Florida's number of coronavirus cases jumps sharply

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (AP) — Miami-area hospitals were treating about a dozen crew members from two cruise ships and Florida's second-largest county ordered residents to stay home as the state's number of coronavirus cases jumped sharply on Thursday.

The state health department said more than 2,350 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus, a 35% increase from Wednesday's total. The number of deaths jumped from 21 to 27.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he expected the number of diagnosed cases would continue to rise as testing sites opened around the state for people suspected of having the disease and others who are at high risk of contracting it, such as health care workers.

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The disease was also taking a tough toll on the state's economy, with 74,000 residents applying for unemployment benefits last week, a tenfold increase over the week before. Since then, the state's tourism industry has essentially shut down and restaurants have been restricted to takeout and delivery.

Miami-area hospitals received crew members Thursday from two Costa Cruise ships, the Magica and Favolosa. Carnival Corp., which owns the cruise line, said in a statement that the ships were empty except for crew members. They remained offshore.

Lifeboats brought the ill crew members into the Port of Miami, where they were greeted by doctors and nurses wearing protective masks and overalls. They were walked to a screening area and then taken to an ambulance.

Both vessels were both last in port at the Caribbean island of St. Maarten: the Magica on March 17 and the Favolosa on Saturday, according to vesselfinder.com. About 30 crew members had shown flu-like symptoms, but only about a dozen required hospitalization, Carnival said.

The ships had tried to dock in several Caribbean ports to get treatment for the crew members, but had been turned away, the company said. The Miami hospital officials said they felt it was important that the crew receive treatment immediately.

“While we are all committed to preserving resources for our own residents, an international community like Miami would never turn our backs on people aboard ships at our shores,” Jackson Health, the University of Miami and Baptist Health said in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, the second-largest county in the state, Broward, issued an order requiring residents to stay home starting Friday unless they were getting food or other essentials, headed to work or had an emergency. Two election poll workers tested positive for the virus, including one who handled licenses and other documents at a precinct where 61 people voted, said Steven Vancore, a spokesman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections.

Vancore said the worker did not handle documents for all of those voters, but “at least some of them." The worker was also a greeter during nine days of early voting. Officials contacted all but two of the poll workers who worked “in proximity" with the infected individuals.

The other poll worker who tested positive held a position that generally requires little or no contact with voters.

Counties in the Tampa Bay area and central Florida had already imposed orders to stay home. Cities in the county had been pushing for such a measure, and some had already issued their own orders. The county had previously issued orders that closed nonessential businesses and beaches.

Cities in Miami-Dade County, the state's largest, were pushing county officials to follow suit. According to the Miami Herald, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and three other cities had enacted stay-at-home orders for their residents. Miami was enacting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew starting Friday.

“It’s a curfew. You need to be in your home,” Miami Police Department Chief Jorge Colina told WSVN-TV. “If you’re not in your home, you’re being challenged by us, asking why you are not at home."

Cutler Bay Mayor Tim Meerbott wrote in a letter to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez that a countywide ban on unneeded travel “is our best chance to flatten the curve and save as many lives as possible.”

Despite criticism from Democrats and others, DeSantis has refused to issue a statewide stay-at-home order like those imposed in California, New York, Illinois and elsewhere. He said he doesn't think they are effective and that they aren't needed in the counties that have no or few cases. Most of those counties are small and rural.

He has ordered some statewide measures such as closing bars and gyms and limiting restaurants. State parks have been closed. Anyone arriving from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut within the past three weeks must self-quarantine under threat of 60 days in jail. The state issued recommendations Wednesday that people 65 and older or with health issues confine themselves to their home.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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Associated Press reporter Lynne Sladky contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.