Florida will expand testing of deadly coronavirus; Gov. DeSantis anticipates more cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is helping to build local laboratory capacity, for purposes of rapid diagnosis, which is key to a quick response during a disease outbreak. Credit: CDC.

Florida authorities say they are widely expanding testing of the deadly coronavirus after state health officials reported two cases over the weekend in west-central Florida.

Those coronavirus cases had been labeled “presumptive positive” late Sunday evening, but by Monday were confirmed.

At issue is that Florida has not done a great deal of testing, therefore the state hasn’t seen confirmed cases — until now. In addition, the public has been in the dark about even suspected cases of coronavirus, called COVID-19.

Florida opened testing centers over the weekend in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville and broadened the criteria by which health workers should evaluate possible infections.

Key populations of concern include the elderly living in congregate facilities, people with underlying health problems, school settings and health-care settings, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at the news conference in Tampa that he will be seeking more funding to battle a potential outbreak.

He also said at the press conference that the risk of infection remains low but that the situation may change quickly.

“We are anticipating there will be additional positive tests,” DeSantis said. “The vast majority of people [testing positive for coronavirus] will not require hospitalization.”

The two people, one in Manatee and another in Hillsborough County, have been hospitalized in isolation, state officials said Monday. One of the individuals is a woman in her 20s who had traveled to Italy, according to  Rivkees. Italy has had an uptick in cases recently.

The Manatee County case involves a male in his 60s with no known source of transmission and is in stable condition, Rivkees added.

There have been two deaths from coronavirus in the United States, both in the state of Washington, according to the CDC. But Washington state health officials are now saying six people have died from the virus, according to news reports.

At the press conference Monday morning in Tampa, reporters asked why the Florida Department of Health did not announce the two Florida cases until Sunday evening.

Surgeon General Rivkees said health authorities who suspected their patients may have the virus sent samples for testing on Friday. The state Health Department categorized them as “presumptive positive” for the virus on Saturday evening.  Still, the department didn’t announce the findings publicly until Sunday.

“As soon as we became aware, which was Saturday evening, we went into action immediately,” Rivkees said. He did not explain why his department delayed the public announcement.

Anyone who has visited China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan is asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone with virus-like symptoms are asked to contact county health departments before visiting clinics or hospitals.

The respiratory disease can become fatal, and the initial outbreak in China has spread across countries in the world.

In the United States, the Phoenix earlier reported that public schools already have been taking precautions, including potential closures and use of devices to do schoolwork at home.

DeSantis earlier directed Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in the State of Florida, according to an executive order.

Rivkees will be authorized “to use his judgment as to the duration of this public health emergency.”

DeSantis also directed the Florida Department of Health “to make its own determinations as to quarantine, isolation and other necessary public health interventions as permitted under Florida law.”

According to the CDC, confirmed and presumptive positive cases in the United States are in these states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida.

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.
Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]