Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Miami Thursday to address the state and detail his approach when it comes to stopping the spread of coronavirus in the Sunshine State.
As of Thursday morning, there are 34 cases of COVID-19 associated with Florida: 26 Floridians diagnosed in Florida, five Floridians who have been diagnosed after traveling to China and are being isolated in another state, one non-Florida resident who is recovering in the Sunshine State, a 68-year-old Georgia woman who is in isolation in Alachua County and a New York man who was diagnosed in St. Johns County after traveling to Florida for Bike Week.
The governor acknowledged that the number of cases has continued to grow since the respiratory illness was first detected in Florida on March 1 and outlined his five-step plan to attempt to quell the spread.
1. Protect the vulnerable
Based on the numbers provided by the state, the vast majority of coronavirus patients -- including the two deaths in Florida -- were people who are elderly and/or have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus.
On Wednesday, DeSantis issued an executive order restricting access to nursing homes and assisted care facilities. Those who have recently returned from a foreign country, who have symptoms of respiratory illness, who have come into close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as anyone who recently took a cruise or has been in places deemed to have a “community spread” of the virus, will not be permitted inside such facilities.
“This is a time to be restricting access to those facilities that house those that are most vulnerable,” DeSantis said.
Government officials on Thursday also urged health screenings at those facilities.
2. Increase testing capabilities in Florida
DeSantis said there are plans to purchase 2,500 commercially available tests, which will allow up to 625,000 people to be tested. Those tests should arrive this weekend.
While some might want to take the test as a precautionary measure, DeSantis warned that isn’t the best approach for two reasons.
“You can’t just say everyone should get a test because it’s not medically valid and it will deplete resources,” DeSantis said.
Still, he does want to expand testing in hopes of catching those who might be “flying under the radar.”
He also said it’s important to make sure that medical facilities have swabs and other supplies needed to obtain samples from those exhibiting symptoms.
So far, 301 people have tested negative and 147 tests are pending, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Right now, there are labs in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami. It takes about 24 to 48 hours to get results from those facilities.
When and if someone tests positive, officials then work on tracing that patient’s contacts and making sure those people are monitored as well.
3. Increase social distancing measures
DeSantis said he doesn’t have the authority to cancel all mass gatherings but he is strongly urging that those in charge considering postponing their events.
“If a mass gathering is not canceled ... you need to have organized screening measures in place. For example, before entering an attendee should be asked if they are sick or if they’ve been in contact not only from some of these foreign countries that have seen outbreaks but places here in the state of Florida such as the cruise ship terminals,” DeSantis said.
The governor has, however, suspended official travel for state employees for 30 days and is asking state agency employees to work from home when possible.
4. Protecting health care workers
DeSantis said making sure that health care workers are not exposed when treating a patient with the virus is crucial to ensure that hospitals and other medical facilities don’t suffer from a staffing shortage.
Making sure proper protocols are in place is key, according to the governor.
“We want our health care workers safe and we want them to be in the game. If we have somebody who is exposed and then they’re doing their job and interacting with other people -- you self-isolate a half a dozen, a dozen, 20 health care workers that makes it much more difficult for the folks here to do their job,” DeSantis said.
Florida’s department of emergency management has secured contracts for nurses to be brought into the state in case there is a personnel shortage and the director has been directed to purchase additional personal protective equipment.
5. Monitor international and high-risk travel
Of the current coronavirus cases, DeSantis said 10 of those people recently traveled on a Nile River cruise in Egypt. Many of the other current patients had traveled internationally as well.
On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump announced a ban on all flights from Europe, aside from the United Kingdom.
“I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of all of this,” DeSantis said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued coronavirus-related travel notices for the hardest-hit areas: China, Iran, most of Europe and South Korea.
Anyone who thinks that might have been exposed should COVID-19 should seek medical advice before going to a health care facility and potentially putting others at risk.
The Florida Department of Health has activated a 24/7 hotline available at calling 1-866-779-6121.