There has been no 'community spread' of COVID-19 in Florida but officials expect that to change.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday continued to step up Florida’s efforts to confront the novel coronavirus' invasion of the state.
Speaking inside a Florida Department of Health warehouse next to a display of coronavirus test kit boxes, the governor said Florida now has the capability to test up to 250,000 people.
Florida currently has 1,000 kits in state. Each kit can test up to 250 individuals, and another 1,500 kits are expected next week.
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“If a doctor recommends it, then you can receive a test, and we want people to be doing that if they are experiencing the symptoms,” DeSantis told reporters.
He also announced he was ordering a temporary ban on visiting nursing homes and similar places in Broward County, one of the hot zones for COVID-19 illness, as well as considering activating components of the state's National Guard to help with response.
In related news, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady announced he was suspending jury trials statewide.
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County courthouses remain open for business, however. Local judges now have more latitude to conduct legal proceedings by phone or teleconference.
Specifically, Canady's order temporarily suspends "grand jury proceedings, jury selection proceedings, and criminal and civil jury trials." It also "temporarily suspend(s) procedural requirements and limitations that could hinder efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the courts, court participants and all the people of Florida,” it says.
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Health officials have been frustrated by a lack of kits to track who has the virus and where it is spreading.
DeSantis said as of Friday there were 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida, with two deaths attributed to the virus, and 365 individuals currently being monitored by health officials for symptoms. Five of the cases were of Floridians tested and now isolated in other states.
Eleven of the cases are in Broward County, where the governor prohibited all visitations to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, adult family care homes, long-term care facilities and adult group homes for the next 30 days.
“It’s a no-brainer to err on the side of safety,” DeSantis said about the nursing home visitation ban.
Scientists say the novel coronavirus is a persistent strain. It can stay infectious for days on a surface, be present in a person without any symptoms and can linger for many weeks.
The elderly and people with underlying medical conditions appear to be vulnerable to the virus, which has a fatality rate at a much greater rate than influenza. Scientists also say the data is unclear because relatively few tests have been conducted.
Still no 'community spread' in Florida
Also as of Friday, DeSantis said there has been no "community spread" of the virus, with 221 test results pending.
The CDC defines community spread as occurring when a person infected with the coronavirus "reportedly did not have relevant travel history or exposure to another known patient with COVID-19."
But officials expect the number of infections to rise — and the warehouse where DeSantis held the briefing appeared to be in a state of preparation.
Cases of bottled water were stored behind the lectern where DeSantis spoke. Thousands of MREs, meals-ready-to eat, were in bins to his left, and portable respirators were scattered in aisles and lined tables to the side.
DeSantis said he expected that over the next 24 hours he would activate components of the Florida National Guard to help local communities combat the virus. The Guard has nurses, medics and others that could help.
“We think if we have National Guard support, they could help augment medical staff shortages, could potentially help expand testing resources and even potentially set up field medical clinics, if they were needed,” the governor said.
State health officials said most of the cases in Florida are connected to travel outside of the state, with 10 of them linked to a cruise in Egypt. DeSantis continues to encourage municipalities and businesses to limit or postpone large gatherings, and for individuals to practice "social distancing" during the outbreak.
Sporting events have been canceled. Public universities are moving to distance learning, and DeSantis has directed state agencies to explore which workers can telecommute to their jobs.
“I think this is something that we will be able to get through," he said. "We are going to have to do this for the foreseeable future, but it is something that I think the people of Florida will be able to get through.”