Hundreds line up for tests as Florida cities close beaches

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Hundreds of people lined up at coronavirus testing sites around Florida on Monday, as the state remained in the virus’s grip.

St. Petersburg Police said on Twitter that a testing site located at Tropicana Field – where the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team normally plays – closed early because it was at capacity, shortly after 8 a.m.

The site ran out of tests, officials said. More than five hundred people lined up in their cars for testing. Police said the Florida Department of Health and BayCare, a hospital system asked people to “try again” when testing resumes Tuesday at 7 a.m.

In Jacksonville, more than 300 cars lined up for testing at the TIAA Bank Field, where the NFL Jaguars play. The city’s leaders on Monday enacted a mandatory mask requirement for public & indoor locations, and “in other situations where individuals cannot socially distance.” The requirement begins at 5 p.m. Monday.

Beaches and bars in South Florida are closing, just days before the normally busy Fourth of July weekend. Monroe County, which comprises the Florida Keys, said Monday it would close beaches. Fireworks shows have also been canceled in several cities, and some attractions are closing their doors as well.

The Miami Seaquarium announced it would be closing temporarily beginning Monday in response to the rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases locally and statewide. The aquarium said they have not had any known or suspected cases and that the decision was out of an abundance of caution. Zoo Miami officials told local media late Sunday that four employees had tested positive for the new coronavirus, and they were canceling animal feedings.

The Florida Department of Health reported on Monday more than 5,400 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths. In total, the state now has more than 141,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 3,400 deaths.

Monday’s positive test numbers were fewer than in the past three days, possibly due to reporting lags over the weekend.

Florida is second only to Arizona in new cases per capita, with about 300 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.

Hospitalizations have been ticking upward but still haven’t spiked as dramatically as new cases, with an average of about 170 to 174 new hospitalizations per day over the past five days, according to figures from covidtracker.com. State and hospital officials have said the new wave of confirmed infections has been in patients skewing younger who are less likely to develop severe illness and far less likely to end up in intensive care units.

Dr. Jason Foland of Studer Family Children’s Hospital in Pensacola said at a news conference Sunday that a less aggressive form of the virus appeared to currently be spreading in Florida.

St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman said Monday he would ask the county’s commission about closing beaches. There are few beaches in the city of St. Petersburg, and most are in the county.

“This should be a statewide policy but we don’t have the leadership from the administration and the governor’s office,” Kriseman said on CNN, adding that he wished closing beaches – and requiring masks – was a statewide mandate. “It’s something we’re going to be considering in Pinellas County. We have to be acting collectively, not piecemeal.”

Kriseman, a Democrat, said Gov. Ron DeSantis has been “inaccessible” to mayors.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to be held in Jacksonville in late August. A group of nearly 500 Florida-based doctors – many from northeast Florida – signed an open letter to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry calling for the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville to be postponed.

“It is extremely dangerous and contrary to current public health recommendations to stage a large event in an area where the number of cases is surging. The RNC should be postponed or very significantly reduced in numbers because of these risks,” the open letter states.

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