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Orlando conventions and Florida festival cancellations mount as lawmakers ponder coronavirus impacts


By John Haughey | The Center Square

Three Orlando conventions, including one President Donald Trump was to address, and two Miami festivals are among Florida events that have been cancelled or postponed because of the coronavirus scare.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Friday the three conventions, representing an Orlando-area economic impact of $154 million, have been scratched, although COVID-19 fears do not appear to be having much impact on individual leisure travel to attractions such as Disney World.

“Our leisure travelers continue to come to Orange County to enjoy our theme parks, and all that we have to offer,” Demings told reporters. “We want to emphasize that we, in Orange County, are open for business.”

Among the cancelled events is a Minecraft conference expected to draw 15,000 video-game enthusiasts and a Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference that was projected to draw 43,000 attendees to Orlando next week. Trump was scheduled to speak Monday.

“It is clear that it would be an unacceptable risk to bring so many thousands of people together in Orlando next week,” HIMSS CEO Hal Wolf said.

Other cancellations include Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, which draws up to 55,000 visitors annually, and the Calle Ocho Festival, scheduled to begin March 15, that attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year to heart of Little Havana.

The cancellations were announced Thursday and Friday as a fourth Floridian – a Santa Rosa County man in his 70s – tested positive for COVID-19, which is a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

No new cases had been reported as of mid-afternoon Friday on the Florida Department of Health (DOH) coronavirus website, which listed four positive tests and five Floridians in isolation in other states after returning from trips to China.

The site tallied the number of negative test results at 55, and the number of pending test results at 51. Statewide, 264 people are being monitored. Collectively, 981 people in Florida have been monitored for symptoms.

The coronavirus emergency, declared by State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees on Sunday night, surfaced as a factor in budget deliberations in the Legislature.

House Democrats argued Thursday and Friday that the chamber’s proposed tax plan, which includes $543 million in corporate tax breaks and $193 million in taxpayer relief, is unwise when the COVID-19 outbreak could disrupt tourism, the state’s biggest industry.

“Have we considered how this global health crisis will suck money out or affect Floridians?” Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, asked of Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, who is spearheading House Bill 7097, the House tax package, during Thursday’s floor debate.

“I don’t think that’s the substance of this bill,” Avila said.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters Thursday that responding to the coronavirus will have an effect on the state’s budget even with Trump signing an $8.3 billion emergency funding package.

“We need to continue to put emphasis on our reserves,’’ Galvano said. “It also makes a case for having a messaging entity like Visit Florida,” the state’s embattled tourist marketing agency that the House’s proposed budget defunds and disbands.

The federal bill allocates $950 million to state governments to bolster their COVID-19 responses, money Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday the state will use to purchase more kits to test patients for COVID-19.

“We don’t have them yet. We’d like to get them obviously as soon as possible,” DeSantis said. “To be able to do that local testing would make a big, big difference.”

Coronavirus, event cancellations, The Center Square


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