Florida may quarantine COVID-19 carriers in hotels, convention centers

Drive-through coronavirus screening sites continue to pop up around Florida. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

State emergency management officials are negotiating with hotels as places to quarantine people who aren’t sick enough with COVID-19 to require treatment in intensive care units, but who might serve as viral transmission vectors if sent home to their families.

Convention centers might also be enlisted into the plan, which could include sheltering asymptomatic people who’ve tested positive for the new coronavirus.

“We’re absolutely considering that,” the governor said during a a news conference Saturday at the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

“The reason why you would want to do that is, if somebody comes in, tests positive, if you send them back home they’re likely to infect the people they come into contact with in their home. Then the virus continues to spread,” he continued.

“If they have a place to self-isolate, where they’re not going to be in close contact with anybody, then the virus dies with them,” he said. It might be a way to make sure “the core hospital is not overwhelmed.”

Thirty-four hospitals in Florida are at 50 percent capacity, and state health officials have identified six that are entirely vacant and might be drafted into service, DeSantis said.

Much of the state’s effort has been aimed at protecting older people who are most susceptible to fatal complications. That doesn’t mean younger people can’t be infected and undergo serious symptoms — in fact, the governor said, 60 percent of Florida’s infected are under age 60.

The Florida Phoenix reports caseload updates from the Department of Health under The Phoenix Flyer tab on our homepage.

DeSantis warned against giving credence to some of the more far-out theories about COVID-19 that are circulating on social media.

“There’s no need to panic about this. You just need to take the proper precautions and take the proper steps to protect yourself. At the end of the day, if you follow the basic rules that the CDC has recommended, such as maintaining good hygiene, washing your hands religiously, and maintaining proper social distance from people, you are going to be OK.”

Although most cases in Florida thus far involve patients who contracted the virus through travel to hot spots, the state still lacks sufficient test kits to understand the full extent of the pandemic — although officials are monitoring data on symptoms associated with COVID-19, including elevated body temperatures, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said.

Still, DeSantis has to a large extent allowed local officials to lead in terms of closing beaches and other social gathering places, shying away from ordering the sort of shelter-in-place orders issued by officials in California and New York — as Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried has urged.

He did order bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and many other businesses closed on Friday.

The governor argued Saturday that conditions in Florida are different from New York and California. Densely populated New York City, in particular, “is kind of the perfect place where something like this would spread.”

Moreover, some of the more alarming projections of coronavirus transmission “are built on assumptions and models” that he doesn’t necessarily find convincing.

In addition, DeSantis has warned of the dangers of social distancing fatigue.

In fact, he praised The Villages residents for observing social distancing guidelines while continuing to play golf — one to each golf cart and no handling the pin.

DeSantis even hopes to open a drive-through test site Monday at The Villages — the plan is to let the senior citizens who live there drive through in the golf carts many use to get around.

“This is something that affects the social fabric. I know a lot of people have been uneasy, have been very anxious. You’re in a situation where a lot of the things you used to do are no longer available. You turn on the TV, there’s no sports to watch, there’s not a lot of live events,” he said.

Instead, there’s 24-hour news coverage of the coronavirus, he continued.

“I would just urge people to take a deep breath, understand that you can protect yourself against this.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.