Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees told a Senate committee Tuesday that the state has established protocols and procedures to contain the coronavirus should there be an outbreak.
“There are no cases of novel coronavirus – COVID-19 – in Florida,” Rivkees said, adding the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) rates the risk of an outbreak “as low.”
Rivkees said 17 Floridians have been tested for the virus. None has proven infected.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) is “fully engaged” with the CDC and county health departments, he said. There are incident-management teams in place and ready to respond should a case be diagnosed, he said.
If people of interest are identified, they will be tested, placed in home isolation and monitored, Rivkees said, noting the DOH has a page on its website dedicated to coronavirus information.
The CDC is sending Florida and other states new test kits, he said, after previously provided kits produced inconclusive results or none at all.
“We’ll have lab testing” capacity soon, Rivkees said. “The kits are being remanufactured and reissued.”
Dr. John Sinnott, chairman of Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine at Tampa General Hospital and director of the Florida Infectious Disease Institute, said to prevent an outbreak, the “single most important thing is hand-washing” and “surface cleaning; this virus lives up to nine days on inanimate objects.”
Sinnott said doctors’ offices and medical facilities must “ensure ventilator equipment is properly cleaned” and workplaces and schools can take measures to reduce risks.
“If you are sick with fever and cough, for God’s sake, don’t go to work,” he said, suggesting employers consider teleworking and “staggering shifts,” while schools reduce “class mixing” and install “more hand-sanitizer stations.”
“No. 1, everyone should have a flu shot,” Sinnott said. “The flu is an immediate threat to Florida’s population right now.”
More than 31 million Americans have been diagnosed with the flu this winter, which is expected to cause 25,000 deaths nationwide, he said.
“We don’t want to be distracted by Wuhan when we have something serious going on right here,” Sinnott said.
Coronavirus likely will fade with warming weather, Sinnott said, but that is uncertain.
“I have suspicions some (transmissions) may be airborne,” he said, fearing “the virus can hover 12-24 hours” in the air.
Rivkees cautioned the CDC has not confirmed the virus can spread airborne nor has it determined “the notion you can get the virus from a surface.”
Rivkees and Sinnott emphasized the CDC and DOH immediately will report any documented cases of coronavirus.
“It has to be transparent. We cannot cover this up,” Sinnott said, because “self-protection is critical” and people must know “how to protect themselves.”
“If there is a confirmed case, it will absolutely be reported to the public,” Rivkees said.
What won’t be reported, Rivkees said, are specifics about people who are under investigation because “patient confidentiality is very hugely valued by the state.”
Sinnott said much remains uncertain about the virus.
“I may be talking to you about an incredibly serious global pandemic or I may be talking to you about a localized Asian phenomena,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
The Center Square