State and local health officials were spreading the word earlier this week ahead of a spreading virus.


Yes, Florida has its first cases of the 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19).


Those cases are in Manatee and Hillsborough counties.


“There are no cases in Franklin or Gulf,” said Sarah Hinds, administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin County. “It is an evolving situation,”


The FDOH announced the two in-state cases in a press release Monday, noting that both patients were in isolation.


“The overall immediate threat to the public remains low,” said the press release in part.


Hinds said she and her team were working with the state on potential strategies in the event of the virus making a Northwest Florida appearance and added the department was “engaged in enhanced surveillance” of state-wide health trends.


Hinds said the important component to not becoming sick with the coronavirus, which has symptoms that closely mimic the flu, is to “avoid being exposed.”


The FDOH, noting there was no vaccine for the virus, detailed the best way to avoid exposure.


Hinds listed them for Port St. Joe city commissioners Tuesday:


• Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;


• Staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with persons in poor health;


• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;


• Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then disposing of the tissue;


• Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;


- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty; and


• Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.


According to the FDOH press release, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath.


Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure.


COVID-19 can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes.


These droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.


Most people recover from the COVID-19 without needing special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.


Hinds said if you believe you are feeling ill, see a health professional and/or the health department.


She also reiterated a message from the state regarding the wearing of face masks.


Such masks, she said, are not for those who are not ill.


“A face mask should only be used by people with coronavirus … or health care providers helping those with the virus,” Hinds said.


Mayor Rex Buzzett thanked Hinds for the public presentation.


“Everybody needs to know we are prepared,” Buzzett said. “There is no reason to panic.”


A person that experiences a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and any other destination under CDC travel advisory should call ahead to their health care provider and local county health department (CHD) and mention their recent travel or close contact, according to the FDOH.


If a person has had close contact with someone showing these symptoms who has recently traveled from this area or been in contact with a person with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, they should call ahead to a health care professional and the county health department.


The health care professional will work with the Department to determine if the person should be tested for COVID-19.


Hinds noted all testing for the virus is done in Tallahassee.