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COVID-19 brings restrictions, cancellations

By Staff | Mar 12, 2020

Six news cases of the coronavirus, including one in Lee County, were announced Thursday.

The Florida Department of Health announced three new positive cases of COVID-19, including a 57-year-old man in Lee, Thursday morning. Gov. Ron DeSantis then announced an additional three positive tests in the state Thursday afternoon.

This brings the total to 34 cases in Florida with three in Lee County.

There have been two deaths due to the virus in Florida, one being the first case seen in Lee County, a 77-year-old woman. That woman was also connected to a 77-year-old male, who remains in critical condition at Lee Health’s Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers.

The newest patient locally is currently isolated and will continue to remain so until cleared by public health officials, said a release from FDOH. Pat Dolce, spokesperson for Lee Health, said the 57-year-old individual was seen at one of the health center’s convenient care locations but is not currently under the care of the hospital. Dolce said the newest case has been “isolated.”

It is currently unclear if this was a travel-related case and an epidemiological investigation is ongoing.

Here in Cape Coral, no citywide mandates have yet been issued involving the virus, but employees at City Hall were sent a message by City Manager John Szerlag urging them to stay vigilant when it comes to individual health, such as washing hands frequently and staying home when sick.

The city has increased the number of hand sanitizer stations in high-traffic city buildings, including City Hall, the Emergency Operations Center and Public Works Annex building.

“City Hall remains open and there are no citywide mandates that have been issued by the city,” said city spokesperson Maureen Buice. “We are monitoring the spread of COVID-19 as this is a rapidly evolving situation. We are in constant communication with Lee County officials, Lee Health representatives and the Lee County Department of Health.”

As the days pass, the number of cases locally, across the nation and globally continue to climb.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, with more than 118,000 cases and 4,000 deaths worldwide. Data as of Thursday afternoon showed 1,412 total cases in the United States with 39 deaths.

As more tests are performed, officials believe the numbers may rise.

The virus has already dramatically affected countries in Europe, such as Italy, and Wednesday night President Donald Trump, in an address to the country, announced a travel ban to all areas of Europe, except for the United Kingdom, for 30 days beginning Friday.

FDOH stated in its most recent release that “the Department is issuing regular updates as information becomes available.”

DeSantis spoke in Miami-Dade County Thursday afternoon to provide an update and lay out his five key area points to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

DeSantis stated that 14 counties across the state have seen a positive coronavirus test in a patient. As of Thursday afternoon, there are 151 pending tests in the state. DeSantis tallied 392 negative tests for the virus and that overall, 963 people have been fully monitored and currently are 324 people being monitored by county health departments.

His first area of focus is to protect the vulnerable.

“This is a new virus, people are learning more about it every day, but the data is overwhelming that those who are elderly or have serious underlying medical conditions, this is a virus that could be much more significant for you than for people who may be in younger age groups or have a healthier profile,” DeSantis said. “This is a population that we certainly work hard to protect.”

DeSantis on Wednesday directed the Florida Department of Emergency Management to temporarily prohibit people who have risk of carrying the virus access to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family care homes and similar institutions.

“Once again, Governor DeSantis understands the importance of ensuring our seniors are valued and protected,” said Florida Senior Living Association President and CEO Gail Matillo, in a release. “We appreciate his swift action, as well as the Division of Emergency Management, the Agency for Healthcare Administration and the Florida Department of Health in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep Florida’s seniors safe and protected.”

His second area of focus is to increase testing capabilities throughout the state.

“I’ve directed Director (of the Florida Division of Emergency Management) Jared Moskowitz with our Emergency Operations Center to purchase 2,500 commercially available testing kits,” DeSantis said.

He expects to receive them this weekend and will give qualified labs across the state the capacity to process tests for up to 625,000 individuals. They will be strategically distributed by Florida State Surgeon Dr. Scott A. Rivkees to 50 certified labs throughout Florida.

DeSantis noted that these testing kits do not include sample collection and swab materials.

“They perform the testing of the sample,” DeSantis said. “We wanted to also purchase swab materials and sample collection materials. There’s a nationwide shortage of that right now. Though many of the labs do have some supply of these, our capacity to reach the total amount that our testing kits will allow is really dependent on how much of the materials are available or can be brought into the state where you can actually extract the sample. As soon as there’s an ability to procure more of that, we have a standing order with the Department of Emergency Management to go ahead and procure that.”

These kits will help facilities that do have swabbing and collection materials on hand.

The governor’s third area of focus is to increase social distancing measures.

DeSantis, on Wednesday, suspended visitations to state prisons for the next 30 days — with legal visits not being impacted. Thursday, he suspended all official travel for state employees for 30 days. He also directed state agencies to maximize remote working and telecommuting.

“Based on the recommendations of our health officials in the state of Florida, I am recommending to local municipalities and private entities to strongly consider limiting or postponing mass gatherings in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.

Though DeSantis said he cannot order all mass gatherings be cancelled, if they are to take place, he urged organized screening measures in place.

“For example, before entering, an attendee should be asked if they are sick or if they’ve been in contact (with areas that are experiencing a high number of cases,” DeSantis said.

When it comes to mass gatherings, the sports world has been rocked by the coronavirus outbreak.

On Wednesday, the National Basketball Association announced it would suspend the regular season until further notice, as two Utah Jazz players tested positive.

“March Madness,” or the NCAA Tournament, was also cancelled. At first, they were going to play in empty stadiums but on Thursday, the NCAA decided to cancel both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.

The National Hockey league on Thursday also decided to suspend it’s season until further notice.

Major League Baseball officials announced Thursday they will end Spring Training early and delay the regular season by at least two weeks. The economy and residents right here in Lee County would feel that blow, as the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins both play in Fort Myers during the spring.

DeSantis’ fourth area is focus is to protect health care workers and ensuring they are following proper protocols when dealing with individuals who may have coronavirus.

“We want to keep our health care workers safe and want them to be in the game,” DeSantis said.

The governor and the Division of Emergency Management are prepared for nurse shortages and are purchasing additional protective equipment for medical workers.

“Governor DeSantis, Director Moskowitz, Secretary Mayhew and Dr. Rivkees have been in lock step up with us to keep COVID-19 out of Florida’s Community Health Centers,” said Florida Association of Community Health Centers President and CEO Andrew Behrman, in a release. “I have to add that there are thousands of dedicated nurses, doctors and caretakers across the state who work every day to keep people safe, and today, Governor DeSantis also stepped up for them.”

His last focus area is to continue to monitor international and high-risk travel. Florida has experienced a high number of cases related to a Nile River Cruise in Egypt in February. DeSantis said there are 10 cases with ties to Florida from the cruise — 33 percent of positive tests seen.

“It’s important we remain vigilant here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of this. We’re obviously conscious about the individuals who may be impacted by this directly, we also understand that if more and more people get infected by this without changes in behavior or other types of changes in policy, that’s going to put an enormous amount of stress on our healthcare system. A lot of the other ailments aren’t going away.”

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.

* 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.

This also helps prevent transmission of the flu, which continues to be active.

The most recent flu charts in Lee Health show that a total of 228 positive tests as of March 7. Compared to last year, there were 196 positive test results at this time.

Regarding COVID-19, Dolce said at this time, the FDOH determines who does and does not get tested.

“We cannot send tests to their labs without their authorization and no other labs in Florida are currently authorized to perform the COVID lab test,” Dolce said.

For more information on coronavirus, 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, 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