Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday declared a state of emergency that would broaden his powers to respond to the novel coronavirus, including allowing him to deploy National Guard troops if necessary.
“That allows us to create a unified command structure. It also allows, if need be, out-of-state medical personnel to operate in Florida,” DeSantis told reporters in the Capitol. “It allows us to swiftly purchase any necessary supplies.”
DeSantis also announced he expected the state to receive $27 million in federal funding to help fight the spread of the virus, known as COVID-19. The funding, part of an $8.3 billion bill signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday, is in addition to $25 million that the Florida Legislature agreed over the weekend to spend to fight the continued spread of coronavirus in the state.
DeSantis also said two laboratory companies — Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp — are now prepared to process coronavirus test kits. Other laboratories will be able to process the test kits in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, DeSantis encouraged people to take precautions.
“If you’re elderly or you have a serious, underlying medical condition, don’t get on a cruise ship right now. Don’t get on a long flight where you could be exposed to the virus. Take certain steps to do what they call social distancing,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also said his administration has been working closely with the state’s long-term care industry to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t spread and harm frail and elderly residents who reside there.
To that end, Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees said the department has worked closely with the state Agency for Healthcare Administration, which has regulatory oversight of long-term care facilities, to develop a visitor screening tool meant to keep the residents safe.
“Do you have a fever? Can’t visit. Are you sick? Can’t visit,” Rivkees said, describing the screening tool. “Have you had international travel in the past 14 days? Can’t visit. Have you been on a cruise? Can’t visit.”
As of Monday, the Department of Health reported the state had 18 cases of COVID-19, including two people who have died. Both residents who died were elderly and had traveled internationally, according to the health department.
The virus started Dec. 31 in Wuhan, China, but has quickly spread to 104 other countries and territories. Worldwide, there were 109,577 confirmed cases of the virus and 3,809 deaths, with 3,123 in China, according to the World Health Organization.
The virus is causing widespread panic and pummeling the stock market. But DeSantis said Florida has not had community spread of the virus. The state was monitoring 302 people for the virus Monday, according to the Department of Health website.
DeSantis on March 1 issued an executive order that outlined the state’s response to COVID-19 and directed Rivkees, who is the state’s surgeon general, to issue a public health emergency. A state of emergency is broader than a public health emergency.