Hillsborough County officials have tested 11 people so far for the coronavirus who they say came into close contact with at least one of the two patients with COVID-19.
Health officials also quarantined six people and are monitoring several others who they believe are at risk for contracting the virus.
During a presentation to Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday, Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County, said he was "concerned but also confident," because the risk is still low but the virus has the potential to be a significant public health threat.
"We're beginning to prepare for the next phase," Holt said. "If it starts as what they call 'community-wide transmission' — that is what Seattle is facing right now — then we are going to be prepared as a community to stand up and do our part to manage it."
Of the 11 coronavirus tests in Hillsborough, two were positive, five were negative and four were pending on Wednesday.
The two positive cases were announced earlier this week. Both are women who had recently returned from Italy. At least one had traveled through Tampa International Airport.
The women are being isolated at home and are medically stable, Holt said.
Health officials have also quarantined six other people who were in close contact with the women and they are in constant communication with doctors throughout the day to ensure that they do not have the coronavirus.
A separate group of 11 people, who are considered low-risk, are being monitored for 14 days, the incubation period for the virus. They’ve been told to check-in with health officials if they become sick.
Holt said he has been happy with the response of his staff and the government as the situation unfolded.
"We certainly weren't perfect, but we continue to learn," he said. "This could have happened in any county. I believe other counties are as prepared, but in all humbleness, I think our community is better prepared, and I think we did a great job."
County health officials are communicating with other counties in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, Holt said.
The county has also been in contact with 37 people who could have been exposed to the virus while in areas that have had outbreaks, such as South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy and China, Holt said. Officials recommend that those travelers stay in self-isolation for 14 days to ensure that they are healthy, Holt said.
Holt described the virus as "similar to influenza but different."
While influenza has a tendency to invade communities and spread quickly, officials haven't seen that nationally with the coronavirus, Holt said. New coronavirus cases in China have drastically decreased to 125 per day, down from 3,000 to 4,000 at the peak of the spread, he said.
Hillsborough County has plans in place if an outbreak happens, said County Administrator Mike Merrill.
"We're not starting from scratch. We're just fine-tuning the plans to fit this specific situation." Merrill said.
Health officials want to increase the speed of the testing process as well as expand the number of people they can monitor, Holt said.
"If we test more people, it will look like there's more virus, but we'll also knowingly be putting the people that we know in their proper places," Holt said.
The plan is not to quarantine 10 percent of the population but to keep people who are at risk in their homes and be prepared for those who might need advanced medical care, he said.
"It's a rapidly evolving situation," he said. "We really don't know what's ahead."
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that a fourth case was found in Florida. The Santa Rosa County man is in his 70s and has “severe underlying conditions.”
In his presentation, Holt said people should "be concerned, but don't panic."
The confirmed cases will come in waves, he said, it will just be a matter of handling it.
The health department has set up a hotline to call for those showing symptoms of the coronavirus.