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Coronavirus in Florida latest: ‘safer at home,’ testing in Tampa, evictions

Here’s what you need to know for Thursday, March 26.
Healthcare workers test residents as dozens of vehicles lined up at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Raymond James Stadium site on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 in Tampa. Residents that wished to be tested had to be approved and registered online before arriving at the site. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

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Wednesday marked yet another miserable benchmark in Florida’s battle with coronavirus: The state’s caseload jumped by more than 500 over 24 hours, bringing it to 1,977 as of Wednesday night. Officials also logged two more deaths from the virus, one of them in Pasco County, bringing Tampa Bay’s death toll to two and the state’s to 23.

On Thursday morning, Florida reported there were now more than 2,300 state cases, including the first death in Hillsborough County.

Counties ready ‘safer-at-home’ orders

Pinellas County on Wednesday became the first government in the Tampa Bay area to order residents to stay at home. The “safer at home” directive, approved unanimously by the Pinellas County Commission, will go into effect at 11:27 a.m. Thursday.

It will permit residents to leave their homes for a few tasks: grocery shopping, medical needs, jobs deemed essential and exercise. We’ve got answers to a bunch of your questions about the order, including what constitutes an essential business.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman criticized part of the order that allows non-essential businesses to stay open as long as they follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, but he said he won’t issue a separate city-wide lockdown order.

Meanwhile, after a tumultuous Tuesday marked by a battle between Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill over who could issue a stay-at-home order, officials in Hillsborough agreed Wednesday to draft both a safer-at-home order and a curfew that will keep residents at home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekdays and all day on weekends. The county’s Emergency Policy Group will vote on those measures at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Hundreds flock to Raymond James testing site

Hundreds of people turned out for the first day of public drive-through coronavirus testing at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, but not everyone was able to get tested.

That’s because Hillsborough County, which received testing supplies for just 900 people, will only test people who have called ahead for a screening and meet certain criteria. Some didn’t get the message or didn’t heed it, though: An unknown number of people was turned away.

The site had tested 198 people by the time it closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday. That’s on-target with officials’ plans for it — they’d estimated that about 200 people per day would get tested there until supplies ran out.

Patients were told to expect their test results in 5 to 7 days, though patients who have been tested through other avenues, such as BayCare Health Systems, have had to wait longer as labs are inundated with samples.

The Raymond James site will stay open daily through Saturday, or as long as supplies last. Those who wish to be tested must call (813) 272-5900 to complete a screening.

Evictions get a statewide hold, for now

The “safer-at-home” orders issued or proposed in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties heighten a scary question for vulnerable residents: What if you’re kicked out of your home? In Hillsborough County, there was already an answer in place: Officials have suspended eviction proceedings. But Pinellas County officials haven’t taken up the issue.

On Tuesday night, though, the Florida Supreme Court issued an administrative order suspending the last step of the eviction process. It means that, while most of the eviction process remains in place, residents won’t be removed from their homes — at least through April 17, when the order expires.

What’s a snowbird to do?

It’s that time of year: As the weather warms, snowbirds — the northern residents who head south for the winter — get ready to travel north for the summer. But the spread of coronavirus has forced the mostly older travelers to wonder whether it’s safer to risk the travel or stay put in their winter homes.

The latter is the safest thing to do, experts say. And if people absolutely have to travel, they should do it with as few stops as possible.

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