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Virus alert: State watches coronavirus

By Staff | Mar 5, 2020

With the number of cases nudging up, officials statewide continue to monitor the new coronavirus.

Last Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in an executive order, declared a public health emergency after the state recorded its first two cases of COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus.

At a press conference Monday at the Florida Department of Health Tampa Branch Laboratory, DeSantis confirmed the two cases, located in Hillsborough and Manatee counties. On Wednesday, DeSantis confirmed a third case being the sister of the patient from Hillsborough County. They had just visited Italy, a country that is struggling with the virus.

On Thursday in Gadsden County, DeSantis confirmed an additional presumptive positive case within the state, bringing the total to four. DeSantis said a man in his 70s in Santa Rosa County tested positive in a local test. The man does have underlying medical conditions and has traveled abroad. He is awaiting confirmation from the CDC.

Last week, DeSantis met with Vice President Mike Pence who has been chosen to take the lead nationally on the coronavirus by President Donald Trump.

“I have been working with federal partners and our Department of Health to ensure that communities are ready to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said DeSantis in a release. “The dedicated professionals at our county health departments, as well as those working at local medical providers, are well equipped to address these and future cases. State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees has taken appropriate, decisive action to help affect the best possible outcomes, and I will continue directing our state agencies to do whatever is necessary to prioritize the health and well-being of Florida residents.”

DeSantis said at the press conference Monday that 23 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Florida, 184 are being monitored by the state and that 795 total people are being monitored all together. As of Thursday, 69 patients have been tested and 248 residents were being monitored for symptoms by the state.

DeSantis said he is anticipating more confirmed cases in the near future but that the overall immediate threat to the public remains low.

The first Floridian who tested positive was an adult in Manatee County without a travel history to countries identified for restricted travel by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDOH is working closely with the patient, their close contacts and health care providers to isolate and monitor persons who may have been exposed and implementing testing of anyone who may develop symptoms including fever, cough or shortness of breath.

The second patient is an adult resident of Hillsborough County with a history of travel to Italy, where authorities have confirmed 1,694 cases of the virus. Both patients are isolated and will remain so until cleared by public health officials.

“This is the scenario that we prepare for every day in public health,” said Dr. Rivkees, in a release. “The Department is moving forward with the appropriate plans, and we are working directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local medical providers to ensure these individuals receive the proper treatment and that anyone who has come into contact with them is following the necessary protocols, limiting or stopping any further spread. Thanks to Florida’s integrated public health system, we have been able to proactively engage and plan with our public health partners at every level, enabling us to take these important steps in a very expeditious manner. Our epidemiological teams are among the best in the nation, and they are right now aggressively pursuing every potential lead during these critical early moments of this outbreak in Florida.”

According to FDOH, COVID-19 can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure. Most people recover without needing special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. FDOH always recommends everyday preventive actions to help impede the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

* Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;

* Staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with persons in poor health;

* Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;

* Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then disposing of the tissue;

* Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;

* If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty; and

* Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

“Florida is a national leader in public health, and that quickly became evident as soon as we received information regarding presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in our state,” said Lt. Governor, Jeanette Nunez, in a release. “Public health teams from our Department of Health have already begun engaging with the impacted individuals and are quickly working towards identifying and contacting everyone who may be potentially affected by this virus. Thanks to the extensive preparations and tireless work the Department’s staff has been undertaking since information regarding COVID-19 became available in early January, our county health departments, medical providers and all other partners in public health are well prepared to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Areas that are under CDC travel advisory include China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan. The CDC is recommending travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the aforementioned areas.

There are five other cases of coronavirus tied to Florida, as five residents recently traveled to China and are being isolated in other states.

For more information, visit the FDOH COVID-19 webpage at www.FloridaHealth.gov/COVID-19.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-(866) 779-6121 or emailing COVID-19@flhealth.gov. The Call Center is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition, please visit www.floridahealth.gov/all-county-locations.html to locate and obtain contact information for your local CHD.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj