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Rick Scott pleads for transparency as visitor to Palm Beach tests positive for coronavirus

Scott asked agencies to release more information on two Florida coronavirus cases that ended in death
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, Tampa International Airport CEO Joel Lopano, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Florida Sen. Rick Scott met Mar. 8, 2020 at Port Tampa Bay to discuss federal efforts to contain coronavirus.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, Tampa International Airport CEO Joel Lopano, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Florida Sen. Rick Scott met Mar. 8, 2020 at Port Tampa Bay to discuss federal efforts to contain coronavirus. [ KAVITHA SURANA | Times ]
Published Mar. 8, 2020|Updated Mar. 9, 2020

Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the Tampa Bay area. For the latest news on the outbreak, go to our coronavirus page, which we are updating regularly. You also can sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to have the day’s news sent right to your inbox each morning for free.

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A Pennsylvania man who attended a conference in Palm Beach tested positive for coronavirus, Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said Sunday.

Kerner said he was notified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health that a coronavirus patient worked at the Biogen vendor’s booth at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on Feb. 28. The man is no longer in the area and there are no known coronavirus cases in Palm Beach county, he said.

Workers, vendors and attendees of the conference, the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis Forum, have all been notified, Kerner said.

Palm Beach officials did not release the man’s age or say how sick he was. It is not clear if he interacted with anyone outside of the conference, like at restaurants or a hotel.

The same day of the Palm Beach announcement, Sen. Rick Scott met with Tampa officials and sent a letter to federal and local agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Aviation Administration, asking for more information on two Florida coronavirus cases that ended in death. A woman in her 70s from Lee County died Wednesday evening after suffering from lower respiratory problems. The woman had traveled internationally. A man in Santa Rosa County also died after testing positive for coronavirus.

“The lack of publicly released information surrounding these cases is alarming and unfair to millions of families across the nation who are worried about their well-being,” he wrote.

Eighteen people have tested positive for the virus in Florida. Another 280 people are currently being monitored, according to the Florida Department of Health.

In the letter, Scott asked for original flight numbers, records surrounding how information was shared and what was done to contact passengers. His message comes after the Tampa Bay Times reported that a woman who sat near a woman who later tested positive for coronavirus on a flight from New York to Tampa wasn’t notified for days after officials became aware.

“I’d want someone to call me, so that I could take some precautions,” he said at a news conference Sunday, adding that agencies should release as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.

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Scott’s message echoed comments he made on Fox News the day before that appeared to criticize current Gov. Ron DeSantis for being too slow to share information with the public as coronavirus cases cropped up across Florida over the last week.

“I dealt with Zika when I was governor, I dealt with hurricanes,” Scott said on TV. “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but do everything you can do to keep the public informed so they can make an informed decision.”

DeSantis on Saturday ordered the Florida Division of Emergency Management on Saturday to activate to a Level 2, and later met with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the virus and how to handle it with the cruise industry.

In Tampa, Scott also discussed federal efforts to contain the virus with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and representatives from Tampa International Airport, Port Tampa Bay and Customs and Border Protection. That includes $8.3 billion in federal funds and efforts to make diagnostic tests widely available.

For Floridians making the decision of whether not to travel, Scott said people should consider the risks.

“If you have a chronic issue and your immune system is compromised, you gotta really stop and think about it — should you be going on a cruise ship? Should you be flying?” said Scott.

The State Department warned U.S. citizens Sunday not to travel on cruise ships, especially for those who have underlying health conditions. A cruise ship was quarantined and sailing in circles off of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale Sunday, waiting for two crew members to be tested for coronavirus.

Still, local officials urged residents to remain calm.

“We are not at the level where were are sitting there telling you to go to an event or not go to an event," said Chronister. “If it was time to panic, we would be the ones out in front of the cameras telling you,"

Tampa International Airport has doubled the number of hand sanitizer stations, hired more staff to clean “touch spots" like elevators buttons and hand rails and posted extra signs that remind people to take precautions that avoid spreading germs, said Joe Lopano, the CEO of the airport.

Castor reminded Tampa residents they can text “Tampa Ready” or “Tampa Lista” to 888-777 for English or Spanish-language emergency alerts.

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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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