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Coronavirus in Florida latest: Lockdowns coming, drive-through testing, theme parks

Here’s what you need to know for Wednesday, March 25
A look at the WestShore Plaza on Monday, March 23, 2020 in Tampa.
A look at the WestShore Plaza on Monday, March 23, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 25, 2020
Updated Mar. 25, 2020

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After two false reports in the past week — among the inconsistencies in state data — officials said Tuesday that someone has now died of coronavirus in the Tampa Bay area. That person is a 67-year-old Pinellas County man who died Monday, according to area health officials.

A second Tampa Bay area death, a 71-year-old Pasco County woman, was announced Wednesday.

Tuesday also marked yet another statewide jump in cases, up to 1,467 with 20 deaths as of late Tuesday night. At that time, the United States had more than 55,000 cases and at least 790 deaths.

Officials spar, move toward lockdown orders

While Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to push back against calls for a statewide stay-at-home order, some local officials moved in that direction Wednesday.

The Pinellas commission did indeed vote unanimously to order county residents to stay at home starting Thursday. We’ve also put together a Q&A on the order here.

Later in the day, Hillsborough County enacted an evening curfew and county-wide ‘safer-at-home’ order that will start Friday.

Elsewhere in Tampa Bay, leaders in Pasco and Hernando counties said they weren’t contemplating shelter-in-place orders. Public health experts have urged leaders to issue those orders before the coronavirus pandemic becomes an unmanageable crisis that overwhelms hospitals.

Hillsborough opens drive-through testing site

Hillsborough County, which ranks near the top of Florida coronavirus cases, finally launched its first community drive-through testing site Wednesday.

The site, located at Raymond James Stadium, was set to open at 8 a.m. But it’s not open to just anyone: Those getting tested have to have certain symptoms and be pre-approved through a county call center.

The site will be open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or as long as supplies lasts. The county has enough supplies to test 900 people. County officials expect to test about 200 people per day.

The tests will be free to patients. In order to qualify, people must meet state and federal testing guidelines and call the Hillsborough County Customer Service Center at (813) 272-5900. The center is open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Universal extends shutdown of parks and resorts; Disney could be next

Major theme parks were supposed to reopen April 1. That seems less likely to happen by the day, and now a longer closure is a sure thing for some of them: Universal announced Tuesday that Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort and CityWalk will extend their shutdowns to April 19.

Disney has yet to make such an announcement, but it may not be far behind. In Asia, Disney and Universal resorts have been closed for one to two months and are only just announcing plans to reopen. By the end of the month, Disney World will have been closed for its longest stretch in history.

Life gets weirder for truckers

All that stuff you’re stocking up on to prepare for a lockdown doesn’t just appear on stores’ shelves — it has to get there somehow, and that “somehow” is usually a trucker. Truckers already have unpredictable schedules, and the spread of coronavirus and increasing consumer demands make their jobs busy and very strange.

Truck stops are limiting their services and goods. Truckers have stopped taking a hot meal for granted. And it’s impossible for drivers to not interact with others.

“It’s the scare factor that everyone is in a panic,” said Pat Messick, a local driver. “It’s almost got to the point where people don’t want to touch packages. It’s the invisible monster."

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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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