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TALLAHASSEE — Warning that New Orleans may now be the closest coronavirus hotspot to Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his travel restrictions on visitors to now include anyone who is coming from Louisiansa to self-quarantine for 14 days.
To enforce the measure, he is asking the Florida Highway Patrol to set up a check point on Interstate 10 to intercept drivers.
“This is just a way to make sure that we’re keeping people safe,’’ the governor said at a press conference from his office at the Capitol Friday.
Early this week, the governor ordered anyone traveling to Florida from the New York, New Jersey or Connecticut area to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival and made it a criminal penalty to violate the quarantine order.
He said Friday that since that order, officials have screened 3,400 travelers, and there has been “a dramatic reduction in air traffic from the New York City area.” He also took credit for Texas also implementing a similar measure.
“If you think you’re coming from one of the epicenters, we probably think you should follow the directions of your state and local officials,’’ he said. “And if they’re telling you to shelter in place, then do that. But don’t don’t come here — because we’re trying to protect our folks.”
Also Friday, DeSantis ordered a two-week suspension on all vacation rentals, allowing people to finish current stays but prohibiting all new rentals for two weeks.
He said the state will be opening a new testing site for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Palm Beach County with the National Guard.
DeSantis announced a series of administrative orders aimed at helping people facing financial hardship.
He directed the Department of Children and Families to submit a federal waiver to temporarily increase benefit amounts for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to the maximum monthly allotment for families, raising the benefit for a family of four from $449 a month to $509 a month. He ordered the Department of Revenue to delay the tax filing deadline for property taxes until April 15 and for sales and use taxes submitted by businesses to April 30.
The governor called out a Hialeah hospital for price gouging customers, charging $150 on tests that the federal government has said are free. He asked Attorney General Ashley Moody to investigate. While DeSantis did not name the hospital, Larkin Community Hospital opened a drive-thru site in Hialeah on March 20 and charges $150 per test.
“There always seems to be people who want to use unfortunate circumstances people find themselves in for personal gain,’’ he said.
DeSantis, who has repeatedly rejected calls to lock down Florida to contain the virus, noted that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports that people continue to “violate social-distancing requirements as people tie boats together and have group parties.”
“Having close contact with people or being in large crowds are the ways you’re most likely to contract the virus,’’ DeSantis said.
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases reached 2,900 in Florida, the governor announced a series of other developments related to the spiraling global pandemic that has cases more than doubling in Florida every three days.
DeSantis is now into his third week of dealing with the crisis and he has left several questions unanswered:
▪ What impact does the shortage of personal protection equipment having on the ability to conduct tests?
▪ When does the state expect its cases to peak statewide? (By contrast, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday his state projections say that New York will reach its peak in 21 days.)
▪ As a sixth resident died in a Broward assistant living facility, why is he keeping from the public the infection rate at elder care facilities across the state?
▪ As the state attempts to acquire ventilators in anticipation of a surge in demand as people get sicker, what is the state’s plan for ventilator allocation?
DeSantis acknowledged that although the state’s testing protocol is focused on people who are showing symptoms, are older, or who have likely been exposed to someone who is positive it doesn’t know how many people contract COVID-19 and don’t show symptoms.
“How many people who are not symptomatic are capable of spreading the disease? And how contagious are they?’’ he asked. “Those are questions that people are still looking at. If there are a lot of these asymptomatic cases, then and then they’re contagious, well, then that’s tough, because you don’t know who you need to worry about.”
But even inside the hospitals serving some of the state’s sickest patients, frustration is increasing over the testing process. Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System, said on Wednesday that the results of lab tests for the novel coronavirus are taking too long.
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