Florida announced Saturday that it has asked the federal government for permission to continue serving free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches to 2 million low-income children while schools are closed because of the new coronavirus.
The announcement came shortly after the state's known and confirmed infection total jumped by more than a third and now exceeds 60 as testing expands and results become available.
State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she expects the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve the state's program by Sunday. Florida's 4,500 public schools will be closed through at least March 30.
The state's 67 countywide school districts will each decide whether to participate in the program. 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."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. 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 145,000 people worldwide. More than 5,400 have died.
About a third of Florida's 77 known cases of the new coronavirus have been in Broward County, according to the state health department, while neighboring Miami-Dade County's cases include 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. Three people have died, including a Florida woman who was diagnosed in California.
There have been about 500 negative test results statewide and more than 350 people are being monitored.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned all nursing home visits in Broward, is asking other homes to screen visitors and is activating the National Guard in certain parts of the state. The state is also 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.