Florida monitoring 150 people for coronavirus
Ron DeSantis attempted to reassure his state Thursday that health officials were prepared for any cases of a new virus that has killed thousands worldwide, saying there were no confirmed cases — yet — of infections from COVID-19. Image via AP.

ron desantis coronavirus
More than 100 people are being monitored for symptoms while 15 have tested negative.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is releasing numbers on the number of people it has tested and monitored for the coronavirus after drawing rebuke for keeping that information private.

Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Friday the state is monitoring about 150 people for novel coronavirus, the respiratory disease devastating the globe and unnerving global markets.

The state has tested 15 people for the disease, but all have tested negative.

That’s a significant drop from the 700 people who were at one time being monitored, DeSantis, who appeared with Rivkees at Palm Beach International Airport Friday afternoon, told reporters.

DeSantis, Rivkees and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez traveled to the airport to meet with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss COVID-19 and the $2.5 billion in emergency funds President Donald Trump is seeking to help fund efforts to prepare for and fight the virus.

“We are going to make sure states like Florida, and your local health officials, have the resources to be able to be prepared for any eventuality,” Pence said. “And in the event that this virus spreads more broadly, that the states are able to be compensated for their efforts.”

Democrats criticized Pence for fundraising in Florida days after being tapped to head the response.

That’s a day after DeSantis went before cameras Thursday to assure Floridians his administration is taking action to protect the public from the threat of the coronavirus. But he and Rivkees said at that time state law prevented them from releasing any numbers. They stress that there are no cases of coronavirus in Florida right now.

“I actually wanted to give all the numbers, but they pointed me to the regulation and the statute that said that said you can’t list all the numbers,” DeSantis said. “Rivkees and their team have looked at it and they’ve said that that’s the way to go.”

That response drew fire from Democrats, who accused the administration of lacking transparency about the health crisis.

Democratic Sens. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Victor Torres said that interpretation of the statue was wrong. Rodriguez said Thursday if the administration didn’t back off from their position and release the aggregate data, they would introduce an amendment to the Department of Health legislative package to clarify the statute. 

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy issued a statement after DeSantis’ press conference, also hitting him on the lack of transparency. She recently held a round table to discuss preparing and responding to possible cases of coronavirus. 

“I was disappointed that at today’s briefing state officials failed to be forthcoming with the public about suspected cases in Florida,” she said. “As a top tourist destination and home to many vulnerable seniors, Florida is uniquely at risk from the threat of this illness.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday significantly expanded guidance on selecting patients who should be tested for novel coronavirus. They said providers should now have any patient who presents with severe pneumonia symptoms tested regardless of travel history.

That could be difficult logistically because Florida currently has no way to test for the disease in the state. Samples must be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which can take up to five days for patients to get their test results.

But the CDC did try to reassure the public that it had developed new test kits as well as revised guidance for the ones state labs already had on hand. The new guidance would allow officials to use the kits, which were placed on hold by federal officials earlier this month after they were found to be faulty.

The latest update from the World Health Organization showed more than 82,000 people infected — about 79,000 of those in China. Coronavirus has killed more than 2,800, all but 57 of those deaths occurring in China. 


The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].

One comment

  • Real Talk

    March 1, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    DeSantis is way too friendly with the Trump administration. I fear he’ll make decisions that take Trump’s political interests into consideration before the state’s best interest. Very scary times.

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