Governor: 28 people in Florida test positive for new coronavirus

DeSantis says he’s closing visitation at nursing homes to visitors showing symptoms

A sign language interpreter translates as Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers an update on the coronavirus Wednesday afternoon. (WJXT)

MIAMI, Fla. – As concern over the coronavirus spreads across Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday afternoon that 28 people have tested positive in Florida for the new coronavirus.

DeSantis said 26 of those people are residents of Florida, and two are non-residents. The governor did not say in which counties the six additional cases were discovered.

According to DeSantis, there are 147 tests pending results. He said 353 are currently being monitored, and a total of 877 people have been monitored.

THE LATEST: Coronavirus Special Section

DeSantis placed limits Wednesday on who can can visit Florida’s nursing homes and other assisted living facilities, bidding to protect the state’s sizeable and vulnerable elderly population from the new coronavirus.

The governor took the step by executive order as public universities shuttered classrooms in favor of distance learning, a day after the state announced eight new infections. The disease has killed two people in Florida and infected more than two dozen others overall in Florida.

The governor’s order prohibits anyone who recently arrived from a foreign country from visiting nursing and assisted care facilities. DeSantis noted that most of the Florida infections from the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, stemmed from international travel.

“These are important efforts to mitigate the risk to our most vulnerable population to COVID-19, which is our elderly population,” DeSantis said at an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

As a further precaution, the governor also urged elections officials to move any polling places that might be located at nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly. One polling location was moved in Jacksonville.

Florida holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.

The governor said Florida is learning from the state of Washington, where a Seattle-area nursing home has been the epicenter of that state’s cases.

The governor’s order prohibits anyone showing symptoms of a respiratory infection from visiting nursing homes and other facilities for older people. That prohibition also includes anyone who may have had close contact with anyone testing positive for COVID-19, as well as anyone who recently took a cruise or has been in places deemed to have a "community spread'' of the virus.

The governor also disputed that Florida is among those places with “community spread" despite an earlier assertion by a federal health official naming Florida as one such location.

During public comments Tuesday in Washington, National Institute of Health infectious disease director Anthony Fauci had included Florida in a list of four states believed to be experiencing community spread.

DeSantis said that all cases in Florida stemmed from either foreign travel, cruise ships or close contact with an infected person, except for one case still under investigation.

“We are not seeing community spread, but this is something we are watching very very carefully,” Florida Surgeon Gen. Scott Rivkees said at the news conference.

Meanwhile, public universities across Florida, which have some of the country’s largest enrollments, will move to remote instruction effective Monday. That step is intended to minimize health and safety risks to students and staff, especially as they prepare to return from spring break.

On Tuesday night, health authorities in Florida announced eight new cases of coronavirus among people who recently traveled internationally. Those cases included a 68-year-old Nassau County man and a 68-year-old Georgia woman in Alachua County.

All of the new patients were 64 and older, except for one 46-year-old man.

Earlier in the week, DeSantis declared a state of emergency, saying the action would enable the state to better marshal resources and get outside help as it confronts the growing public health crisis.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia in older adults and people with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within weeks.

The new patients and the others who have tested positive in Florida are self-isolating for 14 days as instructed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the health department said.

Meanwhile, another Princess cruise ship recently was given federal permission to dock in Florida after testing cleared two crew members and U.S. health officials lifted a “no sail” order. A Princess Cruises spokeswoman, Negin Kamali, said in an email Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave permission

The CDC has advised all disembarking cruise ship passengers to monitor themselves for 14 days, and immediately self-isolate if they experience symptoms while contacting medical professionals for treatment.