by Freida Frisaro and Adriana Gomez Licon, Associated Press | March 13, 2020
MIAMI (AP) - Theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort will be closing through the end of the month, starting at the close of business Sunday, the Walt Disney Co. announced. 

The company said in a statement Thursday that the decision was made "in an abundance of caution" to protect guests and employees amid the global outbreak of the new coronavirus. The decision came hours after the announcement of the planned closure of Disneyland in California. 

Additionally, Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday and continuing through the end of the month, the statement said. The Walt Disney Co. will pay its cast members during that closure period, according to the release.

The hotels at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open, along with the shops and restaurants at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, according to the news release. 

Orlando is the nation's most visited tourist destination, bringing vast numbers of people from around the globe to its major theme parks, which also include Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando. The city attracted 75 million visitors in 2018. No one has tested positive in the two counties that are home to the popular amusement parks. 

Universal Orlando Resort also announced in its own emailed statement that it will temporarily close its theme parks starting at the end of business on Sunday. The company said it anticipates remaining closed through the end of March but will continue to evaluate the situation.

Universal Orlando's hotels and Universal CityWalk will remain open and the company has instituted flexible programs for guests who had booked travel packages and tickets with the resort.

In a day of fast-moving developments, NASCAR announced a March 22 race in Homestead, Fla., would take place without fans. 

And Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced the cancellation of the Miami Open tennis tournament. 

Florida's governor has strongly advised municipalities and businesses to limit or postpone large gatherings as concerns spiked over the new coronavirus. 

The number of cases statewide was raised to 42 after the state health department announced late Thursday that 15 people ranging in ages from 20 to 83 tested positive for COVID-19. Most appear to be travel-related but in at least six cases, the cause was not immediately clear.

"I am recommending to local municipalities and private entities to strongly consider limiting or postponing mass gatherings," Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday in Miami. 

It is normally a busy time of year in Florida as the Sunshine State usually hosts lucrative spring break tourism. 

Miami Beach authorities declared spring break over, suspending permits for concerts and an LGBTQ festival as venues in the city shut down. 

Florida politicians also expressed concerns about coming into contact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's press secretary Fabio Wajngarten. Wajngarten tested positive for the virus after he joined Bolsonaro while visiting South Florida over the weekend and Monday - including a meeting with President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. 

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and the Miami-Dade County mayor announced in news releases or on Twitter on Thursday that they would be self-isolating. Scott said he did not feel ill and was told he did not need to be tested, but that he would isolate himself as a precaution.

The new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people. But it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia in older adults and people with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover within weeks. 

DeSantis said most of the Florida infections stem from international travel, especially noting that 10 of the positive cases in the state involved people returning from a cruise on the Nile River in Egypt. One of those resulted in one of the two deaths reported by the state. 


The case of a 61-year-old man from Broward County is associated with the Port Everglades cruise ship terminal. Two other cases include a 63-year-old New York resident, who was in Florida for Daytona Beach's Bike Week and a 70-year-old Broward County resident who attended a recent Emergency Medical Services conference in Tampa. 

A passenger on a JetBlue flight from New York that arrived late Wednesday at Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19 and other passengers were advised to monitor their health, authorities said.

Even though most cases in Florida are linked to travel outside the state, universities, government officials and businesses are taking measures to control the spread within the state.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said museums and venues were shutting down altogether or canceling their events. The city will not issue permits for spring break concerts and the Miami Beach Gay Pride parade, scheduled for early April. Public beaches are still open.

"To the extent that anyone can declare spring break is over, it is over this year," Gelber said. 

Public universities - which have some of the country's largest enrollments - will move to remote instruction effective Monday. Schools in Broward County - the county with the highest number of infections at 7- are canceling academic, athletic and extracurricular events starting Monday.

As a further precaution ahead of Tuesday's presidential primary, the governor urged elections officials to move any polling places away from nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly. And he suspended all official travel for state employees for 30 days.
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