Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a public health emergency Sunday after two Florida residents — one from Manatee County and another from Hillsborough County — tested “presumptively positive” for coronavirus.
A presumptive positive case means that the patient has tested positive by a public health laboratory and is pending confirmatory testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the CDC.
The Florida Department of Health said in a press release that “Both individuals remain in isolation at this time.”
“Despite these cases in Florida, the overall immediate threat to the public remains low,” the release adds.
The Department of Health press release states that the Manatee County resident did not have a travel history, but the Hillsborough County resident had traveled to Italy, which is experiencing a significant number of coronavirus cases. Both adults will remain isolated until “cleared by public health officials.”
A letter circulating widely under the name of Doctor’s Hospital of Sarasota states that the CDC has notified the hospital that a patient has “presumptively tested positive for” coronavirus.
A couple of Sarasota Memorial Hospital doctors told the hospital’s administration that they received the letter from Doctors Hospital about the coronavirus case, but the Herald-Tribune was unable to confirm the letter’s authenticity directly with anyone at Doctors Hospital Sunday.
Sarasota state Sen. Joe Gruters said late Sunday that he spoke with someone at HCA Healthcare, which owns Doctors, and “asked is it real?”
“They said ‘yes,’” Gruters said.
Asked about the letter Sunday, Monica Yadav, the director of marketing and public relations for Doctor’s Hospital, said she could not provide any information and referred inquiries to the Sarasota County Health Department.
A person with the Health Department’s after hours answering service said Sunday evening that the department is currently “not answering any questions on this.”
The letter had circulated broadly enough that other health officials in the region were scrambling Sunday to verify its contents before the governor put out a press release confirming the positive tests at 9:39 p.m.
“We are aware of a letter circulating that references a patient under investigation at Doctors Hospital, but we have no report or positive confirmation from the CDC,” said Kim Savage, the public relations manager for Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Savage added that “a couple of doctors alerted us that they received the letter from (Doctors Hospital).”
According to the letter, which was printed on Doctors Hospital letterhead, the patient was admitted in late February and remains in the hospital’s care.
The CDC on Friday changed its guidance regarding the coronavirus, specifically the criteria for people under investigation, which led the patient to be tested, according to the letter. Upon recognizing that the patient was a potential coronavirus case, Doctors Hospital immediately activated its protocols, which included immediate isolation, the letter states.
The letter says that all potentially exposed individuals have been identified, and that the hospital is working closely with local and state departments of health as well as the CDC to take appropriate precautions.
“Just as we have done with seasonal flu and tuberculosis, we identify and treat infectious diseases while minimizing risk,” the letter reads. “By being aware of the very latest recommendations of the CDC, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota was able to identify this patient and pursue testing at the very earliest opportunity.”
“Please know that the safety of our patients, colleagues and community is of the utmost concern,” the letter states.
Savage said the letter has generated concern in the community.
“The best thing we can do as a community is stay informed,” Savage said. “Visit the CDC website daily just like you would for a hurricane, you get guidance every day because the situation is evolving quickly.”
Sarasota state Rep. Margaret Good called for complete transparency from government officials about the health scare.
“I think this report highlights the need for transparency and for state and local government to work with the CDC, the Department of Health and our local hospitals to ensure that the public is informed and the diagnostic tests are available to everyone who may need one,” Good said.
DeSantis said in his executive order declaring a public health emergency that the Florida Department of Health will lead the response.
“The Florida Department of Health will actively monitor, at a minimum, all persons meeting the definition of a Person Under Investigation … as defined by the CDC for (coronavirus) for a period of at least 14 days or until the PUI tests negative,” the executive order reads.
Anyone who meets the definition of a PUI must be quarantined by the Department of Health for 14 days or until they test negative.
The governor is holding press conferences in Tampa and Miami Monday to discuss the state’s response to the coronavirus.
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