Florida orders beaches, gathering spots closed in 2 counties

File photo (News4Jax)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered the closure Friday of beaches, movie theaters, concert halls, gymnasiums and similar businesses in two major counties hard hit by the coronavirus.

DeSantis also ordered all Broward and Palm Beach county restaurants and bars with seating for more than 10 closed. Restaurants can still provide drive-thru and takeout service. Broward and Palm Beach are the second- and third-most populous counties in the state. The mayor of Miami-Dade County, the most populous, issued a similar order Thursday. Fort Lauderdale and some other Broward and Palm Beach cities had already banned beach-going and set restrictions on bars and restaurants.

Exemptions are made for restaurants that are part of hospitals and airports and gyms that are an amenity at a hotel or residential complex as long as the capacity is less than 10. Florida now has 520 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 70% of them in those three neighboring South Florida counties. That is about a 30% jump since Thursday. There have been nine deaths statewide.

DeSantis also signed an executive order allowing city and county commissions to meet through online and phone conferencing services, but those must be accessible to the public.

Two other large states have gone even farther than DeSantis: California and New York have ordered nearly all residents to stay home.

Meanwhile, Florida opened its first state-run drive-thru testing facility Friday at a Broward park, where it will test health care workers and seniors with symptoms or who have recently been on a cruise or traveled internationally.

Dozens of National Guardsman dressed in fatigues guided cars past empty playground equipment and picnic benches to a tent where healthcare workers in white, protective suits took quick nose swabs.

It takes about 8 minutes to swab everyone in a car. The samples are refrigerated and, for now, shipped to a third-party lab for testing. It's unclear how long it will take to get results, but officials said it's quicker than relying on the federal labs. Memorial Regional Hospital plans to soon open a local lab that will be able to process several hundred tests daily.

“It's important that people are able to understand and temper their expectations ... it's not going to be done overnight. There's a national backlog," DeSantis said while visiting the site Thursday night.

Officials hope they will soon have enough supplies to test different demographics, especially young healthy adults, to get a better sense of how many people have the virus but aren't experiencing symptoms. Officials fear they are taking fewer precautions and unknowingly spreading the virus.

DeSantis said that information will better help determine future closures.

“Right now people are kinda flying blind because there haven't been enough tests done," he said.


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