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The Latest On Coronavirus: Monday, March 16th

Screenshot of the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 data and surveillance dashboard
Matthew Peddie
Screenshot of the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 data and surveillance dashboard

Updated 9:31 p.m.

Brevard IDs first COVID-19 case

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Brevard county has identified its first presumptive positive COVID-19 case.

The age and gender of the person infected and whether the case was travel related wasn’t immediately available.

Brevard declared a state of emergency Saturday, which allows the county additional avenues to obtain protective equipment and tap into financial reserves.

County residents seeking more information on COVID-19 and Brevard’s response to coronavirus can dial 2-1-1 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

YMCA of Central Florida closes family center locations

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Starting at the end of day Monday, all YMCA of Central Florida family center locations will close until at least March 30.

During the closure, the organization said it will deep clean and disinfect all of its facilities. The Y will monitor guidance from local, state and national authorities before reopening.

YMCA of Central Florida said it will unveil online fitness classes and other complimentary resources later this week. Members are asked to check the Y's website for more updates.

"We trust that our collective precautions will help prevent the spread of this virus and we can return to our normal routines soon," wrote Dan Wilcox, YMCA of Center Florida's President and CEO in an email Monday evening. "May you remain healthy in spirit, mind, and body."

Gov. DeSantis rolls out small business loans, lays groundwork for drive-through testing

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Governor Ron DeSantis said the COVID-19 crisis will have economic consequences and he’s working with federal and state agencies to help the local economy.

DeSantis requested the activation of the federal Small Business Association loan program and said the state is working on a program for short-term financial relief.

"We're going to supplement those SBA loans with a $50 million bridge loan program from the state of Florida. Now this amount may be expanded at a later time based on demand and necessity," said DeSantis.

The bridge loan provides any small businesses in the state with a $50,000 dollar loan with zero interest for a one-year term. The loans will be available to all Florida small businesses with two to 100 employees.

DeSantis said he’s also extending deadlines for business tax filings, like corporate and sales taxes.

The Governor also is asking the federal government for assistance with drive-through testing for coronavirus.

As the Trump administration begins rolling out testing assistance to state governments, DeSantis said Florida is laying the groundwork to host testing sites. "We're ready to receive it ready to work with them on both the state and local level," he said. "We hope that they're able to do that and do that very quickly."

He caid parking lots at the Orange County Convention Center as well as the stadium parking lots of the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars could be set up as drive-through centers.

Currently, health officials are telling people who show symptoms of COVID-19 like fever or cough to contact their local doctor or health department before going into offices for tests.

Second Orange County resident has died of COVID-19

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Two Orange County residents have died of the novel coronavirus. Speaking at a press conference Monday, state health office Dr. Raul Pino said an Orange County resident died in California after travelling, although never returned to Florida. Another death occurred at a facility in Orlando. The patient was a 79-year-old woman with preexisting conditions. 

"We decided to test all the family members in those two clusters, just to prevent anything else from happening," said Pino.

Orange County has a total of four positive cases so far.

Mayor Jerry Demings said the county has closed public gymnasiums and splash pads. Orange County courthouse will suspend jury trials and limit the amount of staff. Orange County Sheriff John Mina is urging residents to use online reporting for non-emergencies.

Port Canaveral expecting last passenger cruise ship Tuesday, cargo traffic "business as usual"

Brendan Byrne, WMFE

One last cruise ship is set to come into Port Canaveral tomorrow (TUES) as coronavirus concerns halt the cruise industry.

There are no reports of COVID-19 on the Norwegian Epic cruise ship, so the Coast Guard has cleared it to enter port and disembark passengers. It’s one of the last ships to arrive in port as the cruise industry comes to a grinding halt. 

Cruise ships will remain docked at the port or anchored just offshore and the operators are keeping crews on board.  

"The cruise lines are all very protective of their crews," said Port Canaveral CEO John Murray. "They want to keep them on board right now they don't want them mingling and community where they might contract something.”

While the cruises wait to take passengers again, he said the port will be crowded. "If a cargo ship comes in, we'll have to cycle the cruise ship out so we can conduct normal cargo activities," said Murray. "We expect to remain open and conduct business as usual. The cruise ships are the only ones that aren't doing business right now.”

That cargo business includes a freighter scheduled to come in this week carrying 15,000 tons of pounds of wood pulp which will be used to manufacture toilet paper.

The port has upped its cleaning protocols, including the use of a disinfectant that will protect against viruses and bacteria for 30 days.

Central Florida electric companies give customers a break

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Some electric utility companies in Central Florida are telling customers affected financially by COVID-19 that they won't lose power if they can't make a payment.

The Orlando Utilities Commission and Duke Energy have canceled disconnections until further notice.

Ocala Electric Utility has halted cut-offs for 30 days. As things progress, the city will re-evaluate the policy.

And Kissimmee Utility Authority has stopped service disconnections at least until March 31st. It, too, will re-evaluate its policy.

Sumter Electric Co-op, meanwhile, is waiving late fees and allowing additional payment time.

Lake County has first reported case of COVID-19

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

A woman has tested positive for the coronavirus in Lake County. It's the county's first case.

The Florida Health Department lists it as travel-related.

2:00 pm update: Florida Department of Health launches COVID-19 dashboard

WMFE Staff

The Florida Department of Health has launched a dashboard to track COVID-19 cases in Florida.

As of Monday, there were more than 130 cases in Florida, with the highest concentration in South Florida.

COVID-19 test sites opened at clinics in the Villages and Ocala

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

A Central Florida group of medical offices has begun providing drive-up coronavirus testing at two of its 14 clinics in Central Florida.

Tests outside Premier Medical Associates offices in Ocala and The Villages can be scheduled after a tele-visit with a doctor.

Director of Operations Craig Esquenazi says screening through tele-visits and the mobile test sites will protect staff and other patients from exposure to the virus. The company has 100 tests. 

He said tents are set up in the parking lot and staff have been trained in the protocols.

What I'm saying is that we're limited on the amount of tests that we have at this point," said Esquenazi.

"So after we use the hundred tests, I don't have any more to test people with. As more tests come in, we will test as many people as we can."

They chose The Villages and Ocala locations because of the older, more vulnerable populations there.

More economic pain for Central Florida with Disney Hotel & Shop Closures 

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

All Disney stores in North America- including locations at Disney Springs in Orlando- will close on Tuesday. 

Hotels at Walt Disney World Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort will close on Friday. 

UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Dean Robertico Croes said it will have a big impact on other businesses too. 

“It is a huge thing so the problem is again demand," he said.

"So it’s not only people holding off on spending money because they don’t have a job but also companies will be holding off and those who have the spending power are also holding off.”

Tenants at Disney Springs can still decide to keep their businesses open during the closure.

Florida Department of Agriculture activates Summer BreakSpot sites

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

Florida K through 12 students can get free breakfast and lunch  at more than 930 sites statewide while school is out for the next two weeks because of coronavirus. 

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried activated the Summer BreakSpot sites over the weekend. 

They will provide free breakfast and lunch to students who would normally be served by free and reduced lunch programs.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida operates 100 of the sites including daycares, libraries and Spring Break Camps. 

Second Harvest Vice President of Development Greg Higgerson said the sites will open at schools first, and Second Harvest is ready to serve meals at the community centers if needed. 

“People can literally just drive up and get the meals that their kids would normally be getting at school. So it’s a great way to reach kids especially if they’re out of school and being quarantined at the present time.”

Higgerson said since last Friday there’s been a 60% jump in use of their online food locator tool that people can use to find the food pantry closest to them.

Second Harvest is also preparing to distribute two truckloads of perishable foods donated by Disney World. 

12:00 pm update: Public Schools Offering Free Meals During Extended Spring Break

WMFE Staff

School Districts across Central Florida are  offering free breakfast and lunch to children 18 years and under during the extended school closure due to coronavirus.

Osceola County School District

Meals from the School Nutrition Services Department will be available for pick up from 9:30 to 11:00 am from March 23rd to March 27th.

Families can drive up in the bus loops and be handed meals through the window. Click here for a list of pick up locations.

Seminole County Public Schools 
Meals will be available for pick-up between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. in the car loop of each school site. District staff will distribute the meals directly to those in their vehicle (drive-thru service) upon arrival.  In addition, district staff will hand-out meals directly to any walkers and/or bike riders that may lack motor-vehicle transportation. Based on recommendations from our Federal and State leaders, we are asking all meals to be taken home to eat Click here for a list of pick up locations. Orange County Public Schools Arrangements for feeding children on free or reduced meal programs are underway. Details to be announced soon. Volusia County Public Schools Volusia County Public Schools will distribute free breakfast and lunch at 26 sites during the week of March 23rd- 27th Meals will be available for pick-up between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the parent loop of each school site. District staff will distribute the meals directly to those in their vehicles  upon arrival. In addition, district staff will hand-out meals directly to any walkers and/or bike riders that may lack motor-vehicle transportation. Click here for a list of pick up locations.

11:30 pm update: Virus outbreak delays Census counting off-campus students

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The outbreak of the new coronavirus is causing the U.S. Census Bureau to postpone sending out census takers to count college students in off-campus housing.

It's also delaying sending out census takers to grocery stores and houses of worship where they help people fill out the once-a-decade questionnaire.

The Census Bureau says the deadline for ending the 2020 census at the end of July could be adjusted as needed. The 2020 census started last week with its website going live.

The bureau says that, as of Sunday, 5 million people had already responded to the census.

Florida, Ohio, Illinois pushing forward with primaries

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida, Illinois and Ohio are pushing forward with primary elections, although the coronavirus is causing headaches for some county elections supervisors as poll workers drop out in fear of catching the disease.

The governors' offices in those states said Monday they are not planning to delay Tuesday's primary because of the viral outbreak.

Arizona is also expected to proceed with Tuesday's election. In Florida, one precaution the state took is to move polling places located in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to avoid exposing the residents to outsiders.

Disney Closes Hotels, Shops

The Associated Press

All Disney owned hotels at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will close at 5 p.m. on March 20, the company said early Monday.

The closure also includes Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

In a tweet, the company said the Friday closure will give guests the ability to make other arrangements.

In addition, the company announced it is closing all Disney stores in North America, beginning Tuesday. This includes the shops in Orlando’s Disney Springs and Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. Online shopping will still be available.

Florida coronavirus cases jump and now exceed 130

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that a drive-thru testing facility will soon open at a hospital in Broward County, the state's county hardest-hit by the new coronavirus.

The number of confirmed cases surged on Sunday to more than 130 statewide. State officials also said more than 170 National Guard personnel have been deployed in Broward County — with 300 more soon to be activated.

The governor said Florida should brace for even more infections and he again urged residents to exercise caution and stay away from crowds to help slow the spread of the virus.

College Students Flock to Panama City Beach Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Valerie Crowder, WFSU

College students from across the country are kicking off spring break in Panama City Beach partying with friends, despite warnings from federal public health officials about the spread of COVID-19.

“I could either stay in Milwaukee and get it -where there’s a possible case and multiple cases in Wisconsin - or I could come to Florida where it’s warm,” said Alyssa Timler, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Timler, 21, says she and her friends are concerned about the virus, so they’re taking extra care not to get sick.

“Bringing hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes. We brought Lysol," she said. "I do not let anyone touch the doors, and we do not share cups.”

Jawontae Rodgers, 21, is a junior at the University of Northern Iowa. He says he’s not worried about catching the virus because people his age typically recover from the disease.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because 2.3 percent of the people died from it are basically not my age - they’re older," he said. "I’m not saying I can’t die from it. I just don’t want to stop living my life because you only have one. YOLO, you only live once."

Click here for WMFE's previous coverage of coronavirus in Central Florida