TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the White House should consider restricting domestic travel from states that are seeing a rapid increase in coronavirus infections, saying the flow of people has made containment difficult.
He made the plea shortly before the state on Saturday announced its fourth death from the disease, a 77-year-old man from Lee County.
DeSantis spoke just hours after President Donald Trump expanded restrictions on foreign visitors to include the U.K. and Ireland, and said he was weighing limits on domestic travel.
“We’re working with the states and we’re considering other restrictions,” Trump told reporters at the White House Saturday.
DeSantis said visitors to Florida from other states, including New York, are contributing to the spread of Covid-19 in Florida.
“We’re seeing cases where people clearly contracted it somewhere else and brought it here,” DeSantis said at a briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center on Saturday.
Before gaining entrance to the operations center on Saturday, visitors were asked whether they had traveled to New York, California or Washington state in the past 14 days.
Security guards also asked visitors to disclose if they’d visited China, Japan, Iran, Italy, Ireland or the U.K., or if they’d attended an event with 250 or more people where someone might have contracted Covid-19.
DeSantis on Saturday also said for the first time that community spread of the virus was likely, something he said he’d anticipated. Most people who become infected with the coronavirus will experience mild symptoms, which makes tracking the disease difficult.
The remark was a departure from comments made Friday by state health Deputy Secretary Shamarial Roberson, who said there was no evidence of community spread.
“I’ve never said it’s not an issue,” DeSantis said Saturday. “Of course we could never be sure who transmitted.”
70 Florida residents have tested positive for the coronavirus as of early Saturday morning.
Six Floridians who were passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship also have been diagnosed and taken to a quarantined site in Georgia. The state is working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to bring the residents back to Florida, where they will be asked to quarantine, DeSantis said.
The state announced 25 new cases just after midnight on Saturday, prompting DeSantis to ban all visitors at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other group homes populated by the elderly and others who have medical conditions. He had previously banned only visitors who had recently taken a cruise or traveled overseas.
“The message for folks who are elderly, who are frail or have a significant medical condition — just avoid crowds,” DeSantis said.
The state Department of Health is hiring more epidemiologists to track the spread of the virus. Renewal deadlines for driver’s licenses and professional licenses have been suspended for the next 30 days.
“We want as many hands on deck as possible,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also increased staffing at the state Emergency Operations Center to operate around the clock. The center brings the state’s executive agencies into one large war room to respond to threats, including natural disasters and health crises.
A small security post was set up outside the EOC on Saturday where a guard asked visitors to confirm they had not been in contact with anyone who traveled on a cruise, overseas, or other parts of the U.S.
The state has ordered 2,500 kits that can quickly test 625,000 people for the coronavirus. DeSantis on Friday said he had asked the national guard to help process the tests.