COVID-19 pandemic in Florida
On March 1, 2020, the U.S. state of Florida became the seventh state in the United States with a documented COVID-19 case, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within two weeks, widespread closures of public schools, resorts, and theme parks had been announced throughout the state.
|COVID-19 pandemic in Florida|
Florida counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases from the Florida Department of Health's May 16 update (dark red denotes counties where deaths attributed to COVID-19 have occurred)
|Index case||Hillsborough County, Manatee County|
|Arrival date||March 1, 2020|
|Hospitalized cases||9,482 (cumulative)[a]|
Florida became the seventh state on March 1 to confirm its first COVID-19 cases: one in Manatee County, and one in Hillsborough County with a woman who had recently returned from Italy. On March 3, a third presumptive positive case in Hillsborough County was reported.
On March 5, a new case was announced involving an elderly man with severe underlying health conditions in Santa Rosa County who had recently traveled outside the United States. The Department of Health announced three new cases late on March 6, two in Broward County and one in Lee County. Officials also announced two deaths.
On March 9, nine new cases were announced, bringing the total cases from 14 to 23. Princess Cruises terminated a planned stop of the cruise ship Caribbean Princess in Grand Cayman after it was discovered that two of its crew members had recently transferred from Grand Princess in California. The cruise ship was ordered to anchor off the coast of Fort Lauderdale while its passengers and crew could be tested for coronavirus. Furthermore, a fourth Princess Cruises cruise ship, Regal Princess, was placed on a "no sail order" off the Florida coast after it was discovered that two of its crew members had recently transferred from Grand Princess in California.
On March 10, the first case in Alachua County was confirmed. On March 11, UF Health Shands Hospital confirmed they were treating their first patient with a case of coronavirus, but declined to say whether it was the same person who tested positive for the virus earlier in the week. On March 13, it was confirmed that Mayor of Miami Francis X. Suarez had contracted the virus. That night, the Department of Health confirmed that an Orange County resident died in California after contracting COVID-19 while traveling.
On March 14, Orlando International Airport confirmed that one of its TSA agents has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total of TSA agents across the United States to have the virus to five after four other TSA agents at Mineta San Jose International Airport in California were tested positive. On March 15, 39 new cases were announced in Florida. Four of those new cases were in Miami-Dade County, and 17 were in Broward County.
On March 17, a male resident of an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale died. On March 18, it was disclosed that possibly 19 senior living facilities could be infected by the coronavirus. By that time, Florida had completed 1,132 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 and of 1,539 tests, 314 were confirmed as being positive. There were 1,000 test results that were still pending and seven victims had died in the state, including one in Broward County. The state had bought 2,500 testing kits.
By March 20, the number of positive test case had climbed to 520. A Pasco and a Broward County resident died. A man who returned to California after visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando approximately two weeks prior died from the virus.
On April 20, Florida National Guard assisted with COVID-19 sample collections at a State Nursing home for Veterans in Pembroke Pines. In addition, they have helped across Florida in more than 50,000 COVID-19 tests and numerous screenings at airports.
On March 1, Governor DeSantis declared a public health emergency after two cases were confirmed in Manatee County and Hillsborough County. On March 17, he ordered all bars and nightclubs to be closed for 30 days, extended school closures to April 15, and cancelled state-mandated school testing.
By the third week of the pandemic's presence in Florida, DeSantis began attracting criticism for the state's slow response to the pandemic, particularly for deferring beach closings to local governments during spring break while vacationers continued to congregate. The Miami Herald's editorial board wrote an editorial condemning DeSantis inaction in requesting help from the federal government, while noting his vocal support of U.S. President Donald Trump. Speculation mounted that DeSantis' decision not to lock down the state was influenced by business interests, instead of health experts. Business lobbyists including the Florida Chamber of Commerce urged the Governor not to "take drastic measures that might shut down the state's economy". On March 27, more than 900 health care workers signed a letter asking DeSantis to order citizens to shelter-in-place, and take other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. A similar letter written by Doctors for America was signed by 500 health care professionals a few days earlier.
On March 30, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the South Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe, where over 58% of the state's coronavirus cases were concentrated. He stated that the order would remain in effect at least until the middle of May.
On April 1, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state, effective for 30 days, after a call with the president. This followed criticism from experts that more strict measures were necessary to contain the virus.
On April 12, the Tampa Bay Times reported a discrepancy between the counts of coronavirus deaths in the state: the Florida Department of Health had reported 419, while Florida's medical examiners reported 461. The health department counts only Florida residents and organizes the data by the person's place of residence (to avoid double-counting); in contrast, the medical examiners count anyone who dies in the state, which includes visitors. The health department's analysis causes several days of reporting delay, which is a further reason it is difficult to compare the numbers. In response to the Tampa Bay Times article, Florida officials stopped the release of the medical examiners' list, saying that it should be reviewed and possibly redacted, but did not publicly specify what exactly they wanted to redact.
Firing of Rebekah JonesEdit
On May 5, Florida’s Department of Health fired Rebekah Jones, an official who had led a team of data scientists and public health experts in their documentation of Florida COVID-19 cases. Jones claimed that the state's Department of Health wanted data on Florida's coronavirus dashboard changed to support Governor Ron DeSantis' plans to resume economic activity. She further contended that she was fired for refusing to alter the information. A statement from DeSantis' office denied this, instead claiming that insubordination and unilateral decision-making by Jones regarding what to add to the dashboard was the cause of the firing. DeSantis added that Jones contradicted state epidemiologists, and is presently under investigation for cyberstalking and sexual harassment, for which he has "zero tolerance."
Early in March, the pandemic began having an impact throughout Florida as state and local government, businesses, and public institutions took measures to slow the spread of the virus.
On March 12, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced that the Walt Disney World Resort would close from March 15 to end of May, later announcing that the parks and resorts would stay closed indefinitely. Universal Parks & Resorts also announced that Universal Orlando Resort would close from March 15 until at least the end of the month, also later announcing that the parks and resorts would stay closed until May 31. Other theme parks in Florida such as SeaWorld Orlando, Legoland Florida, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay have also decided to close from March 13 until further notice.
Elder care facilitiesEdit
On March 23, the Miami Herald, seeking the name of every elder care facility that had a positive test for coronavirus, filed a public records request with the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration. The governor's office refused to release the information. On April 9, the Miami Herald provided the required notification to the State of Florida that they would be filing a lawsuit to obtain the information. After receiving a call from the governor's office, however, the Miami Herald's law firm, Holland & Knight, dropped the case. The Miami Herald planned to proceed with a different law firm. The government subsequently released a list that by April 21 included 313 facilities where either caregivers or residents had tested positive. The list was incomplete and did not provide data on the number of individuals infected or deceased.
On March 10, Joseph Glover, the provost of the University of Florida, sent out a recommendation to UF professors to transition their classes online. The following day, UF announced all its classes for the spring semester will be transitioned online by the following Monday, and encouraged students to return to their hometowns.
On March 11, Florida State University announced that classes will be moved online from March 23 to April 5, with in-person classes expected to resume on April 6. The Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida directed all state universities to make plans to transition into remote learning effective immediately. Essential functions, such as dining and library services are still operational. Florida International University in Miami announced that it will transition to remote learning starting from March 12 until at least April 4. The University of South Florida in Tampa announced that all classes will consist of remote instruction for the rest of Spring 2020 semester.
Most of the state's sports teams were affected by the pandemic. Several leagues postponed or suspended their seasons starting March 12. Major League Baseball (MLB) canceled the remainder of spring training, and announced that the season would be postponed indefinitely. The National Basketball Association announced the season would be suspended for 30 days, affecting the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. The National Hockey League season was suspended for an indefinite amount of time, affecting the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Miami Open, a major tennis tournament on the ATP Tour and WTA Tour was canceled for the first time in its history on March 12.
Professional wrestling; state exceptions on sportsEdit
In the wake of sports cancellations, the professional wrestling promotions All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and WWE re-located their weekly television programs (which normally toured to different arenas each episode) to sites in Florida in mid-March, with AEW filming its AEW Dynamite program at Daily's Place in Jacksonville until April 1, and WWE filming or broadcasting all of its programming at its WWE Performance Center training facility in Orlando (including its flagship event WrestleMania, which was originally to be held at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium). Both promotions are filming behind closed doors with no audience and only essential staff present. AEW re-located to a closed set in Norcross, Georgia on April 1, where it filmed content through April 3.
On April 9, the Division of Emergency Management amended its state-wide stay-at-home order, considering employees of a "professional sports and media production with a national audience", if closed to the general public, as being essential workers. The following Monday, April 13, Mayor of Orange County Jerry Demings confirmed that this change would allow WWE to continue its closed door tapings in the state, and were implemented following discussions with the office of Governor DeSantis. It was subsequently reported that WWE was warned of the stay-at-home restrictions by officials, but that DeSantis deemed the company's operations critical to Florida's economy, and approved the new exemption in response.
The next day, Governor DeSantis defended his decision, explaining that "if you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you've had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm", and suggested that other closed-door sporting events — such as golf (particularly, a proposed rematch between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) and NASCAR races — could also be held under the new exception. Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Halsey Beshears had also made a post on Twitter directed to the mixed martial arts promotion UFC on April 7, suggesting that his department could help sanction their events there (however, after it intended to hold UFC 249 and other fights at a tribal casino in California, the promotion suspended all events indefinitely on April 9, by request of its U.S. rightsholders ESPN Inc. and The Walt Disney Company).
Orlando Sentinel columnists Mike Bianchi and Scott Maxwell questioned whether these actions were intended to help the state gain favor from the Trump administration; WWE owner and chairman Vince McMahon has been an ally of Trump, and Trump made recurring appearances on WWE programming as a celebrity figure prior to his presidency (having also been inducted to the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013). The same day as Deming's announcement, America First Action — a super PAC led by McMahon's wife and former Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon — pledged $18.5 million on advertising in Florida for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign. On April 14, McMahon was named to a federal advisory group on the "re-opening" of the country's economy, joining other notable sports figures; during the daily press briefing, Trump addressed him and UFC head Dana White (who is also a Trump ally) with the title "The Great".
Following the implementation of this exception, several sporting events were announced for the state; on April 24, UFC announced that a new UFC 249 and two UFC Fight Night cards would be held in Jacksonville in May. Two televised golf events benefiting COVID-19-related causes were scheduled for local courses, including TaylorMade Driving Relief at Seminole Golf Club (a skins game featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff) on May 17, and The Match: Champions for Charity at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound—a four-ball competition by Turner Sports featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson paired with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. On May 14, NASCAR announced a new June 14 date for its postponed Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead–Miami Speedway.
On May 23, the NBA confirmed that it was in talks with Walt Disney World in Orlando to use it as one or more centralized sites for the resumption of the NBA season. Later that night, All Elite Wrestling returned to Jacksonville for its pay-per-view Double or Nothing (re-located from Las Vegas), with most of the event being held at Daily's Place, and a main event "Stadium Stampede" match within the confines of neighboring TIAA Bank Field.
Miami Beach reopened a number of public parks on April 29. Over the following weekend, authorities issued over 7,000 verbal warnings to people who were not wearing face masks. Most were at South Pointe Park. On the morning of May 4, the city announced that South Pointe Park was closed again until further notice.
- Timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States
- COVID-19 pandemic in the United States – for impact on the country
- COVID-19 pandemic – for impact on other countries
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