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Coronavirus in Tampa Bay: Read a summary of our coverage in one place

Florida’s first cases are in Hillsborough and Manatee counties. Here’s a sampling of everything you need to know about the virus and how it affects you.

Woman in Hillsborough case flew through Tampa International

The woman in Hillsborough County who contracted coronavirus and had visited northern Italy was on a return flight at Tampa International Airport, spokeswoman Emily Nipps said late Monday.

It’s unclear how many people she may have come into contact with or how health officials are tracing her steps. Nipps did not say when the woman, in her 20s, flew through the airport.

She directed questions to the state or federal government. Read more here.

— Zachary T. Sampson and Justine Griffin, Times staff writers

Related: Third coronavirus case found in Florida is Hillsborough patient’s sister

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg paying attention to coronavirus

St. Petersburg’s signature racing event is just a couple of weeks away.

“We continue to monitor the coronavirus developments and the updates from CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Florida Department of Health,” said Steve Bidlack, the manager of marketing and communications for Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which puts on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Learn more about the response from the Tampa Bay Vipers XFL team and the Southeastern Conference here.

— Matt Baker and Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writers

Pinellas transit agency says it is sanitizing buses more often

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority said it has instructed staffers to clean its buses frequently, including wiping down fare boxes, steering wheels and seats every day.

“We are also reminding staff to wash their hands and frequently use hand sanitizer,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Rank in a statement Monday.

— Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer

Life goes on at Sarasota school — minus one student under quarantine

Sarasota Military Academy is in the spotlight after a student and his mother were quarantined. The mother works at a local hospital, where she came into contact with coronavirus.

One of Florida’s two confirmed cases is in neighboring Manatee County.

School leaders have not told cadets to stay home.

Get caught up on the scene in Sarasota.

An exterior view of the Sarasota Military Academy 801 N. Orange Ave, on Monday, March 2, 2020 in Sarasota. A parent and student from the school are under quarantine at home as a precaution because they may have been exposed to coronavirus.
An exterior view of the Sarasota Military Academy 801 N. Orange Ave, on Monday, March 2, 2020 in Sarasota. A parent and student from the school are under quarantine at home as a precaution because they may have been exposed to coronavirus. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

— Christopher Spata, Times staff writer

Miami state senator proposes infectious disease data amendment. It fails.

During the Senate Rules committee Monday, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, presented an amendment to a larger Department of Health package that would require aggregate testing data by county be published daily during infectious disease outbreaks.

The amendment, which failed, was a reaction to the state’s response to COVID-19, which started with the state surgeon general telling lawmakers that the Department would not disclose how many people were being tested for the virus in the state.

General Scott Rivkees cited Florida Administrative Code, which says all information contained in investigations of this kind is confidential and is only to be released if the surgeon general considers the disease highly infectious or says there is a potential for further outbreaks.

Because the CDC says the immediate health risk from the virus is considered low, DOH was not required to share testing information.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rivkees met with Vice President Mike Pence, who was tasked with overseeing the national response to the virus outbreak, the Department of Health did begin disclosing testing numbers.

— Samantha J. Gross, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

For Florida, special concerns about elderly population

Top health officials are urging workers at assisted living facilities to closely monitor visitors after two people in Florida were diagnosed with coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said most people who come down with the virus will not need to be hospitalized, but older residents and those with other health conditions like diabetes are more prone to severe symptoms.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said nursing home leaders should limit access to their facilities.

“If anybody is ill, they should not be visiting,” he said.

DeSantis, at a news conference in Miami, was similarly blunt.

“To let somebody come in who had just come back from Italy who has symptoms would be a huge mistake,” he said.

Italy is one of several countries with the biggest outbreaks of coronavirus, including China, South Korea, Iran and Japan.

Rivkees warned that a nursing home in Washington could already be the site of a possible outbreak in the United States.

— Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

Could coronavirus lead to a hospital staffing shortage?

Some health workers at the hospital where a man in Manatee County was diagnosed with coronavirus have had to put themselves in isolation after potentially being exposed to the illness.

The reality has spurred concern that, if an outbreak occurs in Florida, hospitals could struggle with a shortage of available staff.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday afternoon in Miami that he is looking to ease restrictions to allow local facilities to bring in staffing help from out of state.

In terms of materials like masks for medical professionals, the governor said he believes supply companies are producing more, which the state can draw on as needed. He said he has spoken to leaders of the Florida Legislature about approving contingency funding.

DeSantis said Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal response to coronavirus, told him the plan is for the federal government to reimburse some state costs.

— Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

Gabriel Rodriguez, 20, left, of Wesley Chapel, and his brother, Luis Rodriguez, 23, of Wesley Chapel, arrive at Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa, wearing masks as a countermeasure for exposure to coronavirus while returning from a trip to Panama. Concern for exposure to coronavirus has become more acute in the wake of the announcement by state health officials that Florida's first coronavirus cases have been found in Hillsborough and Manatee counties.
Gabriel Rodriguez, 20, left, of Wesley Chapel, and his brother, Luis Rodriguez, 23, of Wesley Chapel, arrive at Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa, wearing masks as a countermeasure for exposure to coronavirus while returning from a trip to Panama. Concern for exposure to coronavirus has become more acute in the wake of the announcement by state health officials that Florida's first coronavirus cases have been found in Hillsborough and Manatee counties. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

What does a coronavirus test entail?

Shamarial Roberson, the state’s deputy secretary for health, said during a news conference in Miami on Monday that doctors conducting a coronavirus test can take an oral swab, a nasal swab and collect saliva from a person potentially infected with the illness.

They then send those samples to a public health laboratory; there are three in Florida able to test for coronavirus, technically known as COVID-19, one each in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville.

That test will come back in 24 to 48 hours. If positive, the state sends samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for final confirmation.

— Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

(From left) Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson, State Senator State Senator Janet Cruz, State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, Governor Ron DeSantis, look on while Andrew Cannons, Laboratory Director at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories, explains the testing procedures of potential coronavirus cases at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020.
(From left) Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson, State Senator State Senator Janet Cruz, State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, Governor Ron DeSantis, look on while Andrew Cannons, Laboratory Director at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories, explains the testing procedures of potential coronavirus cases at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

In Miami, DeSantis offers more information on Florida coronavirus cases

The man who has coronavirus in Manatee County has underlying health conditions, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Monday afternoon in Miami, but state health officials still do not know how he came into contact with the illness.

The man, who is in his 60s, has no known travel history to places like China, Italy, Iran, South Korea or Japan, where the most significant outbreaks have occurred to date.

He was hospitalized for five days before he was tested, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees confirmed. The man only became eligible for testing when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded criteria to include people with lower respiratory tract illnesses but no known diagnoses of the flu or other ailments.

DeSantis said doctors are tracing all of the man’s contacts to see if he might have been around a person who traveled to places where coronavirus has already spread. The governor emphasized that state health officials have no evidence yet of the illness spreading within a local community.

The other patient in Florida is a woman in her 20s in Hillsborough County who had traveled to northern Italy. DeSantis said she had a sister who may have been with her on the trip but lives in California.

Younger people who contract the coronavirus tend to fare better than those who are older but have pre-existing health problems, according to the governor.

“The risk to the public remains low,” DeSantis said. “Even people who end up contracting this, the vast, vast majority are not going to require hospitalization.”

— Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

No known community transmission in Tampa Bay, officials say

Health officials told local hospital operators in Tampa Bay on Monday that there is no known community transmission tied to the two local cases right now.

The woman who tested positive for coronavirus in Hillsborough County was diagnosed by the local health department and not at a local hospital. She is quarantined at her home and being treated by the health department from her home and at a local clinic.

Hospital operators discussed the next steps at a closed roundtable event with Gov. Ron Desantis on Monday morning. Reporters were not allowed into the meeting.

Officials discussed the possible shortage of medical supplies, but no local hospital is experiencing that yet. No hospital reported seeing a dramatic influx of patient volume yet either, outside of the expected uptick due to the busy annual flu season.

John Couris, the CEO of Tampa General Hospital, created an informal taskforce with the leadership at BayCare and HCA hospitals. He said they spoke after the roundtable event and will begin to meet every few days to share information and resources.

“Residents should know that if they are experiencing symptoms like the flu, they can be treated at any hospital in the area, but the first thing they should do is call the health department,” he said.

Couris said the hospital staff is well-trained to handle a mass infectious disease event like this.

Tampa General is beefing up its telemedicine operations to treat and see patients on a screen to help alleviate the volume coming into the emergency room or urgent care centers.

Officials with the Florida Department of Health did not answer questions related to the cost of the coronavirus testing, and who is responsible for paying for it. Patients will pay normal co-pays and fees for an urgent care, telemedicine or emergency room visit. But it’s unclear at this time who is paying for the coronavirus test, and how the overall cost of care may deter potentially sick patients from seeking care.

Health officials are urging potential patients to “self quarantine” in their own homes, which frees up space in hospitals and cuts down on costs associated with extended hospital stays.

At the discussion, health officials and community leaders avoided shaking hands. Instead they “bumped elbows” as a way to promote safe prevention practices.

— Justine Griffin, Times staff writer

Sherman Andrus, left, checks baggage with American Airlines customer service agent Cindy Warner who uses both antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer at her station as a countermeasure to coronavirus at Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa.
Sherman Andrus, left, checks baggage with American Airlines customer service agent Cindy Warner who uses both antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer at her station as a countermeasure to coronavirus at Tampa International Airport (TIA) on Monday, March 2, 2020, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Not saying ‘coronavirus’ in front of the kids

At Gorrie Elementary School in South Tampa, where workers installed new hand sanitizer stations Monday, principal Marjorie Sandler said teachers will be talking to students about proper handwashing techniques, which they do routinely anyway.

But they won’t be mentioning the coronavirus by name."We have not used that phrase at school," Sandler said. “We just say, to keep from getting sick and spreading germs."

— Marlene Sokol, Times staff writer

Hillsborough schools: Hand sanitizer for now. More serious steps later?

Hillsborough County School officials, while trying to avoid a panic, are also making contingency plans, should the outbreak manifest itself locally.

The school district on Monday began installing hand sanitizer dispensers and delivering cartons of Purell to all of its more than 235 schools. Purell dispensers also are being installed at the entrance of each of the district’s roughly 1,000 school buses.

The district is plastering its buildings with color posters in English and Spanish that advise students and staff in healthy habits such as washing hands with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and refraining from touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

Also, district spokesman Grayson Kamm described contingency plans in case things get worse.

Parents are being encouraged to keep children home with any kind of illness, and teachers are being reminded to keep information about class assignments up to date on the district’s Edsby websites.

Outside cleaning firms might be retained, in case a school must be deep-cleaned because of a coronavirus diagnosis.

The district is exploring options to facilitate remote learning if a student must be absent for an extended period of time, and preparing school counselors to cope with anxiety if it sets in.

Other, more drastic steps are under consideration if a case or cases are detected in the schools. As a last resort, the district would consider closing a school in case of infection. If that were to happen, Kamm said, the district would work to make sure each student had access to an internet device, to keep up with their lessons.

For all of these decisions, the district is awaiting guidance from the Florida Department of Health.

— Marlene Sokol, Times staff writer

State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, right, speaks about the confirmed coronavirus cases in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties while other local and state officials are in attendance during a press conference at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020.
State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees, right, speaks about the confirmed coronavirus cases in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties while other local and state officials are in attendance during a press conference at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

Florida opens call center for coronavirus

The Florida Department of Health has launched a call center for coronavirus surveillance. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms or has questions related to the illness, known technically as COVID-19, call 1-(866) 779-6121 or email COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

The Call Center is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

— Justine Griffin, Times staff writer

Two coronavirus cases confirmed in Florida, state reports

Florida’s two presumptive cases of coronavirus, in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, are now confirmed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday supported the state’s initial tests.

— Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writer

Pasco schools have plans for possible virus spread

The Pasco County school district has a “comprehensive pandemic plan,” district spokesman Steve Hegarty said, and it includes both preventive measures and actions for response in the event of a local case.

Officials are working to ensure schools have adequate supplies to have students wash their hands and employees to keep schools sanitized. The district also has set up a section on its school health page of its website to provide the latest available information for families and others with questions and concerns.

“The goal here is to make it clear to parents, staff, and the public that there is no immediate cause for concern, and that we are being proactive in protecting the health and well-being of our students and staff,” Hegarty said.

In addition, JoAnne Glenn, principal of Pasco eSchool, said her team has begun looking into how the district might create an online education plan for schools to use if the virus becomes widespread. She and other virtual school leaders from around the state are talking with each other about ideas they can share. Most districts have digital learning systems in place already, Glenn noted, so it would seem a logical first step would be to reframe how teachers use those to prepare and present lessons to their students in emergency situations — and that could mean much more than just a health scare.

“We see it around the country with snow days,” Glenn said. “There are some good solid models around the country.”

She mentioned that about a decade ago, the area faced a swine flu outbreak that prompted many families to enroll their children in virtual education programs. Children returned to their bricks and mortar schools, she said, after the flu abated.

“If I didn’t have that experience,” she said, “I’d be more concerned overall.”

— Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times staff writer

Urgent care clinic workers tape sign to the door in Tampa

At the South Tampa Immediate Care clinic, receptionists wore paper masks on Monday.

A sign on the door warned prospective visitors: “Stop" and "DO NOT ENTER” if they had traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong or parts of Washington, Arizona, Oregon, California and Wisconsin. The sign instructed people to call the local health department instead.

“Urgent cares are not set up for this because we don’t have isolation rooms, full protective gear or the equipment to test," Alicia Murphy, CEO of South Tampa Immediate Care. "The only ones who can do that are the health departments.”

A sign on the door of South Tampa Immediate Care on Monday March 2, 2020 warns people to not enter if they recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong or parts of Washington, Arizona, Oregon, California and Wisconsin.
A sign on the door of South Tampa Immediate Care on Monday March 2, 2020 warns people to not enter if they recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong or parts of Washington, Arizona, Oregon, California and Wisconsin. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times staff ]

— Divya Kumar, Times staff writer

How can you tell if that cough is just a symptom of allergies?

We asked doctors what people should look for when deciding how much to worry about a seasonal cough.

“With allergies, you have itchy eyes, itchy nose, runny nose, sneezing,” as well as wheezing or shortness of breath for people who also have asthma, said Dr. Richard F. Lockey, chief of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. “You do not get fever and you do not get severe headaches.”

Get up to speed here.

— Jack Evans, Times staff writer

Tampa pharmacist says masks ‘flying off the shelves’

Holly Bergeron, a pharmacist at the Walgreens on West Platt Street, said: “We’ve seen a lot of people concerned.”

She added that "masks are flying off the shelves.”

“We can’t test for it here," Bergeron said, as a reminder on coronavirus. "They’d have to go to the hospital for that.”

Alexia Lugo, with the CVS on Swann Avenue, said people are also asking for hand sanitizer. “We don’t have face masks anymore,” she said.

She recommended people stay aware of personal hygiene.

“Even just touching your face,” she said.

— Divya Kumar, Times staff writer

Tampa Bay Rays take coronavirus precautions; players worried about their homeland

The Rays have reminded players and staff to wash their hands and frequently use hand sanitizer.

Meanwhile, first baseman Ji-Man Choi, from South Korea (where the virus is more widespread), said he asked media from his country to conduct interviews outside the clubhouse out of courtesy to his teammates.

New Ray Yoshi Tsutsugo is from Japan, which also has more cases of coronavirus.

“Of course I’m worried,'' he said, via interpreter Louis Chao. “So far none of my friends or family have got the coronavirus so that’s a good thing. But not only my friends and family, I hope everyone in Japan can get through all this smoothly.”

Read more about the team’s response.

— Marc Topkin, Times staff writer

Disney, Florida theme parks on alert

What could the coronavirus scare mean for tourism? Florida’s signature theme parks are on alert.

Walt Disney World officials told some employees who recently traveled to Italy to stay home.

Corporate leaders at Busch Gardens are keeping in touch with health officials.

“We employ rigorous sanitation standards across our parks,” said park spokeswoman Rebecca Romzek.

Click here to learn more.

— Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

Cruise lines, Port Tampa Bay issue guidelines on coronavirus

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents more than 90 percent of ocean-going cruise capacity worldwide and includes nearly every major cruise line, issued new guidance this week regarding how cruise lines should respond to coronavirus.

The rules include prohibiting any passengers who have traveled within the last 14 days to China, South Korea or Iran.

Meanwhile, officials at Port Tampa Bay, a major cargo hub, said it is also monitoring news of the illness.

Read more here.

— Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, left, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, looks on while Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson, right, speaks about the confirmed coronavirus cases in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties while other local and state officials are in attendance during a press conference at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020.
Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, left, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, looks on while Deputy Secretary for Health Dr. Shamarial Roberson, right, speaks about the confirmed coronavirus cases in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties while other local and state officials are in attendance during a press conference at the Florida Department of Health Laboratory in Tampa, Florida on March 2, 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

UF, FSU, UCF cancel some study abroad programs

The University of Florida recently announced cancellation of its architecture study abroad program in Vicenza, Italy, in response to the spread of coronavirus in the country, according to spokesman Steve Orlando.

About 40 students are in “various stages of return” to UF, and the school will follow federal guidelines to assess and monitor their health when they arrive.

UF also recently canceled study abroad programs to China and South Korea due to coronavirus. All affected students will be refunded for the time missed, Orlando said.

The university itself is on spring break this week, “so that’s sort of working in our favor,” Orlando added. “We will be monitoring very closely in the coming days to see what additional steps may be taken.”

On Monday afternoon, Florida State University canceled its spring semester courses at its center in Florence, Italy, announcing plans to have the center closed within a week. The university is working with students in the program to get them home safely, and has asked them to self-quarantine for 14 days following their return.

Spring semester programs for other FSU study centers abroad continue to operate as scheduled. In addition to this move, the university suspended all travel plans for students and staff headed to China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy, the countries with the largest outbreaks of the coronavirus.

FSU officials stressed that its main campus in Tallahassee has not had any cases of the illness, and that its leaders are working with county health offices to prepare in case the virus does make its way to the school.

Meanwhile, the University of Central Florida sent a message campus wide on Friday to students and staff, alerting them to the latest status with coronavirus. In it, the school reminded everyone to continue to take preventive steps such as staying away from others when sick, regularly disinfecting commonly touched surfaces and keeping your hands clean.

“Hand sanitizer stations are available across campus, and UCF is adding more to high-traffic areas on campus to encourage use during flu season,” the message stated. The school also made clear that it has added China, Hong Kong, Mongolia and South Korea to its restricted destinations list, canceling all study abroad programs there in keeping with federal guidance on nonessential travel.

It further reminded everyone to take the virus into consideration as they consider spring break trips: “Travelers should proceed with caution, thoroughly research their destination, and consult with their doctors and UCF regarding any concerns.”

Finally, the school told students that if they are feeling stress over the virus situation, the university counseling services are available 24 hours a day.

— Megan Reeves and Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times staff writers

State leaders hold talk with Tampa Bay health officials, media blocked from attending

Officials with Gov. Desantis’ office held a roundtable discussion with Tampa Bay area hospital CEOs and other health officials after the news conference Monday.

Reporters were not allowed to attend.

— Justine Griffin, Times staff writer

Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida expects more cases, ‘overall immediate threat to the public remains low’

TAMPA — Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday morning that Florida health officials expect more people to test positive for coronavirus after the state announced its first two cases Sunday.

“The vast majority of people who acquire it will not require hospitalization,” the governor said. “Despite these cases, the overall immediate threat to the public remains low.”

Florida’s first two cases of the illness, known technically as COVID-19, are a woman in her 20s, in Hillsborough County who is isolated and receiving treatment at home, and a man in his 60s in Manatee County who has been hospitalized with symptoms of pneumonia. The woman had recently returned from northern Italy, the site of an outbreak, but Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said doctors are still unsure how the man contracted the virus.

The two cases are based on tests at state health laboratories. Officials sent results to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for final confirmation, but that could take days.

Beginning Saturday, state health laboratories became able to test for coronavirus in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami. That allowed doctors to get some results in 24 to 48 hours, rather than several days. A day before, the CDC had expanded its criteria for who should be tested for coronavirus. Rivkees said the man in Manatee was only tested because of the expanded criteria, which grew to include some people with respiratory infections of unknown origin.

Across Florida, 23 people have been tested for coronavirus, DeSantis said. Eight of those tests are pending. The state is monitoring 184 people currently, and in total 795 people have been monitored for symptoms. Monitoring can include health officials making personal visits to perform checks like taking a person’s temperature.

DeSantis said he has talked to state Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, in hopes that the Legislature can quickly direct funding to the response if needed.

The governor said he hoped the U.S. Congress would also offer help if more funding becomes necessary.

“They often times don’t act quick enough," he said.

The coronavirus outbreak began in China, which has had the vast majority of the more than 89,000 cases documented around the world. More than 3,000 people have died, including two in the state of Washington, where health officials are concerned about an outbreak growing.

— Justine Griffin and Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writers

Florida became aware of positive tests Saturday night, nearly a full day before public notification

TAMPA — Florida became aware of a positive coronavirus test here on Saturday night, State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said, but officials did not notify the public until nearly a day later.

The reason for the delay remains unclear.

Rivkees said the Department of Health launched a full response, which included sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation of the virus.

— Zachary T. Sampson and Justine Griffin, Times staff writers

State officials explain request that residents who have traveled to outbreak areas self-isolate

TAMPA — Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, similar to influenza. Not everyone needs to be tested, state officials said. Those under consideration include people who have traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea, or who come down with lower respiratory tract infections like pneumonia.

Florida health leaders have asked people who return from those countries to self-isolate for 14 days.

If someone becomes ill during that time, they said, they should contact a health care provider or county health department to arrange safe transport to a hospital. This is a new precaution, doctors said, to try to contain the spread of the virus.

DeSantis said residents who are older or have existing health problems like heart disease or obesity are more at risk for severe symptoms. State officials said they are working with assisted living facilities, universities and schools to spread awareness and guidelines for managing coronavirus.

Further information is available at a website the state has set up for coronavirus here.

— Justine Griffin and Zachary T. Sampson, Times staff writers

Efrain Perez, of Palm Harbor, loads a five-pack of Clorox sanitizing wipes, the last one in the store, after shopping for supplies on Monday, March 2, 2020, at Sam’s Club in Clearwater. Perez said he plans on using the wipes as a countermeasure for exposure to coronavirus.
Efrain Perez, of Palm Harbor, loads a five-pack of Clorox sanitizing wipes, the last one in the store, after shopping for supplies on Monday, March 2, 2020, at Sam’s Club in Clearwater. Perez said he plans on using the wipes as a countermeasure for exposure to coronavirus. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

People are stocking up on supplies at grocery stores

As Florida prepares for coronavirus, the Sam’s Club in St. Petersburg is out of hand sanitizer and few pump bottles of hand soap remain on the shelf. The store is nearly out of bottled water.

Many shoppers are leaving with several 40-packs of water. Employees said the store could receive another shipment Tuesday.

Jasmin and Amela Ahmetovic, of St. Petersburg, load up on water after learning that coronavirus has reached Florida.
Jasmin and Amela Ahmetovic, of St. Petersburg, load up on water after learning that coronavirus has reached Florida. [ MARK PUENTE | Times staff ]

Jasmin and Amela Ahmetovic of St. Petersburg said they fear for the safety of their children now that the coronavirus is in Florida. The couple bought nine cases of water at Sam’s Club and another four cases at Walmart.

“I just don’t know what’s going to go on,” Amela. “I’m afraid for my four children. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. We might not even be able to go outside. It’s so hard to explain to my four children. It’s scary.”

Related: How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus

Mary and Villa Franklin bought a cart filled with water on Monday and plan to share it with a 92-year-old friend.

The couple said they don’t like how information is trickling out from Washington. Each said the federal and state governments need to be more transparent about the deadly virus.

“Let the doctors speak,” Mary Franklin said. “They’re the experts.”

Mark Puente, Times staff writer

Tampa, St. Pete mayors are monitoring the response

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Amber Boulding, the manager of the city’s office of emergency management, are monitoring the situation closely, said city spokesman Ben Kirby. The city sent an email Friday afternoon to all city employees advising them of best practices to remain healthy, he said.

Tampa Mayor Jane Cator tweeted that her administration is also keeping close tabs on the virus.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are as prepared as possible to face this disease,” she tweeted. Castor also asked residents to text TAMPAREADY or TAMPALISTA to 888-777 to receive alerts on the phone.

Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said the city has entered the address of the quarantined woman into its emergency response database so first responders will be aware of the presence of the virus before they arrive. The city is also preparing a clearinghouse website with the most recent information on the virus at tampagov.net/covid-19.

Tampa paramedics and other emergency personnel also have gloves, sleeve extenders, masks and eye protection to protect them in interactions with potential infected victims.

“You name it, we got it,” Penny said.

Hillsborough County has posted information for residents on its home page at hillsboroughcounty.org and will be developing its response today, said spokeswoman Liana Lopez.

Charlie Frago, Times staff writer

Jail, prison officials make early preparations in case of spread

Pinellas County jail officials are automatically screening all inmates being booked into the jail, a special procedure that started about a week ago, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. The screening consists of questions about symptoms and recent travel.

So far, Gualtieri said, “we haven’t had anyone give us any concern as result of the screening.”

The jail has an infectious disease nurse on staff who is tracking updates, the sheriff added. Safe Harbor, a sheriff-run homeless shelter, is also on the jail’s campus. Gualtieri said screening will not extend there because it’s not a secure facility, meaning that people can come and go as they please.

“That’s something we’re gonna have to deal with on a symptomatic basis just like anyone on the street,” he said.

In Pasco, jail officials are sending a questionnaire to all inmates and sizing both people detained and staff members for face masks, should those become necessary, said spokeswoman Amanda Hunter.

Hernando County jail officials are also screening all inmates and are prepared to place anyone who may be affected by the virus in isolation.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement that staff at both the Falkenburg Road and Orient Road jails are keeping an eye on anyone entering the facilities with flu-like symptoms. Officials are also questioning all inmates about recent travel overseas.

“Educational information has been provided to detention deputies, civilian staff and inmates explaining how COVID-19 is spread and personal hygiene steps to follow for protection,” Chronister said.

The Florida Department of Corrections said it was monitoring the situation. State prison visitation will continue as normal. Any changes will be announced on the department’s website, www.dc.state.fl.us.

Kathryn Varn and Romy Ellenbogen, Times staff writers

Florida has its first positive coronavirus cases. Here’s what you need to know.

What symptoms should you look out for? Should you keep your kids home from school? Can you use antibiotics?

Fever, cough, shortness of breath. Probably not. No.

More questions, more answers here. If you have other questions, please contact rellenbogen@tampabay.com. Or you can reach out to the Times on Facebook or Twitter. Ask us. We’ll get answers.

Romy Ellenbogen, Times staff writer

Florida’s first coronavirus cases found in Hillsborough and Manatee counties

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.

Read the whole story.

Lawrence Mower, Times staff writer

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