JACKSONVILLE, Fla.. – The number of coronavirus cases tracked by the Florida Department of Health’s jumped more than 500 on Wednesday as more testing is being done and more results are coming in.
Late Wednesday, the state reported 1,977 cases of Floridians and visitors to the state diagnosed with COVID-19. The afternoon numbers included four additional cases in Duval County, three more in Clay County and Nassau Counties, two more in St. Johns County and one additional case in each Alachua, Flagler and Putnam Counties.
There were three additional deaths reported Wednesday, bringing the total statewide to 23. None of the new fatalities were Northeast Florida, where six people -- all men -- have already died from the disease.
County-by-county breakdown of Northeast Florida cases
President Donald Trump declared Florida a disaster area, saying the coronavirus outbreak is having a “drastic effect” on the state’s economy and medical providers.
In a letter to Trump requesting the declaration, Gov. Ron DeSantis wrote that Florida’s “hospitals, medical facilities, and first responders are facing challenges rarely experienced before.” and the state has already spent $208 million on related unemployment assistance, food stamps, disaster loans and mental health counseling.
Such a declaration makes Florida eligible for federal aid. This is no hurricane, but DeSantis wrote that the state’s medical system is already burdened and the situation will get worse, with limited testing.
Many of Florida's harder-hit municipalities ordered all their residents to shelter-in-place on Tuesday after DeSantis argued against a statewide order and blamed people flying in from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for potentially spreading the coronavirus.
Gainesville and surrounding Alachua County, where the 36 confirmed cases include college students returning from Spring Break, also issued "stay at home" orders on Monday. Gainesville is the home of the University of Florida and a community college. All schools in Florida are closed.
Duval County is under a work-from-home mandate ordered Monday.
Around Florida, officials have restricted travel on the only two roads leading into the Florida Keys from the mainland. Monroe County announced Tuesday that southbound traffic stops will be in place near the county line on U.S. 1 and on State Road 905 by early Friday. The stations are meant to reinforce the island chain’s previous closure to visitors and non-residents.
The “Safer at Home” order went into effect Tuesday for Miami Beach residents. Other Miami-Dade County municipalities, including Bay Harbor Islands and Bal Harbour Village, issued similar orders Monday night.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings issued a stay-at-home order for the county that includes Orlando. The order goes into effect on Thursday.
"People should only be outside for exercise and attending to their necessities like shopping for groceries or visiting a pharmacy,'' Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said in a statement. "It won't be like this forever, but for now in a community like ours this makes the most sense.''
Company officials said Tuesday that they are extending the closure of Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood through April 19. The company had originally planned the closures through the end of March.
DeSantis issued an executive order Monday requiring anyone arriving on a flight from the New York City area to self-quarantine for two weeks. State officials did not immediately return calls Monday evening seeking information on how many of those diagnosed in Florida recently arrived or returned from New York or had contact with someone who did.
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators, stressing the health care system’s capacity to respond.
Still, DeSantis continues to avoid imposing a statewide lockdown like California, New York and many other states have done, because he still believes focusing the most extreme measures on counties hardest hit by the virus is preferable.
About half the state’s reported COVID-19 cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. But testing remains limited and has yet to show any cases of the virus in a third of Florida’s 67 counties. Another third have reported only a few.
"It would be a very blunt instrument. When you’re ordering people to shelter in place you are consigning a number -- probably hundreds of thousands of Floridians to lose their jobs,'' DeSantis said.
Some Florida Democrats are calling on the Republican governor to impose a statewide stay-at-home order, but DeSantis said states that have done so have seen large numbers refuse to comply. He said such people realize ''a governor is not going to start imprisoning people just because they leave their house.''
DeSantis has ordered such statewide closures as bars and gyms, and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery. State parks have been closed. But some counties have gone farther, closing not only nonessential businesses but also beaches, marinas and some other public areas.