Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded an emergency order prohibiting all visitation to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities for the next 30 days.
The announcement came during a press conference in which DeSantis listed several initiatives the state is taking as more cases of the coronavirus are being discovered every day in Florida.
"There will, of course, be exceptions made for compassionate visitation," DeSantis said.
Earlier Saturday, the Florida Department of Health reported 25 more cases of the coronavirus and the state’s third death. Most of the new cases were discovered in South Florida. Manatee County reported two new cases.
Broward County has the most cases of Covid-19 in the state. The vast majority of the patients caught the virus via international travel, DeSantis said. However, there are three people with coronavirus who did not travel abroad. The state is still investigating those cases.
The governor at recent press events has said that Florida did not have community spread of the virus, even though federal health officials had said otherwise.
On Saturday, though, Vice President Mike Pence said there was community spread in Florida. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines community spread as “the spread of an illness for which the source of the infection is unknown.”
DeSantis said epidemiologists were still analyzing the Florida cases and that it could take upward of three weeks to confirm causes. But he said his administration is operating under the assumption that COVID-19 has spread through communities.
“We’re still going forward as if there are pockets in a community because I think that’s the only responsible thing to do when you have a virus that is highly contagious, that’s the right posture to be in,” he said.
The governor did not disclose the areas in the state where there is community spread, but a document released by the Florida Department of Health showed seven COVID-19 cases in Broward County that were under investigation and didn’t involve recent travel.
DeSantis is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to send home the 61 Floridians currently being quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. These people were on the same cruise ship as someone who tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in a quarantine.
"Many of these Floridians are elderly ... It's a difficult situation for them,” DeSantis said. So our Department of Health is working with HHS to make sure these individuals get home safely. They will be tested. They will have to do the self-isolation, but I think it's much better for everyone if they can be safely brought back and be able to get back to their homes."
Additional measures to combat the coronavirus include recruiting and hiring epidemiologists and public health staff to assist the Florida Department of Health.
"These folks at the Department of Health have been working around the clock, this is very labor-intensive when you're talking about these types of investigations," DeSantis said.
AHCA will be extending all existing nursing home and ALF licenses for 90 days.
"We don't want any distraction from patient care right now,” DeSantis said. “So we're just going to move the bureaucratic hurdles back to hopefully on the other side of this crisis."
The governor also directed the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to suspend driver's license renewal requirements for 30 days along with state licensing and registration renewal requirements for existing professional licenses.
The News Service of Florida Contributed to this report.