On March 1, 2020, Florida became the third state in the United States with a documented COVID-19 case, during the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. Within two weeks, widespread closures of public schools, resorts, and theme parks had been announced throughout the state.
On March 5, a new case was announce involving an "elderly [man] with severe underlying [health] conditions" in Santa Rosa County who had recently traveled outside the United States. The Department of Health announced three new cases late on March 6, two in Broward County and one in Lee County. Officials also announced two deaths.
On March 9, nine new cases were announced, bringing the total cases from 14 to 23.Princess Cruises terminated a planned stop of the cruise ship Caribbean Princess in Grand Cayman after it was discovered that two of its crew members had recently transferred from Grand Princess in California. The cruise ship was ordered to anchor off the coast of Fort Lauderdale while its passengers and crew could be tested for coronavirus. Furthermore, a fourth Princess Cruises cruise ship, Regal Princess, was placed on a "no sail order" off the Florida coast after it was discovered that two of its crew members had recently transferred from Grand Princess in California.
On March 10, the first case in Alachua County was confirmed. On March 11, UF Health Shands Hospital confirmed they were treating their first patient with a case of coronavirus, but declined to say whether it was the same person who tested positive for the virus earlier in the week. On March 13, it was confirmed that Mayor of MiamiFrancis X. Suarez had contracted the virus. That night, the Department of Health confirmed that an Orange County resident died in California after contracting COVID-19 while traveling.
On March 17, a male resident of an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale died. On March 18, it was disclosed that possibly 19 senior living facilities could be infected by the coronavirus. By that time, Florida had completed 1,132 diagnostic tests for COVID-19 and of 1,539 tests, 314 were confirmed as being positive. There were 1,000 test results that were still pending and seven victims had died in the state, including one in Broward County. The state had bought 2,500 testing kits.
On March 18, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami tested positive for the coronavirus. After his diagnosis, he self-quarantined in his Washington, D.C. apartment.
By March 20, the number of positive test case had climbed to 520. A Pasco and a Broward County resident died. A man who returned to California after visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando approximately two weeks prior died from the virus.
By March 21, cases in Florida reached 763 presumptive positive cases. By March 22, the total had exceeded 1,000 cases.
As of March 27, 2,900 cases has been identified and at least 34 deaths has occurred due to COVID-19. The number of deaths were expected to double every three days.
On April 1, Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order following growing pressure to do so.
On March 1, Governor DeSantis declared a public health emergency after two cases were confirmed in Manatee County and Hillsborough County. On March 17, he ordered all bars and nightclubs to be closed for 30 days, extended school closures to April 15, and cancelled state-mandated school testing.
By the third week of the pandemic's presence in Florida, DeSantis began attracting criticism for the state's slow response to the pandemic, particularly for deferring beach closings to local governments during spring break while vacationers continued to congregate. The Miami Herald's editorial board wrote an editorial condemning DeSantis inaction in requesting help from the federal government, while noting his vocal support of U.S. President Donald Trump. Speculation mounted that DeSantis's decision not to lock down the state was influenced by business interests, instead of health experts. Business lobbyists including the Florida Chamber of Commerce urged the Governor not to "take drastic measures that might shut down the state’s economy". On March 27, more than 900 health care workers signed a letter asking DeSantis to order citizens to shelter-in-place, and take other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. A similar letter written by Doctors for America was signed by 500 health care professionals a few days earlier.
On March 27, DeSantis expanded a previous order requiring airline travelers from New York City to self-quarantine for fourteen days to include people who enter from Louisiana via Interstate 10.
On March 30, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the South Florida counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe, where over 58% of the state's coronavirus cases were concentrated. He stated that the order would remain in effect at least until the middle of May.
On April 1, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state, effective for 30 days, after a call with the president. This followed criticism from experts that more strict measures were necessary to contain the virus.
Early in March, the pandemic began having an impact throughout Florida as state and local government, businesses, and public institutions took measures to slow the spread of the virus.
On March 10, Joseph Glover, the provost of the University of Florida, sent out a recommendation to UF professors to transition their classes online. The following day, UF announced all its classes for the spring semester will be transitioned online by the following Monday, and encouraged students to return to their hometowns.