The state is committed to doing everything it can to keep the coronavirus at bay, Gov. Ron DeSantis and high-ranking members of his administration said Thursday.
But that does not include providing information to the public about whether Florida residents are among the 445 people in the United States who the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says have been tested for the virus. And it doesn’t include providing free testing to people who are uninsured or underinsured.
DeSantis told reporters during a news conference that while he was open to disclosing the testing information to the public, he was advised not to do so by state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.
“I actually wanted to give all the numbers, but they pointed me to the regulation of the statute,” DeSantis said, referring to a patient confidentiality statute.
DeSantis stressed that no one in Florida has tested positive for the coronavirus, which began in China and is known as COVID-19.
“If that were to change, then, obviously, Dr. Rivkees and my administration would want to let people know that ASAP,” DeSantis said.
Rivkees, who doubles as secretary of the state Department of Health, said the state’s response to COVID-19 would be varied.
“If there are individual cases or linked cases, our strategy will be to make sure these individuals first have the medical care they need. And that they are isolated so they cannot transmit this virus to others,” Rivkees said. “However, if there are multiple other unlinked cases where there appears to be widespread COVID-19, community-based strategies will be implemented, and this will involve avoiding group activities and group meetings.”
The DeSantis administration’s refusal to provide information about the number of people tested and the counties where they reside has faced sharp criticism from Democrats.
“Treating this as other jurisdictions have, where they don’t share information, they try to manage it internally and try to put on a face that everything is fine, that doesn’t shore up confidence,” state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D- Miami, said.
The coronavirus has drawn worldwide concerns in recent weeks, with the World Health Organization reporting 82,539 confirmed cases in 47 countries and 2,812 deaths.
As of Wednesday, 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the U.S., excluding 42 confirmed cases involving Americans who were on a Diamond Princess cruise ship and three people who were repatriated from China.
A vaccine for the deadly virus isn’t expected to be ready for at least 18 months, according to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
DeSantis’ news conference came after President Donald Trump on Wednesday night named Vice President Mike Pence the point person for the Trump administration on the coronavirus. The White House unveiled a $2.5 billion plan, including $1.8 billion in new funds, to fight COVID-19. More than $1 billion would be targeted to the development of a vaccine.
While the number of people tested in Florida has not been disclosed, the DeSantis administration provided information about what happens after people are tested.
Regardless if a person goes to a doctor’s office or a hospital, Rivkees said the testing sample is collected by county health department staff members and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for analysis. Results, according to the DeSantis administration, are available in three to five days.
People who are tested are encouraged to self-quarantine themselves for 14 days. Department of Health officials told The News Service of Florida that the agency will follow up with phone calls to track if the people remain isolated.
Though the DeSantis administration is encouraging people to obtain flu shots and to get tested for COVID-19 if they are worried, the state is not providing free access or deferring costs of the tests.
Florida did not expand Medicaid to low-income childless adults as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. An estimated 13 percent of the population in 2019 was uninsured, according to the most recent America’s Health Ranking report.
The Miami Herald this week reported about a person who had traveled to China, returned to Florida and worried that he may have contracted the virus. He went to Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital for a test and was told he would first need a CT scan. He ultimately changed course, requesting that he first be tested for influenza. The influenza test was positive, and he subsequently received a $3,270 bill of which about $1,800 was covered by his insurance policy.
For people who are tested and self-quarantined and unable to work, DeSantis said there are “programs in place to mitigate some of those costs.”
When Rivkees was asked to comment about the programs, he said the state would work with people under quarantine “to make sure that they have the health care they will need.”
The coronavirus can be spread by droplets that are sprayed when people sneeze or cough or through contact such as shaking hands. John Sinnott, a Tampa General Hospital physician and University of South Florida faculty member, told state lawmakers this month he believes the virus also could be airborne, similar to tuberculosis.
Sinnott said one person infected with the coronavirus could spread it to an average of 2.2 people. Moreover, about 1.8 percent of the people infected with the coronavirus will die.
Such a potential spread has caused concerns among Florida school districts.
Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County public schools, said Wednesday that he is prepared, if necessary, to close schools and to provide students with electronic devices so they can learn at home.
–Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida