Timeline: The spread of coronavirus in Florida

COVID-19 situation continues to rapidly evolve

As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the Sunshine State, local medical groups are setting up shop to offer drive-thru COIVD-19 testing.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The coronavirus was first detected in Florida on March 1 and since then, the numbers have continued to swell.

At this point, Florida Department of Health officials are updating COVID-19 data twice a day and government officials are regularly providing updates on the current state of the spread and what we all can do to stop it.

In Florida alone, bars and nightclubs have been temporarily shuttered, restaurants have been forced to closer their dining rooms as diners are urged to get their orders to-go and theme parks have ceased operations.

But how did we get here?

The timeline below shows how this all began in Florida and how the situation has changed since then.

Feb. 29: State labs in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami gain the capabilities to process COVID-19 tests. Previously, they had to be sent to federal labs.

March 1: Gov. Ron DeSantis announces that the first two Floridians have tested positive for coronavirus. One is a 29-year-old Hillsborough County woman who had recently traveled to Italy and the second is a 63-year-old Manatee County man who had contact with someone who tested positive.

March 2: AARP warns Florida nursing homes to start preparing since senior citizens are more likely to experience severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19. Those facilities are urged to make sure they have adequate personal protective equipment.

March 2: Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, alongside Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other local officials, says it’s “just a matter of time” before the respiratory illness makes its way to the region. Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health cautions the public not to panic and insists that protocols are in place for when COVID-19 strikes.

March 2: The Florida Department of Health issues guidelines to stop the spread of the coronavirus, asking residents not to travel to certain areas overseas. The University of Central Florida also asks students and employees to use caution when traveling abroad during spring break.

March 3: The third case of coronavirus is reported in Florida. The patient, a 22-year-old California woman, is the sister of the 29-year-old Hillsborough County woman who was diagnosed after traveling to Italy. Both were recovering in the Tampa Bay area.

March 3: The Florida Department of Health sets up a coronavirus hotline so residents can call to get their questions answered. The hotline was originally only open on weekdays but has since expanded to be available 24/7. The number to call is 1-866-779-6121. Questions can also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov. The first of many conference cancellations begin. Since then, nearly every mass gathering scheduled for the coming months has been canceled.

March 4: DeSantis speaks in Orlando, saying that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low for Floridians. The Florida Department of Health announces that five Floridians who contracted COVID-19 while out of state are being held in isolation.

March 5: Two coronavirus patients die in Florida: one in Santa Rosa County and one in Lee County. Both were in their 70s and had recently traveled internationally. At the same news conference, health officials announce two more presumptive positive cases, one in Lee County and one in Charlotte County.

March 5: Demings announces that Orange County has lost out on $154 million in potential economic impact due to canceled conventions.

March 7: Central Florida sees its first case of COVID-19: a 66-year-old Volusia County woman. A 61-year-old woman from Okaloosa County and an individual from Manatee County also test positive. Both women had recently traveled internationally.

March 8: The Regal Princess is ordered to remain offshore near South Florida after 21 people on board tested positive for COVID-19. Publix starts to limit the number of certain items customers can purchase as some shoppers begin hoarding toilet paper and other essentials.

March 8: The Florida Department of Health confirms another positive COVID-19 case, this time a 67-year-old man in Broward County. At this point there have been two deaths, five Floridians who were diagnosed out of state and nine people diagnosed in Florida.

March 9: Florida House members announce that they were possibly exposed to someone with the respiratory illness. They have since been cleared to return to work.

March 9: DeSantis declares a state of emergency to create a pathway to obtain funding and resources to stop the spread of COVID-19. Hours later, the state announces that another Volusia County woman with a recent history of international travel tested positive.

March 10: Eight new cases are announced in Florida, marking the first significant jump since the first local patient was identified. One of the new patients is a Georgia resident who tested positive in Alachua County and the others are three Collier County residents: two women ages 68 and 64, and a 73-year-old man; two men, ages 67 and 64, in Pinellas County; a 46-year-old man in Pasco County and a 68-year-old man in Nassau County.

March 10: Central Florida schools cancel field trips that involve air travel.

March 11: A man who was traveling from New York to Florida for Daytona Beach’s Bike Week tested positive while in St. Johns County. Two more cases, one involving a 56-year-old man in Miami-Dade County and the other involving a 70-year-old man in Broward County, are also announced.

March 11: DeSantis places limits on who can visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The same day, the CDC awards $27 million to Florida to stop the virus’ spread. Florida universities also announce that they’ll be moving to remote instruction after spring break. The CDC at this point has deemed coronavirus a pandemic.

March 13: The governor says the number of Florida-related cases is now up to 51. Thirteen of the new positive cases were related to the Nile River Cruise in Egypt. An Orlando-area resident now has died in California.

March 13: Officials from Universal Orlando Resort and Disney World say their theme parks will close effective March 15.

March 13: The state orders that all Florida public schools take an additional week off after spring break with the intent to resume classes on March 30. DeSantis said the state has received 1,000 of the 2,500 testing kits that have been ordered. Nine people are awaiting test results in Seminole County.

March 14: The number of Florida-related cases is now up to 115. Of those, 106 are Florida residents and nine are non-Florida residents. Among the patients is an Orange County man who said he was at Mar-a-Lago at the same time as President Donald Trump. A TSA agent at Orlando International Airport tests positive and the fourth Floridian dies.

March 14: Holy Land Experience announces it will close for the rest of the month along with the Central Florida Zoo.

March 16: There are now 161 Florida-related cases. Family members of an Orlando woman who died in California due to COVID-19 tell News 6 what happened.

There's no slowing down at AeroClave, a Winter Park based company that manufactures large-scale decontamination solutions.

March 17: The first coronavirus case in Brevard County is identified. The total of Florida-related cases is up to 166 as local gyms begin closing. Later in the evening, the number of Florida-relates cases moves up to 261, including five deaths. Earlier in the day it was at 192. UCF cancels all graduations. Orange County has six cases at this point. The first drive-up testing location opens.

March 17: DeSantis orders that all bars and nightclubs be shut down state-wide. We learn students won’t return to class until at least mid-April.

March 18: A Florida congressman tests positive. Canaveral National Seashore plans to close as the latest numbers show eight deaths and 328 cases.

March 19: A UCF student tests positive for coronavirus while the school will be hosting online-only classes through the summer. There are 432 Florida-related cases as of that evening. In California, a man dies two weeks after visiting Disney World and Universal in Orlando. All Brevard County beachside parking is closed.

March 20: As of 6 p.m., the number of Florida-related cases is 563.510 cases in Florida residents, six of whom are being isolated out of state, and 53 non-Florida residents who were diagnosed while visiting the Sunshine State. There are also 11 deaths included in that figure.

March 20: DeSantis orders that all restaurants switch to take-out and delivery only to prevent guests from dining inside. Orange County is the first in Central Florida to institute a curfew.

March 21: The latest numbers show 706 cases have been confirmed in Florida residents and 57 have been confirmed in non-Florida residents. Twelve deaths have also been reported statewide, according to the department.

March 22: The day ends with 937 confirmed cases in Florida residents and 70 confirmed cases in non-Florida residents, totaling 1,007 Florida-related cases. That night, officials from Florida State Parks announce that every state park will close.

March 23: DeSantis orders that anyone flying from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to Florida self-isolates for 14 days. Later that night, DeSantis asks Trump for a major disaster declaration, which would allow certain FEMA programs to be activated. There were 1,227 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Florida: 1,147 Florida residents and 80 non-Florida residents who tested positive in the state. Beaches in Flagler County close.

March 24: Stay-at-home orders are issued for parts of Miami-Dade County, Alachua County and Orange County. About half the state’s reported COVID-19 cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The governor says issuing a statewide lockdown would be too disruptive to residents and businesses. Universal Orlando extends its closure to April 19. By 6 p.m., there are 1,467 cases in Florida.

March 25: Osceola County becomes the second in Central Florida to issue a stay-at-home order for residents. A total of 1,977 Florida-related coronavirus cases, including 110 non-Florida residents in the state, have been identified.

March 26: Brevard County closes down beaches Friday through Sunday during peak hours. A 9-year-old Orange County boy tests positive for COVID-19, one of 119 cases in Orange County and 2,484 statewide.

March 27: Seminole County issues a social-distancing mandate, which is not the same as a stay-at-home order like the ones in effect in Orange and Osceola counties. Across Florida, 3,198 people have contracted the respiratory illness, 46 of whom have died.

March 29: The Florida Department of Health reports there are 4,950 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. The death toll increased to 60.

March 30: DeSantis asks retired first responders and medical personnel to return to the workforce so they can help to stop the spread of the coronavirus. He also issues an executive order requiring residents in Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties to stay at home. Those counties account for more than half the COVID-19 cases in the state. The Department of Education announces that in-person classes won’t resume at Florida schools until at least May 1. The state reports 5,704 cases and 71 deaths.

Researchers in Washington state who are studying the spread of COVID-19, are now saying Florida is expected to see the worst of the outbreak in mid April instead of the beginning of May.

March 31: With another jump, Florida is now at 6,741 cases and 85 deaths. Sumter County, which includes part of The Villages, issues a stay-at-home advisory.

April 1: Although he’s been reluctant to do so, DeSantis issues a statewide stay-at-home order that will go into effect toward the end of the week.

April 2: A cruise ship that had at least two passengers die of coronavirus while barred from South American ports finally docked in Florida after two weeks at sea and days of negotiations with initially resistant local officials. The number of coronavirus cases is 8,010 with 144 dead.

April 3: A new report highlights the number of hospital beds across the state. Seminole County officials issue an order requiring those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home until they are medically cleared after learning that some patients left isolation and went out in public. The workweek ends with the state’s death toll at 170 and 10,268 total cases.

April 5: By 6 p.m., 221 people are dead and 12,350 have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

April 6: New models show that the peak for deaths in Florida could be two weeks earlier than expected as a result of a statewide stay-at-home order. DeSantis announces that employees have been moved from other state agencies in order to helped overwhelmed workers at the Department of Economic Opportunity who are trying to respond to unemployment claims.

April 7: Brevard County sees its first two deaths as the statewide number reaches 296 deaths and 14,747 cases.

April 13: Osceola County is now requiring residents to wear a face covering while in public. Initially, the mandate levied a hefty fine against anyone who violated the order but officials reversed course that same day and said they would no longer punish residents who didn’t have face masks. The Orange County mayor said he considered a similar measure but ultimately decided against it because it would be too hard to enforce. He also said data seems to suggest that the region’s curve could be flattening but it’s too early to tell. There are 21,019 people who have tested positive and 499 who have died.

Independent contractors, gig workers and people who are self-employed have expressed frustration that they have not received guidance on obtaining federal unemployment assistance since Congress passed the Cares Act more than three weeks ago.

April 17: Florida’s governor gives the green light for some beaches and parks to reopen if it can be done safely, and north Florida beaches became among the first to allow people to return

April 18: DeSantis announces that schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year. Florida releases the names of long-term care facilities that have experienced coronavirus cases among their residents or staff.

April 19: There are exactly 26,314 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 774 deaths.

April 20: The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity releases a new dashboard showing the number of unemployment claims. At this point, payments have been issued for 6% of verified claims. The Re-Open Florida Task Force meets for the first time and is given sobering data about the financial impact of the virus. Cases reach 27,058, deaths are at 823 and 4,000 are hospitalized all as the governor says the curve is flattening.

April 21: Flagler County officials announce that beaches will open for exercise but not socializing. DeSantis says, “We have flattened the curve” and the state is past the point of overwhelming hospitals with COVID-19 patients. There are 27,869 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 867 deaths.

April 22: Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach open the shores back up to sunbathers in groups of five or fewer.

April 23: More than one million Floridians have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began to affect the state’s economy. Many start to outline what it will look like when restaurants and theme parks do reopen, although there is no timeline for either. Although officials continue to say the curve has flattened, the state sees more than 1,300 new cases, the most new cases in a single day since April 2. The new total is 29,648 cases.

April 28: Speaking from the White House, DeSantis says he plans to make an announcement on when the state will reopen in about 24 hours. By Tuesday, 1,171 have died as the result of COVID-19 related complications, according to the DOH, that number is part of the 32,846 people in Florida who have tested positive for the virus.

April 29: DeSantis announces that the stay-at-home order will lift for the majority of the state apart from the hardest-hit counties on May 4. Many businesses that have been shuttered for weeks will be permitted to operate at limited capacity but gyms and salons will remain closed.

On Wednesday, leaders from Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando presented plans to Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force detailing how they plan to safely start accepting guests again after being closed for more than two months to stop the spread of COVID-19.

May 2: During a rountable discussion at an Orange County salon, DeSantis says he’s working to get salons and barbershops open as soon as it’s safe. He doesn’t give a timeline for when that could happen.

May 4: With a total of 36,897 coronavirus cases statewide, Florida slowly begins to reopen. Restaurants and retailers can now operate with limited capacity.

May 5: DeSantis says the most recent positivity rate is around 2%, which is the lowest it’s been thus far. He plans to unveil a mobile testing lab that can travel to nursing homes and other potential hot spots to provide test results in 45 minutes and new antibody lanes added to state-run drive-thru testing sites.

May 15: DeSantis announces that on May 18, Florida will enter what he calls “full phase one” of reopening. That includes allowing gyms and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity.

May 22: Universal will be the first Central Florida park to begin reopening its properties to the general public starting June 5.

May 29: Disney and SeaWorld get approval to open in July and June, respectively. Both parks will have limited capacity and require the use of face masks.

June 2: Florida reports 70 deaths in one day as protests for George Floyd take place across the state.

June 3: DeSantis announces that Florida will enter phase two of reopening starting June 5. That means bars, tattoo parlors and other establishments will be able to reopen. Here’s what else to expect.

June 5: Most of Florida, except for the hardest-hit counties, is now in phase two of reopening. At the same time, Universal Orlando opens its parks to the general public for the first time in months, making it the first Central Florida theme park to do so in months.

June 11: SeaWorld reopens with limited capacity and enhanced health and safety guidelines. On the same day, leaders in Seminole and Orange counties sound the alarm as they see a spike in cases.

June 19: As numbers continue to increase by the thousands each day, DeSantis insists that he’s not concerned because the patients are getting younger and experiencing fewer symptoms.

June 20: A new mandate requiring Orange County residents to wear masks while in public goes into effect. Florida reports more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest single-day increase since the pandemic began.

June 22: A bar near UCF has its liquor license suspended after multiple employees and patrons tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier that day, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said 152 cases were linked to an unnamed bar near campus. Leaders had previously said that UCF-area bars could be a reason for the increase in cases on that side of town.

June 26: The state announces that Florida bars will no longer be able to serve alcohol for on-site consumption. The new rule does not apply to restaurants. That day set a new record for new cases with 8,942.

June 27: Breaking the record from the previous day, Florida reports 9,585 new COVID-19 cases. Officials in South Florida announce that beaches will close for the Fourth of July weekend.

July 4: On the Independence Day holiday, the state reports a record 11,458 new cases.

July 6: An order is issued requiring Florida schools to open at least five days a week for in-person learning come August.

July 8: AHCA data shows that some of Central Florida’s largest hospitals are out of ICU beds but leaders with those hospital systems say they have contingency plans in place and can expand capacity if needed. At the same time, hospitalizations in Seminole County reach a new high as the medical director says he is worried about a possible surge.

July 10: Florida nearly reaches the record set on July 4 with 11,433 new cases.

July 11: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopen to the general public for the first time in months.

July 12: Beating the record set just days earlier, Florida reports 15,299 new cases.

July 16: Florida reports a record 156 deaths.

Florida surpassed 500,000 positive coronavirus cases as the school year approaches and students prepare to hit the books either in-person or remotely.

July 17: A 9-year-old Florida girl dies as a result of a COVID-19 infection. She’s believed to be the state’s youngest victim.

July 24: A significant outbreak involving 66 residents and 30 staff members at Ocoee Health Center in Orange County is reported. The Florida High School Athletic Association’s board votes to delay the start of practices for fall sports back. President Donald Trump announces that the GOP convention will no longer be held in Jacksonville.

July 25: The Department of Business and Professional Regulation announces that meetings will soon begin to determine a way to safely reopen bars and breweries.

July 27: More cases and six deaths are tied to outbreaks at three long-term care facilities in Orange County. Florida reports a cumulative 432,747 COVID-19 cases, surpassing New York’s total. Vice President Mike Pence visits the University of Miami to announce the school is participating in a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine.

July 28: Florida sets a new record for the most deaths reported in a single day, this time it’s 191 fatalities. The cumulative death toll is now at 6,201 while the case total is at 441,977.

July 29: Breaking the record set just the day before, Florida reports 217 new COVID-19 deaths. With Florida in a cone for a potential tropical cyclone, DeSantis says he is monitoring the storm “very closely” while local leaders prepare for a potential impact and having to space out shelters.

July 30: For the third day in a row, Florida reports a record number of deaths, this time with 252.

July 31: Florida reports 257 new deaths, breaking the previous record for the fourth day in a row.

Aug. 3: Florida reports its lowest daily case total in more than a month with 4,752 cases. The governor announces that soon, all state-supported COVID-19 testing sites will have lanes for symptomatic people with the goal being that they receive their results in a timely manner.

Aug. 4: The daily case total was lower than it has been in recent weeks with 5,500 new cases but the death toll was near the record high with 247.

Aug. 10: As students in Orange County all begin the semester virtually, Florida reported 93 new COVID-19 deaths and 4,155 new positive cases. The last time Florida’s new case count was this low was on June 20.

Aug. 11: Although cases have been trending downward in recent days, Florida once again set a new record for deaths with 277 reported Tuesday.

Aug. 17: As Seminole County students return to school for the first time in months, Florida reports its lowest count of new COVID-19 cases since mid-June with 2,678. A total of 87 new deaths were also reported.

Aug. 31: With cases on the decline for weeks, Florida reports 1,885 new cases, bringing the state’s overall total to 623,471 since March. The last time Florida reported a new case count under 2,000 was on June 15.

Sept. 1: The state cuts ties with Quest Diagnostics after a data dump of test results, some of which were several months old. DeSantis announces that nursing home residents can have visitors once again.

Sept. 10: The state announces that bars can reopen beginning Sept. 14 with 50% indoor capacity.

Sept. 11: Given that case numbers are improving even in South Florida, DeSantis says that Miami-Dade and Broward counties can enter phase two of reopening.

Sept. 25: DeSantis announces that effective immediately, Florida will move into phase three of reopening. This lifts any state capacity restrictions on restaurants and bars. The governor also has made it so local governments can’t restrict restaurants from operating at less than 50% capacity.