A woman who died in Lee County from the coronavirus recently traveled abroad and was in her 70s.
Another individual tested positive for the disease on Saturday within the same county, officials revealed.
Along with new positive tests in Charlotte, Manatee, Okaloosa, and Volusia counties, that brings the total number of positive cases of coronavirus to 16 in the state of Florida, according to the Department of Health. That’s a rapid escalation from three reported cases statewide Friday afternoon.
Two individuals have died in Florida. Both of those individuals were state residents, but officials have not released their names.
Lee Health officials on Saturday held a press conference at Gulf Coast Medical Center, where the woman died.
There, Lee Heath CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci and infection prevention Dr. Stephanie Stovall discussed the precautions being taken at the facility to limit the spread of the disease within the community, hospital staff or visiting loved ones.
Officials could not disclose if there was any relationship between the two Lee County patients or if they had been in contact with one another.
Reporters pressed officials on transparency; Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Naples Friday had said they had been no new cases hours before the Lee County patient was revealed to have died from the illness.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott also criticized the lack of transparency during an appearance on FOX News Saturday morning.
“I was very surprised when I learned about the death in Lee County, which is adjoining to the county I live in,” he said. “We didn’t even know there was even a presumptive case. We need to make sure, where did this person travel? We need to make sure if they traveled into the airport, who was on that flight? Let’s make sure they can get tested.
“We’ve got to get information out. We need to have way more transparency in this. At every level. State, federal and local. We need to have transparency. Like the case in Lee County. Tell people. We didn’t know there was a case until the person passed away.”
Scott frequently flies to and from Washington from Southwest Florida International Airport in Lee County.
Officials said the slow release of information relates in part to patient privacy. Until an individual is positively confirmed to have the virus, the sickness is not considered a public health threat and no information will be released.
The individual who died in Lee was confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus only after her death Thursday, officials said. Health officials informed the Governor’s Office of the posthumous diagnosis Friday evening.
Also, while officials in Lee County and elsewhere around the state employ appropriate protocols at the first indications a patient is presumptively positive, final tests must be done at a Department of Health lab in Miami.
In Lee County, tests have been shipped to Miami using FedEx or driven to the lab to get back information as quickly as possible.
DeSantis on Saturday directed the Division of Emergency Management to activate to a Level II state of emergency to ensure proper resources are being deployed around the state.
“It is critical that we proactively coordinate all state resources to mitigate and contain #COVID19,” he tweeted Saturday.
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno for his part praised the Governor’s Office for the support provided amid the emergency.
“The Governor has been phenomenal,” Marceno said. “His chief of staff is doing a great job.”
He stressed that officials are releasing information to the public as fast as test results can be confirmed.
Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman acknowledged Lee County has a tourism economy and greets millions of visitors each year, many international travelers visiting Sanibel Island and other beaches.
But he said precautions are taking place to prevent the spread of the virus within the community. At this point, taxi cabs at the airport are being sanitized after every trip.
“Lee county did not wait until we heard about coronavirus being here to take precautions,” Hamman said.