TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sunday that a drive-thru testing facility will soon open at a hospital in Broward County, the hardest-hit county from the new coronavirus, as the state seeks to boost testing capacity.
The number of confirmed cases surged to more than 130 statewide, amid three deaths reported by Florida health officials. More than 170 National Guard personnel have deployed in Broward County, and some 300 additional Guard members are soon to be activated to help with drive-thru testing.
DeSantis said Florida should brace for even more infections and he again urged residents — particularly younger people on spring break — to exercise caution and refrain from gathering in crowds.
The cities of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale — popular among college students on spring break — announced Sunday that they would close off some of their popular beaches and ordered “non-essential” businesses to close by 10 p.m. to prevent large crowds from forming.
The governor has been especially concerned about college students on spring break and other young people congregating in large groups.
“To have people congregating in these bars and beaches like this undercuts our efforts to protect our vulnerable population,” DeSantis said.
The drive-thru testing facility will be set up in cooperation with the Memorial Healthcare System’s hospital in Miramar, a community in Broward County. The county now has more than 30 confirmed infections.
“We’re going to work really hard to get this up and running as soon as possible,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday evening. “We want to put resources with the greatest need.”
The governor said the tests would be free to patients.
DeSantis said recently that the state is purchasing 2,500 testing kits — enough to test 625,000 of the state’s 21.3 million residents. State officials said they currently have 1,000 of the test kits in hand.
Later Sunday night, legislative leaders announced that traditional end-of-session ceremonies were being canceled to limit large gatherings — and possible exposure to the virus — when it convenes Thursday to adopt a $93.2 billion state budget.
The public gallery overlooking the state House will also be closed to all visitors.
“The Florida House has a constitutional obligation to vote on the budget; we are also obligated to do so in Tallahassee,” Speaker Jose Oliva said in a statement.
“We will take recommended steps to mitigate the danger of any exposure to members or staff to Coronavirus,” he said.
One of the most recently infected is a TSA worker at Orlando International Airport, the state’s busiest.
“As far as I know, she hasn’t been out of the country,” Deborah Hanna, president of the union representing TSA workers at Orlando International, told the Orlando Sentinel. “This was contracted at work with all the people we deal with.”
The agency’s website also disclosed that a TSA screener at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, in Broward County, also tested positive for COVID-19. It was unclear if the case was among infections already announced by Florida health officials.
Four other TSA agents — all working at the airport in San Jose, California — have also been infected, the agency’s website indicated.
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.
State officials said they were preparing to set up mobile hospitals to help boost capacity, should the number of infections surge beyond the ability of the state’s hospitals to handle the caseload.
To help contain the spread of the disease, Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens all announced they will be closing Sunday night for at least two weeks. Disney will keep its hotels and its Disney Springs shopping area open, however. All major cruise ship lines also suspended operations. Miami Beach’s famed South Beach is being closed nightly to avoid large gatherings of spring breakers from around the world there.
Miami International Airport has been designated as one of 13 airports nationwide that will receive flights from Europe and will check passengers for signs of the disease. Spokesman Greg Chin said that unlike Chicago’s O’Hare where lines have been long, Miami has had short waits as only 10 European flights arrived Saturday and only seven are expected Sunday.
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