- Associated Press - Friday, November 20, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - One of Florida’s U.S. senators announced Friday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, one of more than 9,000 people newly diagnosed in the state, while several hospitals said they would be among the first to obtain doses of a vaccine.

It was the second straight day that Florida logged more than 9,000 new cases of the virus, according to figures provided by the state Department of Health.

Over the past week, Florida averaged more than 7,390 newly reported cases per day, an increase from about 2,250 at the start of October.

The seven-day average of reported deaths is about 64, up from 54 a week earlier. That compares to a peak of 185 in early August. At least 18,110 people in Florida have died since March of COVID-19, the disease cause by the virus. A total of 923,418 people in Florida have contracted the virus.

While deaths, hospitalizations and cases are ticking up, there is hope on the horizon.

Tampa General Hospital, AdventHealth Orlando, UF Health Jacksonville, Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County and Memorial Healthcare System in southern Broward County are among the providers who are working with the Florida Department of Health to help roll out the vaccine when it becomes available.

A spokesperson for Jackson said that the hospital network expected a shipment in mid-December, and could begin immediately giving the vaccine to hospital employees immediately.

“During the first phase, the vaccine will be available for frontline healthcare workers in hospitals, long-term care staff and residents, and first responders,” the hospital network said in an emailed statement to the Miami Herald.

But public health experts warned that until the vaccine is widely available, people should still wear masks and socially distance from others.

Also Friday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was isolating at home with “very mild symptoms.”

Scott, 67, has been quarantining at home all week after coming into contact in Florida on Nov. 13 with someone who subsequently tested positive. His office said he had “multiple negative rapid tests earlier in the week” but a test he took Tuesday came back positive Friday morning.

Scott, a Republican, said he was “feeling good” despite the mild symptoms and would be working at his home. The former Florida governor was recently elected as the chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, leading GOP fundraising and recruiting efforts.

Also Friday, the Toronto Raptors basketball team said it will start the NBA season next month in Tampa, Florida, because of travel restrictions the Canadian government has put in place stemming from the pandemic.

The Raptors will play home games at Amalie Arena, home of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said in a statement Friday.

An official familiar with the Canadian government’s decision told The Associated Press there is too much COVID-19 circulating in the United States to allow for cross-border travel that is not essential.

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