Orange County’s top health leader asked for coronavirus state of emergency in February

Florida Surgeon General issued order two weeks later

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange County’s top health leader said he sent an email to state leaders in February asking to declare a local state of emergency in order to prepare for the spread of the coronavirus, but that did not happen until March.

According to an investigation conducted by the Miami Herald, The Florida Department of Health mobilized an emergency response team to contain the spread of COVID-19 on Feb. 13.

Two days afterward, Dr. Raul Pino, FDOH Health Officer in Orange County, said he sent a letter to Tallahassee.

"(I was) asking for the ability to declare a state of emergency in our agency," he told News 6. "Because if I do that, if I could’ve done that, it would give me the ability to mobilize people from different programs."

He said those people had specific skill sets.

"Declaring a state of emergency will automatically activate what we call 'group one' -- the people that respond to hurricanes, pandemics -- that’s what I was asking for," he said.

Pino said his email was triggered out of concern after state health officials were ordered to monitor 67 possible cases of COVID-19.

"The 67 cases that I was referring to was international travelers that were coming into the country that were monitored by us at the time... in Florida," he said.

He said he was concerned the number of potential cases could grow, and that his Orange County agency wouldn't have enough resources to track and contain it.

"I don’t remember what I got back (from the email), but immediately after, additional resources were assigned to different health departments," he said.

Two weeks after Pino sent his email, on March 1, the Florida surgeon general declared a health state of emergency.

Two weeks after that, Orange County reported its first case of coronavirus.

News 6 contacted FDOH and the Florida Department of Emergency Management for a comment, but neither has responded.

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