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Florida governor refuses to close beaches as coronavirus cases rise

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisPolice called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Officials: Florida man changed Gov. DeSantis's address, delaying him from voting Voting rights groups warn of problems in Florida MORE (R) said Tuesday that he will not be ordering the beaches in his state to close despite growing concerns over the international COVID-19 outbreak, NBC News reports

DeSantis said that beaches in the state must adhere to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has advised the public to practice social distancing and avoid gatherings with more than 10 people.

"What we're going to be doing for the statewide floor for beaches, we're going to be applying the CDC guidance of no group on a beach more than 10 and you have to have distance apart if you're going to be out there. So that applies statewide,” DeSantis reportedly said at a press conference.

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“We’ve seen some big crowds on the west coast of Florida and I’ve had a chance to speak to mayors on both coast today,” DeSantis also said, according to a local NBC affiliate. “If … they want to continue to [leave the beach open], we want them to have the freedom to do that, but we also want them to have the freedom to do more if they see fit.” 

The Florida Republican added that it is “not uniform throughout the state that you're seeing massive crowds at beaches.” 

However, DeSantis did urge students celebrating spring break to exercise more caution as the state works to combat the spread. Florida's Department of Health has reported more than 280 cases of residents with the virus and seven deaths so far.

“The universities with the spring break … a lot of students have just been congregating at the universities and going out and doing things there, and that’s not something we want,” DeSantis said at one point during his press conference on Tuesday, according to Fox News.

His comments came after footage went viral recently showing thousands of beachgoers descending on Clearwater Beach, Fla., despite warnings from health officials urging social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Though the CDC has said experts are still learning how the novel coronavirus spreads, it says on its website that the disease is thought to be transmitted primarily through “person-to-person" contact.

The CDC says more than 7,000 U.S. cases have been reported so far and more than 90 deaths. 

The number of those infected by the virus, which was first detected in China months ago, is much higher worldwide, with The New York Times placing the overall number of cases at more than 209,000. According to the Times, more than 8,700 deaths have been reported worldwide.