Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at tampabay.com/subscribe.
• • •
BRANDON — As if travel bans and sports cancellations weren’t enough, the coronoavirus pandemic hit close to home Friday for people living in a Brandon apartment complex when they learned that one of their neighbors had tested positive for the virus.
Property managers at Providence Lakes, a small apartment community just off Providence Boulevard, sent tenants an email Friday evening confirming that a neighbor had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are not telling you this to scare you, but merely informing you so that you can seek medical attention sooner than later if you become ill,” the email said.
But it was hard to escape a sense of alarm as residents wondered who was infected and whether they’re at risk going outside.
“I’m shocked,” said Alissa Henderson as she and her fiancé, James Barr, left home to run errands Saturday morning. “Never would I have started to think it would get this close.”
Henderson said she wanted more information from property managers. She is worried people could pick up the infection from the community mailbox or the equipment in the clubhouse gymnasium.
“I want to know who is it? How close are they? Is it one of the maintenance people?” she said.
Other residents hadn’t seen the email until told by a reporter.
“Now, I’m nervous,” said Stephen DeFiore, 35. “They haven’t told us the area. There are plenty of different buildings and we should know which building.”
Residents were informed within 30 minutes after a woman told staffers at the rental office about her positive test, said Paul Jost, a president of Providence Lakes LLC.
Tenants were advised to stay away from the clubhouse, which also doubles as a rental office, and to pay their rent or make maintenance requests online, Jost said. Maintenance workers have been told to wear gloves and to clean work surfaces frequently. Each apartment has its own air-conditioning system so there is no risk of infection through vents, he said.
It would be a violation of the woman’s right to privacy to let residents know where she lives, Jost said. He believes she is still at her apartment and is self-isolating.
“The fact that she told us means she’s presumably a responsible woman,” he said.
Jost said he wishes COVID-19 tests were available to reassure residents and faulted the federal government for not making them more widely available.
“Every civilized country is testing more people except the United States,” he said. “It’s disgraceful.”
As of early Saturday, more than 70 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health. They have resulted in three deaths. But tenants at the complex likely would only meet the criteria to be tested if they had been in direct contact with the infected woman.
After facing criticism, President Donald Trump on Friday announced a new testing strategy to screen hundreds of thousands of Americans using drive-through centers at major retail chains. The approach already is being used in some countries including South Korea and Germany.
Ramon Santiago, 35, moved into Providence Lakes temporarily in October until he can find a new home in Riverview.
But after receiving the email, he and his brother on Saturday morning began packing clothes and an air mattress.
“Now, I’m going to move today,” Santiago said. “It’s an easy move for me.”
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide
EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.
STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.
OTHER CORONAVIRUS WEBSITES:
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.