86ºF

Florida bans nursing home visits as coronavirus spreads

State raises Emergency Operations Center to highest level

photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday banned most visits to nursing homes statewide as he acknowledged the coronavirus has likely spread into the general population. Meanwhile, officials closed world-famous South Beach to prevent college spring breakers from congregating.

During a news conference, DeSantis said three infected Broward County residents have no known connection to a virus source such as travel to China or Europe or contact with someone who just returned. That means they likely acquired it in the community, although a final determination hasn’t been made, he said. The state’s known infections now exceeds 60 as the numbers jumped by a third Saturday. Two people have died in the state.

The state has raised the Emergency Operations Center to its highest level of activation.

"We're still going forward as if there are pockets in the community because I think that it is the only responsible thing to do when you have a virus that is highly contagious,'' DeSantis said.

DeSantis and Health Care Secretary Mary Mayhew said while it will be frustrating for relatives not to visit loved ones in nursing homes, the ban is needed to prevent the virus’s spread among the frail and elderly. Exceptions will be made for visitations to patients who are near death.

THE LATEST: Coronavirus Special Section

The new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but older adults and those with existing health problems can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

The ban on visitation ``is being done because of our love and compassion and concern,'' Mayhew said.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees also announced the state is working with its universities to organize epidemiologists on their staffs to work temporarily for the state to bolster its efforts at tracking the disease. He said exact plans are being worked out.

Meanwhile, Miami Beach Police ordered hundreds of spring breakers and other tourists off South Beach late Saturday to avoid large group gatherings that could spread the disease. South Beach is a popular popular party spot for college students and others from around the world.

Elina Cummings, a student from Clark Atlanta University, called the closure ``bitter sweet'' because she spent hundreds of dollars for her first spring break, but she

"My health and safety come first,'' said Cummings, a resident of Trinidad and Tobago.

Earlier Saturday, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the state plans to keep providing free and reduced-cost meals to 2 million low-income students while the state’s 4,500 public schools are closed through at least March 30.

The state’s 67 countywide school districts will each decide whether to participate. Because of recommendations that people not congregate in large groups, some districts might choose to let children pick up their meals at school and take them home or may even drop meals off near their homes using buses. Districts that can might give students up to a week’s worth of food at once to minimize contact.

Fried said it is important that the program continue while schools are closed because ``for many (children), these meals are the only meals they can count on.``

About a third of Florida’s 64 known cases of the new coronavirus have been in Broward County, according to the state health department, while neighboring Miami-Dade County has seen eight cases including Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. He tested positive after being in the same room with the Brazilian president’s press secretary, who test positive after also being in close proximity to President Donald Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Suarez has shown no symptoms

There have been about 500 negative test results statewide and more than 350 people are being monitored. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. The virus has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed over 5,600.

DeSantis has activated the National Guard and the state is purchasing 625,000 testing kits. Most in-person court proceedings have been suspended for two weeks, although judges can choose to conduct some by video or phone where legally allowed.

Publix, the state’s largest grocery store chain, announced that it would close its stores daily at 8 p.m. _ three hours early for most. The company said that would give its employees more time to fully clean stores and restock shelves.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have all announced they will be closed starting Monday. Disney said it will keep its hotels and its Disney Springs shopping area open, however. All major cruise ship lines have also suspended operations.