TAMPA, Fla. — As Florida officials grapple with the first cases of COVID-19 in the state, health officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday urged residents who have just returned from outbreak countries to self-isolate for 14 days in an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
- Floridians returning from outbreak countries urged to self-isolate
- State officials knew Saturday night about presumptive positive case
- They're most concerned about infirm, elderly in nursing facilities
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DeSantis, flanked by Florida health officials, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, and local and state officials, stressed during a news conference that the risk remains low of getting COVID-19, the sickness caused by the novel coronavirus that has paralyzed parts of Asia.
The Tampa news conference was held less than 12 hours after officials announced the first presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state. Later Monday afternoon, DeSantis said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had confirmed the cases.
Those two patients are in Manatee and Hillsborough counties.
The Manatee County patient is a man in his 60s and is hospitalized and stable. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16th District) confirmed to Spectrum Bay News 9 reporter Angie Angers that the patient is receiving treatment at Doctors Hospital in Sarasota.
It's not known at this time how he was exposed to the coronavirus, because he has no known history of travel to any of the outbreak countries under travel restrictions, nor is he known to have been exposed to anyone who did travel there.
The Hillsborough patient is a woman in her 20s who recently returned from northern Italy, where there's a large outbreak of COVID-19. She is in isolation at home. Her sister, who is thought to have traveled with her, and a roommate are both under self-isolation and have been tested for COVID-19. Those test results were due back in the next day or two.
The two cases were called "presumptive" Sunday, because the residents tested positive from a state health lab but were pending confirmation from the CDC.
A total of 23 people in Florida have been tested for the novel coronavirus so far, DeSantis said. Another 184 people are currently being monitored, and 795 total have been monitored since late January.
"The overall immediate threat remains low," DeSantis said from a second news conference Monday afternoon in Miami.
Anyone who has returned to Florida after traveling to the outbreak countries of China, Iran, Italy, or South Korea, or has been in contact with anyone who has, and develops the main symptoms of COVID-19 are urged to contact the Department of Health or your medical provider before seeking treatment, so they can provide guidance on how to be treated and possibly tested for COVID-19.
DeSantis said labs in Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami are now set up to conduct COVID-19 testing, with results coming back in 24 to 48 hours. Currently, test results done by the CDC can take up to five days, though it is conducting far more tests.
State officials said Monday that Florida has 15,000 testing kits, and if you're someone who falls under the criteria for testing, there will be no charge for the COVID-19 test.
With new CDC guidelines for testing that were issued Thursday, "we are anticipating that there will be additional positive tests" in Florida, DeSantis said.
Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees said the state learned of at least one of the presumptive positive cases Saturday night. He stressed that officials worked proactively and anticipated the virus to spread to Florida.
"We knew this was coming," Rivkees said.
He said 15 other people who were tested were negative for the novel coronavirus. Health officials are waiting for results on six others, and 184 people across the state who traveled to the countries of concern are currently being monitored.
On Sunday night, with the announcement of the two presumptive positive coronavirus cases, the governor declared a public health emergency. That order directs health care facilities and professionals to immediately report all suspected cases of COVID-19 to the Health Department and issues guidance to the public on proper protective measures.
The coronavirus spreads like the flu, through coughing, sneezing, or touching infected surfaces.
Health officials in Washington state said Sunday night that a second person had died from the coronavirus — a man in his 70s from a nursing facility near Seattle where dozens of people were sick and had been tested for the virus.
DeSantis said that with the highest risk of severe cases likely being among the elderly or people with underlying health conditions, state officials are concerned about the spread of the virus in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other medical facilities.
"That's where the virus has had the biggest impact," DeSantis said.
They're urging those facilities to restrict visitors.
"We are certainly concerned" about who is allowed in those areas, DeSantis said. They should "absolutely take precautions on who is allowed into those facilities."
On Monday afternoon, the death toll in Washington state from the novel coronavirus had risen to six. The first U.S. case was a Washington state man who had visited China, where the virus first emerged, but several recent cases in the U.S. have had no known connection to travelers.
The Florida Health Department is working to track down anyone who had close contact with the Florida patients and will likely be monitoring them for any signs of the virus.
Last week, some Disney World workers were asked to stay home and self-isolate after returning from Italy. They were all staying in one home, and food and essentials were being delivered to them, Disney said.