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DeSantis considers new strategy in Florida coronavirus fight: isolation shelters

Isolating people with symptoms in hotels, instead of staying at home, has been successful in China.

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TALLAHASSEE — As Florida’s confirmed coronavirus cases climbed toward 800 on Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s considering his most drastic move yet: Moving certain people at risk to isolation shelters.

DeSantis said his administration might put those who test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms of the disease in shelters, such as abandoned convention centers or hotels, to prevent them from returning home and infecting those they live with.

It would be a dramatic change in strategy toward combating the spread of coronavirus, which has killed a dozen people in Florida.

For weeks, state and federal officials have encouraged people to stay home if they feel sick. But China, where the outbreak started, discovered that sending sick people home causes family members getting sick as well, DeSantis said.

The country has found success by instead isolating people who don’t require hospitalization in hotels and other sites. For the first time since the outbreak started, the country reported zero new local infections of the coronavirus this week.

“What China started figuring out was, as much as you can believe them, people would get infected, you would send them home and they’d infect the people in their house,” DeSantis said Saturday. “Don’t go back home with your family, because the people you’re most likely to infect are those very close persistent contacts."

DeSantis said he’s asked agencies to explore the use of such sites. Hotels have also offered their rooms and spaces to the government, he said.

DeSantis did not say when he would implement the plan.

“Hopefully it doesn’t get to that," he said. “But we’re planning for that, for sure, because I think that’s a prudent thing to do.”

DeSantis made no mention of shutdowns that other states, such as California, New York and Illinois, have ordered to keep residents at home.

He’s faced increasing criticism for deferring to counties about when to close beaches and other sites, and he has said that shutting down the state could backfire.

“I really worry, as this drags out, the effect that this is going to have on mental health,” DeSantis said Saturday. “People just need to know, it’s going to be fine, protect yourself. We’re going to have to work very hard to get through this, but we will.”

Florida officials announced more than 200 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus Saturday, bringing the state total to 763 positive COVID-19 cases.

The death toll in the state also rose from 10 to 12 between the state’s last update Friday and the new numbers Saturday. One new death was reported in Duval County, and one in Broward County.

DeSantis said Broward County’s new drive-thru testing site, which is open to medical professionals and older people exhibiting symptoms of the virus, has been able to take far more samples than originally anticipated. They were aiming for 250 people a day, but were able to get 745 on Friday, he said.

He announced similar sites were opening on Monday at The Villages and at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. A similar site is opening at the Orange County Convention Center on Wednesday.

“The goal would be to cast as wide a net with this as possible,” he said.

China, South Korea and other countries have shown success against the coronavirus with aggressive testing, which remains frustratingly out of reach for Florida and the rest of the United States.

Some of China’s strategies, which include lockdowns on travel for hundreds of millions of people, have also been considered too harsh and unrealistic for the United States and other Western countries.

But isolating and monitoring people who test positive for the virus, but do not require hospital treatment, could be a realistic strategy, DeSantis indicated.

When asked about China’s strategy more than a week ago, DeSantis said he was open to new ideas.

“Well China’s an authoritarian country, so it’s a little different,” DeSantis said on March 13. “We’re open to doing things to be effective.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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