Coronavirus In Florida: How Schools, Airports And Other Public Spaces Are Dealing With It

Mar 3, 2020
Originally published on March 3, 2020 7:03 am

After two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, governmental agencies, universities, and private companies are stepping up their response.

Hillsborough County, Manatee County, and cities such as Tampa have all released statements addressing the outbreak.

Gov. Ron DeSantisexecutive order has placed the Florida Department of Health as the lead agency in the state’s response. The department can order quarantines, isolations and any other public health interventions.

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Les Miller, Chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners, does not want people to be scared, but instead aware that the situation is serious.

“We're letting people know exactly what we're doing,” said Miller. “We're putting out information on our website (and social media).”

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Miller is encouraging Hillsborough County residents to sign up for alerts on coronavirus.

The City of Tampa is offering similar updates to people's cellphones, by texting TAMPAREADY or TAMPALISTA to 888-777.

Despite being the first Florida counties with COVID-19 cases, school districts in Hillsborough and Manatee are not planning on closing at this time.

Instead, officials are encouraging those who feel sick to not come to school and are asking teachers to have options available for remote and online learning.

Schools are also adding more hand sanitizer dispensers to classrooms and buses, and enhancing their cleaning and disinfecting measures, as well as keeping parents informed about safety measures.

The Florida Board of Governors has asked state universities, including the University of South Florida, to cancel all university-sponsored travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Additionally, all faculty, employees, and students who have traveled to these countries are being asked to return home and self-quarantine away from campus for 14 days.

USF's spring break will start in two weeks; university officials are asking anyone planning to travel to heed U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings.

“[Individuals that travel abroad] may face unpredictable circumstances, travel restrictions, challenges returning home, or accessing health care while abroad,” said the agency.

USF leadership indicates they will release more detailed guidelines regarding spring break and Education Abroad programming in the coming days.

Sen. Rick Scott is continuing to petition the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to increase screenings at Florida’s international airports. He’s also asking countries with their first cases of COVID-19 to conduct screenings of ongoing passengers.

Finally, Scott wants the CDC to launch a 24/7 phone hotline for citizens to call with questions about the virus.

Tampa International Airport released a statement on Twitter Monday, saying they're watching the situation.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Port Tampa Bay officials said, since cargo vessels take 30 days or more to travel from China to Tampa, that puts them outside the 14-day timeframe for someone to show symptoms of infection.

“The screening process has been smooth and wait times have not been impacted. Port Tampa Bay cruise and cargo operations will continue, as usual,” port spokeswoman Lisa Wolf-Chason told the Times.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents the global cruise line industry, released an order telling its members to deny boarding to anyone that has visited or travelled through or from Iran, South Korea, and China within 14 days before embarkation.

The same rule applies to people who have cared for or interacted with anyone suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19 or are subject to health monitoring from exposure. They’re also telling members to conduct pre-boarding screening and enhanced screenings with medical support if someone exhibits symptoms of the virus.

In general, most officials are urging people to take simple precautions to protect themselves.

“Just be ever mindful of your surroundings...be ever mindful that you can protect yourself by just doing simple things,” said Miller. “Wash your hands constantly, keep your hands out of your face, don't touch your face all the time, if you're not feeling well, please go to the doctor.

“And if this is a situation where you just had the flu or common cold, just stay home, don't put yourself as to possibly getting something worse.”

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