Florida confirms 149 coronavirus cases; 4 residents have died

3 new cases in Duval, 2 in Clay, 1 in St. Johns County identified by DOH on Sunday morning

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes COVID-19 isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (pink) cultured in the lab. (KPRC)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A day after Gov. Ron DeSantis banned most visits to nursing homes statewide and acknowledged the coronavirus has likely spread into the general population, the Florida Department of Health announced 17 more people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19.

In an update posted just after 6 p.m. on Sunday, the Health Department confirmed there are now a total of 136 Florida residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. 13 non-Florida residents have also tested positive in the state. There are also six Florida residents that have been diagnosed and isolated outside of Florida.

The locations of the 17 new cases announced Sunday evening were not immediately clear.

Three deaths in the state have been attributed to the disease. A fourth Floridian died in California after being diagnosed after returning from Asia.

Just before 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, DOH announced 39 new cases which included three more in Duval County, two of which Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted about Saturday evening, two more in Clay County and the second case in St. Johns County.

According to the limited DOH data released, the three additional cases in Jacksonville were men. Their ages were not provided and the source of their infection is under investigation.

The two Clay County cases include a 70-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman, with the source listed as under investigation.

A 64-year-old woman in St. Johns becomes the second case in that county. Her case is also under investigation.

Alachua County announced about 10:40 a.m. Sunday that a 65-year-old woman from New York had tested positive for COVID-19 in Alachua County -- the fourth case in that county. The DOH had not announced that case yet.

As of 6:10 p.m. on Sunday, there were still 442 people being monitored for COVID-19 and 514 test results pending.

As of early Sunday morning, according to DOH data,

RELATED | LIST: Cancellations & changes for Jacksonville-area events | LIST: Florida school closures | Special Section: Coronavirus

Community spread?

After health officials on Saturday confirmed the death of a 77-year-old Lee County man who previously tested positive for COVID-19, they acknowledged he likely acquired it locally.

In the first days and weeks that coronavirus cases showed up in Florida, almost all were connected to international travel. Half of the new cases reported overnight indicated the source of the infection was under investigation.

During a Saturday afternoon news conference at the state’s Emergency Operations Center, DeSantis said three infected Broward County residents also 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, too, likely acquired it in the community.

“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 banned most visits to nursing homes statewide as he acknowledged the coronavirus has likely spread into the general population.

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 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.

Large gatherings, sporting events, concerts and worship services are canceled as a precaution. All public schools in the state were given an extra week of spring break.

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 schools are closed.

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 they 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.”

State of emergency declared in local counties

After Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Friday signed a declaration of emergency for Duval County. The mayor’s decision came just hours after Clay County declared a state of emergency. Earlier in the day, Curry moved to suspend events and gatherings at city facilities in Jacksonville.

On Sunday, Curry tweeted that the city “has the ability to implement curfews, restrict numbers of patrons at businesses, and/or close them if necessary to protect the community.”

Also on Sunday, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland signed a proclamation declaring a local state of emergency for the city.

“It allows our staff to take the necessary actions to address the emergency situations that may arise along with accessing the necessary federal and state support,” Holland said.

Flagler County said will declare a state of local emergency at 5 p.m. Monday, during the regular Board of County Commissioners meeting. Flagler County has not been notified of a presumptive positive case of COVID-19, but Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord is asking the Commission to approve the declaration in an abundance of caution.

“We are taking action to ensure we keep our citizens safe,” Lord said. “It’s prudent to be cautious right now. A little inconvenience is worth it to limit the number of cases we see.”

Concentration in South Florida

More than half of Florida’s known cases are in five counties in South Florida, according to the health department data. There are 36 cases and one death in Broward County alone -- many of them connected to Port Everglades -- and 13 cases in neighboring Miami-Dade County.

One of those who tested positive was Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who said he was in the same room with the Brazilian president’s press secretary, who tested positive, after also being in close proximity to President Donald Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Suarez said he has shown no symptoms

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 party spot for college students and others from around the world.

Elina Cummings, a student from Clark Atlanta University, called the closure “bittersweet” because she spent hundreds of dollars for her first spring break, but she also doesn’t want to get the virus.

“My health and safety come first,” said Cummings, a resident of Trinidad and Tobago.

More testing, changes announced

DeSantis has activated the Florida National Guard and the state is purchasing 625,000 testing kits. The National Guard has called up all of its medical professionals to form a task force.

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. Visitation to state prisons was restricted.

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.

Walmart announced all its stores -- many of which are normally open 24-years a day -- will close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The company said the shortened hours will help employees restock shelves overnight and clean stores.

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.

Also Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis requested that Health and Human Services send home the 61 Floridians that were previously aboard the Grand Princess cruise line, home from isolation from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia.

A coronavirus section has been created on News4Jax.com for all articles related to COVID-19.