TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Minutes after the Florida Legislature passed a $93 billion budget that included $3.8 million in funding for the state’s response to coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis sounded optimistic that Florida can slow the spread of COVID-19.
The governor on Thursday acknowledged that the number of cases in the state is nearing 400 and there have been nine deaths and urged continued social distancing and other measures. But DeSantis went on to add that the percentage increase in cases this week has been smaller than it was last week despite more testing is going on.
There were 1,533 tests pending results on Thursday afternoon and 1,019 of those tested in the state have been negative for the virus.
DeSantis also said the number of people hospitalized with the disease is down to 90.
The governor said the response to the epicenter of the state’s outbreak -- Broward County, where there are 96 cases and at least two deaths -- including the use of the Florida National Guard to help set up testing sites and a mobile hospital, is a model that can be replicated elsewhere. Another mobile hospital was being set up at The Villages near Ocala and two others were staged in Orlando to be deployed where they are needed.
DeSantis admitted that there are hard times ahead, including economically.
“There are going to be Florida businesses that are going to take it on the chin because we’re so sensitive to things like tourism,” DeSantis said. “The underlying strength that we brought into this will serve us well when we come on the other side.”
Miami-Dade County’s mayor was not sounding positive as he ordered all beaches, parks and “non-essential” commercial and retail businesses closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“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 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. “Each and every one of us must take personal responsibility to help stop the spread of this virus.”
In the last several days Florida’s 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.
Late Thursday speaking in Broward County, DeSantis said he was not going to order a statewide closure of the beaches but encouraged local authorities to enforce no gatherings of more than 10 and remind beachgoers to keep 6 feet apart. He expressed some frustration with college students that, when they were run off beaches, went to the bars until he closed them. He said some of them then went to fraternity houses to drink.
The vast majority of people who catch COVID-19 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.