MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Isaias’ imminent arrival forced the closure of some outdoor coronavirus testing sites Friday even as the state reached a new daily high in deaths.
The coming weather forced officials to halt testing in Miami, which has been worst hit by the coronavirus, for at least three days because many of the sites operate outdoors, in tents. Under normal circumstances, the sites have the capacity to test hundreds of people per day.
"We had to put safety first,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said at an online news conference Friday. “We will have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again.”
Officials in Florida said they were also closing beaches, marinas and parks in Miami-Dade County beginning Friday night.
Hurricane watches and storm warnings were in effect in many areas of Florida’s east coast, prompting residents to buy sandbags and board up their homes. Isaias was forecast to strengthen Friday while moving near or over the Bahamas and was expected to approach South Florida on Saturday or Sunday.
No evacuations had been ordered or shelters opened as of Friday, but emergency operations authorities were making preparations just in case. They said social-distancing measures were complicating evacuation plans as each person now needs to have 40 square feet (3.7 square meters) and shelters can't offer cafeteria-style dining. People in evacuation zones who are infected will be isolated in special areas at shelters.
“It’s a challenge, but these are some of the things you have to think about in the age of COVID-19 and now a hurricane," Gimenez said. The state's largest county has 20 evacuation centers on standby that could be set up with COVID-19 safety measures, the mayor said.
The Florida Department of Health reported 257 new deaths from the coronavirus on Friday, a record high for the fourth day in a row. Officials reported 9,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Friday, raising the cumulative number to 470,000.
With the rising number of deaths from COVID-19 reported in the past four days, the average daily over the past week has been raised to 171 per day. The rate is second only to Texas in the current resurgence of the pandemic.
In per-capita terms, Florida’s rate ranks fifth behind Arizona, South Carolina, Texas and Mississippi over the past week, and compares with a peak daily average of 763 for New York in mid-April.