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Florida plans some drive-through testing, restaurants stay open for now, DeSantis says

The first mobile testing station will be set up in Broward County, the epicenter of Florida’s outbreak.

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sunday that the state’s first mobile testing station will be set up in Broward County, free of charge.

The announcement comes after the Florida Department of Health reported early Sunday morning that the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surpassed 100. There are currently 36 positive coronavirus cases in Broward County.

The testing station, planned for Miramar, will come out of a public-private partnership between Memorial Health Care in Broward County and the Florida National Guard, which has already deployed more than 100 guardsmen in the county, the epicenter of the state’s outbreak.

"The idea is because we've had more cases there than anywhere else, we want to supplement the health care system there,” DeSantis said.

He said he hopes the National Guard can get the station up and running “as soon as they can” but did not disclose an opening date.

“It’s their top mission right now for the state,” he said. “We want to make sure that when it opens, it’s done right.

DeSantis said the mobile site might not be the only one. Decisions to open other sites may happen as the virus “evolves in other parts of the states,” he said.

According to the state, the overall damage as of Sunday at 6 p.m. was that 106 Florida residents and nine non-Florida residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

South Florida has the most infections, with 13 cases in Miami-Dade County and 36 cases in Broward — many of them with no stated connection to travel history.

On Saturday, DeSantis finally acknowledged that Florida is experiencing “community spread” of the coronavirus — the transmitting of the virus among those who aren’t sure where or how they got infected.

DeSantis held the news conference Sunday shortly after President Donald Trump held a White House briefing with a number of members of the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

“We are all going to be great,” Trump said during the news conference. “Just relax. Take it easy ... It all will pass.”

On Saturday night, the Florida Department of Health confirmed a third in-state coronavirus death: a 77-year-old man from Lee County who had been previously diagnosed with the illness. In a previously reported case, a fourth Floridian died from COVID-19, but while in California.

Across the country, states are taking precautions to stop people from commingling in public places. On Sunday, Illinois and Ohio announced closures of dine-in restaurants and bars.

Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale announced sweeping measures on Sunday to shut down their most popular public beaches and close “non-essential” businesses by 10 p.m. Miami Beach has also forced every bar, restaurant and retailer in the city to close early and is urging businesses to decrease their capacity by 50 percent to create social distancing.

DeSantis lauded the mayors of the two cities Sunday. He said the actions to “pull the plug on these big spring break gatherings in the right way to go.”

“Florida is not going to be a place where you’re going to be out until 2 am. with 500 people at some bar,” he said. “That really can be problematic. I have applauded what those mayors did. That is the right thing … this can be kind of a petri dish situation.”

At an earlier news conference Sunday afternoon when Vice President Mike Pence was asked if there should be more restaurant closures and curfews nationwide, he said there will be new guidelines released Monday morning.

DeSantis echoed the sentiment, announcing that the state will be putting out guidance to municipalities regarding bars and restaurants Monday morning after getting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The best way to avoid COVID-19 is to avoid crowds,” said Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.

Travel restrictions have also tightened as of Sunday. Haiti shut down the Dominican Republic border and suspended most international flights, joining other neighboring Caribbean and Latin American nations, which in the past week have imposed drastic measures to try to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The federal government has also imposed a travel ban to and from some countries in Europe.

Florida has already restricted nonessential travel for state workers for the next month and is telling state agencies to “maximize remote working and telecommuting.”

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

OTHER CORONAVIRUS WEBSITES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Florida Department of Health

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