MIAMI (AP) — The mayor of Miami joined the list of more than 50 people in Florida infected with the new coronavirus Friday as the governor said he would activate the National Guard to help with a massive ramp-up in testing for the illness.
In efforts to limit contacts between potentially infected people, St. Petersburg canceled that city’s Grand Prix, an IndyCar race car event held along the picturesque waterfront in what has become one of the city's signature weekends. Two of the world's largest cruise companies based in Miami, including Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, said they were suspending sailings for a month.
The Miami-Dade and Broward school districts in South Florida, two of the country's largest, announced closures: Miami-Dade indefinitely and Broward for two weeks. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran “strongly recommended" that all other school districts shut down for a week, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state was purchasing kits that allow for testing up to 625,000 people to get a better handle on where people were infected. About 40% of the kits have already been obtained.
So far, people have tested positive for COVID-19 in at least 20 counties in the state, most of them after traveling internationally or to other affected U.S. states. Two people have died.
“If we have National Guard support, they can help augment medical staff shortages, potentially expand resources and even potentially set up field medical clinics if that were needed to be the case," DeSantis said at a news conference at a Health Department warehouse several miles from the state Capitol.
DeSantis also suspended all visitations to nursing homes in Broward County, so far the worst-hit county. Earlier in the week, DeSantis had put restrictions on visits to the homes statewide from certain people who may have come into contact with the virus.
The mayor of the city of Miami, Francis Suarez, announced earlier on Friday that he had tested positive for the new coronavirus after being in the same room with the Brazilian president's press secretary, who in previous days was in close proximity to President Donald Trump at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate. The Brazilian official tested positive after the Brazilian president's visits in South Florida last weekend through Tuesday.
Suarez said in a statement that he was not feeling any symptoms, but he said anyone who shook hands with him or was close to him since Monday should self-isolate for 14 days.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
The Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami had originally notified patrons via email they would continue with the weekend's performances of “Hamilton" and not issue refunds, unleashing criticism from one of the traveling actors, Jon Viktor Corpus, who called the approach “disgraceful" on Twitter.
In a follow-up email Friday, the center said it had decided to suspend shows and events through April 5.
Most face-to-face legal proceedings in the state courts will be suspended for a minimum of two weeks, said Florida Chief Justice Chalres Canady. Local judges are authorized to conduct them via video or electronic means whenever possible.
In St. Petersburg, people trickled into an early voting site where Democrats cast ballots for their presidential candidate of choice in Florida's primary on Tuesday. Poll workers wore gloves, kept “clean pens” in a small tray, and one election worker held the door open and closed so voters wouldn’t have to touch the handle.
Emma Marie, a 28-year-old in St. Petersburg, was undeterred by reports of the virus and cast an early ballot for Bernie Sanders.
“I’ve never put too much energy into things like that. I don’t really see all the news. All I see is memes on Facebook,” Marie said.
At supermarkets in South Florida, people were lining up to stock up on food and household supplies and finding empty shelves without eggs, poultry, toilet paper or paper towels.
Meagan Aguilar, a nursing student, went instead to a Walgreens to get baby wipes, pain relievers, cans of tuna and Gatorade bottles.
“I wanted to avoid the grocery stores. We live with my grandmother who is 78 years old, so she is vulnerable," she said, adding that she removed her young boy from preschool earlier this week even though schools were still open in the area. “I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.”
Associated Press reporter Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak