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Coronavirus in Florida latest: Deaths pass 1,900, holiday test for Pinellas beaches

Here’s what you need to know for Friday, May 15.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the 2019 novel coronavirus.
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the 2019 novel coronavirus. [ AP ]
Published May 15, 2020

Florida’s death toll from the novel coronavirus jumped to 1,948 on Thursday, with the state recording 50 more deaths. Confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, increased statewide by 808, bringing the total to 43,210 people infected.

More hospital transfers from Pinellas nursing homes possible

More patients at Pinellas County elder care facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19 might be transferred to local hospitals, a health official said Thursday. Dr. Ulyee Choe, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, told county commissioners that an emergency rule from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration requires elder-care centers to transfer the patients to hospitals or another long-term care center if the elder-care centers can’t isolate the patients for treatment.

Between Monday and Wednesday, at least 36 patients who tested positive for the virus were transferred from Gulf Shore Care Center in Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. At least half of the 66 COVID-19 deaths in the county occurred in long-term care centers.

DeSantis talks about reopening nursing homes for visitors

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he wants to reopen nursing homes for visitors, but he didn’t provide specifics about when or how. DeSantis said he wants to make sure there procedures in place to avoid an outbreak caused by an infected visitor.

Gyms may reopen soon, too. Details expected today.

Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted it was time for gyms in parts of the state to reopen. Gyms were a particular sticking point for protesters in Clearwater on Monday who got national attention. Some two dozen demonstrators did push-ups and squats outside the Pinellas County Courthouse while waving signs calling for gyms to reopen. DeSantis said he will announce more details about gym reopenings today.

Memorial Day test for Pinellas beaches looms

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is warning that some of the county’s beaches may have to turn people away temporarily if crowds swell. Gualtieri told the Pinellas County Commission on Thursday that last week’s reopening went well but a bigger test will come over the next two weekends. Deputies will be stationed at entry points and will deny entry if crowds are too big.

Are you thinking about heading to the beach this weekend or next? Here’s a reminder that the county has launched a dashboard that provides real-time information on crowd sizes at beaches and parking lots. The tool, found here, will be activated 9 a.m. Saturday and again on Sunday. Next week, it will be live Friday through Monday.

Scott balks on aid package

Florida Sen. Rick Scott is among a growing number of Florida Republicans who want Congress to reject an additional round of stimulus funding. Find out his rationale in this story.

Hillsborough businessowners frustrated

Owners of businesses like dance studios and tattoo parlors were among those who voiced frustration to Hillsborough County officials on Thursday because they can’t reopen. County Commissioner Les Miller and the county attorney said the county has no authority to supersede a state order.

Self-swabbing available at Tampa Bay CVS stores

Tampa Bay residents willing to insert a long swab up their own noses will soon have another option for COVID-19 testing. Three CVS Health stores in Tarpon Springs, Largo, and Lutz are offering the self-swab drive-thru option starting today for those who are experiencing symptoms, like a cough or fever. Appointments are required. Find out more here.

Latest St. Pete, Tampa reopenings

Some libraries in St. Petersburg will reopen Monday. City officials also unveiled the process for restaurants and retail to expand into on-street parking spots directly in front of their storefronts. More details here.

In Tampa, neighborhood parks and some big riverfront draws like Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, Curtis Hixon and Waterworks will reopen Saturday, Mayor Jane Castor announced Thursday. So will Ballast Point Park.

Publix extends hours

Publix stores have extended their hours and will now be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pharmacy hours have returned to normal, and the supermarket chain is ending dedicated shopping hours for seniors and health care workers. Read more on the changes here.

Ruskin family’s harrowing tale

When coronavirus swept through a Ruskin family, the father, 47-year-old Leonardo Begazo, nearly died. It started with 21-year-old Leo Jr., who recorded a fever of 103.8, and spread to his parents and 12-year-old sister. Said one public health expert, "Our greatest risk is from those with COVID-19 with whom we live.” Read the Begazos’ story here.

Times seeks virus stories

The Times wants to talk to people who tested positive for coronavirus. If you tested positive and are willing to speak to a reporter, fill out the form found here.

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