Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new economic incentives for small businesses Monday in the face of the economic effects of the novel coronavirus.
Florida health officials announced Monday there are now 160 positive COVID-19 cases in the state —142 residents and 18 non-residents. Six residents have been diagnosed and are isolated in other states. Five people in Florida have died because of the novel coronavirus.
DeSantis says he recognizes the negative economic impacts the novel coronavirus is having and will have on the state. He had previously asked the federal Small Business Administration to turn on the SBA loan program. He announced Monday that he is supplementing the SBA loans with a $50 million bridge loan program for small businesses with two to 100 employees.
The no-interest emergency loans are up to $50,000 for a one-year term. He’s also giving more flexibility on deadlines for corporate income tax payments and sales tax payments to companies dealing with injuries from the disease. The application period opens Tuesday and runs through May 8.
He says they are internalizing Monday’s recommendations from the federal government in making any future decisions. The White House says Americans should refrain from gathering in groups of 10 or more people, delay unnecessary travel and avoid eating out and going to bars for two weeks.
DeSantis says they expect to issue guidance on restaurants Tuesday morning and let local governments tailor it to fit their jurisdictions. He said he’s hesitant to issue an across-the-board executive order to shut down public parks and beaches.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to have everyone on the same sheet of music,” he said.
But he’s all supportive of all of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that have been canceled. And he’s not in favor of massive spring break parties either.
“To have people congregating in these bars or on these beaches like this I think undercuts our efforts to protect our vulnerable populations,” he said.
Florida election officials say the new guidance won’t stop voting in Tuesday’s primary election.
“Florida is proceeding with tomorrow’s election,” Secretary of State Laurel Lee said. “We are confident that voters in Florida can safely and securely go to the polls and cast their ballot.”
The Governor says it’s really just filling out one oval in most cases.
“I think we can do it in a levelheaded way, we can address the risks,” he said. “So I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
He also cleared up reporting that President Donald Trump told Governors they needed to get respirators and ventilators themselves. He says Jared Moskowitz of the Director of Emergency Management was already trying to buy equipment directly from manufacturers.
“Be careful what you believe,” he said. “What he was saying was sensible.”
He says testing capacity is up because of the cooperation of private companies. He also praised other companies like Comcast and Jimmy Johns for providing free services and products.
The Governor also says the 61 Floridians being quarantined in Georgia were coming back to the state Monday evening. The passengers were previously aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which had docked at the Port of Oakland in California after 21 people aboard—19 crew and 2 passengers—were found to have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Department of Health also released a new dashboard to the public. The dashboard will be updated twice a day to provide more transparency, according to state officials. It gives viewers a map of where the cases are located and the number of cases in each county. Broward County tops the list with 39, while Miami-Dade County has 23. Palm Beach County comes behind them with eight. It also offers a breakdown of patient information by gender.
About 24% of people who tested had been traveling. Another 18% had contact with someone who has tested positive for novel coronavirus. About 30% of patients had both traveled and were in contact with someone who has COVID-19, and 27% of the cases are still under investigation.
DeSantis says the state is establishing a drive-through testing operation in Broward County to help combat the novel coronavirus in what is becoming the virus’ epicenter in the state. Those tests will be free for a subset of the population.
“We’re going to work really hard to get this up and running as soon as possible,” DeSantis told reporters Sunday.
Other states have created pop-up testing sites with varying success. But by increasing access for testing, especially in a location outside of a hospital, medical professionals could offer dedicated assistance and reduce the potential spread of the virus.
DeSantis has activated the National Guard and the state is purchasing 625,000 testing kits. Most in-person court proceedings have been suspended for two weeks, although judges can choose to conduct some by video or phone where legally allowed.
Some large companies have been closing, limiting store hours or suspending operations. Publix, the state’s largest grocery store chain, announced it would close its stores daily at 8 p.m. — three hours early for most. The company said that would give its employees more time to fully clean stores and restock shelves. Walmarts that were open 24 hours a day are now closing at 11 p.m.
Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have all announced they will be closed starting Monday. Disney is closing resorts beginning Friday. All major cruise ship lines have also suspended operations.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. The virus has infected more than 180,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,100.