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Florida under public health emergency

Margie Manning

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Gov. Ron DeSantis has issued an executive order, directing the state health officer to declare a public health emergency following reports that two people in the Tampa Bay area tested presumptively positive for COVID-19, or coronavirus.

Although the overall risk to the public remains low, the state anticipates additional positive tests, DeSantis said at a news conference Monday morning in Tampa. Anyone who believes they may have been exposed is urged to contact their county health department prior to going to the doctor’s office, emergency treatment center or hospital, he said.

“Our goal is to limit the spread,” DeSantis said.

Under the governor’s order, Dr. Scott Rivkees, who is state health officer and surgeon general, can take any action necessary to protect public health.

The order directs the Florida Department of Health to, at minimum, actively monitor anyone who meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of a “person under investigation” for coronavirus for at least 14 days or until that person tests negative. That could include isolation or quarantine for 14 days.

“This is the scenario that we prepare for every day in public health,” Rivkees said in a news release from the Florida Health Department. “The department is moving forward with the appropriate plans, and we are working directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.”

Both of the local individuals — one in Hillsborough County and one in Manatee County — who tested presumptively positive are in isolation, according to the health department.

Neither has been identified, but the Hillsborough County resident, a woman in her 20s, has a history of travel to Italy, one of the countries most hard hit by coronavirus. The CDC has advised Americans not to travel to specific regions in Italy.

The other individual, a man in his 50s in Manatee County, does not have a travel history to any of the countries identified for restricted travel. It is not known how the individual was exposed, Rivkees said at the Tampa press conference.

The overall immediate threat to the public remains low, the health department said. The most deleterious effects are in people who have underlying health conditions or are elderly, DeSantis said.

The state health department can test for coronavirus at labs in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami, allowing test results to be available in 24-48 hours, DeSantis said.

One reporter at the Monday morning news conference in Tampa said her news outlet tried to confirm the local cases earlier Sunday, prior to the governor’s emergency order. According to that reporter, the Florida Department of Health said it was a hoax and completely false, but backtracked a few hours later.

“I can only comment on the fact that we are all here right here today to inform about these developments in our state,” Rivkees said. The health department has been proactively monitoring potentially infected people, DeSantis added.

Here’s more information from Florida health officials about coronavirus causes, symptoms and prevention.

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 of COVID-19 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 from the COVID-19 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. As a reminder, the department 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.

The Florida Department of Health has established a website with updated information on coronavirus.

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