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Health News Florida
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Latest On Coronavirus: Poll Workers Skip Out, Drive-Through Testing, And More

coronavirus image

WUSF will be providing the latest news and information on coronavirus in Tampa Bay and across the state. Here are the latest developments:

Total positive cases of coronavirus as of 11:00 a.m., Tuesday, March 17, according to the Florida Department of Health.

195 – Florida Residents | 6 – Florida Cases Repatriated | 21 – Non-Florida Residents

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

Manatee County Patient Is State's Seventh Coronavirus Fatality

A Manatee County patient has become the state’s sixth fatality from the coronavirus, state officials announced on Tuesday.

The state did not release any more details about the patient.

Manatee was one of the state’s first two counties with an announced case of COVID-19 at the beginning of the month.

There are now 216 patients with the coronavirus in Florida, after the state added 24 cases in its 6 p.m. update on Tuesday. Twenty-two of the new cases are Florida residents and two are non-Florida residents.

Earlier on Tuesday, the state announced the death of a Broward County patient at an assisted living facility. It is investigating at least one other possible case of COVID-19 at the facility, officials said.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Tuesday that three people have died at two long-term care facilities but that the state only has test results for one of the people. Test results for the other two are pending, Trantalis told reporters.

But Florida health officials on Tuesday stopped short of confirming Trantalis’ comments.

State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees noted that while authorities had concluded that one death was due to the virus, he would only say they were investigating another death at the same facility.

“We have one confirmed individual who passed from COVID-19, and all other individuals who have symptoms for that who have passed away are being evaluated,” Rivkees said.

The Broward County assisted-living facility where the 77-year-old resident died from the virus has 218 beds, according to Rivkees.

-- Julio Ochoa

University Commencement Ceremonies Postponed Indefinitely

Commencement ceremonies at the University of South Florida, and other state universities, will be postponed indefinitely.

This follows Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recommendation to the Board of Governors earlier Tuesday that all state universities switch to remote learning for the rest of the spring semester after four University of Florida students tested positive for COVID-19.

Currall said the university is exploring “creative alternative solutions,” including expanding the August graduation ceremonies to include the spring graduates. [Read more]

-- Carl Lisciandrello

Few Issues, Even With Absent Poll Workers

Few delays were reported at polling places in Pinellas County today, even after about 300 poll workers didn't show up this morning over fears about COVID-19.

Poll workers have been outside collecting ballots for 10 days and they’ve had a steady amount of traffic coming through.

Dustin Chase, the spokesman for the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, said about 300 poll workers who were scared off by the coronavirus didn't show up for work this morning. [Read more]

-- Steve Newborn

Florida Parks To Close Overnight Campgrounds

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced on its website Tuesday that while Florida State Parks currently remain open for day use, effective immediately, all Florida State Parks are changing day-use visitation hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

DEP also cancelled all events, activities, special event reservations, pavilion rentals and overnight reservations at Florida State Parks for the next 60 days. [Read more]

-- Daylina Miller

Drive-Throughs Coming To Hillsborough

Officials with Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa have been identifying locations to open drive-through testing sites for coronavirus.

At a Tuesday morning news conference, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said testing for coronavirus in a drive-through helps protect healthcare workers and allows them to get an efficient collection sample. [Read more]

-- Jessica Meszaros

Smooth Florida Primary Expected Despite Concerns

As Florida officials try to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state's voters will head to the polls and cast ballots today in the Democratic presidential primary.

Officials say all are expected to go smoothly despite concerns over the coronavirus.

State health officials have been working with local supervisors of elections to make sure polling locations are safe and clean, and some precincts at nursing homes and senior centers have been moved.

About 1.9 million of the state’s voters had voted by mail or at early voting centers as of Monday afternoon.

Stay with WUSF on-air for continuing coverage throughout the day. [Read more]

-- WFSU, Associated Press

Organizations Hurt By Volunteer Shortage

Local non-profit organizations are dealing with a shortage of volunteers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP Florida, says a lot of people over the age of 50 are not volunteering like they normally would because they’re at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

As a result, non-profits like Feeding Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Ministries are feeling the squeeze.

"A number of them have already reported significant decline in their volunteer numbers as older people who may have these conditions that put them at risk are doing the wise thing for their own health and declining to volunteer, he said.

Johnson is asking healthy people who are able to volunteer to consider doing so.

-- Vanessa Henry 

TGH Performing Its Own Tests

As the country tries to meet the growing demand for coronavirus tests, some area hospitals like Tampa General Hospital are doing their own in-house testing.

The hospital recently received FDA approval for a test similar to the CDC’s version, but availability is limited. 

The hospital can only do so many tests a day, so it has to limit who is eligible based on CDC guidelines that factor in whether patients show symptoms of COVID-19 as well as factors like their age and travel history.

Tampa General’s test can produce results within about six to twelve hours, according to Chief of Emergency Medicine Dr. David Wein. But he said people should avoid temptation to visit the hospital to get tested for quick peace of mind, as they may not qualify and could actually increase their risk of exposure to the virus. [Read more]

-- Stephanie Colombini

DeSantis: Bars Will Shut Down Statewide, Crowds Restricted At Restaurants And Beaches

Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday morning announced a number of measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Florida.

One of them involves closing bars and nightclubs for the next 30 days beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 17. 

Restaurants are also asked to operate at 50% occupancy, with seating staggered and parties required to sit at least six feet apart, this is similar to what's happening in California.

DeSantis is also encouraging people to get takeout and delivery for food instead.

Beachgoers are asked to meet in groups smaller than 10. [Read more]

-- Daylina Miller

Tampa, St. Petersburg Set Limits on Gatherings, Bars and Restaurants

The mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg held separate Facebook Live sessions on Monday, announcing new limitations on gatherings, as well as at restaurants and bars.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor ordered all bars and restaurants to limit their occupancy to 50 percent of their maximum capacity, starting Tuesday at noon. She also ordered them to close daily at 10 p.m. until further notice. [Read more]

Late Monday night, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill issued an administrative order with the same restrictions for restaurants, bars, and private clubs in the rest of the county. [Read more]

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said his city is restricting both public and private gatherings to 50 people and will limit late alcohol sales at bars and restaurants in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Bars and restaurants must now abide by a last-call of 9 p.m., and Kriseman stressed that this restriction will be strongly enforced.

“Late night revelry in this city will not be allowed,” Kriseman said.

In addition, all libraries, recreation center and pools will be closed to the public until further notice. [Read more]

-- Lisa Peakes, Steve Newborn and Carl Lisciandrello

WrestleMania Moved Out of Tampa

WrestleMania 36 will not be held in Tampa after all. World Wrestling Entertainment issued a state on Twitter saying it will move the event to its training facility in Orlando.

As it has done with recent televised events, WrestleMania will be held in the empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Only essential personnel will be allowed on the closed set. [Read more]

-- Carl Lisciandrello and Mark Schreiner