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Coronavirus in Florida latest: Bars, nightclubs close for 30 days; voting; WrestleMania

What you need to know for Tuesday, March 17.
Voter Dave Oldani, 55, on left, wears gloves as he enters the polls as the election deputy wears a protective mask and gloves as he holds the door outside of the Bay Vista Center on election day in the Florida presidential primary at 7000 4th St S, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 in St. Petersburg. "I didn't want to put my family or anyone at risk," Oldani said. "I was hesitant to come but I think it's too important not to."
Voter Dave Oldani, 55, on left, wears gloves as he enters the polls as the election deputy wears a protective mask and gloves as he holds the door outside of the Bay Vista Center on election day in the Florida presidential primary at 7000 4th St S, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020 in St. Petersburg. "I didn't want to put my family or anyone at risk," Oldani said. "I was hesitant to come but I think it's too important not to." [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 17, 2020
Updated Mar. 17, 2020

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As of late Tuesday morning, Florida had 192 cases of coronavirus — 173 of them Florida residents — and six deaths. The United States had more than 4,600 cases and 85 deaths as of Monday night. Here’s what you need to know for today.

All bars and nightclubs are ordered to close for the next 30 days, beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a press conference Tuesday morning. All restaurants are being asked to work at 50 percent capacity.

DeSantis also announced that universities statewide will switch to online classes for the rest of the semester. Four students at the University of Florida have been diagnosed with coronavirus, he said.

The governor’s orders followed limitations put in place Monday and Tuesday by local governments in Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg.

Hillsborough County officials said Tuesday morning that all public and private gatherings must be limited to 50 people. County Administrator Mike Merrill said at a news conference that he is issuing the order based on current recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit the spread of the coronavirus in Florida. The order applies to churches, Merrill said.

Hillsborough County had already announced, on Monday night, that bars, restaurants and clubs would have to close by 10 p.m. starting Tuesday, and that they will have to limit occupancy to 50 percent. Earlier in the day, the county announced that it would close its public libraries, recreation centers and splash pads.

The early closing time for bars and restaurants followed the lead of the city of St. Petersburg, which directed bars to close at 9 p.m. Mayor Rick Kriseman said that “late-night revelry in this city will simply not be allowed,” but other cities in Pinellas have yet to issue similar directives.

Polls open despite pandemic

Though other states have postponed primaries in the face of the pandemic, the Florida primary is going on as scheduled, with polls open until 7 p.m. Tuesday for the presidential preference primary and, in places including Clearwater, municipal elections. More than 2 million Floridians have already voted via early voting or vote-by-mail. Civil rights activists have sued the state over its decision to not extend the vote-by-mail deadline.

Officials expect the coronavirus to affect turnout, though the extent of that effect isn’t yet apparent. Floridians who haven’t voted yet but feel they can’t leave their homes because of coronavirus can fill out forms allowing a designee to pick up and drop off a ballot for them. They must sign an affidavit saying there’s an emergency keeping them from going to their polling place. Those ballots must be returned by 7 p.m.

Those who do go to vote in-person should double-check their polling locations before leaving home: The pandemic has caused some elections officials to relocate polling sites originally put in places with vulnerable populations. Poll worker shortages could mean long lines.

Many beaches remain open, with new restrictions

DeSantis didn’t close beaches Tuesday, but he did say that groups on beaches should be no larger than 10 people. Pinellas County officials said Monday that they plan to keep beaches open until the state tells them to close.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he supported that decision because as events are canceled and businesses closed, people are “going to need some sort of outlet.”

Hernando County officials announced Monday afternoon that the beaches there will close beginning Tuesday.

WrestleMania will go on — but not in Tampa

Days after other major sporting events were canceled or suspended, the WWE announced Monday night that WrestleMania 36 will no longer take place in Tampa. The annual event will still take place on April 5, but instead of happening in front of a crowd of 75,000 at Raymond James Stadium, it’ll be televised from a closed set at the company’s training facility in Orlando, with only “essential personnel” in attendance.

Related events slated to take place at Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center in the week before WrestleMania have also been canceled. It follows the cancellation of the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament, which had first- and second-round games scheduled at Amalie Arena.

WrestleMania could have been a boon to Tampa’s economy: Last year’s WrestleMania, in New Jersey, generated more than $165 million in visitor spending, according to an economic impact report.

A public health expert issues a wake-up call

In a letter published Tuesday morning, Jay Wolfson — a professor, associate vice president and senior associate dean at the University of South Florida who’s frequently quoted by local and national media — urged his family and friends to take the pandemic seriously.

“This is not a drill," he wrote. "We have been invaded.”

He referenced his “rule of cockroaches” — that for every one you see, there are another 9 to 20 in the wall. “That is a fair, albeit likely mild statement about the coronavirus,” he wrote.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

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

STORES REACT TO VIRUS: Some businesses adjust hours or announce temporary closings.

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.

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