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COVID-19: Broward, Palm Beach County Close Gathering Spots

Beaches, movie theaters, concert halls, gymnasiums and similar businesses are closing in Broward and Palm Beach county, the second- and third-most populous counties in the state. Exemptions are made for restaurants that are part of hospitals and airports.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned all onsite dining at restaurants statewide Friday and the Seminole Tribe closed its casinos, the latest coronavirus -related closures affecting a state that is heavily dependent on tourism and consumer spending to pay its bills.

The governor’s order allows restaurants to still provide take-out and delivery. He had already closed the state’s bars to onsite sales. Earlier Friday, he had closed beaches, movie theaters, concert halls, gymnasiums and similar businesses in Broward and Palm Beach counties, the state’s second- and third-most populous counties.

Exemptions are made for restaurants that are part of hospitals and airports and gyms that are an amenity at a hotel or residential complex as long as the capacity is less than 10.

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Some cities and counties statewide have already banned beach-going and set restrictions on bars and restaurants, including Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous.

Two other large states have gone even farther than DeSantis: California and New York have ordered nearly all residents to stay home.

Florida now has 520 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 70% of them in those three neighboring South Florida counties. That is about a 30% jump since Thursday. There have been nine deaths statewide.

The Seminoles announced they will close their six casinos statewide at 6 p.m. The casinos generate billions, employ 14,000 people and draw thousands of people daily. The state’s theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal-Orlando, have closed and cruise ships are not sailing.

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The state, which has no income tax, receives a large portion of its revenue from sales, hotel and other taxes paid not just by residents, but the approximately 120 million people who visit Florida annually — a number that will surely plummet this year because of the closures. The Legislature just passed a $92 billion budget Thursday.

Meanwhile, Florida opened its first state-run drive-thru testing facility Friday at a Broward park, where it will test health care workers and seniors with symptoms or who have recently been on a cruise or traveled internationally.

Broward, Palm Beach County Close Gathering Spots
Cars line up at a drive-through testing site for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Friday, March 20, 2020, at the Doris Ison Health Center in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Dozens of National Guardsman dressed in fatigues guided cars past empty playground equipment and picnic benches to a tent where healthcare workers in white, protective suits took quick nose swabs.

It takes about 8 minutes to swab everyone in a car. The samples are refrigerated and, for now, shipped to a third-party lab for testing. It’s unclear how long it will take to get results, but officials said it’s quicker than relying on the federal labs. Memorial Regional Hospital plans to soon open a local lab that will be able to process several hundred tests daily.

“It’s important that people are able to understand and temper their expectations… it’s not going to be done overnight. There’s a national backlog,” DeSantis said while visiting the site Thursday night.

Officials hope they will soon have enough supplies to test different demographics, especially young healthy adults, to get a better sense of how many people have the virus but aren’t experiencing symptoms. Officials fear they are taking fewer precautions and unknowingly spreading the virus.

DeSantis said that information will better help determine future closures.

“Right now people are kinda flying blind because there haven’t been enough tests done,” he said.

DeSantis also Friday signed an executive order allowing city and county commissions to meet through online and phone conferencing services, but those must be accessible to the public.

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.

Broward and Palm Beach County Close Gathering Spots

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