all cruise ships to remain at sea where they may be sequestered indefinitely.  The Coast Guard is advising cruise lines to be prepared to send any ill passengers to the countries where the vessels are registered, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a memo dated March 29, the Coast Guard's top regional official said the new requirements are necessary because medical facilities in South Florida may become too overwhelmed to deal with sick cruise passengers.

Florida might speed up some infrastructure projects, taking advantage of drivers staying off roads because of the virus outbreak.

Speaking to reporters at the state capitol Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis said details about what projects could be moved up should be available Wednesday.

Last week, Key West officials decided to take advantage of sparse traffic in the usual tourist destination to begin a repaving project on the iconic and typically bustling Duval Street.

DeSantis said now is a golden opportunity to get some work done, without affecting commuters.

“Given that the traffic is down and everything, I’m going to be looking at accelerating some of these infrastructure projects because when you’re doing those on busy roads it causes a lot of problems,” said DeSantis.  “Well, those roads are no longer busy if that’s going to be the case for the next month then we’re going to need to make use of that time.”

DeSantis’ comments followed an announcement earlier in the day by President Donald Trump about undertaking another round of stimulus, this time spending $2 trillion on public works programs. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also suggested the federal government focus on infrastructure.

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.