Congressional leaders spent Monday morning meeting with representatives from South Florida hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, airport and Port Everglades officials as well as county commissioners, about new cases of Coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Broward.
The group gathered at Nova Southeastern University's medical campus to discuss their needs that have arisen now that the contagious respiratory illness, COVID-19 has made its way to South Florida.
Broward County has seen three cases so far, all males age 65 or older. Two of the cases are associated with Port Everglades, with no known history of recent international travel, according to the Director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, Dr. Paula Thaqi.
Questioning Thaqi, U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch were hoping to get more details about the recent positive cases of Coronavirus in Broward County.
Wasserman Schultz gave Thaqi until the end of the day to provide her with a timeline for how long the state expects epidemiology investigations to continue before it can tell the public that local cases are a sign of community spread and can confirm that they are not related to travel.
"What's taking so long?" Wasserman Schultz asked Thaqi during a heated back-and-forth.
"At this point we have no evidence of community spread in Broward County," Thaqi said.
"That's not an answer Dr. Thaqi. We're going to go round and round until you give me some answer on a timeframe for when you expect you can get to the bottom of this," Wasserman Schultz said.
Waserman Schultz said she is particularly worried about Florida's large elderly population.
"Our population is disproportionatley vulnerable," she said.
Deutch wanted to know how many tests Broward County could perform at the moment if it needed to.
"I don't have information about the numbers of test kits that Florida Public Health labratories have," Thaqi said, assuring that people who have needed tests so far have had them.
"In order for people to get tested there have to be tests," Deutch said. "It's hard for us, I think, to be told that the public health official for Broward County who works with the Department of Health has no idea how many kits are in Florida."
Currently, testing is being done at three labs in cities around the state: Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville.
Doctors from the University of Florida, who joined by webcam, told the members of congress they believe Florida is getting to the point where the state needs to be testing more people, including those who may be carriers of the virus but are themselves asymptomatic.
Representatives from hospitals including Memorial Healthcare and Broward Health mentioned they have ordered some personal protective equipment for heathcare workers, but told Wasserman Schultz and Deutch that more will be needed.
As for Port Everglades, Assistant Director Peg Buchan said, "The major emphasis at the port is the deep cleaning."
Buchan said the port placed a large order for more cleaning supplies, but was told it will not arrive until May 6.
"We have what we need to last for at least four weeks," Buchan said.
Wasserman Schultz called the situation "unacceptable" and criticized the Florida Department of Health for not providing the port with more information.
Congress passed $8.3 billion in emergency spending last week; most of that will go towards research for vaccines, as well as state and local responses to outbreaks. However, Wasserman Schultz said she believes Congress will need to pass more money to fight the virus.
"We likely will have another emergency supplemental and I'm not sure sure at this point what that will include," Wasserman Schultz said.
It could include reimbursements for communities for the extra costs of protective supplies. That was one idea given to the members of Congress at the roundtable when discussing the effect the virus is having on South Florida's economy.
While the U.S. State Department has warned Americans against taking cruises, Broward County's business community says it won't go that far just yet.
"Our cruise lines are all still moving ... so keep your plans," said Dan Lindblade, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.
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