Officials across the country have curtailed many elements of American life to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Some health officials are recommending that groups of more than 10 don’t get together and a government expert is saying a 14-day national shutdown may be needed.

Meanwhile, Florida officials continue to try to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has been deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization and has sickened hundreds of thousands globally and killed thousands.


Charter Communications has temporarily opened its live stream free to the public. You can watch Spectrum News via our live stream on your desktop or laptop without a subscription by visiting our website and clicking “Watch Live” in the upper right. Charter also is temporarily offering free broadband and wifi access to families with elementary or college students. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. The company also will open more than half a million wifi hotspots across the country.


Spectrum Bay News 9 reporters and crews are providing up-to-the-minute coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the latest news is being provided here on this page.

Continue to check back as we update this article.

LIVE UPDATES:

Time-stamped updates:

Thursday, March 19

PINELLAS COUNTY COMMISSIONERS VOTE TO CLOSE ALL PUBLIC BEACHES

In an emergency meeting Thursday, commissioners voted to close all public beaches in the county and all beach parking lots through April 6.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who argued against closing the beaches, showed commissioners video of beachgoers drawing six-foot circles around themselves today to show the beaches weren't nearly as crowded as Clearwater Beach was over the weekend. Gualtieri insisted that measures put in place to enforce social distancing earlier in the week were working.

However, commissioners said they'd been inundated with complaints and needed to show strong leadership in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The commission also announced plans to request that Gov. DeSantis close Honeymoon Island, since that is a state park. 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 18

State representative calls on Seminole Hard Rock Casino to temporarily shut down: Rep. Jackie Toledo wants to see the Seminole Hard Rock Casino temporarily close its doors and send employees home in response to the coronavirus outbreak. So far, though, the casino is saying "no dice."

"In a casino, patrons have to touch screens, they touch money, they touch chips and they touch tables and they are encouraging the spread of the virus," Toledo said.

The casino issued a statement saying that while they continue to monitor the coronavirus closely, they are not closing right now.

Instead, the casino is taking safety measures such as postponing upcoming shows and events, closing the poker room, removing some chairs from table games, blocking off some slot machines and encouraging social distancing.

Toledo said it's just not enough.

"Not taking proper measures at this point in time is not only an issue of public health but a fiscal issue, as well," she said. "We need to do everything we can to stop the spread of this invisible enemy. They need to follow other casinos across the country and close down temporarily."

City leaders close Clearwater Beach starting Monday: At an emergency meeting on Wednesday, the City Council voted to close Clearwater Beach beginning on Monday for two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Nobody is allowed on the sand beginning at 6 a.m. on Monday but beachfront businesses will remain open.

The crowds at Clearwater Beach had already begun to thin out. For example, the crowds on Wednesday were about half the size they were earlier in the week, as the first full day of social distancing beach rules went into full effect.

"Yesterday, it was a lot more crowded," said Chad O'Connor, 21, who's visiting from Ohio. "There's definitely fewer people today."​

The coronavirus beach rules call for groups of no more than 10, who must remain at least 6 feet apart from others. Spectrum Bay News 9 did not see anyone breaking those social distancing guidelines.

"Most people are spread out more than they were before," said Cayenne Crowther, 16, from Tarpon Springs. "So, it's getting a lot better than it was." 

Beachgoers have been getting national criticism for crowding Clearwater Beach during the coronavirus outbreak, while many businesses are shutting down and people are told to remain home.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office to close: Normal operations in county SOE offices will be suspended and offices will be closed to the public beginning at 5 p.m. Wednesday until April 20, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're taking these measures because I believe it's critically important to do our part to address this urgent public health issue," said Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. "At the same time, I'm committed to addressing the needs of our candidates, voters and the public remotely -through our website, email, phone  and by appointment when necessary."

The office is placing a temporary hold on processing paper voter registration applications. Hillsborough County residents can register to vote, update their voter registration information or sign up for Vote By Mail online at VoteHillsborough.org, by email at voter@hcsoe.org, or by calling (813) 744-5900.CareerSource Tampa Bay to close two of its offices: The Plant City and Ruskin offices will temporarily close starting Wednesday, March 18. The other three offices, all located in Tampa, will have reduced hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Hillsborough County suspending evictions: Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced the county will suspend processing evictions  through April 20, allowing people to stay in their homes.

Chronister said this is a time of crisis and we all need to pull together and at a time when people are being told to stay at home, it doesn’t seem right to take folks out of their home. 

"I can not in good faith evict families from their homes because they’re unable to pay their rent or mortgage during this national time of crisis," Chronister said.

Hillsborough County deputies typically evicts 763 tenant each month. Right now,  250 evictions are waiting to be carried out. Those orders are now suspended currently on hold.

"We’re not saying that these eviction processes won’t be served," Chronister said. "We’re just going to delay the process until we can see where we’re at for the next 30 days."

The sheriff says he is realizes this will be difficult for landlords and property owners from a financial perspective and he is asking for patience and cooperation during this time. 

- Dave Jordan

Trump Closing Canadian Border: Trump tweeted Wednesday morning saying there is a mutual agreement to temporarily close the Northern-Canadian border to non-essential traffic. 

Pasco County's 2020 Chasco Fiesta Canceled: Pasco County's Chasco Fiesta was postponed last week because of coronavirus concerns, and now, event organizers say it won't be rescheduled. More info on their website

Tuesday, March 17 

AMC Theatres Temporarily Closing: AMC Theatres announced today that it would close all of its locations nationwide for at least six to 12 weeks. The closures begin March 17.

Citrus County Fair Cancelled: To better protect the community, the Citrus County Fair Association decided to follow the CDC guidelines and cancel the 2020 fair. 

Four UF Students Test Positive for COVID-19: Governor DeSantis announced in a news conference Tuesday morning that four students from the University of Florida have tested positive for coronavirus. He also called for all state universities to do online classes through the rest of spring semester. 

Florida Bars and Nightclubs Suspended: DeSantis is also shutting down all bars and nightclubs in Florida for 30 days starting at 5 p.m., March 17. 

Limiting Number of People at Beaches: DeSantis is also telling people to remain in groups smaller than 10 and to be spaced out at beaches. There are no total shutdown of Florida beaches.

Clearwater Beach Pier 60 closing: The City of Clearwater has decided to close the fishing pier and bait house in an abundance of caution amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Armiture Works in Tampa temporarily closing: Facility announced Monday night it is closing its surrounding area, vendors, all 20 food, drink and retail areas. The latest information on the closing.

Hernando County Fair cancelled: The Hernando Fair Association Board has decided to follow the national and state recommended guidelines for gatherings over more than 10 people from the Center of Disease Control, the World Health Organization, Florida Department of Emergency Management and the Florida Department of Health and cancel the 2020 Hernando County Fair, scheduled for April 3-11.

Citrus County Animal Services: Due to unexpected shortages in medical and surgical supplies during the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we unfortunately have to temporarily suspend our TNVR program and are unable to take in community cats at this time.
 

Monday, March 16

PINELLAS SCHOOLS MEALS: As part of Pinellas County Schools emergency plan during school closures, the district will provide prepackaged lunch and breakfast to students from March 23-March 27, this is the week students would have returned to school after spring break. 

POLK SCHOOLS MEALS: During the unexpected closure, children 18 years and under will continue to receive both their school breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday (March 17-20) from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at specific sites serving as food distribution locations. Distribution will be similar to lunch distribution during the summer. Click the link for locations.

HILLSBOROUGH SCHOOL MEALS: Planning to activate feeding program on March 23 when students would normally be returning to school (We don’t normally provide meals during Spring Break). We will share more details in the coming days via messages to families and at http://HillsboroughSchools.org
 

Sunday, March 15

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation on Sunday that in-person events consisting of 50 or more people should be canceled by groups or organizers for the next eight weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus.
 

ZOO TAMPA AT LOWRY PARK closed: For the past several weeks, ZooTampa has been closely monitoring the unprecedented and rapidly changing COVID19/coronavirus situation and taking extra precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of our guests, employees and animals. In consultation with City of Tampa officials and following the recommendations from Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, ZooTampa will be temporarily closed starting Monday, March 16th through Sunday, March 29.

Friday, March 13 

5:20 p.m.: Due to concerns over coronavirus, the Florida Department of Education is directing all Hillsborough County Public Schools – and schools across the state – to close for two weeks. For this district, that includes March 16-20 for Spring Break and an additional week, March 23-March 27.

4:10 p.m.: Effective Monday, March 16, the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (BPVAHCS) will be conducting enhanced coronavirus (COVID-19) screenings of those entering the facilities. This is to ensure everyone is screened prior to entering any of the buildings. Read more information here.

3:45 p.m.: President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency as it relates to the coronavirus.

Trump said the move will open access to $50 billion to help states fight the virus. He said he is also asking all hospitals to activate their emergency preparedness plan to help meet the needs of Americans.

.@realDonaldTrump says emergency orders will give new authority to Sec. of Health and Human Services, who can wave laws to give doctors and hospitals the flexibility to respond to the virus and care for patients. #bn9covid19#coronavirus

— Spectrum Bay News 9 (@BN9) March 13, 2020

3:30 p.m.: Tampa Theater shows and events suspended through March 31. The theater said patrons should hold on to their tickets which will be valid for new show dates. 

3:23 p.m.: Starting Saturday, March 14, AMC Theaters is cutting their seating capacity in half for all of it's theaters. They will cap ticket sales for each showtime in each theater to an amount equal to 50% of normal seating capacity. They will also enhance their cleaning protocols to ensure every theater is cleaned at least once an hour. 

2:30 p.m. update: Gov. Ron DeSantis said there are 51 cases in Florida, with 45 of those people being Florida residents. About 220 people are currently being tested, and about 365 are being monitored. Nearly 500 people have been tested with the result negative.

DeSantis also predicts more cases of the virus next week and said the state has received 1,000 of the 2,500 kits that have been ordered.

Meanwhile, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld will close effective Monday and remain closed through the end of the month.

1:15 p.m. The 2020 Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival Presented by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater has announced it will cancel this year's festival scheduled for next month due to the COVID-19. 

12:53 p.m.: Pasco Hernando State College closing all campuses to students next week.

12:45 p.m.: Hillsborough County Schools has announced a new policy in connection with the coronavirus for after Spring Break.

Following requirements from the Florida Department of Health, the schools have directed families and employees to let them know if the following is true:

  • They traveled out of the country or went on a cruise within the past 14 days.
  • They believe they may have been in contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus/COVID-19.
  • They believe they have symptoms of coronavirus/COVID-19, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

If any are so, that person must complete a "return to school report" that will be made available on the school district's website.

11:55 a.m.: The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been canceled. Officials had earlier said it would be raced without fans, but now the event won't take place. More closings here

10:40 a.m.: Straz Center suspends all events through April 19. Center said they will reschedule as many events as possible. Patrons should hold on to their tickets. The tickets sales office will be in touch with ticket holders about refunds and other options. 

10:35 a.m.: Tampa's Fossilfest scheduled for March 14 and 15 at the Florida State Fairgrounds has been canceled. It will be rescheduled during the summer. 

10:30 a.m.: CareerSource Tampa Bay is limiting services and changing hours to five Hillsborough County public locations starting Monday, March 16.

Resource centers will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hours will be reduced for public serves to the resource room and by appointment only for limited services. 

All people entering the facility will be directed to use hand sanitizer before entering. Individuals with fever and flu-like symptoms will not be allowed access. 

Job fairs will also be postponed. 

The changes will impact the following offices:

  • Tampa Center, 9215 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33612
  • Brandon Center 9350 Bay Plaza Blvd, Tampa, FL 33619
  • Ruskin Office, 201 14th Avenue, SE Ruskin, FL 33570
  • Career Prep Center, 2605 North 43rd Street, Tampa, FL 33619
  • Plant City Office, 307 N Michigan Ave, Plant City, FL 33563

10 a.m.: BayCare Announces Hospital Visitation Changes to curb coronavirus spread 

With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Florida, BayCare Health System is implementing visitor restrictions at its hospitals across the Tampa Bay region to safeguard the health of patients, team members, physicians and the community. 

“To protect the health and wellbeing of all we serve, we believe it is prudent to take this step at this time,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, BayCare’s Chief Medical Officer.

Starting Friday, consistent with BayCare’s procedures to limit the spread of infectious diseases, BayCare facilities will start screening visitors for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus. Those who are deemed a risk will be restricted from entering the facility and may be referred to an Emergency Department. In an abundance of caution, also restricted from visiting are all children under the age of 18.

BayCare did not come to this decision lightly. Familial and social connections can be important to patients’ recovery and BayCare encourages loved ones to leverage video conferencing, such as FaceTime, to keep in touch with patients. 

Impacted facilities: 

Hillsborough County
St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Tampa
St. Joseph’s Hospital, Tampa
St. Joseph’s Hospital – North, Lutz
St. Joseph’s Hospital – South, Riverview
St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, Tampa
South Florida Baptist Hospital, Plant City

Pasco County
Morton Plant North Bay, New Port Richey

Pinellas County
Bardmoor Emergency Center, Largo
BayCare Alliant Hospital, Dunedin
Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor
Mease Dunedin Hospital
Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater
St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Petersburg

Polk County
Bartow Regional Medical Center
Winter Haven Hospital
Winter Haven Women’s Hospital

5 a.m.: Overnight, the Florida Department of Health announced 17 new cases of coronavirus disease in the state, bringing the total confirmed cases to 41 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. 

Among those 17, is a 49-year-old woman from Hillsborough County who tested positive and is under isolation. Her case is considered "travel related."

4 a.m.: Old Manatee Picnic for Sat, March 14 cancelled. Event was scheduled for 11 a.m. at Manatee Village Historical Park at 1404 Manatee Ave. E in Bradenton.

Thursday, March 12

3:45 p.m.: Major League Baseball became the latest sport to announce delays/cancelation. Get the full list of affected sports here.

2:44 p.m.: In accordance with Gov. DeSantis' request that all mass gatherings scheduled in the next 30 days be postponed, the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) announced the following events are canceled/postponed until further notice:

  • Farmers Curb Market
  • SugarBuzz Dessert Festival
  • Music Munndays
  • Gallery on the Promenade
  • First Friday

In addition, Food Truck Rally, an independent event, was canceled by the operator.

2:35 p.m.: River O'Green and the St. Patrick's Day parade in Tampa have been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, according to Hillsborough County officials.

1:25 p.m.: Due to COVID-19 concerns, MacDill Air Force Base has postponed the 2020 Tampa Bay AirFest that was scheduled for the weekend of March 28-29.

1:20 p.m.: Florida Senator Rick Scott has decided to self-quarantine after potential contact with a Brazilian delegation member who tested positive for COVID-19.