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The latest on coronavirus in Florida: State to reopen in stages; battle over beaches

Here’s what you need to know for Sunday, April 26.
Zahid Iqbal enters a misting chamber and gets sprayed with hospital grade disinfectant before entering the mosque at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area on Friday, April 24, 2020. On the first day of Ramadan believers worship in specially created sanitized prayer chambers separated by heavy plastic sheets to accommodate groups of ten, each person six feet apart. Before entering the building, worshipers will have their temperatures tested, don masks and walk through a shower of sanitizing mist.
Zahid Iqbal enters a misting chamber and gets sprayed with hospital grade disinfectant before entering the mosque at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area on Friday, April 24, 2020. On the first day of Ramadan believers worship in specially created sanitized prayer chambers separated by heavy plastic sheets to accommodate groups of ten, each person six feet apart. Before entering the building, worshipers will have their temperatures tested, don masks and walk through a shower of sanitizing mist. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 26, 2020
Updated Apr. 26, 2020

Florida’s coronavirus caseload continued to grow between Friday morning and Saturday morning, with 665 cases added over a 24-hour period. There were 44 new deaths in the same time frame. Four of those deaths were in the Tampa Bay area: two in Manatee county and one each in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

State officials also announced Saturday that they will now release those numbers once per day. The state had been updating the case numbers and death toll twice per day.

DeSantis says Florida will reopen in stages, with theaters and sports venues coming later

Governor Ron DeSantis said Saturday that social distancing measures will remain in place while Florida reopens in stages. And though he compared his plan to the one President Donald Trump put forward earlier this month, DeSantis’s takes a longer road to reopening enclosed spaces.

“We’re not doing in-person sports yet no matter what,” DeSantis said. “That’s just not going to happen in May. ... Another thing in (Trump’s) Phase One, they say movie theaters with social distance. I’m not there yet on the movie theaters. ... It’s an enclosed environment. You’re much better off being outdoors.”

A task force appointed by the governor is working on a plan to reopen the state, though it has asked for more input from state health officials and doctors.

Should beaches reopen now? Depends on who you ask.

Beaches have begun to reopen in some parts of Florida, and late Friday, Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri both suggested that county officials lift restrictions on beaches and pools. A resolution written by Burton will be considered Tuesday by the Pinellas County Commission.

“The next phase is not a return to normality,” Burton wrote in a memo. “It is learning how to live with the pandemic while mitigating the impact on our community.”

But reopening beaches now in St. Petersburg would be a bad idea, City Council member Robert Blackmon said Saturday. In a plan he aired out on Facebook, and in an interview later Saturday, he said officials should first focus on slowly reopening restaurants over a two-month period beginning May 15. Residents being bored at home shouldn’t be reason to prioritize opening the beaches, he added.

“Reopening our beaches does not put any money in the pockets of our hardworking families," he said.

Tampa Bay Muslims adapt Ramadan traditions for social distancing

Coronavirus means a seismic shift in how Tampa Bay’s Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, which began Thursday.

The month is defined by daytime fasts culminating with communal prayers and meals in the evenings. To adjust for social distancing needs, the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area mosque, in Tampa, has used heavy plastic partitions to create “separate and sanitized prayer chambers," which accommodate groups of ten people praying six feet apart. The communal iftar dinner has been relegated to a drive-up, takeout event.

“God says that the whole earth is a mosque or a place of worship. So God is everywhere. God says it’s okay to pray with yourself or to pray with others,” said Imam Askia Muhammad Aquil of St. Petersburg. “This is the time of sacrifice. It is a time for restraining yourself. When you’re doing it collectively, you get reinforcement and affirmation ... We will have to make these adjustments.”

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