TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida's largest county inched closer to economic shutdown Thursday as Miami-Dade County's mayor ordered all beaches, parks and “non-essential” commercial and retail businesses closed because of the new coronavirus pandemic.
"We must all act as if we are infected and take every precautionary step to prevent transmitting this virus," Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in his announcement of the closures, which appear to go beyond other state and local orders in Florida.
Gov. Ron DeSantis already had ordered bars closed and restaurants to limit seating, while some municipal governments have limited eateries to take-out and delivery.
Gimenez's order allows several businesses to remain open, including health care providers, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and banks.
“I know it is very frustrating that we have new closures every day, but they are vital to protecting everyone in our County,” Gimenez said in a statement.
Robert Tellez said he has put his life savings into his Coral Gables barbershop and after struggles, sales had been growing. Now, he faces an indefinite closure and will have to rely on income from gift certificates for future haircuts. He doesn't understand.
“We have been taking precautions. We have no more than 10 people at a time. We have been properly sanitizing after every client,” Tellez said.
The vast majority of people recover in about two weeks from this illness with no more than a fever and a cough, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness requiring care at hospitals where beds and protective gear are in short supply.
An eighth Florida death was reported Thursday — Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said a patient died for the first time in his city, adding to the seven already confirmed by the state. A ninth Florida death was reported in Duval County by state officials several hours later.
Florida's economy depends heavily on tourism. In the last several days its theme parks have closed, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, cruises have shut down and Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach have shooed away thousands of spring breakers. Several cities have closed their beaches and others are expected to follow. Some officials wondered why all Florida beaches aren't closed as some remain packed.
“We closed our border with Canada; we can’t close our beaches? ” Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long told her board's emergency meeting Thursday. "I want them shut down. I wanted them closed two damn days ago.”
The Florida Keys will close to visitors starting Sunday evening. Monroe County officials announced Thursday that no new reservations would be permitted until further notice. Long-term renters who are already in the Keys will be allowed to remain until the conclusion of their contracts.
Amid all that, the Florida Legislature ended its two-month session Thursday by adopting a $93 billion budget that relies on the sales, lodging and other taxes that tourists pay.
“We entered into this session with unemployment going down, down, down,” Gov. DeSantis said after the passage. Now, “we are looking at a different economic picture. It is one I think we can recover from...but it is one we will have to address.” He talked about possibly relaxing requirements for receiving unemployment payments.
Before the budget vote, House members were screened for the virus before being allowed into their chamber. They answered a series of questions about whether they've recently traveled oversees, been on a cruise or attended large gatherings. They looked into facial scanner that recorded their temperature.
"It's the only test I've taken since grad school that I've been nervous about. I wanted a low number," said Rep. Michael Grant, who owns an ambulance service. He passed.
Miami-based Carnival Corp. said Thursday it will make cruise ships from four of its brands available to serve as temporary hospitals where needed.
The world’s largest cruise line said its ships could serve mainly to treat non-coronavirus patients, freeing up beds in land-based hospitals. The company said ships can provide up to 1,000 hospital rooms and can be quickly provisioned with necessary medical equipment, including intensive care units.
Carnival crew would provide food and beverage, and cleaning services, with local medical personnel handling treatment, the statement said.
The number of confirmed cases in Florida passed 400 on Thursday, about half of them concentrated in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Mobile hospitals are being set up in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Ocala in north Florida.
Associated Press reporters Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
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