Coronavirus in Florida updates: Confirmed cases soar past 6,000 as number of deaths also continue to mount

Cheryl McCloud Evan Pflugradt
Treasure Coast Newspapers

We'll update this story throughout the day with the latest news about coronavirus and its effects in Florida.

Hundreds more continue to test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, latest advisories from the state Department of Health confirm. 

Approximately 6,741 in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an evening advisory Tuesday from the state agency. Tuesday also marked the first day the state reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 since the state agency began tracking coronavirus. 

Fatalities linked to the coronavirus also continue to soar, with the state Department of Health reporting 85 in Florida to have fallen victim to the virus.

A 28-year-old male in Sarasota County with travel history in Illinois and Florida has died of coronavirus complications, the state agency reported. His death is the youngest of the state's 85 fatalities tied to the virus. 

Ages of the deceased range from 28 to 96, according to the latest advisories. 

Among the state's rising number of cases, 857 are reported as being hospitalized. Also among the data are 56,644 who have tested negative for coronavirus. 

Florida is expected to ramp up statewide testing, with Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing the approval of an FDA-approved test with results in 45 minutes at a press conference Monday morning. Those tests are expected to be available in the hardest hit areas of the state, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties. 

More:Coronavirus live updates: With deaths near 3,200, Donald Trump says US had 'no other choice' but to extend social distancing

Miami-Dade and Broward counties continue to have the highest number of cases in the state, and together account for half of the state's positive cases. In Dade County alone, 2,123 have tested positive. In Broward County, 1,219 have tested positive. 

Collectively, 63,400 have received testing, with the majority testing negative for the virus. Slightly more than 1,200 are awaiting test results. 

Scroll to the bottom for symptoms to watch for.

Public health expert calls for statewide lockdown

5:01 p.m.

After publishing an analysis that predicts Florida could see thousands of COVID-19 deaths and a shortage of hospital intensive care unit beds, a public health expert with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide lockdown.

Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metric sciences, told the Miami Herald that he advised Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to implement a lockdown. DeSantis has resisted such a move.

Mokdad was part of a team that developed a model forecasting COVID-19 deaths nationwide, and in each state. The model also looks at the potential strain on the health care system.

Read the complete story here.

Ocala couple aboard cruise ship stuck at sea

4:04 p.m.

Three weeks ago, Roy and Diane Smith embarked on a planned month-long cruise set to round Cape Horn, glide up the west coast of South America and cross the Panama Canal.

But the Ocala couple’s dream excursion quickly turned into a waking nightmare, as they found themselves stranded aboard Holland America Line’s Zaandam, trapped with at least eight COVID-19-infected passengers and turned away at ports throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The ship is sailing toward its home port in Fort Lauderdale, but as of Tuesday, local officials and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were not prepared to give it berth.

Read the full story here.

Jacksonville woman tweeted about coronavirus — in 2013

3:21 p.m.

Carolyn McClanahan predicted something like this could happen.

She even tweeted about it in early March — of 2013.

Before I go any further, I probably should give a disclaimer. I’ve known Carolyn for nearly 20 years. First as a friend, someone who along with her husband Trib is a part of the Jacksonville running community. Then, when I took a sabbatical year and my mom died, as someone to help us navigate finances.

I’ve always found her background intriguing. By age 40, she was a financial planner and a doctor.

Read the full story here.

Consumer confidence plunges

1:13 p.m.

Consumer confidence took an epic nosedive last month as rattled Floridians began to confront the economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

After hitting a 19-year high in February, the University of Florida’s Consumer Sentiment Index on Tuesday posted its largest monthly decline since 1985, with consumers expressing growing pessimism over the economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

Read the full story here.

Sec. Pompeo urges Americans abroad to return home 'immediately' 

2:24 p.m. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Americans abroad to return home immediately, stressing uncertainty of how long commercial flights with service to the United States will continue. 

"Americans who wish to return home from abroad should so immediately and make arrangements to accomplish that," he stressed during a Tuesday briefing. He added that the window to do so is closing. 

Read the full story here. 

Unprecedented unemployment inundates CONNECT claims system

11:02 a.m.

In early March, Jim Moore's phone was blowing up with restaurants wanting him to find experienced cooks and servers for them. That ended abruptly two weeks ago, said Moore, owner of Moore Hospitality Search in Jensen Beach.

"I had five interviews set up for last Tuesday, and all but one of them canceled. Now I'm getting lots of good, quality applicants, but nowhere for them to go," he said.

The coronavirus prompted the governor to close all restaurant dining rooms in Florida March 20, after initially trying to limit crowd sizes to enforce "social distancing."

"How bad the virus affected a restaurant depended on your business model," Moore said. "Full-service restaurants are either closed, unless they have established curbside or delivery business. Fast food restaurants haven't been as affected."

Read full story here.

DeSantis urged to enact statewide evictions ban

1:36 p.m. March 31

Gov. Ron DeSantis should impose a statewide moratorium on evictions to avoid the ouster of thousands of tenants who have lost jobs because of the coronavirus shutdowns, Democratic lawmakers and local officials said Tuesday.

With first-of-the-month payments putting added pressure on financially strapped Floridians, those urging action said worries about being evicted is a burden state government could ease.

DeSantis has said little about pocketbook concerns for Floridians, instead focusing on the state’s need for stepping up testing, and self-isolation. He has refused calls for statewide shelter-in-place directives, although he issued such an order Monday for four South Florida counties through mid-April.

Get the full story.

FHSAA looks to extend spring sports season to June 30, add eligibility to seniors

1:42 p.m. March 31

The Florida High School Athletic Association is looking to extend the spring sports season to June 30 and adding eligibility to spring senior athletes, the state high school association announced Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Department of Education mandated Monday for Florida schools to remain closed until Monday, May 4. The state's release said that if schools are back in session that day "the FHSAA will follow the advice and guidance available to us at that time regarding the continuance of all FHSAA spring sports."

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11 charts that show coronavirus’ danger to Florida

March 31

In just 29 days, Florida has seen COVID-19, the deadly virus devastating lives across the globe, rise from two confirmed cases on March 1 to 4,950 on Sunday, two days before the month’s end.

One way to look at Florida’s outbreak is to use a statistical method called a logarithmic scale. On a chart that uses a logarithmic scale, we can more easily track how quickly a measure is doubling.

While the growth rate has slowed slightly, over the last month, the number of confirmed cases doubled every three days on average.

In just the last week, it doubled every four days.

Get the full story.

Big Bend counties get subpar grades for coronavirus social distancing, cell phone data shows

March 31

Leon County and several of its Big Bend neighbors scored Ds and worse — for a time at least — on how well they're social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

But their low grades Monday morning improved by afternoon based on more recent data that tech firm Unacast is crunching as part of its nationwide Social Distancing Scoreboard.

The scoreboard uses cell phone data to measure how far people are traveling on average now compared to pre-pandemic days. Counties with the biggest drop in travel score the highest grades.

Get the full story.

As Florida cases rise, supplies remain an issue

12:25 p.m. March 31

As the tally of infected, hospitalized and dead from coronavirus continues to rise in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state's top administrators have focused on testing, getting supplies and making sure hospitals will have enough beds to meet the coming surge.

A new mass drive-through testing site opens Tuesday in Palm Beach County, following the opening of a site in Miami-Dade County. They join sites in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Broward County. 

The state has gotten 2,000 test kits that can process a sample in 45 minutes, but the results still must go to the state Department of Health or U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. 

Get the full story

Cabbage Key Inn donates 6,000-plus 'fallen dollars' to help COVID-19 charities

11 a.m. March 31

Fun fact: If you tape a dollar bill to the money-plastered walls at Cabbage Key Inn & Restaurant, it's not likely to stay put. 

Blame the combination of humidity, blustery island breezes, too many dollars already in place, and the relative adhesive properties of various styles of tape. 

"We have about $20,000 that falls off the walls every year," Cabbage Key's owner Rob Wells said.

"We have been, for as long as I can remember, donating those fallen dollars to various charities."

The inn started a special "fallen dollars" collection last week to help Pine Island and Southwest Florida residents impacted by COVID-19.

Get the full story.

Cabbage Key server Katie Burda collects fallen dollar bills from the restaurant's walls. The money will be donated to area charities helping those impacted by COVID-19.

Florida officials debate letting cruise ships dock with ill passengers

7:34 a.m. March 31

Holland America's MS Zaandam and MS Rotterdam cruise ships – one with ill people on board – have crossed the Panama Canal and are headed to Florida. But several government officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, are concerned about the ships' plans to head to Fort Lauderdale. 

Four elderly passengers on the Zaandam died, though the causes of death have not been disclosed; 73 guests and 116 crew members reported flu-like symptoms. Symptoms of the flu and coronavirus are similar. 

The Zaandam’s plans to dock as early as Wednesday in Florida are still up in the air but have already been rebuked by local officials and DeSantis, who says health care resources are stretched too thin. The governor said he has been in contact with the Coast Guard and the White House about diverting the ship.

Get the full story.

Florida megachurch pastor arrested for holding services, defying social distancing orders

6:29 a.m. March 31

Florida officials have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon in Hernando County, where he lives. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.

Howard-Browne isn’t alone in refusing to curtail in-person worship services despite public health orders designed to stop the virus from spreading. Churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have continued to invite worshippers in recent days as at least a half-dozen states offer some degree of exemption for faith in their orders to shutter nonessential activity during the pandemic.

Get the full story.

Gov. DeSantis orders 'safer at home' rule for all of South Florida

March 30

The morning after President Trump issued a 30-day extension of a federal voluntary shutdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday announced a four-county "safer at home" executive order for all of southeast Florida.

"With this order we are going guns blazing to do all we can to slow the spread of COVID-19," Desantis said at a news conference in the parking lot of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

Meanwhile, he continued to defend his decision to not order a blanket statewide shutdown and allow local governments to make their own decisions about closing beaches and nonessential businesses and requesting people to stay home as much as possible.

Get the full story.

School closures extended 

March 30

Following recommendations from the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Brevard Public Schools announced late Monday that schools will be closed until at least May 4.

Closures through April 15 had previously been announced as a precaution to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

State education officials said closures would be reassessed every two weeks in coordination with health agencies.

Get the full story.

Coronavirus Florida: Deaths projected to hit 6,766 by August

March 30

A disturbing new analysis predicts the death toll in Florida from the coronavirus will rise to 6,766 by Aug. 4.

The analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington under the direction of professor Chris Murray also predicts that Florida will face a peak shortage of 843 intensive care unit hospital beds.

The need for ICU beds will peak on May 3 in Florida, according to the report. The state will need 2,538 beds on that day, but only 1,695 will be available.

The number of COVID-19 deaths per day in Florida is projected to peak on May 3 at 174, and then taper off. The ICU bed shortage is projected to begin on April 16 — just 17 days from now — and last until May 16.

Get the full story.

DeSantis suspends vacation rentals; Airbnb offers refunds

March 30

In another effort to prevent coronavirus-infected tourists from vacationing in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an order on Friday barring vacation rentals, including Airbnbs, from renting rooms and homes to vacationers until at least April 10.

Airbnb is offering guests full refunds and hosts no charge cancellations for reservations booked on or before March 14 with a check in date of April 14 or earlier, according to the Airbnb website.

Get the full story.

Checkpoints set up for motorists entering Florida 

March 30

Effective immediately, motorists who are traveling from areas with substantial community spread including Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, will be required to isolate for a period of 14 days upon entry to Florida or for the duration of their visit, whichever is shorter, and should be prepared for additional monitoring by DOH to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

No checkpoints within the state impede commerce or the timely delivery of products across Florida.

To assist with the implementation and enforcement of the Executive Order, FHP will staff the checkpoint at I-95 at the Georgia/Florida line 24 hours a day with more than a dozen troopers in 12-hour shifts.

FDOT Emergency travel information.

PBC drive-thru testing opens Tuesday; county still way behind bigger counties

March 29

Palm Beach County will open a new coronavirus drive-through testing site March 31 at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

People of any age who believe they might have the virus and are suffering symptoms like fever and cough can call the Palm Beach County Health Care District at 561-642-1000 to be screened.

Callers approved for testing will be given an appointment date and time for testing at the ballpark, which is located at 5444 Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach. Health Care District staff will determine who gets an appointment based on the presence of symptoms, risk factors and possible exposure to the virus. Those arriving at the ballpark without an appointment will be turned away.

Get the full story.

Are grocery stores and pharmacies vectors for the coronavirus?

March 29

There's so much to touch and grab at the grocery store — shopping carts, freezer door handles, cardboard boxes and plastic packaging.

Such surfaces are almost unavoidable for shoppers. But they also carry a certain amount of risk in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding urgency to a troubling question: Have pharmacies and supermarkets become super-spreading virus vectors?

Get the full story.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and some people don't have any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms resemble the flu and include fever, tiredness and dry cough. Some people also develop aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.

Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever,  cough, and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control said.

About 1 in 6 people becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing, according to the World Health Organization. If you experience fever, cough and shortness of breath, call your doctor.

Symptoms may appear anywhere between two to 14 days after exposure, with the average patient seeing onset at around five days, according to the CDC.