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Coronavirus in Florida latest: Unemployment, planning ahead and bus changes

Here’s what you need to know for Sunday, March 22
Notes on the doors at Casa Tina Mexican restaurant informed people that the establishment had closed due to concern over the Coronavirus pandemic. Inside, the lights were out and the chairs were hung on the tables, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Dunedin.
Notes on the doors at Casa Tina Mexican restaurant informed people that the establishment had closed due to concern over the Coronavirus pandemic. Inside, the lights were out and the chairs were hung on the tables, on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Dunedin. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Mar. 22, 2020

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There are now more than 750 positive coronavirus cases in the state, and a death toll of 12. On Saturday, the state added 200 more positive cases, the largest increase yet.

DeSantis looks to China and considers moving sick people to isolation centers

In a press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s asked agencies to use empty hotels and convention centers as possible isolation centers for people with coronavirus.

Currently in Florida, people with coronavirus who don’t need hospitalization are told to isolate at home. But in China, health officials found that spread the infection to other people living in the same house. Instead they had positive cases stay in isolation centers to remove the risk.

DeSantis said he hopes it doesn’t come to that, but he’s planning for the possibility.

Tampa mayor tells residents to ready for ‘stay-at-home’ order

Mayor Jane Castor said if the governor doesn’t soon order a statewide stay-at-home order, she and other Hillsborough County leaders may implement one first.

“It will be soon, I would be surprised if it’s not by Monday,” Castor told reporters Saturday. “Time is of the essence.”

The county wants to open a drive-thru testing center at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday or Monday, but only if healthcare workers get the supply of test kits and protective gear they need.

Hillsborough County leads the Tampa Bay area in positive cases, but Castor feels it’s not an accurate number because testing has lagged behind.

Stay-at-home orders would close all nonessential businesses.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority changes service

Beginning March 30, the bus service will operate only from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will give bus drivers the choice of keeping only 10 people on a bus at a time. All passengers will enter from the back.

To cover the difference, the transit authority said they would station more buses at busy areas during peak hours.

Drivers have already begun to wear masks and gloves.

Florida’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed

As Florida’s tourism-dependent economy has been kneecapped by orders for people to stay at home and scale backs of restaurant operation, thousands of workers have been left unemployed.

And when they call the state unemployment assistance program, lines have jammed and the website has crashed. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would hire another 100 employees so the Department of Economic Opportunity can meet the need.

In the past week, the department got 130,000 calls. That’s five times the normal amount.

DeSantis waived a rule that had businesses keep people on their payrolls at reduced rates so employees wouldn’t qualify for unemployment. This move is meant to ease their ability to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Florida provides a maximum of just $275 per week for unemployment, one of the lowest rates in the country.

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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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