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Protecting health, economy from the coronavirus | Editorial
University campuses without students. Basketball games without fans. Here are some other steps to take at federal, state and local levels
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets President Donald Trump as he steps off Air Force One upon arrival at the Orlando Sanford International Airport on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets President Donald Trump as he steps off Air Force One upon arrival at the Orlando Sanford International Airport on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) [ ALEX BRANDON | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 11, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak entered a new phase Wednesday, as the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, the NCAA announced its men’s basketball tournament games in Tampa and elsewhere will be held without fans, and Florida officials directed all 12 public universities to conduct classes on-line and urged students to stay off campus for at least two weeks. The first reported cases of the virus have popped up in Pinellas and Pasco counties, and with eight new cases across Florida as of Wednesday, the virus is hitting home and threatens the public health, livelihoods and daily routines. The state and federal governments should continue to aggressively respond with more human and financial capital.

The most pressing need is for the federal government to provide states with the millions of diagnostic tests that should have been available weeks ago, and to expand the nation’s clinical capacity to produce test results in a timely manner. The White House said four million tests should be available by week’s end, a delay that has worsened anxiety and slowed a more proactive national response. In Florida, the governor and state health officials need to more clearly explain their strategy to keep the outbreak from spreading. And with major public events scheduled throughout the Tampa Bay area in the coming week, local leaders need to rationally balance the risk of cracking down too little or too much.

There are other steps that should be happening at the federal, state and local levels:

Federal

-- Present a clear timeline when tests will be available and the process for Americans to participate.

-- Target loans to impacted industries and offer sick pay, food assistance and unemployment aid to affected workers, particularly those without benefits who don’t get paid if they can’t work.

-- Provide support to states with reduced clinical capacities to test and treat patients.

-- Approve disaster declarations in hard-hit states to accelerate the flow of federal aid.

-- Demonstrate progress in global cooperation to contain the outbreak.

State

-- Continue to clearly detail how individual infections have occurred. Virtually all cases in Florida are tied to international travel or cruises.

-- Offer simpler explanations for how people should “self-isolate” or limit social contacts.

-- Improve real-time reporting of positive cases to help local communities better respond.

-- Provide more guidance to school districts and government agencies about when to consider suspending operations, requiring students or employees to work from home, or closing facilities.

-- Support extra traffic screening and sterilizing at Florida’s airports and seaports.

Local

-- Assist uniquely vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations, such as the elderly, the home-bound and the homeless.

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-- Plan to distribute meals to needy children and seniors if schools and community centers close.

-- Give health care providers a visible role in any local emergency management operation.

-- Institute special precautions for first-responders as a first line of defense.

-- Coordinate and send a consistent message from local governments throughout the region.

Health care experts acknowledge the number of infections will rise, especially as more tests become available. Containing and mitigating this crisis is not a job for government alone. Individuals must know their risk factors and behave responsibly. Staying informed and cooperating with authorities will make an enormous contribution. For the vast majority of Americans, the coronavirus will be an inconvenience, not a serious health threat. That’s why the nation’s resources and attention need to focus on those truly at risk of being hurt or financially devastated by an outbreak that is going to get worse before it gets better.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news