The Point, March 21, 2020: Coronavirus In Florida: Restaurants, Beaches, Casinos Shut As Testing Lags

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We know you don’t normally see us in your inbox on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but we also recognize everyone is seeking out the news more than ever right now. We want to do our part. For that reason, our team will continue bringing to you the most pressing and inspirational journalism from across Florida during this crisis. If you find the information and stories we’re offering to be valuable, please encourage someone you to know to join us by subscribing to this free public service at wuft.org/thepoint. Thank you.

• Fresh Take Florida: Many Of Florida’s Bar And Restaurant Owners Shut Their Doors, Laid Off Staff This Week. “(Gov. Ron) DeSantis then announced on Friday that restaurants are increasing their take-out and delivery orders to accommodate customers while social distancing is encouraged. As a result, he ordered that restaurants and food establishments stop all on-premises food consumption for customers. Businesses can sell alcoholic drinks in to-go containers for people to drink at home, according to the order.”

• WMFE: Restaurant closure comes as diners crowd patio in The Villages. “Six jovial men crowded around a table. One of them, who didn’t want to give his name, explained what they were doing. ‘Put it this way, we knew it was going to happen,’ he said. ‘…So we’re having one more and we’re out of here.'”

• Ocala Star-Banner: Marion County has its first case of coronavirus. “The patient is a 59-year-old woman who is a Marion resident.”

• CBS4: First confirmed case of COVID-19 in Putnam County. “The Florida Department of Health says that a 67-year-old man has tested positive.”

• Gainesville Sun: ACFR uses system to decontaminate rescue fleet. “Alachua County Fire Rescue has been making use of a special decontamination system amid fears of the coronavirus outbreak, going so far as to disinfect all of its vehicles.”

• WUFT News: It’s Still OK And Necessary To Give Blood During Coronavirus Outbreak, Blood Banks Say. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a statement on Thursday reassuring people that blood donation is both safe and needed during this outbreak.”

North Florida Regional Medical Center: “At this time, visitors are not permitted into the hospital… This includes our external campuses; such as the West End ER and Millhopper ER.”

• Citrus County Chronicle: Judges hear essential cases amid COVID-19 spread; releases low-risk inmates to ease jail capacity. “Three of Citrus County’s circuit court judges — (Ric) Howard, Peter Brigham and Carol Falvey — are also self-isolating after they came into possible contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Howard said.”

• NPR News: U.S. Orders Up To A Yearlong Break On Mortgage Payments. “Homeowners who have lost income or their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak are getting some relief. Depending on their situation, they should be eligible to have their mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months.”

• Florida Public Radio Emergency Network: Does Climate Have A Role In The Spread Of COVID-19? “A region’s climate could play a role in the spread of COVID-19, but there are less than three months of data for scientists to work with. Links between temperature, humidity, and the spread of coronavirus are now being monitored closely.”

• WCJB: UF’s class of 2020 will have their graduation ceremonies – just at a later date. “Now graduation ceremonies have been rescheduled for July 31 through August 2.”

Gainesville Downtown: “Starting today, we will spotlight a downtown business and how each one is coping with the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation.”


How you are doing

More than a dozen of you responded to our request yesterday with written vignettes of life during the coronavirus outbreak. Thank you, and please keep them coming. We would also love to hear and share your voices, so if you can record a short voice memo on your phone and email it to us at news@wuft.org, that’s great, too, or you can always call and leave us a voicemail at 352-392-6397. Your name, city and a short perspective — edited for clarity and brevity — like the first few readers below are most welcome.

• Tom: “I work as an accountant at a shipyard in Tampa. So far, biz has not changed – but my commute sure has. A 31-mile ride now takes 35 to 40 minutes. Used to be 55 to 65. Shows the inadequacy of our road system, in my opinion. I enjoy the extra time…”

• Alex from Gainesville: “As a master’s student at UF CJC and an advisor at The College of Veterinary Medicine, I’ve seen the educators of UF spring into action. While stress levels are understandably high, so are the spirits! Faculty members who never considered online as an option are working together to get lectures recorded and make as many accommodations as feasible so our Gators can continue their education. Everyone is embracing this new virtual life and our twice a week Zoom staff meetings (which used to be in-person once a month and not remotely close to the highlight of our day) have become something to look forward to. My perspective is this is an opportunity for us to learn what we are made of, to welcome adaptability and flexibility and to show that we are survivors. I am thankful to every ‘care’ worker, from doctors and nurses, to Publix employees, to those keeping us on the Internet grid. I hope this pandemic is a start to appreciate the underappreciated and my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who is suffering.”

• Charles from Brooksville: “I’m fine. I’m a 71-year-old white male in good health. I eat properly, walk 2 mikes every day, and have never been much of a social being. I have curtailed any unnecessary trips but still go grocery shopping and to the hardware store once a week. I now carry a squirt bottle of alcohol and a roll of paper towels in my truck. The first thing I do, when I exit a store, is to wipe my hands and steering wheel with an alcohol swab. Once home, after unpacking, I wash my hands with warm water and dish detergent. I don’t ever touch my face unless it is immediately after washing my hands. And I do practice social distancing and have curtailed anyone from coming into my home. I wish more people would take this virus more seriously before it truly gets out of hand and starts overwhelming our doctors and hospitals…and killing more people.”


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Around the state today

• Tallahassee Democrat: ‘Great lag’ means Florida coronavirus testing count doesn’t line up with reality. “There’s been a big change in the testing landscape since Feb. 22, when the state started processing tests at its three labs. And it’s an even bigger increase since private labs started picking up the slack on March 8. Then add in the 17 drive-through testing sites around the state.”

• Florida Politics: Demographer says Florida could be ‘like an uber-Italy’ during coronavirus outbreak. “Some scientists are pointing toward Florida with grave concern for a potential major outbreak of COVID-19 and deaths, due to the Sunshine State’s large populations of older and younger generations and largely unchecked spring break celebrations in the past week.”

• USA Today Network: DeSantis, state face grim financial picture. “…many Florida lawmakers, who adjourned the 2020 legislative session Thursday after passing a $93.2 billion state budget, say more drastic action is needed. Fast. Most expect to be called back to Tallahassee in coming weeks to rewrite that budget for the year beginning July 1. It’s certain to be battered by a loss of tax collections which threaten all matters of state spending, including financing for schools, health care, social programs, aid to local governments and highway construction.”

• WTSP: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried urges Governor DeSantis to issue ‘stay-at-home’ order.Her statement concludes with a sense of urgency. ‘I encourage the Governor to take this decisive action today to save lives and preserve Florida’s economy for our shared future. I will stand by the Governor should he make this difficult decision, and I implore him to do so now.'”

• Tampa Bay Times: Can Florida hold elections in the coronavirus era? “Experts and advocates are warning that a massive number of voters across the country could be shut out of the election during this outbreak if Congress and states don’t take action. Florida’s August primary election and November general election may seem far off, but local officials say any emergency changes to voting need to happen soon or there won’t be enough time to prepare.”

• WMFE: Third Orlando International Airport Worker Tests Positive for Coronavirus, Employee Parking Lot Closes Tomorrow. “TSA workers at airports in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Ohio have tested positive for coronavirus.”

• Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Doctor at Sarasota hospital diagnosed with virus. “Doctors Hospital of Sarasota announced Friday that a physician in the behavioral health unit was diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by this coronavirus.”

• Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola hospital capacity will be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, projections show. “Unlike the flu, which has a hospitalization rate of about 1% based on figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 requires about more than 20% of all cases to be treated in the hospital, meaning a large-scale outbreak in a community dramatically increases the burden on local hospitals.”

• Panama City News Herald: Panama City Beach, Bay County close beaches to stop COVID-19 spread. “In two separate, but both somber emergency meetings, the Panama City Beach City Council and the Bay County Commission agreed to close all city and unincorporated beaches for a week starting on Friday — at which point each governing body would decide if the closures should be extended.”

• Florida Times-Union: All Duval County beaches to close; testing to begin at TIAA Bank Field Saturday. “…a drive-thru testing site will open Saturday at 9 a.m. at TIAA Bank Field, but it will be limited to patients 65 years and older who have a fever higher than 99.6 degrees and respiratory symptoms, or first responders and medical staffers who have direct contact with patients.”

• Lakeland Ledger: School resource officers still mentor and serve. “Deputies are getting lots of positive reactions, and all the while, keeping the conversation – not on coronavirus, but upbeat topics.”

• Miami Herald: Seminole Tribe of Florida closes all casinos, hotels in the state during COVID-19 pandemic. “All hotels — including the iconic Guitar Hotel — will shut down as well. And don’t expect to see any lights shining at the hotel. Those will go dark too. The Guitar Hotel had already suspended shows.”

• Northwest Florida Daily News: Coronavirus and mental health: ‘It’s a scary feeling’ “The coronavirus has not only affected people’s financial and medical well-being but also their mental health. We talked to Northwest Floridians about how they are handling the pandemic and a local therapist about how we should.”

• Florida Today: Carnival lights up cruise ships with a ‘heartfelt message.’ “On Thursday night in Port Canaveral, the company lit up the side of the Carnival Breeze cruise ship with the words ‘we will be back’ leaving many who saw it wondering where it was going. But it turns out the message wasn’t intended to be literal.”


From NPR News

• Health: New York, Illinois Governors Issue Stay At Home Orders, Following California’s Lead

• Education: With Schools Closed, How Are Students In Need Getting Meals?

• World: State Department Offers Repatriation Flights For Americans Stranded In Morocco

• National: Getting Bored? Here’s A List Of Free Things That Weren’t Free Before Coronavirus

About today’s curator

I’m Ethan Magoc, a news editor at WUFT. Originally from Pennsylvania, I’ve found a home telling Florida stories. I’m part of a team searching each morning for local and state stories that are important to you; please send feedback about today’s edition or ideas for stories we may have missed to emagoc@wuft.org.

About WUFT News

Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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