Coronavirus in Florida latest: Confusing stay-at-home order, unemployment crisis deepens, evictions suspended

Here’s what you need to know for April 3, 2020.
The beach closed sign where people fish, launch kayaks and kite boards near the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on Thursday, April 2, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Public beaches are closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The beach closed sign where people fish, launch kayaks and kite boards near the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on Thursday, April 2, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Public beaches are closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published April 3, 2020

Confirmed coronavirus cases have broken 9,000 statewide, according to state figures released Thursday. Just one week ago, that number was 2,484.

As expected, cases in the Tampa Bay region have continued to climb due to a variety of factors including more testing and continual community spread. Local deaths included an 85-year-old in Pinellas County and an 86-year-old woman in Hillsborough.

Stay-at-home order confusion

Confusion reigned Thursday after news broke that hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order, he quietly signed another one that appeared to override restrictions put in place by local governments to halt the spread of coronavirus. It seemed to suggest that counties and cities could not place limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines.

That’s how local officials interpreted the order, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. today. But DeSantis added to the confusion when he said that was not the case.

Officials in Tampa Bay reacted with anger and bewilderment and were still unclear about how to enforce the order.

Hillsborough officials concluded the second order undid an emergency measure in the county that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people including at religious services. County officials decided the best they could do was put together a list of health and safety guidelines to be distributed to local churches.

The Pinellas County Commission on Thursday unanimously passed an order to close thousands of businesses for 30 days that are not deemed essential in the coronavirus pandemic, but the seven commissioners and other leaders could not define what is essential.

Unemployment crisis deepens

The unemployment picture in the United States and Florida continues to darken.

According to figures released Thursday, 6.6 million laid-off Americans last week filed claims for unemployment assistance — more than double the 3.3 million who applied the week before.

Florida reported 226,999 unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 — more than triple the previous week — but that number understates the size of the state’s job losses because the state’s overwhelmed unemployment website has blocked untold numbers of laid-off workers from filing claims.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson apologized Thursday for the website’s performance.

Positive tests at Tampa International Airport

Three people who work at Tampa International Airport have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to an internal memo from airport CEO Joe Lopano.

One works for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which oversees the airport, and two are employees of airport tenants.

Evictions suspended

Florida residents facing eviction or foreclosures got a reprieve Thursday.

DeSantis announced that he is suspending all evictions and foreclosures in Florida for the next 45 days in an effort to keep people in their homes while Floridians are supposed to stay indoors to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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The pandemic is already causing the homeless population in Hillsborough to swell. A 100-tent emergency homeless shelter in Tampa filled up less than two days after it opened.

Utility bill break might be on the horizon

Tampa Bay utility customers might get a break on their electric bills in coming months to ease financial troubles caused by the coronavirus.

Tampa Electric Co. asked state regulators to lower customer bills for the year beginning in June, while Duke Energy Florida filed for a one-time reduction on bills beginning in May.

Tracking hospital beds

Coronavirus cases are straining hospitals in some areas hit hard to by the pandemic. How are Tampa Bay hospitals doing? Now there’s a way to track that in real time.

The Agency for Health Care Administration on Thursday launched an online dashboard that shows how many hospital beds are available in Florida to handle the coronavirus crisis, including intensive care unit beds. So far, local hospitals aren’t feeling the strain.

In other hospital news, local hospitals have decided to forgo competition and work cohesively by sharing as much information about the pandemic as they can.

Masks for everyone?

For weeks, health officials said healthy Americans didn’t have to wear masks in public. But that might change soon because the Centers for Disease Prevention is reviewing its guidelines.

To get a better understanding of why, Coronavirus in Florida host Allison Graves spoke with Dr. Marissa Levine, a professor of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of South Florida. Find the podcast here.

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