Coronavirus in Florida: DeSantis halts vacation rentals, sets up checkpoints to screen Louisiana residents
Worried about a potential influx of people fleeing New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana stricken by coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced travelers from there will be stopped and screened as they come into Florida as the number of in-state cases blew past the 3,000 mark.
DeSantis also said the state would suspend vacation rentals for two weeks: "If you're in one now, finish and go home."
Checkpoints will be set up along major roads into Florida, including I-10, with county sheriff deputies and state troopers authorized to stop people coming from Louisiana, get information about where they are staying, and require them to self-isolate for 14 days.
The fear among Panhandle residents is that they will see an influx of people from Louisiana "as New Orleans becomes more of a hot spot," DeSantis said during an afternoon televised news conference from the Governor's Office. "The concern in the Panhandle is that this could impact them."
The order would not apply to commercial transportation.
DeSantis said the state already has had success with a similar order on people coming from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut registering with the National Guard when they step off a flight from their area and self-quarantining for 14 days.
"We've had 3,400 people register already" since the order was implemented earlier this week, DeSantis said. "It's already led to a dramatic reduction in air traffic."
He said he was pleased that Florida led the nation in this effort, noting that Texas has implemented something similar: "If you're coming from an epicenter, where they are telling you to shelter in place, please don't come here," DeSantis said.
The governor also took note that the next phase of the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic — announced by President Trump Thursday — "really recognizes that different metropolitan areas are being impacted differently by the virus in different ways."
He added that's "the approach I've been taking and I think that tailored approach really makes sense."
Trump also on Friday signed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package into law, after swift and near-unanimous action by Congress this week to support businesses, rush resources to overburdened health care providers and help struggling families during the deepening coronavirus epidemic.
On a day that Miami-Dade saw its first coronavirus death and the total number of cases started the day by approaching 3,000, DeSantis said increasing testing around the state continues to be a priority.
As thousands more are being tested, more are testing positive, he said, but the overall rate of positive cases is holding at around 9 percent — and most of those being tested are the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.
Close to half the state's cases are in Broward and Miami-Dade, which is also where the testing is concentrated. Palm Beach County, a distant third to Broward and Miami-Dade, will be setting up a mobile testing site with the help of the Florida National Guard, DeSantis said.
The state will also be sending out more swabs for sample collection, he added. One thousand will go to Miami-Dade, another 1,000 to Broward and 1,000 to Hillsborough County, which has the fourth highest number of cases.
As testing increases, state officials are handling an increasing work load of data and trying to get it out in a timely and accurate manner, leading to some changes in the way the data has been presented on the Department of Health's website.
As of Friday morning, there were nearly 550,000 cases of coronavirus across the globe and almost 25,000 deaths related to COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory illness caused by the virus that was first reported in the Wuhan province of China.
The U.S. leads the world with nearly 100,000 cases, although at close to 1,500 deaths it has fewer deaths reported than Italy, Spain, China, Iran or France.
In Florida, the number of casesbroke the 3,000 mark by Friday evening, now at 3,198. Of those, 3,054 were Florida residents and 144 were non-residents. The state also reported a new total of 46 Florida deaths.
That includes two new deaths for Broward County, and the first deaths for Miami-Dade and St. Lucie counties. The Miami-Dade victim was a 40-year-old man. Also, 456 people are hospitalized.
"Data in released reports are provisional and subject to change," said Alberto Moscoso, communications director for the Department of Health, in an email. "This is noted at the top of the twice-daily summaries."
The state was sending out regular twice-daily updates around 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., self-imposed deadlines that state officials kept failing to meet as the data expanded.
That was a huge shift from the once-daily recaps back when Florida had fewer than 100 people with the coronavirus. The state now says updates will come out at noon and 7 p.m.
Also, the state is only putting the number of Florida residents who test positive on its information dashboard. But if people click on each county, they can see a breakdown by resident and non-resident, as well as the number of hospitalized and the number of dead and other demographics.
For example, the state lists Broward County's death count at three. But the Sun-Sentinel reports three more nursing home deaths and the first death of a Florida doctor who was working with coronavirus patients.
That should put Broward's total at seven, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The state reported two new cases for Broward this morning.
At one time Thursday, Orange County reported four deaths, but that number is back to three at least on the state's dashboard. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center dashboard shows four dead in Orange County.
Johns Hopkins also shows one death in Leon County, a death the state doesn't count even though it counts a 48-year-old Georgia woman who died at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in its list of positive cases.
The woman who died at TMH was a Georgia resident, Moscoso said, so it wouldn't be counted in Florida's death numbers: "This was still, however, a case of COVID-19 in Florida and one that was in Leon County," Moscoso said.
The case isn't being tracked twice in Florida's daily report, he said: "All Florida confirmed cases of COVID-19 are detailed in the Daily Summary, as are all of the Florida resident deaths attributable to COVID-19. Non-Florida resident deaths are not."
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.