Gov. Ron DeSantis recommends ‘mass gatherings’ be canceled, suspends official travel for state employees
Gov. Ron DeSantis

DeSantis
More than two dozen have tested positive for the virus in Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s suspending official travel for all state employees for 30 days and is recommending large events be canceled in an effort to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus.

DeSantis made the announcements during a Thursday news conference in Miami-Dade County at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“Today, I’m suspending all official travel for state employees. The suspension will initially be for 30 days. I also am directing state agencies to maximize remote working and telecommuting,” DeSantis said Thursday morning.

“If they can perform functions at home, now’s a good time to do that.”

DeSantis also urged local governments and private organizations to shut down large public events.

“Based on the recommendations of our health officials here in the state of Florida, I am recommending to local municipalities and private entities to strongly consider limiting or postponing mass gatherings in the state of Florida,’ DeSantis said.

“I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of this as people get exposed.”

Other states where individuals have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus — such as California and Washington — have pushed for gatherings of 250 or more people to be stopped until the virus’ spread is under control.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention defines “mass gatherings” as crowds larger than 1,000 people.

The Governor’s recommendation also comes the same day President Donald Trump told pool reporters an unannounced March 25 rally in Tampa is “all sold out.”

According to a Twitter post from Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, the event “has not been announced for Tampa on March 25 bc aides have tried getting him not to do it.”

Florida politicians also expressed concerns about coming into contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s press secretary Fabio Wajngarten. Wajngarten tested positive for the virus after he joined Bolsonaro while visiting South Florida over the weekend and Monday — including a meeting with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez announced in news releases or on Twitter on Thursday that they would be self-isolating. Scott said he did not feel ill and was told he did not need to be tested, but that he would isolate himself in an “abundance of caution.”

Giménez was one of several officials who appeared alongside DeSantis Thursday morning prior to self-isolating.

DeSantis noted his power is limited, but that organizers should be taking precautionary steps.

“I don’t have the authority as Governor to order all mass gatherings canceled. But if it’s not, you need to have organized screening measures in place.”

DeSantis said he had similar conversations with the commissioners of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the PGA Tour.

The PGA later announced The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach would go without a crowd for its final three days. That tournament began Thursday.

Late Thursday afternoon, MLB joined several other sports leagues in shutting down. The league ended its spring training season and announced a minimum two-week delay to the regular season, which was set to begin on March 26.

The Governor said he directed the Department of Emergency Management to purchase 2,500 “commercially available” coronavirus testing kits. Those are expected to arrive this weekend.

“The testing kits will give qualified labs throughout the state the capacity to process tests for up to 625,000 individuals,” DeSantis said.

Those kits will distributed to 50 labs throughout the state. DeSantis said those tests will go to hospitals first “so that testing can be completed closer to the patient.”

Late Wednesday, DeSantis suspended visitations at prisons to prevent close contacts that could spread the virus. Earlier Wednesday, he said, nursing homes and other elderly facilities would be ordered to restrict visitors who had recently traveled abroad to help protect older residents who most at risk from the disease.

The death rate for those who test positive for the virus has vacillated between 2% and 3.5%. However, those calculations do not include individuals who may have contracted the virus, but are asymptomatic and thus survive without incident. Including those individuals would lower the death rate, but it’s unclear how many such individuals there are worldwide.

Most who do show symptoms develop a fever or cough and may have trouble breathing, though they do recover. However, older individuals and those with underlying health risks are susceptible to developing more severe symptoms.

Overall, 30 people have now been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Florida. Three of those cases are nonresidents.

Another five Floridians have been returned to the U.S. after testing positive overseas.

DeSantis said most of the Florida infections stemmed from international travel, especially noting that 10 of the positive cases in the state involved people returning from a cruise on the Nile River in Egypt. One of those resulted in one of the two deaths the state has reported.

Mayor Giménez added that isolation areas would be set up at Miami International Airport (MIA) and Port Miami to screen for travelers with coronavirus symptoms.

“We are looking to shift resources to develop isolation spaces at MIA and also the Port of Miami,” Giménez said.

“Those isolation areas at MIA and our seaport will be used to screen, question and test travelers and employees who meet certain health criteria.”

The areas will be staffed by nurses from Jackson Memorial Hospital, who will monitor people being tested.

“Clinicians would decide at what point to release the patients to help them transition home to self-isolate or, if necessary, to transport them to the hospital,” Giménez said.

Giménez also called on President Trump to apply his partial travel restrictions on Europe to Cuba as well. The island has reported three coronavirus cases so far.

“Life is going to be a little different for all of us in the weeks ahead,” Giménez added.

“So I urge everyone to be patient as we adjust to these temporary changes to ensure the health and well-being of everyone in Miami-Dade County.”

Public universities — which have some of the country’s largest enrollments — will move to remote instruction effective Monday. The move is intended to minimize risks to students and staff, especially as they prepare to return from spring break.

As a further precaution ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary, the governor urged elections officials to move any polling places away from nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly.

___

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


One comment

  • Sonja Emily Fitch

    March 13, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Sir sometimes you are better than the broken clock twice a day. THIS IS A PANDEMIC. WE ARE A STATE OF OVER 1.4MILLION FOLKS OVER 60. IMPEACHED LIAR TRUMP IS A DAMN LOSER. SIR PLEASE KEEP USING YOUR COMMON SENSE. SCOTT AND RUBIO HAVE TO DEMAND THAT THE HOUSE BILL BE PASSED IN THE SENATE FOR OUR SERVICE ECONOMY. ENOUGH OF THE DAMN IMPEACHED LYING TRUMP. THIS IS A NATIONAL AND STATE EMERGENCY.
    As bad as the market is….My worry is food stamps have been cut by the idiot impeached trump and moscow mitch AND NO CLEAR DIRECTION FOR THE INSURANCE COMPANIES FOR HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. THIS IS ABOUT ALL AMERICANS AND THE COMMON GOOD.

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