On March 7, Robert Redfield — the head of the leading national public health institute in the U.S., the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention — spoke in Fort Lauderdale on behalf of Florida’s tourism industry amid growing concern for the massive threat to the state’s economy.
At the time, there were eight coronavirus cases in Florida — two, fatal, Florida Phoenix reported. Also in the meeting with cruise line executives that day were Vice President Mike Pence; Chad Wolf, acting secretary for Homeland Security; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“I would not encourage anyone to change their plans at this point based on what the epidemiology is here in Florida,” said Redfield, director of the CDC. “They should enjoy Disneyland, they should enjoy the rest of Florida.”
The goal of the meeting, Pence said, was “to ensure that the American people can continue as we deal with the coronavirus to enjoy the opportunities in the cruise line industry and be confident that the industry and our government at every level are working in concert to ensure their health and well-being.”
Just five days later on March 12, Disney announced that “in an abundance of caution,” it would close its flagship Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland Paris on March 15. All 11 Disney theme parks including Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California and Disney in Asia and Europe have now been closed, along with the Disney Cruise Line.
Disney Orlando is the world’s most-visited theme park, with more than 20 million visitors in 2018, according to a report by AECOM. A complete closure is rare. Hurricanes Floyd, Charley, Matthew, Irma and Dorian prompted closures in the past.
Also on March 12, CDC director Redfield admitted that some Americans who had been declared dead from influenza tested positive for coronavirus in the postmortem. During a House Oversight Committee meeting, Redfield said, “The standard practice is the first thing you do is test for influenza.”
Jeffrey Ghazarian, a 34-year-old man from Glendora, Calif., 23 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, died after testing positive for COVID-19. He had recently visited Walt Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, FoxLA, reported.
Ghazarian had flown from Los Angeles to Orlando on March 2 for a work conference, according to his family. While he was in Orlando, he went to Disney World and Universal theme parks with friends. He’d had a history of asthma and bronchitis as a child and had beaten testicular cancer, putting him at higher risk for contracting coronavirus.
TMZ reported that Ghazarian began to develop a cough on March 7 and the next day he coughed up blood. He returned to Los Angeles International Airport on March 9 and went straight to the emergency room with a high fever. Diagnosed with pneumonia, he was tested for COVID-19 before being sent home with antibiotics and instructions to self-quarantine while he awaited the results. He learned on March 13 that he had tested positive for coronavirus. Ghazarian died on March 19.
There are more than 1,200 reported coronavirus cases in Florida as of Feb. 23. The death toll is 18. In the U.S., there are 43,376 cases and 545 people have died.
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