Health experts discuss transparency surrounding coronavirus; another patient tested in an Orlando hospital

Healthcare workers in infectious disease training. Credit: CDC.

With a large population of seniors and a bustling tourism mecca, the Orlando health community is preparing for a potential coronavirus threat, and health officials want the public to know what’s going on.

At a roundtable discussion on Monday, health experts and officials tackled issues surrounding transparency and discussed reliable sources available to the public, should the disease spread to Florida. So far, there’s no confirmed cases in the state.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, an Orlando Democrat who hosted the event at her Orlando office, said she extended the invitation to the Florida Department of Health.

“I did invite the Florida Department of Health, but they declined,” Murphy said during the event that was streamed live on her Facebook page.

“I would urge them to be candid with the public. Preparedness is power, it’s better to over prepare rather than under prepare.”

“There is a lot we know about the coronavirus but there is a lot we can learn,” Murphy added.

Health experts in Orlando said that they recommend the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as sources for more information on the respiratory illness that originated in Wuhan, China.

But they didn’t mention the state health department, which has been providing little to no information on potential cases in Florida, in part because of patient confidentiality.

Though Florida is clear of the disease thus far, there have been suspected cases where patients have been tested for the virus, but results were negative. A patient at a hospital in Broward County had been tested for the virus but it was negative, according to congresswoman Murphy.

And most recently, an Orlando doctor disclosed another potential case but didn’t give any details. However, the test was negative, according to the doctor who was at the roundtable discussion.

Murphy also stressed the importance of preparedness in responding to potential coronavirus cases, adding, “My hope is that there is never a confirmed case in Florida.”

The doctors at the meeting suggested that individuals, from schoolchildren to workers, who potentially could be sick, should stay at home. That’s a preventive measure called “social distancing.”

Orlando officials said they’ve been orchestrating procedures in response to the global pandemic, saying that they are developing an “incident action” plan.

Orlando hospital officials are taking steps to ask patients if they’ve been exposed and can provide information on symptoms.

The nearest lab to test for the virus is in Jacksonville and the state health department would be the first notified about any cases, Orange County officials said.

Seniors who represent a large population in Florida are affected by respiratory illnesses and officials want to ensure their safety.

“Seniors tend to be impacted at a greater rate; this coronavirus affects them at a higher level…how are we making sure the people that are most vulnerable are getting the information they need?” said Fred Bates, an AARP volunteer at the meeting.

When asked about how seniors, who may not be privy to social media, can receive updates on the health threat, officials said seniors can register for emergency information through their county government.

However, the Florida Phoenix has found that local health departments have been sending reporters to the Florida Department of Health, and the state health department then punts to the CDC.

The panel concluded with a message to Central Florida residents, with officials saying they can expect that there are a number of cases unidentified in the United States and they’ll be ready to put their plans in place.

Overall, the CDC has confirmed 15 cases in several states, with news organizations reporting at least another 14.