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Broward assisted living facility failed to screen employees, DeSantis says. Now two residents are dead.

“Construction workers, staff and cooks who were not screened were allowed to go and mix with the residents unimpeded,’’ said DeSantis, referencing a Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility that now has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers an update on the coronavirus during a Friday news conference in Tallahassee.
Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers an update on the coronavirus during a Friday news conference in Tallahassee. [ Florida Channel ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020|Updated Mar. 21, 2020

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TALLAHASSEE — As the specter mounted Friday that there may be a contagious cluster of COVID-19 cases at a Broward nursing home, a sanguine Gov. Ron DeSantis braced the public for even more bad news.

“People don’t know what’s around the corner, they don’t really understand what this virus can mean,’’ said the governor at a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee in what has become a daily ritual for the Republican governor.

“And the thing I want to say is: This is not going to be easy. But we will get through it.”

DeSantis said that testing shows that “Broward and Miami Dade continue to be the hotspot” with 124 positive COVID-19 cases in Broward as of midday Friday, and 113 total in Miami-Dade. He suggested that in counties with only 5 to 10 positive tests, the state now has the capability to “isolate and trace” the source.

“That’s the good news. The bad news is in Broward and Dade, it’s spreading throughout the community,’’ he said.

He announced that a large Fort Lauderdale assisted living facility where two people have recently died, failed to properly screen its workers and now has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 with six more tests pending.

He said that of the 124 cases in Broward County, 57 of them are travel related, 52 are linked to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but the remaining 15 are unknown.

In Miami-Dade County, the 113 postive COVID-19 cases include 44 that are travel-related and 30 who had a known contact with someone else who is positive but 39 have no known link.

“We have 1,020 pending test results, and then based on what’s happening today, you know, that number is going to continue to grow,’’ he warned.

Testing site off to good start

DeSantis reported that the drive-through testing site that began on Friday morning at CB Smith Park in Pembroke Pines had collected 407 samples as of 4 p.m., but he reminded people the test results have been backlogged and could take days for people to get them.

“We would like to scale this up and hopefully replicate it around the state because I really think that the number one thing that we need is a lot more people to have been tested,’’ DeSantis said. “If we had that I think we would be able to make some more informed choices.”

In lieu of widespread testing, the governor has focused on a selective containment strategy that has increasingly accelerated as the number of positive cases has spiraled.

DeSantis spent the day issuing a four executive orders in rapid succession, including the most widespread mandatory statewide restrictions on businesses to date — closing restaurants to in-person dining but allowing them to remain open for deliveries.

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On Tuesday, the governor ordered all bars and nightclubs to close but allowed restaurants to remain open as long as restaurants limited customers to 50% capacity and were spaced out to avoid spreading the virus.

But, DeSantis said Friday, that while the “vast majority” of restaurants abided by the restrictions “some didn’t” and all restaurants will now be restricted.

“It’s just the type of thing that, you know, we don’t have time to police that,’’ he said. “So we’re going to takeout and delivery only.”

DeSantis acknowledged “it’s going to be hard for some of these restaurants to survive in this environment” but he offered them a chance to expand their offering by announcing that he has waived state regulations and will now allow restaurants to deliver alcohol with meal deliveries.

The governor also defended his decision to ban elective surgery at most hospitals and healthcare facilities, saying it was needed to reserve hospital capacity and personal protective equipment used by staff to deal with COVID-19 patients.

Both the bar and restaurant restrictions expire at the end of the month.

The governor also confirmed that for university and college students who are banned from returning to school, the Board of Governors is working out a plan to provide them with refunds or credits on their food and housing payments.

With school closed, DeSantis said more than 700 school nurses will be deployed in their communities to help respond to the coronavirus crisis.

The executive orders issued by the governor Friday include:

▪ Closing of beaches and businesses in Broward and Palm Beach counties. In addition to the beaches, the closures apply to gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys and arcades until March 31.

▪ Prohibiting any elective surgery or medical procedures at all hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, office surgery centers, dental, orthodontic and endodontic offices, and other healthcare practitioners’ offices. The order includes “any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery which, if delayed, does not place a patient’s immediate health, safety or well being at risk.”

▪ Suspending the law requiring government bodies to meet in person and instead conduct public meetings via telephone or video conferencing. The order retains the state’s Sunshine requirements that the meetings be publicly noticed and accessible to the public.

▪ Closing bars and restaurants to in-person dining across the state but allowing them to remain open for delivery.

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