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Coronavirus in Florida latest: Testing increases, state parks close, schools adapt

Here’s what you need to know for Monday, March 23
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is flanked by city officials and local hospital officials during a during a news conference about the recent coronavirus pandemic Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Tampa. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. 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 tampabay.com/subscribe.

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Florida’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to more than 1,000 on Sunday, which saw 244 new cases statewide — the biggest single-day surge since Florida began testing. Nineteen of those new cases were in the Tampa Bay area.

As of Monday morning, the state had a total of 1,007 cases and 13 deaths. The United States had more than 35,000 cases and 471 deaths.

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Testing increases, but officials want more kits

The increase in coronavirus numbers comes with an uptick in testing: Of the more than 11,000 tests done in Florida since the beginning of March, 2,400 were reported Sunday alone.

Hillsborough County, which has had 58 confirmed cases in more than 1,000 tests, finally received test kits Saturday meant to be used in a drive-through testing center. A spokeswoman for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor initially said the 900 kits the county received wouldn’t be enough to open a drive-through testing center, but state officials said the kits were in short supply everywhere and urged Hillsborough to begin testing anyway.

A city spokeswoman on Sunday night said it was possible but not certain the county’s first drive-through testing site, set for the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium, would open Monday.

State parks close Monday

Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered all Florida state parks to officially close Monday, state officials said Sunday night.

The state has recently limited state parks’ hours and visitor capacity in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said those measures have “not resulted in the reductions needed to best protect public health and safety.”

State parks in the Tampa Bay area include Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park, Anclote Key Preserve State Park, Hillsborough River State Park, Alafia River State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

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Schools prep for distance learning, and officials say jobs aren’t at risk

Monday would have been the first day back from spring break for Tampa Bay area school districts. Instead, schools are closed and kids are at home, and some districts, including Pinellas and Hillsborough schools, have delayed official online instruction until March 30.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Education has said that all schools will still receive full 2019-2020 funding, and officials in Pasco and Pinellas counties said that means they will not lay off employees in the near future — even those whose jobs don’t translate to distance learning.

Local governments give themselves special — and differing — powers amid emergency

Local governments are proclaiming states of emergency as coronavirus spreads. What exactly that means varies from city to city — and in Pinellas County, which has 24 municipalities, it may mean that people just a few miles apart live under starkly different rules.

In some cities, an emergency declaration gives extra powers to the mayor. In others, including Safety Harbor, Clearwater, Dunedin and St. Pete Beach, it gives extra authority to an unelected city manager.

And other cities, including Largo, have yet to declare an emergency at all. Officials there said they wanted to defer to the county, as decisions at that higher level could nullify local ones. That’s what happened last week, when Pinellas County’s decision to close all beaches moved up the closing date for Clearwater Beach.

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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.

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.

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. 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 tampabay.com/subscribe.

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