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The Latest On Coronavirus: Friday March 20th

Mayor Jerry Demings addresses the media Friday March 20th, 2020. Demings has imposed a countywide curfew from 11pm to 5am beginning Friday night. Image: Orange TV

Updated 9:10 p.m.

First positive test in Marion County

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

Marion County has its first positive test for COVID-19.

The Health Department announced the patient is a 59-year-old woman.

Staff are conducting a contact investigation, identifying and notifying people who will need to monitor themselves for symptoms over 14 days.

In a news release announcing the positive test, DOH-Marion Administrator Mark Lander urges residents to practice social distancing, stay home when sick, wash their hands, and cover coughs and sneezes.

These strategies can help slow down the spread of the coronavirus, which threatens to overwhelm health systems.

Updated 8:45 p.m.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried asks Gov. DeSantis to issue ‘stay at home’ order

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide “stay at home”  order.

In a statement Friday night, Fried said she acknowledged the difficult choices DeSantis has had to make in the face of the coronvirus crisis. But she said a piecemeal approach does not go far enough.

“As the nation’s third largest state, we need to go further, and we cannot afford to lose another week,” said Fried.

“I am asking the Governor to consider implementing a statewide “stay-at-home” order, closing all non-essential businesses for a reasonable timeframe, after which time the situation could be reassessed.”

Read the statement here.

Updated 7:22 p.m.

Third TSA Worker at Orlando International Airport Tests Positive for Coronavirus

Danielle Prieur

Three TSA officers at Orlando International Airport have now tested positive for coronavirus.

Federal Security Director Pete Garcia sent an email to staff on Friday about the third confirmed case. Garcia said the officer has not worked at the security checkpoint since Monday, while the other was at the airport as recently as Wednesday.

Both officers are recovering at home and will have to be cleared by a doctor before they come back to work.

The first TSA worker at MCO to contract the coronavirus, Andrea Silas, was diagnosed last week.

In a separate email sent to TSA officers on Friday, Assistant Federal Security Director Greg Hawko said the employee parking garage will close at 3 a.m. on Saturday.

Employees will have to park in the terminal parking garage. The GOAA employee shuttle will continue to operate.

TSA workers at airports in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Ohio have fallen ill with the virus. For a map of the airports where workers have been affected click on this link.

Updated 5:55 p.m.

Drive through testing site to launch in The Villages– DeSantis

Matthew Peddie

Governor Ron DeSantis says the state of Florida is working to establish a drive through coronavirus testing site in The Villages. 

DeSantis made the comments during a media briefing this afternoon.

“We’re working on a launch at the villages, a big drive through testing site, only at The Villages they’re not going to be driving their automobiles, they’re going to be driving their golf carts through,” said DeSantis.

“But we think that having some high volume testing there, especially given the demographics, would be very very good.”

South Florida has the highest number of cases so far. DeSantis says he wants to ramp up testing statewide. 

Updated 4:05 p.m. 

Orange and Osceola Counties impose curfews beginning Friday night

Matthew Peddie

Orange and Osceola Counties will be under a curfew beginning tonight. 

Mayor Jerry Demings announced the measure at a press conference this afternoon, as authorities ramp up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“I am implementing a curfew for Orange County, effective tonight, at 11 pm through 5 am, until further notice. And that means until the order expires.”

Health care workers and other first responders are exempt from the curfew, and travel to and from work is allowed. 

Osceola County has also imposed a curfew from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m.

County leaders are urging residents to “shelter in place” and to stay home as much as possible unless working, shopping for necessities, getting food or attending to medical needs.

Both Orange and Osceola Counties’ curfews are in place until terminated by executive order.

“We’re extremely concerned about the homeless population” – Orlando Mayor

A person who stayed at the coalition for the homeless in Orlando has tested positive for COVID-19. 

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer made the announcement during a press conference Friday afternoon. 

“We’re extremely concerned about the homeless population and quickly it could spread. I am aware, or have been made aware actually when I was driving over here, that somebody that stayed at the coalition for the homeless last night has tested positive. I don’t have more information than that.”

Orange County has 22 positive cases of COVID-19. 

First of two mobile testing site should come online next week

Mayor Jerry Demings says a mobile testing site being set up at the Orange County Convention Center should be up and running next week. 

Demings says the county is also working to establish a second test site in East Orange County near Alafaya Trail. 

But he said they will NOT be a ‘catch all’ for anyone to get tested. 

“You need to show specific signs, have underlying indicators, where you have a compromised health, immune system, and other specific symptoms in order to be tested at these particular sites.”

Orange County Health Department director Raul Pino said the county does not have capacity to do “massive testing” just yet. 

He said they’re training people to run the second test site near Alafaya trail.

“We have 3 layers of providers and systems to have in place in case any of those fail, in case that we get overwhelmed, or in case that our people need to be replaced,” said Pino.

Orange County government offers rental assistance program

Mayor Jerry Demings says the county is offering a COVID-19 rental assistance program to help residents who need help with rent and utilities during the crisis.

The program provides help with one month’s rent.

Residents needing help can call the crisis assistance hotline at 407 836 6500.

Click here for a list of other assistance available to Orange County residents.

Florida bans all restaurant dining; tribe closes casinos

The Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned all onsite dining at restaurants statewide and the Seminole Tribe is closed its casinos.

The announcements Friday are the latest coronavirus-related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and consumer spending to pay its bills.

Restaurants will be allowed to sell food for take-out, drive-thru and delivery.

At the Seminoles’ Hard Rock Casino near Fort Lauderdale, the mood was somber Friday as the often packed gambling den was less than half full.

Half the slot machines were closed to promote social distancing and some players wore gloves.

Florida now has 520 confirmed cases of coronavirus and nine deaths.


Updated 12:30 p.m. 

Puerto Rico Governor To Trump: Don’t Leave Us Out Of Coronavirus Stimulus

Amy Green, WMFE

Puerto Rico’s governor is urging President Donald Trump not to leave out the island territory as Congress works on a federal stimulus package in response to COVID-19. 

The governor sent a letter to the president asking that the measure contain language included in a House bill approved in December. 

That bill provided more than $4 billion for Puerto Rico after a series of earthquakes damaged homes, roads and infrastructure. 

The governor also asked for $1 billion for food assistance and that any relief for the tourism industry include Puerto Rico. 

Fewer than 10 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Puerto Rico.  

Updated 6 a.m.

Volusia County shuts off beach vehicle access

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Volusia County is shutting off vehicle access to its beaches in a bid to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Vehicle access ramps to New Smyrna Beach will remain closed today, and the ramps to the rest of the county beaches will be closed Saturday. 

County Manager George Recktenwald said in a press conference Thursday evening that the new measure will help with crowd control. 

“Given the weather reports and so many people off work for this weekend, we expect much greater crowds to use the beach,” said Recktenwald.

“We must provide our staff the ability to manage the situation, and maintain the safety of our citizens by enforcing the CDC guidelines.”

Those guidelines include limiting groups to no more than 10 people, with a separation of six feet between each group. 

Brevard County closed all of the beachside parking along its 72 mile shoreline on Thursday. 

Spring breakers and other beachgoers are being asked to avoid beach areas to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

As of Thursday there were 432 cases of coronavirus in Florida. Nine people have died and more than 1,000 are being monitored.


Pinellas County Shuts Down Beaches Due To Coronavirus

Mark Schreiner, WUSF

The Pinellas County Commission has voted unanimously to close all of its public beaches and beach parking areas effective tonight at 11:59.

The closure that lasts until April 6th comes after images of Clearwater Beach, packed with spring break visitors, went viral over the weekend.

At yesterday’s commission meeting, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was skeptical of the closure. He said beach-goers had improved behavior.

“You’re seeing a lot of distancing, self-regulation, spreading out,” said Gaultieri.

“You’re not seeing any of that stuff, even on Clearwater Beach. So if you shut it down, where are they going to go?”

Pinellas Commission Chair Pat Gerard was skeptical.

“I mean, frankly, we’re in a situation where spring break is gonna go on for months – not just weeks, but months – because kids are not going back to school.”

The Commission also is asking to temporarily close state parks at Honeymoon Island Caladesi Island.

Residents who own beachfront property may go on the beach, but are being asked to limit group gatherings to 10 people and keep six feet apart from each other.


DeSantis wants some spaces open

Mary Shedden, WUSF

The threat of coronavirus has shut down spring break parties across Florida. But Governor Ron DeSantis says that doesn’t mean everyone should stay inside.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been recommending that people remain six feet from one another in public. Malls, restaurants and even churches are inaccessible.

The governor says that’s why he’s encouraging cities to keep operating open spaces where possible. Floridians who can keep a safe distance need to go somewhere to relieve the stress.

[These are our neighbors who may to go out there and clear their heads because a lot of people are on edge now.and this is obviously going to be a physical challenge with the virus. But I think it’s really weighing on a lot of people and I just want the localities to have an outlet available if they think that that makes sense.]

Local and state officials have been rolling out closures all week, including the announcement that Florida’s public schools will operate remotely until at least April 15.


Florida’s largest county closes beaches, most businesses

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s largest county inched closer to economic shutdown as Miami-Dade County’s mayor ordered all beaches, parks and “non-essential” commercial and retail businesses closed because of the new coronavirus outbreak.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s order Thursday allows several businesses to remain open, including health care providers, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and banks.

The order appears to go beyond other state and local orders in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars closed and restaurants to limit seating, while some municipal governments have limited restaurants to take-out and delivery. An eighth death was reported in the state.


Man dies in California of coronavirus, days after visiting Orlando theme parks

WMFE Staff

A 34 year old man has died in California of COVID-19, after returning from a trip to Orlando where he visited Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

TMZ reported that Jeffrey Ghazarian died at a hospital in Pasadena Thursday morning after spending 5 days on a ventilator.

His family said he flew from LA to Orlando on March 2nd for a conference, staying a few extra days to visit the theme parks.  After developing a cough on March 7th, he flew back to LA two days later, where he checked into an ER with a high fever and was tested for COVID-19.

Ghazarian reportedly had a history of asthma and bronchitis, and had had surgery for cancer in 2016.


Click here to read our previous day’s coverage of coronavirus.

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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie