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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: Dept. of Health Retracts Pasco Death Report, Restaurants and Casinos Close

image of coronavirus

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 6:00 p.m., Friday, March 20, according to the Florida Department of Health.

510 – Florida Residents | 6 – Florida Cases Repatriated | 53 – Non-Florida Residents

Florida Department of Health Retracts Report of Death of Pasco County Man

As of 6 p.m., there are 563 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida, an increase of 131 from Thursday. That includes 510 Florida residents and 53 non-residents.

Earlier Friday evening, the Florida Department of Health reported a 46-year-old man from Pasco County had died.

But just before 10 p.m., the Department retracted that and released a statement saying, "This was reported in error, there were no new fatalities in Florida associated with COVID-19 as of 6 p.m." 

Ten people have died in Florida from the coronavirus.

-- Mark Schreiner

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

ALF Deaths Investigation Shows Lack Of Screening For Sick Workers

A state investigation at a Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility shows that construction workers, staff and cooks who were ill were not properly screened and allowed to mix with elderly residents.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has confirmed two COVID-19 deaths at Atria Willow Wood. There have been seven positive cases, and five people are currently being treated. Six more tests are pending.

Local law enforcement and the state Agency for Health Care Administration is monitoring the situation - and the state has asked the Centers for Disease Control to send in an infectious diseases specialist.

-- Daylina Miller

Gov. DeSantis Closes All Restaurants To On-Site Dining; Also Shuts Down Gyms, Non-Emergency Surgeries

In the latest moves to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday closing all Florida restaurants and food establishments to on-site customers.

However, they still may run their kitchens to provide delivery or take-out services.

The order does not indicate when the closures will go into effect, but says it will end with the expiration of the state of emergency DeSantis signed March 9.

The order also temporarily closes all gymnasium and fitness centers in the state.

A separate order issued by DeSantis Friday afternoon emporarily halts all non-essential elective medical procedures.

The order prohibits all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices, and other health care practitioners’ office from providing any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery.

-- Mark Schreiner

Seminole Hard Rock Casinos Closing Temporarily

Seminole Hard Rock casinos across Florida will close temporarily to help stem the spread of coronavirus.

In a release, officials said all Seminole casinos – including the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino in Tampa – will close Friday at 6 p.m.

The move comes a day after Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, admonished the casino for remaining open and not doing enough to help in efforts to contain coronavirus.

-- Carl Lisciandrello

Pasco County To Close Beaches At 8 P.M. Friday

Pasco County is the latest Tampa Bay area county to close its beaches because of the coronavirus.

Starting at 8 p.m. Friday, the beaches at Anclote River Park, Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park, Robert K. Rees Memorial Park and Sunwest Park will temporarily close.

Tampa already closed its public beaches, Manatee County closed its public beaches at 6 a.m. Friday, Pinellas County will close its public beaches Friday night at 11:59 p.m., and Sarasota County will close its public beaches starting at 6 a.m. Saturday.

-- Mark Schreiner

Publix, Winn-Dixie Designate Hours For At-Risk Shoppers

Publix and Winn-Dixie will allow senior citizens and those at high risk of coronavirus to shop during specific hours to help avoid their potential exposure.

Starting next week, Publix is designating Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, from 7-8 a.m., as senior shopping hours until further notice.

Publix pharmacies also will be open during this time.

Winn-Dixie stories will be open for seniors on weekdays from 8 to 9 a-m. Pharmacies will also open early, at 8 a.m.

-- Carl Lisciandrello

State Agencies Limit Face-To-Face Contact

Face-to-face interactions between state agency staff members and the public won't be happening for the next month as Florida tries to contain the spread of COVID-19.
 
The News Service of Florida obtained a memo directing state employees to close to the public all facilities operated by executive agencies until April 19th. Agencies should communicate with the public via email or phone.

Agencies affected by this include the Departments of. Education, Children and Families, Corrections, Transportation, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Law Enforcement.

While facilities are closed to the public, buildings will remain operational for employees at this time,” the memo said.

The move comes after the White House earlier this week issued guidelines saying that people should stop gathering in groups of 10 or more individuals.

Officials added that the closures could be extended.

-- News Service of Florida

DeSantis: People Still Need To Get Outside

The threat of coronavirus has shut down spring break parties across Florida. But Governor Ron DeSantis says that doesn't mean everyone should stay inside.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been recommending that people remain six feet from one another in public. Malls, restaurants and even churches are inaccessible.

The governor says that's why he's encouraging cities to keep operating open spaces where possible. Floridians who can keep a safe distance need to go somewhere to relieve the stress.

"These are our neighbors who may to go out there and clear their heads because a lot of people are on edge now, and this is obviously going to be a physical challenge with the virus,” DeSantis said. “But I think it's really weighing on a lot of people and I just want the localities to have an outlet available if they think that that makes sense.”

Local and state officials have been rolling out closures all week, including the announcement that Florida's public schools will operate remotely until at least April 15.

-- News Service of Florida 

Duke Seeks To Waive Fees

In another example of the way the coronavirus is changing things, Duke Energy Florida is asking state regulators to allow it to waive customer fees.

The move is similar to the way the Florida Public Service Commission can waive fees for customers who suffer hurricane damage.

Duke is allowed to charge extra fees for such thing as reconnecting service and late payments. Currently, it can waive some charges if customers suffer damage from natural disasters.

But the request Thursday would seek to make clear that the utility can waive fees - and expand the type of fees - in circumstances such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The utility, which has about 1.8 million customers in the state, pointed to difficulties that some customers are expected to have in making electric payments.

-- News Service of Florida

Hotel Workers Losing Jobs

Florida hotels and businesses that support the hotel industry have cut nearly 400,000  jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association report released Thursday, more than 88,000 “direct hotel-related jobs” already have been lost in Florida because of the coronavirus crisis.

Another 305,000 jobs have been lost in industries that support hotels.

The layoffs have come as officials and industry executives close or limit access to hotels, theme parks, beaches, bars and restaurants to contain the fast-spreading virus.

The hotel industry employs roughly 950-thousand people in the state.

The association said it expects 44 percent of hotel employees in every state will lose their jobs in the coming weeks.

-- News Service of Florida

Positive Case On UCF Campus

The University of Central Florida is decontaminating a residence hall and classrooms after a student tested positive for COVID-19.

The news was announced in a release Thursday night from Dr. Michael Deichen, the Assoc. VP of UCF Student Health Services.

The student is recovering away from the school. Officials believe the risk of anyone who came into contact with him developing symptoms is very low.

UCF also announced Thursday that students will continue to take classes online during the summer semester that begins May 11.

-- Mark Schreiner, Danielle Prieur

BayCare Health System Postpones Elective Surgeries

BayCare Health System is postponing elective surgical procedures starting Friday, March 20 through April 30 at its hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

The change applies to procedures that can be delayed without danger to the patient, such as screening colonoscopies, catheterization laboratory procedures, interventional radiology studies and sleep lab studies.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Surgeon General encouraged hospitals to consider stopping elective surgeries to conserve personal protection equipment - and free up other resources. 

BayCare hospitals will continue emergency procedures as needed.

-- Daylina Miller