TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Tuesday to seek immediate help for thousands of workers financially hit by business closures because of the new coronavirus. He urged Congress to act quickly to expand the financial resources to help states weather an economic calamity.
Among those in need of immediate help, he said, are service industry employees whose livelihoods were thrust in jeopardy when he ordered the closure of all bars and nightclubs for 30 days.
“You’re going to have people who are living paycheck to paycheck who were involved in industries doing very well, and they were gainfully employed,” the governor said at an afternoon news conference, “then they’re all of a sudden not going to have a job.”
However, the governor did not lay out any additional programs beyond already-available unemployment insurance that could immediately deliver the help displace workers need.
The governor announced a series of moves on Tuesday, the same day as the state’s presidential primary, and after a 77-year-old man in a Broward County assisted living facility died and tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
State school officials said public schools would remain closed until April 15, and announced the suspension of mass campus gatherings, including sports events.
As of Tuesday afternoon, nearly 200 Floridians have been infected with the coronavirus, including four students at the University of Florida. Five people have died in Florida, and a sixth Floridian died in California.
Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees confirmed that another death at the facility was being investigated but could not say if that death was linked to the coronavirus, pending test results. Another death in Broward County unrelated to the assisted living facility was also under investigation.
Without naming the facility, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said 218 residents live there.
The chief of staff for Fort Lauderdale’s mayor identified the facility as the Atria Willow Wood assisted living community. The chief of staff, Scott Wyman, also said that five firefighters and a police officer who were in contact with residents at the facility.
A Seattle-area nursing home has been linked to more than two dozen COVID-19 deaths.
At the governor’s prompting, Florida’s university system said students should return home for remote learning for the rest of the spring semester. University officials also canceled traditional cap-and-gown graduation ceremonies in May, and directed campuses to reschedule or devise alternatives, perhaps even holding virtual graduation ceremonies for the 46,000 students who won’t be able to march.
Under one of the governor’s orders, restaurants must operate at only half capacity, limiting patrons to maintain safe distances between diners.
“We don’t want large crowds congregating right now. We want enough isolation so that the virus has more difficulty spreading,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis had mostly refrained from issuing mandates and left localities to their own judgment on how to limit public activities. He acted more decisively after President Donald Trump issued stricter guidelines Monday.
The governor said his order does not preclude the hardest-hit area from taking more actions. Communities from Key West to Orlando and Jacksonville sought to help contain the virus by shutting down attractions or limiting hours at public establishments like restaurants.
“Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a day of celebration, a day when many people head to bars and restaurants to celebrate, but we have to continue to make sacrifices to … save lives,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but older adults and those with existing health problems can develop severe complications, including pneumonia. 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.
Many beaches including Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach and Hollywood Beach have closed to spring break crowds. But some stayed open, including at Clearwater on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“I’ve never been to the beach when it’s been this empty. It’s crazy. It’s kind of nice,” said Diane Bigelow, 73, of Clearwater, whose senior center and pool were closed.
“Social distancing,” joked her friend Susan Miller, 74, of Indiana.
The women were a solid 30 feet (10 meters) from anyone else.