As COVID-19 numbers rise, governor announces mobile test station for epicenter of Broward

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As COVID-19 infections in Florida continued to rise on Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a significant testing step — the state’s first mobile testing station will be set up in Miramar, free of charge.

The announcement came as South Florida emerged as the state’s epicenter of a growing public health crisis — with at least 13 cases in Miami-Dade County and 36 cases in Broward, many of them with no stated connection to travel history. According to figures released at 6 p.m. by the Florida Department of Health, there are 136 Florida residents and thirteen non-Florida residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. There have been four deaths.

All those numbers are expected to grow in coming weeks.

Running the testing station involves bringing in more members of the Florida National Guard, which will work in partnership with Memorial Health Care in Broward County. The Guard, which had already deployed more than 176 members in Broward, will to 478 personnel soon, a spokeswoman for DeSantis said.

DeSantis said the goal was to bring more testing help to the county hardest hit so far.

“The idea is because we’ve had more cases there than anywhere else, we want to supplement the health care system there,” he said said. Though there was not yet a scheduled opening date for the mobile station, he said the National Guard will get the station up and running “as soon as they can.”

“It’s their top mission right now for the state,” he said. “We want to make sure that when it opens, it’s done right.

More could be in the pipeline. DeSantis said the mobile site “might not be the only one.” Decisions to open other sites may happen as the virus “evolves in other parts of the states.”

On Saturday, DeSantis finally acknowledged that Florida is experiencing “community spread” of the coronavirus — the transmitting of the virus among those who aren’t sure where or how they got infected.

On Saturday night, the Florida Department of Health confirmed a third in-state coronavirus death: a 77-year-old man from Lee County who had been previously diagnosed with the illness. In a previously reported case, a fourth Floridian died from COVID-19, but while in California.

In other major moves over the weekend, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale announced sweeping measures on Sunday to shut down their most popular public beaches and close “non-essential” businesses by 10 p.m. Miami Beach has also forced every bar, restaurant and retailer in the city to close early and is urging businesses to decrease their capacity by 50 percent to create social distancing.

DeSantis lauded the mayors of the two cities Sunday. He said the actions to “pull the plug on these big spring break gathe

At a press conference Sunday afternoon when Vice President Mike Pence was asked if there should be more restaurant closures and curfews nationwide, he said there will be new guidelines released Monday morning.

DeSantis echoed the sentiment, announcing at the press conference that the state will be putting out guidance to municipalities regarding bars and restaurants Monday morning after getting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The best way to avoid COVID-19 is to avoid crowds,” said state surgeon general Scott Rivkees.

Travel restrictions have also tightened as of Sunday. Haiti shut down the Dominican Republic border and suspended most international flights, joining other neighboring Caribbean and Latin American nations, which in the past week have imposed drastic measures to try to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The federal government has also imposed a travel ban to and from some countries in Europe.

Florida has already restricted nonessential travel for state workers for the next month and is telling state agencies to “maximize remote working and telecommuting.”

rings in the right way to go.”

“Florida is not going to be a place where you’re going to be out until 2 am. with 500 people at some bar,” he said. “That really can be problematic. I have applauded what those mayors did. That is the right thing … this can be kind of a petri dish situation.”

Across the country, states are taking precautions to stop people from commingling in public places. The NBA On Sunday, Illinois and Ohio announced closures of dine-in restaurants and bars.

Members of the Guard’s medical unit plan to be in Broward on Sunday night to help local medical providers set up the drive-through testing facility, spokesman William Manley said. He expected Florida to announce details on the location and who would be eligible for the tests later in the day.

“You pull up in your vehicle, they take your information on how to contact you. The next stop they take a swab and then can drive away,” Manley said.

Manley said he wasn’t aware of another drive-through testing facility in Florida with National Guard staffing. Lee County announced Friday plans for drive-through testing, as did Martin County on Saturday.

Broward has nearly 40 discovered cases of coronavirus, and is the one place in Florida identified as experiencing community spread of the virus.