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DeSantis: No Confirmed Coronavirus Cases In Florida, But Can't Say How Many People Have Been Tested

Ryan Dailey

Governor Ron DeSantis updated media Thursday morning about Coronavirus, or Covid-19, and how Florida is monitoring the international outbreak. Right now, there are no confirmed cases in the state. Some people have been quarantined on suspicion they could be infected. Senate Democrats are calling for more transparency about who is being monitored and where.

“As of right now, given that we’ve had no infections, the CDC considers us to be at a low risk. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to plan for any potential transmissions.,” DeSantis said, adding protocols are in place to monitor those who are suspected of having Covid-19.

Worldwide, more than 80,000 people have had the virus. Most of them are in China, but now more than 3,000 cases have been confirmed in 37 other countries. Fourteen cases have turned up in the U.S. In late January, federal Health and Human Services director Alex Azar declared a public health emergency, which DeSantis says is aimed at slowing the pace of the outbreak.

“So, individuals returning from Hubei province after Feb. 3 currently have a mandatory 14-day isolation at a federal facility,” DeSantis explained. “Individuals returning from other regions of China after Feb. 3 receive an initial health screening upon arrival. If they are not ill, they can continue to their destination, but they are given directions for self-monitoring.”

The Governor says federal agencies are telling states who those people are.

“States including Florida are notified as to these individuals, who they are, by the CDC, for monitoring and follow-up,” the governor told reporters. “Department of Health personnel and county health departments contact these individuals, perform an assessment, and monitor the isolation process. If any get sick, they will be referred for medical care and for evaluation.”

Right now, anyone who gets tested for the virus in Florida has samples collected at county health departments, which have been subcontracted by the CDC and are working with healthcare providers. Those samples are sent to the CDC in Atlanta, and results take about 3-5 days to get back. DeSantis says being able to conduct tests in the state are in the works.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, left, briefs reporters on the coronavirus and its symptoms on February 27, 2020.

Acting state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who has yet to be officially confirmed by the legislature, talked about how the virus functions.

“You can only contract this virus from an individual who is infected with it. It is transmitted by the respiratory mode. It is more infectious (than) the flu,” Rivkees said. “The mortality rate is about 2 percent, vs. the flu, which is 0.1 percent.”

Its incubation period is between 6-14 days. Its symptoms can look like the flu – cough, shortness of breath, and in some situations pneumonia. Rivkees says 80 percent of the time, the illness will be mild, 15 percent of people will develop severe illness, and 3 percent will become critically ill.

“The highest complication rates are in the elderly and those individuals with underlying medical conditions,” he added.

People showing symptoms that might be the virus are asked to self-quarantine.  Most people who are infected with coronavirus can be cared for at home. Rivkees says right now, there are no vaccine or antiviral medications to address coronavirus.

“A vaccine is under development. Per CDC, this will be more than a year away,” Rivkees said.

Officials from the National Institutes for Health say a Coronavirus vaccine will take about a year to 18 months, as trials to determine efficacy will take time.  

As reports come in of the virus spreading overseas, DeSantis is praising the federal response in the U.S.

“That (public health emergency) declaration I think was important, because foreign nationals who visited China in the past 14 days are not allowed to enter the United States, and then flights from China are being directed to 11 international airports across the United States, where Customs and Border Control and CDC are conducting screenings,” DeSantis said. “None of those airports are in Florida.”

There are things the Governor says he and top state health officials can’t tell the public. Asked how many people have been tested for Coronavirus in Florida, DeSantis said he can’t say.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to kind of go into the numbers, but … from the beginning of this in January … we’ve been monitoring people coming in,” the Governor said. “Obviously HHS has said, ‘Hey, this person may have been in China,’ and all those people were monitored. Anybody who was tested, tested negative.”

DeSantis told reporters he was advised by Rivkees and his team not to release the numbers, based on laws guiding the release of information during a health crisis.

“I actually wanted to give all the numbers, but they pointed me to the regulation or the statute that said you can’t list all the numbers,” DeSantis said when pressed by media.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Democratic Senators Jose Javier Rodriguez, left, and Victor Torres, held a press conference following the governor's Thursday, calling for transparency in the release of aggregate data showing who is being monitored under suspicion of being infected with coronavirus, or Covid-19.

That led Senate Democrats to hold a press conference calling out what they say is a lack of transparency from the governor on that front. Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez wants to know, who’s being tested, and who is self-quarantined? How many suspected cases, and where in the Florida those are being monitored?

“The issue that we continue to have is with the management of public information from the Governor’s office and from the Department of Health,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez cited the governor’s earlier press conference.

“Many questions were raised about why the Department of Health, with the approval of the Governor, has not released aggregate data on testing, on suspected cases, individuals who have self-reported as self-quarantined,” he said.

Rodriguez is accusing the Governor of breaking with previous protocol on releasing aggregate data. He says if nothing changes by Monday, he and his colleagues could take the legislative route with amendments to House and Senate’s Department of Health legislative package concerning laws guiding that process.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health has launched a website they say is constantly being updated with the latest information on Covid-19.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.