Florida’s governor strongly advised municipalities and businesses Thursday to limit or postpone large gatherings as concerns spiked over the new coronavirus, which stood at 27 cases statewide including a man testing positive at a Palm Beach airport.
Authorities began canceling major entertainment and sporting events — including the Miami Open tennis tournament in late March — and schools mulled closures. The Farnell Middle School in Tampa closed through Friday because administrators said a person regularly on campus tested positive for the virus.
“I am recommending to local municipalities and private entities to strongly considering limiting or postponing mass gatherings,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday at a news conference in Miami.
“I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of this as people get exposed.”
Late Wednesday, DeSantis suspended visitations at prisons to prevent close contacts that could spread the virus. Earlier Wednesday, he said, nursing homes and other elderly facilities would be ordered to restrict visitors who had recently traveled abroad to help protect older residents who most at risk from the disease.
Between late Wednesday and Thursday, the Florida Department of Health announced seven more cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The number could rise as the governor said the state is increasing its testing capabilities. There have been two deaths in Florida.
The new coronavirus — which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday — causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people. But it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia in older adults and people with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus, which causes COVID-19, within weeks.
DeSantis said most of the Florida infections stemmed from international travel, especially noting that 10 of the positive cases in the state involved people returning from a cruise on the Nile River in Egypt. One of those resulted in one of the two deaths the state has reported.
The case of a 61-year-old man from Broward County is associated with the Port Everglades cruise ship terminal. Two other cases include a 63-year-old New York resident, who was in Florida for Daytona Beach's Bike Week and a 70-year-old Broward County resident who attended a recent Emergency Medical Services conference in Tampa.
A 56-year-old Miami-Dade County resident who had recently traveled to Iran and a 68-year-old man from Seminole County have also tested positive for the new virus. Two more are being investigated to see if they are travel-related — a 65-year-old Broward man and a 57-year old Lee County man.
A passenger on a JetBlue flight from New York that arrived late Wednesday at Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19 and other passengers were advised to monitor their health, authorities said.
Even though most cases in Florida are linked to travel outside the state, universities, government officials and businesses are taking measures to control the spread within the state.
Public universities — which have some of the country's largest enrollments — will move to remote instruction effective Monday. The move is intended to minimize risks to students and staff, especially as they prepare to return from spring break.
As a further precaution ahead of Tuesday's presidential primary, the governor urged elections officials to move any polling places away from nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly. And he suspended all official travel for state employees for 30 days.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday he was canceling several events, such as a county fair, and the Miami Open tennis tournament.
Gimenez also announced a county-wide state of emergency. Numerous cities in Miami-Dade, including Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables, announced similar emergency declarations Thursday.
Later Thursday, it was learned that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Florida Sen. Rick Scott were self-isolating after possibly coming in contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications director, who tested positive for the new coronavirus after a trip to South Florida. Gimenez's office announced he would also self-isolate.
NASCAR announced a March 22 race in Homestead, Florida would take place without fans.