DeSantis orders Louisiana arrivals into quarantine
FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday ordered anyone arriving in the state from Louisiana to self-quarantine like those arriving from New York already must because of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis said he is expanding his quarantine order to include Louisiana after officials in the lightly hit Panhandle worried that people will flee New Orleans as the number of positive tests there climb. It is about a three-hour drive from New Orleans to Pensacola and DeSantis said the Florida Highway Patrol and sheriff's deputies will set up checkpoints to screen cars arriving from Louisiana.
The order will require anyone who arrives from Louisiana to isolate themselves for two weeks under the threat of a 60-day jail sentence. He issued earlier this week identical restrictions on travelers arriving from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
"New Orleans is having a lot of problems — they may not be quite as widespread as New York City. There was a concern from the Panhandle that this could impact them. They are working hard to keep their rates low and we don't want to add any problems to them," DeSantis said.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards didn't raise objections to the quarantining requirements on his state's residents. He said he's encouraging people from Louisiana to stay home, not travel.
"I'm not going to second guess or criticize what other governors are doing," the Democratic governor said Friday.
DeSantis also said he will issue an order barring companies like Airbnb from renting homes and rooms to vacationers for two weeks. The ban will not affect hotels or motels. Airbnb is waiting to see the order before commenting.
Despite criticism, DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide lockdown limiting residents' movements that states like California, New York, Illinois and others have done. Instead, he has preferred to let local governments decide. Restrictions are tight in South Florida, central Florida and the Tampa Bay area, but relatively light in the sparsely populated Panhandle. He has ordered some statewide measures such as closing bars and gyms and limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery. State parks have been closed.
DeSantis's move comes as state's death toll reached 34 Friday with 2,765 testing positive in the state. Almost 500 people are hospitalized.
Elsewhere, Florida's tourism industry was dealt another blow Friday as Disney World announced it will remain closed indefinitely. The park closed in mid-March with plans to reopen next week, but Disney said Friday it and California's Disneyland would remain closed. Disney said Friday it would continue to pay its tens of thousands of hourly workers through April 18. Universal-Orlando has said it will remain closed until at least April 19.
Also in Florida, at least a dozen police officers and deputies have tested positive for the new coronavirus and dozens more have self-quarantined as they await test results, including 40 deputies from Palm Beach County. The positive tests came from three Miami Beach officers, three Palm Beach County deputies, two Miami officers and single officers in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Flagler Beach.
"The Miami Beach cases, they got it from spring break, kind of like New Orleans with Mardi Gras," said Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police union. He said that without masks, the officers are trying to keep their distance but still must do their jobs.
"We don't have a choice. You go home, you don't see it right away, and next thing you know you've infected your family," said Jenkins, whose union represents 22,000 officers.
Meanwhile, four people have died aboard a cruise ship that is trying to get to Fort Lauderdale as 130 others have exhibited symptoms of possibly having the coronavirus.
Holland America said in a statement Friday the passengers died aboard the Zaandam after Chile refused it permission to dock last week. The Zaandam was off Central America's Pacific Coast on Friday, awaiting permission to cross the Panama Canal in hopes of reaching Florida next week.
Holland America did not specify that the four died of coronavirus, but says more than 130 passengers and crew have possible symptoms. At least two cases have been confirmed. The ship has four doctors and four nurses to treat 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members.
The canal's administration said Friday the ship will not be allowed through if anyone on board has been diagnosed with COVID-19 as its employees must board as it makes its passage. The cruise line has been evacuating some passengers to a sister ship.
The ship left Argentina on March 7. Broward County is debating whether to let the ship dock at its Port Everglades. The cruise line is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Schneider reported from Orlando. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this report.