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VIRUS OUTBREAK-FLORIDA

Prominent Florida convention center becoming a hospital

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two months ago, the Miami Beach Convention Center hosted tens of thousands of Super Bowl guests visiting the NFL’s traveling museum and interactive displays. Now it is being set up by the Army Corps of Engineers as a 450-bed overflow hospital in case South Florida facilities become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the site Wednesday, saying the corps has told him it will be ready by April 21. That's when models show the disease could be nearing its peak in the state. Almost 15,700 cases have been diagnosed statewide and more than 2,000 people are hospitalized. There have been more than 300 deaths.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FLORIDA ELECTIONS

Hurricanes, cyber risks _ and virus _ imperil Florida vote

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — As if hurricanes and cyberthreats weren't enough, Florida elections officials say they now have a full-blown pandemic to worry about as they scurry to prepare for November's crucial presidential election. Elections supervisors from the state's 67 counties are asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue an executive order to loosen some election rules to give local officials flexibility in where they put polling places and when people can vote. With staffing an issue because of continuing worries over the coronavirus outbreak, elections officials say they will be pushing more Floridians to vote by mail, even as they acknowledge that the state is not prepared to conduct upcoming elections entirely by mail.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-TERROR CHARGES

US charges 2 with terror crimes over threats to spread virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department has charged two people with federal terrorism offenses for claiming they were intentionally trying to spread the new coronavirus. The charges announced Wednesday were brought in separate cases in Texas and Florida. They come about a week after Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen instructed federal prosecutors across the U.S. that they could charge people who threaten to spread the coronavirus under the terrorism statutes because the Justice Department considers it a “biological agent” under the law.

AP-US-VIRUS-OUTBREAK-COVIDIOT

Hawaii mayor: Florida man flouting quarantine was 'covidiot'

HONOLULU (AP) — A mayor in Hawaii is calling a Florida man accused of trying to flout Hawaii’s traveler quarantine a covidiot. Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami isn’t taking credit for coining the word, but says he may be the first elected official to have used it in public. Bobby Edwards of Boynton Beach was arrested after landing on the island without proof that he had accommodations set up. A statewide order requires those arriving in the islands to quarantine for 14 days. Kawakami says the recent arrests of Edwards and two others sends a message that Kauai is fighting to protect residents from the spread of the coronavirus.

FATAL PLANE CRASH-FLORIDA

NTSB: Small plane that crashed likely took off without fuel

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A preliminary NTSB report says a plane that crashed into a Florida neighborhood took off with fuel tanks that were ruptured and contained “no evidence of residual fuel.” The single-engine Grumman American AA-5 plane crashed in Boynton Beach on March 6, killing the 67-year-old pilot. It had taken off from nearby Lantana Airport. The report posted Wednesday morning also says the valve that switches between the tanks, located on each wing, didn't have fuel and the carburetor’s float bowl contained only drops. There was also not a smell of fuel at the crash site that day.

AP-VIRUS OUTBREAK-FLORIDA

Pressure builds to make Florida's jobless claims retroactive

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Pressure is mounting on Florida officials to make jobless benefits retroactive as the state's newly unemployed continue having problems filing claims with the state’s problem-riddled unemployment system. And Florida's congressional Democrats called Tuesday on Gov. Ron DeSantis to extend unemployment benefits beyond the current 12-week limit and raise the $275 a week cap, which is among the lowest in the country. It remained unclear Tuesday how quickly Florida can begin issuing checks to hundreds of thousands of jobless who are left without income by stay-at-home orders and the virus-induced downturn. Florida has topped 14,500 confirmed virus cases with 295 deaths.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FLORIDA CROPS

Coronavirus claims an unexpected victim: Florida vegetables

PALMETTO, Fla. (AP) — Thousands of acres of fruits and vegetables grown in Florida are being plowed over or left to rot because farmers can't sell to restaurants, theme parks or schools nationwide that have closed because of the coronavirus. Other states are having similar issues. Leafy greens in California are being hit hard, and dairy farmers in Vermont and Wisconsin say they've had to dump a surplus of milk intended for restaurants. Many Florida growers have donated to food banks, but there’s a limit on what the charities can accept. Farmers are scrambling to sell to grocery stores but many already have contracts.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FIELD HOSPITAL

Miami Beach convention center to convert into field hospital

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Beach Convention Center is going to be converted into a field hospital during the coronavirus pandemic. News outlets report the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will transform the newly renovated facility into a hospital by April 27. It hasn't been announced whether the convention center will house coronavirus patients or serve as an overflow hospital. The Miami Herald reports the decision to install 450 preliminary beds in the center was made in order to prepare the city for the worst case scenario. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber says the field hospital will hopefully sit vacant until it's dismantled.

AP-US-BABY-LEOPARDS

Cuteness alert: Zoo Miami shows off clouded leopard kittens

MIAMI (AP) — Zoo Miami is welcoming the births of two highly endangered clouded leopards. The South Florida zoo says the male and female have been secluded with their mother, Serai, since birth on Feb. 11 so that they could properly bond while avoiding external stress. Zookeepers took the kittens briefly on Tuesday to check their development and give them vaccines. Officials say both appear to be thriving, and the mother continues to be attentive and nursing them regularly. Zoo spokesman Ron Magill says he hopes sharing their pictures can bring a smile to people's faces amid the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-DISNEY FURLOUGHS

Disney, musicians union agree on virus-related furloughs

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney and a union representing musicians that perform at its theme parks have reached an agreement that extends the company’s furloughs to union workers while maintaining their health benefits. A joint statement from the union and the company says the agreement was reached Tuesday night. It's not immediately known how many union workers will be affected by the furloughs, which will be effective April 19. Disney shut down its Florida and California theme parks last month as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. Workers have been paid but Disney recently announced furloughs for some non-union staff.