It’s just ‘a matter of time’ before coronavirus makes its way to the Orlando area, officials say

Mayor says preparations are underway to prevent spread of illness

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – So far, the Orlando area has managed to avoid the coronavirus outbreak but as the illness continues to spread, officials believe the virus will more than likely emerge in Orange County.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health, Orange County public safety director Danny Banks and other local leaders held a news conference Monday afternoon to let residents know that preparations are underway and there’s no need to panic.

[RELATED: After first cases of coronavirus, this is what Florida health officials want you to know | Florida can now test for coronavirus at state health labs]

“With two cases in Florida but well outside of Orange County, we believe it is a matter of time before we have a case right here in our backyard,” Demings said. “We want to emphasize that while the coronavirus moves at a fast pace, we are remaining calm and we’re working behind the scenes with our partners at the Florida Department of Health.”

There are protocols in place that will be activated if and when someone in Orange County tests positive for the illness.

Pino said thus far, health officials have tested less than 10 people for coronavirus and those tests turned up negative. He also said less than 30 people are being monitored for 14 days because they’ve traveled to countries where the virus is prevalent, but those people are being considered low risk.

If needed, he said staff are able to quickly mobilize and respond to prevent the virus from spreading.

“There’s no reason to panic,” Pino said. “We are ready to take on this if it comes to our county and it may be a matter of time, but we are ready to isolate, contain and protect individuals.”

[READ MORE: Interactive map from Johns Hopkins shows Coronavirus spread in real-time | Central Florida schools prepare for coronavirus threat]

Banks said the county is currently in a preparation mode but if needed, it will switch to response mode. He said there’s a major focus on quick diagnosis, decontamination and the healthy transport of patients.

Currently, health officials are encouraging everyone to wash their hands, practice good hygiene, stay home when they’re sick and avoid contact with people who are sick.

Tourism officials said so far, there have been no major cancellations in connection with the coronavirus, which they see as a promising sign.

“We have seen no impact to leisure visitation, nor have we had any conventions at the convention center cancel plans. Regarding potential impact of global travel advisories, our visitation is largely domestic. International visitors account for less than 9% of our total visitation, and China is a very small share of that as our region has no direct air service to the country. China does not rank in our top 10 countries for visitation,” a Visit Orlando spokesperson said.

[RELATED: How to prevent spreading, contracting Coronavirus COVID-19 | Trump urges calm even as US reports worrisome new virus case]

Pino said it’d be extreme to start shutting down highly used public places and he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“The public should be reassured that I don’t think an outbreak is likely in our county at this point today," Pino said. "It might look different a week from now, the situation is very fluid, and as we’ve seen in other countries where the epidemic has taken place it really grows exponentially very quick ...”

Come Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health will launch a call center that residents can call 24/7 to answer questions about the coronavirus, their symptoms and whether they should be tested for the respiratory illness.

Officials said there’s still a lot of unknown elements about the coronavirus -- including whether it’s seasonal or if people who are asymptomatic can transfer the disease -- so right now the emphasis is on preparedness and prevention.

“I will say to all of you that we remain cautiously optimistic that if we are impacted directly by this virus that we will be able to respond adequately to it to reduce the spread of the virus in this particular community,” Demings said.