Public health monitoring ramps up; efforts to get coronavirus testing info by phone are futile

Novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is shown here in orange and yellow. COVID mutations are now spreading through the United States. Microphotography by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Three days ago, 184 people in Florida were listed as undergoing public health monitoring for signs of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Now the number is 247, according to statistics published by the Florida Department of Health.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday in Orlando that since January, almost 1,000 people have been undergoing public monitoring of some kind.

Meanwhile, it is still unclear how a regular citizen or visitor can get tested if they suspect they are infected by coronavirus.

The Florida Phoenix called a private medical office, which said it does not have test kits and pointed the caller to public health authorities.

The Florida Phoenix called the COVID-19 call center at 1-866-779-6121 and was directed to call a county health department.

A call to a county health department was answered by a recording and placed on hold. After 15 minutes, the caller used the “leave a message” option. Two hours after that, the call still had not been returned.

The Department of Health website says results of 16 coronavirus tests were pending; 24 tests have returned negative results. Two cases are confirmed  — a Hillsborough woman and a Manatee man — and another is still labeled presumptive positive, meaning the individual tested positive but is awaiting confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The New York Times Wednesday wrote that the CDC “broadened the guidelines for coronavirus testing, allowing anyone who has symptoms like a fever, cough or difficulty breathing to receive a test if a doctor agrees.”

The Times story added: “Doctors were encouraged to first rule out other causes of respiratory illness, like influenza, and to take into consideration whether there are other local coronavirus cases, officials said.”

The young woman from Hillsborough who had traveled to Italy — where the coronavirus is prevalent — tested positive when she got home.

A reporter asked the governor Wednesday to respond to claims by the Hillsborough woman who had traveled to Italy. The reporter said that the woman called the CDC about her symptoms and expressed concerns, and they cleared her to come back to Florida.

The governor said: “Well, they cleared her to come back to New York. So she flew into New York. And then she took a domestic flight from New York to Florida.”

DeSantis also said there is a 4th case — a Florida resident who traveled to Asia and tested positive in Washington state, where he or she is self-isolating.

The Department of Health did not respond to requests to confirm any of other tests that are not reflected in the posted stats.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that testing centers were open in three Florida cities: Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. But it’s not clear if the centers are local public health departments or other facilities, and which patients are sent to the testing centers.

At noon Wednesday, at least 13 states, including Florida, reported having confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 11 deaths have occurred nationwide, in Washington state and California, according to news reports.

Hundreds more people have died elsewhere because the virus that originated in China has spread worldwide.