Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: “We are anticipating additional positive tests” for COVID-19 after sister of Hillsborough County woman with virus tests positive.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that a third coronavirus case has been positively identified in the state — a sister of one of the first two Florida residents confirmed to have the illness.
The Florida Department of Health said Sunday that Florida’s first two coronavirus cases are a Manatee County man in his 60s and a Hillsborough County woman in her 20s who traveled to Italy.
The Hillsborough County woman’s sister has now tested positive as well. She also traveled to Italy and is a California resident, but is being isolated in Florida.
“She’s been in isolation since this all was identified,” DeSantis said. “Again, that was something that was contemplated.”
Because of the highly infectious nature of the unique coronavirus, or COVID-19, a roommate of the Hillsborough County woman also is in isolation, the governor said.
READ MORE: The Ledger’s complete coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
The Manatee County man, who did not have a recent travel history, had contacted several health care personnel about his emerging illness. They have since been tested, DeSantis said.
“We have not received a positive yet,” DeSantis said about those tests.
The Manatee County resident is being treated at Doctors Hospital in Sarasota. He and the Hillsborough woman are reported in stable condition and being kept in isolation until they are medically clear.
Since DeSantis declared a public health emergency Sunday night after publicly announcing the state’s first two cases of the virus, state government has begun bracing for a much broader outbreak.
Tensions over how to contain the coronavirus escalated Tuesday in the United States as the death toll climbed to nine.
All of the deaths have occurred in Washington state, and most were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle, according to The Associated Press. The number of infections in the U.S. overall climbed past 100, scattered across at least 15 states, with 27 cases in Washington alone.
On top of the three confirmed cases, the Florida Department of Health reported Tuesday that 16 test results were pending and 247 people were under public health monitoring in the state.
County school districts have issued health alerts for parents and students, universities and colleges have banned travel to countries where the virus has been present for weeks, and Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott has been pushing the Department of Homeland Security to increase health screenings at the state’s international airports.
READ MORE: Coronavirus Q&A: 17 things to know
A New York attorney identified as that state’s second coronavirus victim had recently traveled to Miami, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. But DeSantis told reporters he only learned about that potential risk through media reports.
Speaking at the Capitol, DeSantis sought to calm growing fears about the spread of the illness. He said research shows that younger, healthy people should not assume that contracting coronavirus means their life is in jeopardy.
“If you don’t have an underlying health condition and you’re not elderly, so far you’ve seen very few really serious cases,” he said. “We really want to look at those very vulnerable populations and focus the efforts there.”
The governor also has reached out to Florida’s legislative leaders about a need to increase dollars for the state’s Health Department, the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees nursing homes, and other agencies forced to play a larger role in combatting the virus.
“Better to put the money in to do what needs to be done and to answer the needs rather than try to shortchange that … I think you’d end up with more economic problems,” DeSantis said.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who represents Manatee and parts of Hillsborough County, where the first two cases were identified, said, “Initially we’re talking about maybe $10 million to $20 million.”
“Until we really know what we’re looking at, the numbers are still in play,” Galvano said. “We’re all in.”
Lawmakers are expected to finish the 2020 legislative session on March 13, although leaders Tuesday said a day or two of overtime may be needed to settle on a final budget, likely to top $92 billion.
While there seems to be controversy over increased coronavirus funding, the House and Senate are at odds over a teacher pay plan, environmental dollars and the fate of Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing agency which the House wants to eliminate on June 30.
With tourism expected to take some kind of financial hit from the spread of coronavirus, Galvano acknowledged Tuesday that it may help make the case for the Senate and DeSantis, supporters of steering $50 million to finance Visit Florida for the coming year.
Visit Florida played a role in promoting the state as a tourist haven during the 2016 Zika virus outbreak, the red tide and blue-green algae blooms of 2018, and following powerful hurricanes which left damage that threatened to keep people away.
“It is important to have some mitigating voice out there so that people around the world have a realistic understanding of what is a threat and what isn’t,” Galvano said.
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