Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said late Sunday that Florida has two “presumptive positive” cases of the coronavirus involving residents of Manatee and Hillsborough counties.
DeSantis issued an executive order directing state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency as Florida tries to control the spread of the contagious disease, known as COVID-19.
"I have been working with federal partners and our Department of Health to ensure that communities are ready to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “The dedicated professionals at our county health departments, as well as those working at local medical providers, are well equipped to address these and future cases.”
The cases in Manatee and Hillsborough counties are the first in Florida, as the virus has spread to dozens of countries after starting in China. The first U.S. death from the disease was reported Saturday in Washington state.
The Manatee County case involves an adult who does not have a history of traveling to countries that have been identified for restricted travel by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health said. The person, whose name, age and gender were not released, sought health care and will remain isolated until cleared by public-health officials.
“The Florida Department of Health is working closely with the patient, their close contacts and health care providers to isolate and monitor persons who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and implement testing of anyone who may develop COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath,” a department news release said.
The Hillsborough County case involves an adult with a history of traveling to Italy, which is under a travel warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because of an outbreak of the respiratory illness. The Hillsborough County patient is isolated and will remain so until cleared by public-health officials, the Department of Health said.
DeSantis, Rivkees, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and other officials are slated to hold news conferences Monday in Tampa and Miami at Department of Health facilities.
Statements released late Sunday sought to give assurances about the state’s response to the two cases.
"This is the scenario that we prepare for every day in public health,” said Rivkees, who doubles as secretary of the Department of Health. “The department is moving forward with the appropriate plans, and we are working directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local medical providers to ensure these individuals receive the proper treatment and that anyone who has come into contact with them is following the necessary protocols, limiting or stopping any further spread.”
No vaccine exists for the virus, and federal health officials say a vaccine won’t be ready for another year to 18 months.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., issued a statement Sunday night saying he will work to get federal aid to help Florida with the virus, which emerged late last year in China.
“The health and safety of every Floridian, especially the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, remain my highest priority,” Rubio said. “I will continue to work with the Trump Administration and Governor DeSantis to ensure our state has the resources and information it needs. I am working with my colleagues in Congress on a funding package to ensure Florida has every available federal resource to respond to the coronavirus, and I look forward to its swift passage in the coming weeks.”
The announcement of the cases came a day after the Department of Health said state laboratories in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami can now test for the coronavirus, instead of having to send samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Deputy Secretary of Health Shamarial Roberson said that will shorten the time to receive results from tests.
Rivkees said Friday that the department was monitoring 150 people for COVID-19 and that 15 people had tested negative for the deadly virus. Another four people, Rivkees said, were still under investigation.
In addition to Florida conducting its own testing, Roberson said Saturday the state has revised guidelines about which residents should be tested for COVID-19. The new guidelines are based on federal recommendations and include testing people who fall into two main categories.
The first group includes people who have recently traveled to and from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Japan and have fever and acute upper respiratory infections. Testing also is recommended for people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are suffering from the symptoms.
In addition to those groups, Roberson said the Department of Health is recommending COVID-19 testing for people who have been hospitalized with fevers and acute upper respiratory infections but who have tested negative for influenza.
Roberson said people who fall into those categories and want to be tested should first call county health departments, which are charged with collecting samples. The collections are done by swabbing people’s noses or throats.