1. News
  2. /
  3. Health

Coronavirus in Florida latest: Unemployment, drive-through testing and a MacDill case

Here’s what you need to know for March 21
A healthcare worker prepares to collect a sample to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing site Friday, March 20, 2020, at the Doris Ison Health Center in Miami. [WILFREDO LEE  |  AP]
A healthcare worker prepares to collect a sample to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing site Friday, March 20, 2020, at the Doris Ison Health Center in Miami. [WILFREDO LEE | AP]

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at

• • •

Florida officials are monitoring 563 cases of the coronavirus as of Saturday morning. Although the state mistakenly reported a death in Pasco County Friday evening, the Florida death toll remained at 10 Friday.

A potential south Florida assisted living facility outbreak?

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that seven cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, had been reported from one assisted-living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Atria Willow Wood.

The cases included two deaths and five additional positive tests. Another six tests connected to the facility are pending.

The governor’s announcement sparked fears that the facility had suffered an outbreak similar to one that ravaged a Seattle area elder care center. That outbreak has been linked to 35 deaths.

It’s unclear precisely who brought the disease to Atria Willow Wood, but DeSantis noted the facility was allowing unauthorized workers — cooks, staff, construction workers — to roam the grounds. This happened despite a state ban on most visitors to long-term care facilities.

“That is exactly what you are not supposed to do,” DeSantis said.

Coronavirus overwhelms Florida’s shaky unemployment system

It’s a complaint that liberals in the state had for years before the outbreak of an unprecedented global pandemic.

“The system itself isn’t geared toward actually helping people.”

That’s what Democratic state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez had to say about Florida’s unemployment assistance program this week, when the program was swamped with calls and online requests from the state’s recently unemployed.

Saturday morning, the state Department of Economic Opportunity tweeted it would shut down the program’s online application system for several hours Saturday for “system improvements.”

Even those who were able to communicate with the state — and many were not — were likely to get meager assistance from Florida, which offers notoriously little help to the unemployed. Those who get benefits can collect a maximum of $275 per week. That number hasn’t budged in decades.

Benefits also last up to just three months — less than half of what most states offer.

DeSantis said the Department of Economic Opportunity would hire 100 new workers to field calls, and that he was waiving a rule that required people to prove they’re looking for work in order to receive state benefits.

BayCare drive-thru Coronavirus testing is tightening up

It will soon become more difficult to get a coronavirus test from a BayCare Health drive through facility.

The health care company is shortening hours at its seven testing locations to 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Only those who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, a cough or shortness of breath — are eligible for a test. And even the symptomatic have to meet at least one additional travel or exposure requirement.

As of Friday evening, BayCare had tested 2,870 people in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties for the coronavirus. Some 2,113 have been refused a test because they did not meet the screening criteria.

The testing locations are open seven days per week at the following locations. A car is required.

  • 900 Carillon Parkway, Suite 106, St. Petersburg.
  • 4821 U.S. 19, New Port Richey.
  • 3351 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater.
  • 3440 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd., Suite 100, Tampa.
  • 17512 Dona Michelle Drive, Suite 5, Tampa.
  • 2442 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico.
  • 36245 U.S. 27, Haines City.

A case at MacDill, and a case at the University of Tampa

A University of Tampa student who lives off campus and a recently returned sailor at MacDill Air Force Base both tested positive for COVID-19, the Tampa Bay Times reported Friday night.

In the MacDill case, the sailor “did everything right,” according to Col. Stephen Snelson, commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing. The unnamed sailor got back from an overseas trip and immediately began to practice social distancing. (Federal health officials have said this is a good practice even for those who are not concerned about potential exposure. Flatten the curve.)

Once the sailor began to show symptoms, he was tested for the virus.

MacDill Air Force Base is the headquarters of U.S. Central Command, or CentCom, and U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCom.

The University of Tampa student visited the school’s Dickey Health and Wellness Center on Monday. The school is urging any concerned students to call the Dickey Health and Wellness Center with any questions at (813) 257-3051.

The center will stay open, the university said.

• • •

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.

JOIN THE FACEBOOK GROUP: See updates and tips posts, and ask questions of our journalists.

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips.

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.

To our Readers,
We are temporarily suspending comments on The staff members tasked with managing this feature are devoted to our ongoing coronavirus pandemic coverage. We apologize for this inconvenience. If you want to submit a tip, please go to this page. You may also submit a letter to the editor.