TALLAHASSEE — Two people from Hillsborough and Manatee counties are the first to test positive for coronavirus in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Sunday night.
The Hillsborough County adult had a travel history to Italy, which on Saturday became the third country to have more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, prompting the U.S. State Department to warn travelers from traveling there.
The other patient is an adult Manatee County resident without a history of travel to restricted countries such as China or Iran, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The patient sought out care and is helping state officials identify close contacts and health care workers who might have been exposed and showing symptoms.
Both people tested “presumptively positive” for the virus, indicating they had not been tested again by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both patients will remain isolated until cleared by public health officials, the department said. Officials did not say where the patients were being treated.
The first cases of the flu-like virus prompted DeSantis to direct the state surgeon general, Scott Rivkees, to declare a public health emergency. Despite the two cases, "the overall immediate threat to the public remains low,” the Florida Department of Health said in a statement.
“The dedicated professionals at our county health departments, as well as those working at local medical providers, are well equipped to address these and future cases,” DeSantis said in a statement.
The declaration directs Rivkees to follow the guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control in establishing protocols to control the spread of COVID-19 and educate the public on prevention, the memo states.
The governor’s office announced late Sunday that DeSantis and other state officials would be holding a news conference Monday morning in Tampa and Monday afternoon in Miami.
“I have been working with federal partners and our Department of Health to ensure that communities are ready to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19,” said DeSantis, adding that county health departments are “well equipped to address these and future cases.”
Rivkees added the state’s epidemiological teams are “aggressively pursuing every potential lead during these critical early moments of this outbreak in Florida.”
The news comes two days after federal officials expanded testing criteria and Florida became capable of processing tests within the state.
On Saturday, all three Florida Department of Health labs — in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville — became capable of testing for novel coronavirus, cutting the wait times for results to within 24 to 48 hours. For weeks, the tests were being sent to a federal lab in Atlanta, which was producing results within three to five days.
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also expanded its criteria for who should be tested. Physicians should now determine whether any patient with severe pneumonia symptoms should be tested, regardless of their travel history, the agency advised.
Sunday saw a series of new confirmations of the virus. Rhode Island and New York confirmed their first cases, and additional patients were identified in Washington and California, where two health care workers tested positive for the virus.
A genetic analysis of samples in Washington indicate the virus was circulated undetected there for six weeks, causing some researchers to believe there is a substantial outbreak in that state.
The Department of Health updated its COVID-19 website on Sunday, listing the two presumptive positives to eight cases pending testing results and 184 people under monitoring. Another 15 cases came back negative.
Symptoms of the respiratory illness include fever, cough and shortness of breath and can appear in as few as two days or as many as 14, according to the department.
Most people recover from the COVID-19 without needing special treatment, but older people and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.
The virus spreads person-to-person through droplets from the nose or mouth, transmitted through coughs and sneezes, according to health officials. There is no vaccine for the virus.
Health officials recommend simple steps for prevention, including:
- avoiding contact with people who are sick
- staying home when sick
- avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and
- washing your hands often with soap and water.
Miami Herald staff writers Ben Conarck and Bradenton Herald staff writer Ryan Ballogg contributed to this story.