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Florida Gov. DeSantis asks Legislature for $25 million in coronavirus fight

He said during a Friday afternoon news conference in Collier County that Florida has no new cases.
Gov. Ron DeSantis during a Friday afternoon news conference in Collier County.
Gov. Ron DeSantis during a Friday afternoon news conference in Collier County. [ YouTube ]
Published Mar. 6, 2020
Updated Mar. 7, 2020

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Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked Florida lawmakers for $25 million dollars this year to boost the state’s response to coronavirus, he said Friday, adding that health officials here did not receive any new cases of people infected with the disease over the last 24 hours.

DeSantis said he expects Florida to receive at least $27 million from the federal government, and $500,000 immediately to help with lab equipment and staffing costs.

At the state level, DeSantis said the leaders of the Florida House and Senate have expressed a willingness to greenlight the surge in funding, which will cover supplies as the state seeks to thwart the spread of the flu-like disease.

Coronavirus, known technically as COVID-19, has infected four people in Florida: a woman in her 20s in Hillsborough County; a travel companion of hers who normally lives out of state but is currently isolated in Hillsborough; a man in his 70s from Santa Rosa County; and a man in his 60s from Manatee County.

The two women traveled to Italy, the site of a coronavirus outbreak, according to health officials. The man from Santa Rosa had traveled internationally, though DeSantis said Wednesday that man had underlying conditions and was too ill to answer other questions. The Manatee County man had not traveled to places with coronavirus outbreaks, according to the governor, but also had prior ailments and was hospitalized for five days before he was tested for the disease.

Five healthcare workers who came into close contact with that man are in self quarantine but have initially tested negative for coronavirus, DeSantis announced in Naples on Friday afternoon. They will continue to be monitored.

Meanwhile, the man from Manatee County has been released from the hospital and is isolated at home, the governor said.

According to the Department of Health, 51 coronavirus tests were pending Friday. Meanwhile, 264 people were being monitored.

It remains unclear where Floridians might be self-quarantining. The Department of Health said it appreciates “the desire to understand how many Floridians in each community have been tested, received a negative test or are under public health monitoring.” But officials will not say.

“Due to the nature of a unique virus, such as COVID-19, to share how many people in each community that have been tested or are under public health monitoring could potentially release identifying information, especially in Florida’s smaller communities,” the department said in a statement late Friday. “As such, in order to protect personally identifiable health information (PHI) of Floridians, the Florida Department of Health is unable to break down the number of individuals who have received a negative test, have pending test results or are under public health monitoring by community."

DeSantis on Friday repeated a refrain he used all week: “The risk to the general public remains low.”

Nevertheless, Florida officials expect to receive more positive results.

“It’s just the nature of it,” DeSantis said.

Florida needs more test kits, the governor said, but health officials have so far not been unable to test any patients because of a lack of equipment.

"We have not been overwhelmed with requests,” DeSantis said.

He said private testing will be available soon from Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, which will help with demand.

State officials have repeatedly said the coronavirus test is free, though there has been confusion about what costs potential patients could face if they show up at an emergency room, which might require an insurance co-payment or out-of-pocket cash from uninsured residents.

DeSantis on Friday explained that people who are eligible for a test and show up at a county health department will not have to pay for the test.

As for people who might require two weeks of self-isolation and struggle with living expenses, DeSantis said the Department of Health has limited funds to help, but residents would need to talk to staffers at their local offices.

DeSantis emphasized that anyone asked to self isolate should.

"At the end of the day it’s better to be safe and err on that side,” he said.

Health officials have recommended Floridians not drastically change their daily lives but be careful to wash their hands and cover coughs and sneezes.

DeSantis said that as a politician, he shakes a lot of hands, and he used to come down with bugs periodically. In January, he said, as news of coronavirus spread from China, the source of the outbreak, the governor took notice.

“I’ve been washing religiously. I’ve not had a single problem,” DeSantis said. “It really does work.”

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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