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Hillsborough up to 73 coronavirus cases as Florida counts 164 new infections

State health officials are now tracking 1,171 known cases of COVID-19, including 14 deaths.

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Florida’s coronavirus caseload continued to surge early Monday as Hillsborough County added another 15 positive tests, reaching 73 overall, just hours before local officials there are expected to discuss a broader lockdown.

Yet even as the state Department of Health said it was now tracking 1,171 coronavirus cases and 14 deaths, up one from the day before, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis balked at issuing a shelter-in-place order, as states like California and Illinois have done.

Florida announced its first coronavirus patients on March 1. Coronavirus causes COVID-19, which can lead to severe respiratory infections. Health officials have said South Florida is the epicenter of the disease here; Miami-Dade and Broward counties continue to report the most cases, 267 and 258 respectively. Palm Beach is next with 89, then Hillsborough.

Elsewhere in Tampa Bay, Pinellas County has reported 40 cases; Pasco has reported 13; and Hernando has reported 5. To the south, Manatee County has 15 cases.

The ballooning numbers may in part show an increase in testing capacity in the United States, which has so far tested too scarcely to truly measure the spread of the easily transmitted disease. That means the numbers in Florida are likely undercounts of how many residents actually have coronavirus.

As of Monday morning, leaders here reported 13,094 tests conducted to-date.

In a news conference at The Villages, where DeSantis was announcing a new testing site, he said he worried that shutting down a bigger swath of businesses and services would cause more Floridians financial hardship and add hurdles to medical care. Likewise, he said, closing all daycares could cause issues for working parents.

He also intimated that Florida’s preparations were sufficient, with a statewide push to secure more medical-grade masks, shields and other supplies.

“Our available beds are in good shape,” he said. Later, he added: “If you avoid close contact with people and you assume someone has the virus, you can pretty much protect yourself.”

On Twitter, #shutdownFlorida was trending alongside photos of defiant groups ignoring state guidance to keep distance between each other to hamper the disease’s spread.

DeSantis pointed out that some counties still have zero infections, and others have only a handful. In areas such as South Florida, he said, it made more sense to reduce business to essential operations. The governor has said he wants to see more testing data before taking drastic actions.

“I do think we'll end up doing some more stuff very soon,” he said.

He also said he spoke to President Trump on Sunday night about Florida receiving a large volume of air travel from people fleeing lockdown orders in other states.

DeSantis said he told University of Florida researchers to help in expanding the state’s testing capability. Monday, he announced the launch of a drive-through testing facility at The Villages — by car or golf cart — expected to conduct 2,000 tests this week. Some of those, he said, are supposed to be people without symptoms, whose samples will go to the University of Florida for a research project.

Testees can sign up at ufhealthcovid.com, where they’ll go through a prescreening.

Most cases — 1,090 — involve Floridians. The rest are visitors to the state. Of the Florida residents known to have COVID-19, the state reported, 194 people have been hospitalized. The rate is likely skewed high because of limited testing to date, and testing that has centered on the most seriously ill.

The state also provided new information on cities and towns where coronavirus patients are from, not necessarily where they contracted the disease or currently stay. The data, the state noted, has a lag time. Standouts on that list include: Tampa, with 49 cases; St. Petersburg, with eight; Clearwater, with eight; Sarasota, with seven; Largo, with six; and Riverview, with five.

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