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Coronavirus Latest for 3/30: DeSantis Wants Cruise Ship To Stay Offshore, Initial Spread In The Villages

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want a cruise ship where several passengers are suspected of dying from COVID-19 to dock in South Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want a cruise ship where several passengers are suspected of dying from COVID-19 to dock in South Florida.

Updated at 8:54 p.m.

Ocala to ask DeSantis to order vote-by-mail runoff election

Ire Bethea Sr. and Lonnie Hooks III are in a runoff for the Ocala City Council.

But the May 19 special election comes at a bad time for in-person voting. Emergency managers say that’s when coronavirus could be at its peak in Marion County. 

So the council and Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox are going to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to order a vote-by-mail election. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilcox says the rules are clear.

"Currently at this time, I’m scheduled to open those 19 polling places, " Wilcox said. "And unless I get an order from the governor to do something different, that’s my plan."

He also plans to send a letter to city voters urging them to take advantage of the vote-by-mail options.

Updated at 8:42 a.m.

More than 600 new cases of coronavirus in Florida Monday

WMFE Staff

At last check, there are 5,704 total cases in Florida. According to data from the Florida Department of Health, 715 patients are hospitalized and 71 have died.

There were 637 new cases identified Monday in Florida. There are now 300 total cases in Orange County, ranking it 4th in number of cases in the state behind Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county.

Updated at 6:13 p.m.

Orange County could extend stay-at-home order

By Brendan Byrne, WMFE 

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says the county could extend its stay at home order beyond April 9th.

The county is in the top five in the state in the number of positive coronavirus patients and as testing ramps up this week, that number is expected to rise.

“We will make that call based on the data that we have with our experience in Orange County,” said Demings “It is likely, however, that when we get to April 9th we may have to extend that. We won’t make that decision until we begin to analyze the data.”

As testing increases, the county is uncovering clusters of positive patients like the 8 Orlando International Airport TSA workers, nearly 200 cases in Orlando, and a cluster in Winter Garden.

Demings believes social distancing is the best way to limit the spread and keep hospitals from reaching capacity. There’s no current shortage of hospital beds in Orange County.

“They still have beds. Our system is not overwhelmed and we want to keep it that way,” said Orange County’s Dr. Raul Pino. He’s urging residents to use emergency rooms for life or death situations — not primary care.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said many in the county are complying with the current stay-at-home order. Deputies issued only 15 warnings for violations of the order and no arrests over the weekend.

Updated at 3:33 p.m.

More help coming to out of work Floridians after $2.2 trillion relief bill passes

By Brendan Byrne, WMFE

Lawmakers said help is on the way for those affected economically from the coronavirus after Congress passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill last week.

The bill provides a one-time check of up to $1,200 dollars for some Americans.

Out of work Floridians can get up to $275 dollars in reemployment benefits from the state. Democratic Congressman Darren Soto said the bill will provide an additional $600 a week, for the next four months.

"We've stepped up on the federal level and hope our state partners will step up as well. They certainly will have additional funding billions of dollars coming into the state budget to help them do so we encourage them to do so," said Soto.

Coronavirus shutdowns caused a record-number of Floridians to apply for benefits -- which has prompted delays for applicants. Soto is calling on the Florida government to bolster the state’s unemployment benefits system.

"There's two multi-billion dollar funds that the state of Florida can tap into for implementing the various aspects of this bill. I encourage Governor Desantis and the legislature as well as the cabinet to approve additional hires to take on this incredible volume."

Earlier this month, more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the course of a week -- smashing the previous record. The numbers exceeded 70,000 in Florida.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. 

Democratic Legislators: State Unemployment Benefits System Can’t Handle Demand

By Amy Green, WMFE

Democratic legislative leaders are calling Florida’s unemployment benefits system “broken.” 

That’s as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the U-S economy to a standstill.

The legislative leaders say constituents can’t file claims for unemployment benefits because an online portal run by the Department of Economic Opportunity is virtually inaccessible.

“It is becoming a challenge just to find any person in Florida who is eligible, who is newly eligible for unemployment benefits who has been able to successfully apply and begin to receive benefits,” Central Florida Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says.

The leaders say the problems mean the jobless can’t get help from an unprecedented $2 trillion federal stimulus package.

The legislative leaders are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to intervene.

“For most Floridians that we’ve been in touch with that are our constituents it simply is not possible to apply right now, simply because wait times are so long, because of glitches, the system gets overloaded, all kinds of errors,” South Florida Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez says.

The leaders say $275 a week is not enough and want the governor to make more money available to the jobless. They also want a 12-week limit lifted.

Updated at 1:44 p.m.

Tests show 'initial community spread' of COVID-19 in The Villages

By Joe Byrnes, WMFE

The results of coronavirus testing at the polo grounds in The Villages last week show initial community spread of the virus.

The daily number of positives tests increased as the week progressed.

The University of Florida reported on the drive-through testing program after the first week:

  • UF Health and The Villages Health evaluated 2,280 people.
  • Of 900 tested with symptoms, 23 tested positive for coronavirus, including 15 on Thursday and Friday.
  • Among 1,400 who indicated no symptoms, two tested on Friday do have the virus and were soon showing symptoms. Gov. Ron DeSantis reported 900 asymptomatic tests with zero positives, but the UF numbers are more complete.

“These results show evidence of initial community spread; however, it does not appear to be widespread, at least so far," Dr. Michael Lauzardo, M.D., deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, said in a prepared statement. "We are continuing to closely monitor the situation."

He urges residents to use social distancing. Anyone 65 or older is advised to stay home to avoid transmission of the virus.

As of Monday morning, the state had tallied 40 COVID-19 cases in The Villages.

Updated 12:45 p.m.

DeSantis Doesn't Want Cruise Ship To Dock In South Florida

Associated Press

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn't want the people on a cruise ship where four people died and others are sick to be treated in Florida.

DeSantis says it would be "a mistake" to bring them into South Florida, which already has a high and growing number of coronavirus infections. He says the area's hospital beds need to be saved for residents and not "foreign nationals."

He said he wants the cruise line to arrange to have “medical personnel dispatched to the ship.”

"Adding people from other states flee to here or have a cruise ship come here, it creates problems," DeSantis said. "And we want to focus on Floridians."

Officials said in addition to the four dead, more than 130 Zaandam passengers and crew have symptoms. Four doctors and four nurses were on board to treat 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members, many of whom are American or Canadian, says Holland America, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.

A sister ship, the Rotterdam, took on passengers who didn't appear to be infected. They were allowed through the Panama Canal on Sunday night and are about three days from Florida.

Updated 1:50 p.m.

Governor Wants Recently Retired Health Care Workers, First Responders To Be Able To Come Back

By Abe Aboraya, WMFE

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said recently retired health care workers and first responders can come back to work.

Current law requires that state employees who have retired wait six months before they can come back to work.

DeSantis says he’s waiving that requirement because health care workers and first responders who are exposed to COVID-19 have to self-isolate for 14 days.

10010_DeSantis RETIREMENT CUT :16 OC: against COVID-19
“Their contacts have to self-isolate, that creates a potential manpower issue. So I’m also gonna sign an executive order today to allow recently retired law enforcement and health care personnel to immediately return to the workforce to join the fight against COVID-19.”

Additionally, the governor says he doesn’t want a cruise ship where four passengers died from coronavirus to dock in Florida.

Updated 8:43 a.m.

Florida Nears 5,000 Cases

By Abe Aboraya

Sixty Floridians have died from COVID-19, according to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Health.

Florida has a total of 4,950 positive cases, and more than 4,800 people are still being monitored by the state.

Orange County has the fourth highest number of cases in the state at 249, the most in Central Florida. So far, 633 people have been hospitalized because of the virus.

Updated 8:43 a.m.

Virtual School Starts Today

By Amy Green

Orange County Public Schools students go back to school Monday -- from home.

The state’s fourth-largest school district is implementing an unprecedented educate-from-home program aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Robert Prater, dean at Oak Hill Elementary School, said teachers miss their students.

“They’ve got separation anxiety," he said. "So many of them want to be in their classrooms with their students that they’re doing parades, ride-bys with signs all over their cars.”

Students previously were on spring break, and teachers were given a week to put together new lesson plans.

The school district is providing paper learning packets for families without digital access.