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Testing Florida's Largest Retirement Community For Coronavirus

Updated at 6:47 p.m. ET

A drive-through site to test for the coronavirus has been set up for golf carts at a massive retirement community in central Florida. More than 125,000 people live in The Villages, north of Orlando. Because the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the virus, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was concerned about getting protections in place for the senior citizens who live there.

Doctors from the University of Florida say the tests are part of research looking at the transmission rates of the coronavirus. The tests will be available not just for people with COVID-19 symptoms, but also for people who have no symptoms. Dr. Michael Lauzardo, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Florida says, "The most important question we're trying to determine is how any people have the virus but are showing no symptoms at all."

Some studies have shown young people can have high levels of virus, but display no symptoms. Lauzardo says the research will look at whether that also occurs in older people. Two thousand people will be tested this week in the Villages and the majority will be part of the research project.

The Villages, populated with many retirees from the Midwest, is strongly Republican. President Trump and fellow Republican Gov. DeSantis both made campaign stops here. DeSantis says it's a community where residents are very active, but with the coronavirus, that has changed. "They don't do inside events. They don't do groups anymore," DeSantis says. "You still see people on the golf course because they do social distancing golf, where everyone is in their own cart and you don't shake hands or touch the flag stick."

At the Villages, DeSantis also defended his decision not to issue a shelter in place order, something many other states have done. At this point, DeSantis says, more than half of Florida's counties have few if any cases of coronavirus. And shelter in place orders, he says, can have negative consequences.

Later, at a news conference in the state Capitol, DeSantis said a stay-at-home order announced last week in New York sparked a surge in the number of flights to Florida from the New York City area. He said a week ago, there were just 20 direct flights, and Monday there were 190. DeSantis said, "I would reckon given the outbreak there, that every single fight has somebody on it who is positive for COVID-19. And so, as we're working to stop it in the state of Florida, you're consistently having people come in from one of the top hotspots in the entire world." DeSantis said he's spoken to President Trump about the issue and asked him to impose restrictions on flights from the New York City area.

DeSantis said in the meantime, he's issuing an executive order requiring people who fly from New York or New Jersey to be in isolation for 14 days upon arrival in Florida. He said law enforcement officers and health department officials will greet every incoming flight from the New York City area. "I think they're going to do temperature checks," he said. "And they're going to be told, 'You have to self-quarantine.' " DeSantis says that means they shouldn't stay with family members. "The number one way this is transmitted is close contact, very frequently (with) family members."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.