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The Latest On Coronavirus: Thursday, March 19th

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Updated 9:50 p.m.

UCF student tests positive for COVID-19

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

The University of Central Florida says a student and a military contractor who worked off campus have tested positive for coronavirus. 

The student, who is recovering at home, may have developed symptoms as early as March 6. 

His roommates, classmates and teachers have been notified and are self-monitoring for symptoms. UCF says his residence hall and classrooms are being decontaminated. 

A military contractor who worked at the Partnership IV building at the Central Florida research park next to the main campus, also tested positive.  

The building will be decontaminated and closed for two weeks, and his coworkers are being tested for the virus. 

There are currently 432 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state. 

Updated 6:30 p.m.

“No option off the table” as Florida leaders look to expand hospital bed capacity

Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Florida leaders say they are looking at all options to increase hospital bed capacity during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz, spoke to reporters at the site of a drive through testing facility in Broward County Thursday. 

He said the state is preparing four field hospitals, including one in Broward County, where the most cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far.

“One other one is being moved near the Villages, and the other two are pre-positioned in Orlando, waiting for possible deployment,” said Moskowitz.

“We’re examining all sorts of ways to expand bed capacity in the state.”

Moskowitz said the President and Vice President have also talked about the possibility of using surgical centers. 

“But we are also looking at using our ports, potentially and bringing in certain sort of ships to expand bed capacity if that becomes necessary. So there is no option that is off the table.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis is also pushing to expand coronavirus testing throughout the state. He said Florida is still waiting for testing supplies, including swabs, from the federal government. 

“We were told, out of the 500,000 [that Florida asked for], that we were going to get 250,000 swabs this week. And I think they’ve given us, like, four or five thousand of the swabs, and so we’re waiting for more,” said DeSantis.

“HHS, we think, is sending swabs. They don’t really have a good ways to track it, but Jared [Moskowitz] may end up getting five thousand more swabs dropped on his doorstep over the next day or two.”

Updated 5:20 p.m.

Lake County judge orders the release of non-violent inmates as precaution

Joe Byrnes, WMFE

A circuit judge in Lake County has ordered the release of 42 jail inmates as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

There’s no evidence yet of coronavirus at the jail, and it’s one of several measures being taken there.

Circuit Judge Heidi Davis freed the non-violent offenders, who were in the Lake County Detention Center awaiting sentencing for misdemeanors or third-degree felonies.

The Hillsborough County sheriff has announced a similar measure, releasing 164 inmates. And Osceola County is also weighing the option.

Lake County Lt. John Herrell said the decision was a common sense measure involving the Sheriff’s Office, State Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and the court.

The move reduces the number of inmates in case the pandemic affects staffing or inmate health. Herrell says the jail population was seven-hundred-seventy-eight on Wednesday after the release. Its maximum is nine hundred.

They’ve also halted transfers to and from other facilities, canceled in-person visitation and volunteer programs, and started screening all incoming inmates and employees for a fever.

Note: This post has been corrected to add that some inmates being released had been charged with third-degree felonies, based on new information from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Updated 5:00 p.m.

UCF to continue online classes for another semester to combat the spread of coronavirus

Danielle Prieur, WMFE

University of Central Florida students will continue to take classes online for another semester. UCF said classes will continue to be taught online through the Summer Semester that begins May 11. 

In a statement Interim President Thad Seymour Jr. said the decision was made ahead of time to give faculty and students the chance to adjust plans. 

Residence halls will be cleared of remaining students in a staggered manner to allow for social distancing.

Staff will work with residents to find permanent housing and accommodations will be made for students with special situations.

UCF said it is taking the step to prioritize personal wellness and practice social distancing.

Updated 2:45 p.m.

Amid coronavirus threat, Florida lawmakers OK $93.2B budget

The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Amid the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak, Florida lawmakers have brought their 2020 session to a close.

Before adjourning on Thursday afternoon, the Legislature approved a $93.2 billion budget that is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The budget document includes $500 million in new spending to boost the minimum pay of new teachers, 3% raises for state workers and $300 million in extra reserves to help address the economic hardship wrought by the outbreak.

The budget also includes $25 million requested by the governor for direct costs to contain the virus. Already there’s talk about a special session if the money runs short.

Updated 2:15 p.m.

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 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.

Updated at 9:25 a.m.

Darden Restaurants CEO Take No Salary Because Of Coronavirus

Abe Aboraya, WMFE

The CEO of Darden Restaurants has reduced his salary to zero dollars because of COVID-19.

CEO Gene Lee told investors on a conference call that the parent company of casual restaurant chains like Olive Garden, Cheddar’s and Longhorn Steakhouse has $1 billion in cash on hand to weather the economic downturn. The company plans to ramp up its delivery, especially for Olive Garden.

Darden has essentially stopped all new construction at this point. The company has committed to continuing to pay hourly workers who can’t work because of the virus.

This is a developing story.


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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. He also helps produce WMFE's public affairs show "Intersection," working with host ... Read Full Bio »

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