Florida has its first two cases of COVID-19 as patients in Hillsborough and Manatee counties tested positive for the virus, officials from the Florida Department of Health announced Sunday night.
The cases were being considered presumptive positive, meaning the results were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. The patients were isolated and were being cared for, the health department said.
The Hillsborough patient recently traveled to Italy, the health department said in a release.
The Manatee patient does not have any travel history to countries identified for restricted travel by the CDC, the release said.
“This person did seek health care, is isolated and will continue to remain isolated until cleared by public health officials,” the release said. “The Florida Department of Health is working closely with the patient, their close contacts and health care providers to isolate and monitor persons who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and implement testing of anyone who may develop COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order, directing Surgeon General Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in response to the new cases.
The declaration directs the Department of Health to quarantine all patients who are presumed to have COVID-19 for 14 days or until the person tests negative for the virus. The patients will be monitored by the health department, including twice daily temperature checks.
DeSantis’ order also mentions CDC recommendations for communities with cases of COVID-19: People who are sick should stay home; those who have a household member with respiratory symptoms should stay home; others should avoid sick people.
“I have been working with federal partners and our Department of Health to ensure that communities are ready to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19,” DeSantis said in a release. “The dedicated professionals at our county health departments, as well as those working at local medical providers, are well equipped to address these and future cases.”
Information about the patients who tested postive, including name, age and gender, was not released.
There was speculation that one of the patients was being treated at Sarasota Doctor’s Hospital after a letter that was apparently sent to hospital staff and patients began circulating on the internet.
The letter was printed on the hospital’s letterhead and said the patient was admitted to the hospital in late February but was not tested for the virus until Feb. 28 when the CDC changed its testing guidelines.
The CDC notified the hospital that the patient “presumptively tested positive for COVID-19” and the hospital isolated the patient and took other measures to protect patients and staff, the letter said.
The news of the new cases comes just a day after the health department announced three laboratories in the state are now able to test for the virus.
The labs in Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa allow officials to test results locally instead of sending samples to the CDC in Atlanta, which could take three to five days for results.