Gov. DeSantis moves to declare a public health emergency, as two coronavirus cases emerge in Florida

2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sunday evening that “two individuals” in Florida tested positive for the deadly coronavirus that has become a global epidemic,  with United States cases on the rise.

The two people who “tested presumptively positive” are residents of west- central Florida’s Manatee County and Hillsborough County, according to an executive order by the governor late Sunday.

The Florida Department of Health describes a presumptive positive case as one that “has tested positive by a public health laboratory and is pending confirmatory testing at CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)”

The two west-central cases are the first Florida cases that have emerged, following other states, including California and Washington, that have already been dealing with coronavirus. The respiratory disease can become fatal, and the initial outbreak in China has spread across countries in the world.

DeSantis directed Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in the State of Florida, according to the 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.”

The Phoenix reported earlier that Florida schools and universities have been alerting students and families, holding press conferences and cancelling travel programs in response to a threat of the potentially deadly disease, known as COVID-19.

School administrators have already said they will close schools if necessary and provide digital devices to students to use at home to continue their schooling.

DeSantis will hold press conferences Monday in Tampa and Miami, according to the governor’s office.

In addition to the two cases, The Florida Department of Health has provided additional data on its website.

It shows the number of pending testing results — 8, as well as the number of negative results — 15.

The number of people under public health monitoring is 184, according to the department.

The monitoring includes “those at risk of having been exposed to novel coronavirus who are monitoring their health under the supervision of public health officials. This number includes close contacts of laboratory confirmed cases, as well as people who have returned from China in the past 14 days.”

The Florida Department of Health earlier had been criticized by some lawmakers and the media, for not providing more information about suspected cases.

An earlier version of the story used the term “confirmed” coronavirus cases, which would not be accurate based on the Florida Department of Health’s definition. The cases were “presumptively positive” as of late Sunday evening (March 1), meaning they had already tested positive by a public health laboratory and were awaiting confirmation by the CDC. The cases were confirmed Monday (March 2).

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.