Health care workers who came into contact with one of the state’s patients, a Manatee County man, have been quarantined, including a prominent Sarasota doctor who diagnosed him. Also, in another Florida case, a man is in isolation in Washington state and poses no threat to residents here, Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
A fourth Florida resident has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, but the man is in isolation in Washington state and poses no threat to state residents, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference in Orlando on Wednesday.
Health authorities in Washington alerted Florida officials that the unidentified man, who recently returned from Asia, tested positive for COVID-19, DeSantis said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will count the man as a Florida case even though there is no evidence he contracted the virus here.
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The man is in self-isolation and will not be allowed to return to the state until he tests negative for the virus, DeSantis said, adding that he doesn’t know where the man lives.
Also Wednesday, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that "multiple" health care workers who came into contact with one of Florida’s patients, a Manatee County man who was treated for coronavirus at Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, have been quarantined, according to a state health official.
Those isolated include a prominent Sarasota doctor who diagnosed the Manatee County resident and quarantined himself after he met with the patient, according to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Palm Beach County trying to decide what they should do
The announcement of a fourth case came as Palm Beach County residents, business owners and elected officials are trying to decide what, if anything, they should do to confront the virus that has killed nine in Washington state and thousands worldwide.
So far, most are taking a wait and see approach, noting that no cases have been found in South Florida although a 50-year-old New York lawyer who is hospitalized in Manhattan with coronavirus recently visited Miami.
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Two sisters in Hillsborough County are both believed to have contracted the virus while visiting Italy, state health officials said.
Health officials have said there is no evidence the Manatee County man left the country, raising the prospect that the virus may be spreading in Florida undetected.
As for the health care workers who are quarantined, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County said the workers are not sick but have been isolated as a precaution, the Herald-Tribune reported.
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However, despite an array of unknowns, organizers of a series of events that are cued up in the next several weeks said they are cautiously optimistic that the shows will go on.
"At this time there are no plans to cancel, postpone or move the shows," said a spokeswoman for the organizers of the Palm Beach International Boat Show and Superyacht Show scheduled for this month along the waterfront in West Palm Beach.
A spokeswoman for a new yacht show, hosted by The Large Yacht Brokers Association at Rybovich Marina, said the event would be canceled only if U.S. health officials demanded it.
Diocese of Palm Beach taking precautions during Mass
Still, there are subtle and not-so-subtle signs that the virus is affecting South Florida.
Bottles of antibacterial soap are turning up in restaurants and hotel lobbies. The Diocese of Palm Beach this week advised pastors that they could take steps to curb the potential spread of the virus.
The Catholic diocese suggested that priests may want to suspend the traditional "peace" handshake during services, stop offering parishioners a chalice of consecrated wine and could empty bowls of holy water at the doorways of churches.
>>Coronavirus cases worldwide: An interactive look
As for church-goers: "It is important to remember, if you are sick, you are encouraged to stay home," the diocese advised, asking those who don’t feel well to watch Mass on television.
The executive director of a Palm Beach Gardens-based charity said two local medical centers have asked it to temporarily stop holding movie nights and arts and craft sessions to cheer hospitalized children.
"The kids we serve in hospitals are already immuno-compromised. They’re already high-risk," said Nicole Grossmayer, executive director of Little Smiles. "The hospitals asked us not to do the events until things are OK."
For privacy reasons, she declined to name the hospitals that asked it to suspend its visits.
Experts: You may feel OK but still be able to spread the virus
During the press conference, DeSantis sought to downplay the threat of the virus while emphasizing that health officials are monitoring the situation closely and making sure the state is prepared.
"If you look at what we know about the virus, it seems if you have an underlying health condition or you’re elderly, that’s the population that typically has serious ramifications from this," he told reporters. "With most other populations, it’s been akin to a severe flu."
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Health experts have said that is why it is difficult to control. With an incubation period of two to 14 days, a person may feel OK but still be able to spread the virus, health officials have said.
"A person who is asymptomatic may be shedding the virus and could make others ill," Dr. Todd Ellerin, an infectious disease specialist, wrote in an article for Harvard Medical School. "How often asymptomatic transmission is occurring is unclear."
Florida officials investigating case of N.Y. lawyer who traveled to Miami
Lawrence Garbuz, the New York lawyer who multiple news outlets identified as New York’s second victim of the virus, was hospitalized Thursday. During a press conference on Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Garbuz, who is licensed to practice law in Florida and New York, had recently traveled to Miami.
Florida health officials said the CDC is investigating the case. They said they hadn’t been told why he was visiting South Florida or where he might have gone. But, they said, if the CDC identified a Florida resident who may have been infected, they would be notified.
Little information has been released about the women in Hillsborough County or the man in Manatee County. One of the women is still listed as "presumptive positive," while her sister and the man have confirmed cases.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s website, 247 people in the state are being monitored for the virus. Twenty-four people who were tested were found to be clear of the virus. Test results are pending in 16 other cases.
Tracking the spread of coronavirus cases in the US and worldwide
At this stage, DeSantis said there isn’t a need for draconian measures. While decisions about whether to close schools will be made by local officials, he said he sees no evidence that such a precaution is needed.
It’s yet unknown why young people aren’t affected severely
In China, the epicenter for what some fear could become a global epidemic, few people under the age of 15 became sick, he said, referring to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Like many factors associated with the virus, it is unknown why young people aren’t affected severely, DeSantis said. It may be like other illnesses, such as chicken pox, which are mere annoyances for most youngsters yet can have severe consequences for the elderly, he said.
Total confirmed cases across the globe
Recognizing that Florida draws 125 million visitors a year, DeSantis said the key is keeping the virus out of the country.
He said he supports the travel restrictions the Trump Administration has imposed on China and other places where outbreaks have occurred. Such restrictions should be expanded to other areas that become hot spots, he said.
With the Florida Legislature in the final stages of budget preparation, he said he is meeting with House and Senate leaders to determine how much should be set aside to combat the spread of the virus.
Billions more may be approved to help fight the virus
The U.S. House approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill on Wednesday and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Thursday. DeSantis said he is hopeful that some of the money will be made available to states so any money Florida spends would be reimbursed by the federal government.
In the meantime, he and state and local health officials urged residents to take steps to reduce their vulnerability: wash your hands often; cover your nose when you cough or sneeze and then toss out the tissue; avoid touching your nose, ears and mouth and avoid close contact with sick people.
Map of coronavirus cases and deaths in the US
DeSantis said there is no cause for alarm.
"We’re being as proactive as we can, working with our public health officials," DeSantis said. "But just understand, the risk is low."
Palm Beach Post staff reporter Alexandra Clough contributed to this story.
Total cases, deaths, and recoveries by country
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