Coronavirus Updates: 328 confirmed coronavirus cases currently in Florida, state suffers eighth COVID-19 related death

Bars, nightclubs closing for next 30 days

Florida Coronavirus Updates: More than 200 cases, changes to student testing, more

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After first extending spring break by an extra week, on Tuesday, the Florida Department of Education announced that all public and private K-12 and career and technical center campuses will remain closed through April 15th.

UPDATE: Some of the information in this article may be outdated. To see the latest number of coronavirus patients, follow this link

Schools are being encouraged to continue classes through virtual learning or other non-classroom-based means and officials say districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent that it’s feasible and necessary. Districts have been given flexibility to provide alternative services or to delay services until the summer months for students with IEP-related services who may be disrupted.

But that’s just the beginning of the announcements:

  • All remaining assessments for school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten and K-12 assessments are cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Requirements for graduation and promotion, and final course grades will be evaluated as though those assessments which were cancelled did not exist.
  • K-12 school grades will not be calculated for 2019-2020 and schools in turnaround may continue their current status for 2020-2021 to avoid disruption to school leadership and operations.
  • Eligibility for Florida Bright Futures scholarships shall be based on available data and results. Tests that were not available to be taken shall not be counted.
  • The Commissioner may reduce required instructional hours as necessary to accommodate for closures.

Districts are also being given instruction to use unspent funds and to help low-income students purchase digital devices and establish Internet services and use Safe Schools and Mental Health allocations towards virtual and telephonic mental health counseling services for students who need emotional support due to COVID-19.

Sarasota County Schools have said they will provide more information on Wednesday, March 18.

Manatee County Schools said late Tuesday that they will being using an Instructional Continuity Plan around a learning management system called Schoology, where teachers can create lessons, design content and communicate with students remotely. Employees in Manatee County Schools will be trained March 23-27 and begin delivering lessons to students at home on Monday, March 30. In a statement, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said, “Next week will be extremely important for all of our teachers, principals, administrators and support personnel to make sure everything is in order and we are fully prepared to meet the needs of our students. We will also be providing parents with important information on how this will work and how their students can continue to get the lessons they need to successfully complete this school year.”

Because of the changes, all school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten, K-12, career and technical centers and state college programs “will receive their full allocation of funding, and therefore staff and contractors can be paid fully, through June 30, 2020, as though there was no disruption in education.”

For teachers, exam fees and certification-related examinations will be waived for the next 120 days. Those unable to take an exam due to test site closures will be granted an extension.

School boards and state college board of trustee meetings are postponed and may only be scheduled for emergency purposes. If held, they must be virtual or over the phone.

Along those lines, any mass gatherings, community events and extracurricular activities, including sports of more than 10 people in a single occupied space at any educational program, school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten, public and private K-12, career and technical centers, and public and private colleges and universities are canceled.

All public state college and university, and private college and university campuses and buildings are closed for the remainder of the spring semester and there will be no commencement in May. Colleges and universities are “encouraged to operate virtually or through other non-classroom-based means to the greatest extent possible” and “should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent feasible and necessary.”

The Department of Education did point out that four districts - Duval, Union, Sumter and Collier - are implementing distance learning when their extended spring breaks end and while their campuses remain closed through April 15th.

“It is essential that students do not fall behind and are still receiving instruction, even when they are not in the classroom,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “I praise these districts for being prepared to swiftly implement distance learning. It is crucial that we keep students safe and healthy, and I will continue working with each and every district to ensure that they have all the resources necessary as we respond to COVID-19.”

When Wednesday started, the Florida Health Department said there were 314 cases. But in their second update just seven hours later, that number jumped to 216.

Gov. DeSantis gave some major updates on what the state is doing to tackle the spread of coronavirus in Florida on Tuesday, following the CDC recommendation that there be no groups of more than 10 people.

Gov. DeSantis said the state is taking several steps, with one of the most consequential being that effective at 5pm Tuesday all bars and nightclubs throughout Florida will close for the next 30 days. Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) will be enforcing and providing further guidance.

Other steps include:

  1. Recommending to the Board of Governors that remote learning at state universities continues for the spring semester, sending students home to prevent them from congregating on campus. Gov. DeSantis said four students at the University of Florida tested positive for coronavirus. One had traveled internationally and at least two others had visited a hot spot, like New York.
  2. The governor is directing parties accessing public beaches in the state of Florida to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance by limiting their gatherings to no more than 10 persons.
  3. Restaurants across the state of Florida will now be required to limit customer entry to 50 percent of capacity. Seating must be staggered and limited to ensure seated parties are separated by a distance of at least six feet, in accordance with CDC guidelines. Restaurants are encouraged to remain open and expand take-out and delivery services. Additional information will be provided by DBPR.

In explaining why he’s taking these steps and not more restrictive actions around beaches and restaurants, Gov. DeSantis explained that some counties do not have coronavirus cases. He said some localities, such as the City of Miami have taken further action against restaurants and beaches in Fort Lauderdale and Miami have been closed, and he supports those steps.

Bars, nightclubs to close in Florida for next 30 days, other new steps taken by Gov. DeSantis

Gov. DeSantis also announced Tuesday that two more people had died from coronavirus, including one person in Broward County in an assisted living facility and a resident from Manatee County. No additional details were given about the Manatee County case.

And health officials are deploying three field hospitals across the state. Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said Tuesday night via email that one field hospital is currently staged in Orlando, and the others are being sent to Broward County and Ocala.

Monday afternoon, President Trump announced the CDC recommendation to all Americans to not gather in groups of more than 10 people, one of the steps he believes are necessary over the next 15 days to fight what he calls this “invisible enemy.”

The other recommendations are:

In Florida, the Health Department unveiled a new map Monday showing the spread of the coronavirus across the state, mimicking the worldwide map available from John Hopkins and available on our website.

To see a larger version of this map, which is best viewed on a desktop computer, follow this link.



Over the weekend, the number of Florida counties with coronavirus patients increased. Though many of the new cases were located in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the following counties now have positive cases: Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Okaloosa, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, St. Johns, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole and Volusia.

Locally, there are four cases in Sarasota County, including two Florida residents and two non-residents, and seven in Manatee County, all involving Florida residents.

With numbers now over 200 in the state, health officials are updating how they report cases. Previously, the department listed out cases by county, age, gender and whether or not the person had traveled internationally. Instead, health officials are now reporting cases like this:

Positive Cases of COVID-19 (as of 6pm, March 18):

  • Confirmed Cases in Florida Residents: 299
    • Confirmed by DOH: 177
    • Tested by private labs: 122
    • FL resident diagnosed & isolated out-of-state: 6
    • Deaths: 8
  • Cases in Non-Florida Residents: 29
    • Confirmed by DOH: 23
    • Tested by private labs: 6
  • Total Cases Overview: 328
    • Traveled: 92
    • Contact with confirmed case: 56
    • Travel & contact with confirmed case: 71
    • Under Investigation: 109
  • Number of People Tested: 2294
    • Negative: 1017
    • Positive: 216
    • Results Pending: 1061
    • Being Monitored: 832

Below is additional information from the health department:

COVID-19 Public Website and Call Center

Please visit the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage for information and guidance regarding COVID-19 in Florida.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, please contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-(866) 779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours a day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

What You Should Know

COVID-19 can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure. Most people recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The Department recommends everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with persons in poor health;
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then disposing of the tissue;
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty; and
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Below is additional information from the local county health departments:

Both health lines are available for residents of their respective counties to help answer any questions about the coronavirus and serve as a first stop before residents go to their doctor’s office.

“Calling the health department ahead of time allows us to coordinate with the health care system to assure appropriate infection control measures in our community,” Manatee Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Bencie said. “It also meets the guidelines laid out in Section 3 of the statewide Declaration of Public Health Emergency issued on March 1.”

Experts are available from 8am until 5pm, Monday through Friday. They’ll be able to interview callers to determine if they’re at risk for having coronavirus.

  • If you’re in Manatee County, call 941-242-6649
  • If you’re in Sarasota County, call 941-861-2883

The State Department of Health is also running a hotline for anyone who believes they may have coronavirus. If it’s after-hours, call 866-779-6121. That line is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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