As coronavirus cases rise, Gov. Ron DeSantis bans visitors to all Florida nursing homes

Gov. Ron DeSantis, while contending that many Florida residents are not at risk of getting the coronavirus, announced on Saturday a 30-day ban on visits to nursing homes as he acknowledged that the virus is spreading through some communities.

DeSantis, whose administration a day earlier had encouraged schools across the state to shut down for at least two weeks, also voiced his strong support for the federal government shutting down domestic flights to Florida from virus hot spots in other states.

“We’re taking measures to be able to keep this a manageable situation, '' DeSantis said.

The visitation ban announced Saturday applies to assisted living facilities and adult group homes, along with nursing homes. DeSantis said it would be lifted for what he called “compassionate” cases.

Appearing at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, DeSantis said the state had 77 positive cases of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. Broward County led the state with 24 cases.

Three Florida residents, DeSantis said, have died after contracting the virus, with the latest victim a 68-year old Orange County resident who died in California. The woman, according to the governor’s office, had traveled to South Korea.

The governor had already suspended visitation at Broward County long-term care facilities but expanded the ban statewide. That move came after the Florida Department of Health announced early Saturday that the state had 25 new COVID-19 cases.

Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew, who joined DeSantis at a news conference at the Emergency Operations Center, pleaded with family members to remain patient during the month-long visitation ban.

“This is being done because of our love and compassion and concern,” said Mayhew, who heads the agency that regulates long-term care facilities.

DeSantis also said his administration would talk to President Donald Trump about potentially suspending flights between New York and Florida as the state tries to contain the spread of the virus.

The governor at recent press events has said that Florida did not have community spread of the virus, even though federal health officials had said otherwise.

On Saturday, though, Vice President Mike Pence said there was community spread in Florida. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines community spread as “the spread of an illness for which the source of the infection is unknown.”

The governor did not disclose the areas in the state where there is community spread.

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DeSantis said epidemiologists were still analyzing the Florida cases and that it could take upward of three weeks to confirm causes. But he said his administration is operating under the assumption that COVID-19 has spread through communities.

“We’re still going forward as if there are pockets in a community because I think that’s the only responsible thing to do when you have a virus that is highly contagious, that’s the right posture to be in,” he said.

The governor did not disclose the areas in the state where there is community spread, but a document released by the Florida Department of Health showed seven COVID-19 cases in Broward County that were under investigation and didn’t involve recent travel.

Likewise, six cases under investigation in Miami-Dade County didn’t involve travel. Orange, Osceola and Palm Beach counties each had one non-travel related COVID-19 case under investigation, according to the department document.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people avoid crowds of 250 or more, DeSantis earlier in the week said he lacked the authority to impose that type of sanction. Instead he urged local governments to take action. And on Saturday, the governor urged people who are elderly, frail or have underlying medical conditions to avoid crowds.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing if you’re in the danger zone, just avoiding crowds,” DeSantis said.

To help accomplish that goal, DeSantis announced additional steps to cut down on people having to go to crowded places. He directed the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to suspend for 30 days all driver’s license renewal requirements.

DeSantis had already announced that Florida ordered 2,500 COVID-19 testing kits and that 1,000 of the kits had arrived in the state. In all, the 2,500 kits would give the state the ability to test upward of 625,000 people.

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