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Governor DeSantis: We must protect the elderly

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

“We are taking every step possible to protect our most vulnerable.” – Mary Mayhew, Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

In a press conference today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he has asked that 61 Floridians who have been quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia be returned to Florida. They were on the Grand Princess cruise. “They will be tested, they will have to do the self-isolation, but I think it’s much better for everyone if they can be safely brought back and be able to get back to their homes.”

Broward County has the most cases in Florida–“the vast, vast majority of those are linked to international travel; however, we have three unlinked cases in Broward County… when you have unlinked cases, that is evidence of community spread… The important thing to know is that we’ve been operating under the assumption, with everything we’re doing, with mitigation measures… assuming you’re going to see spread in some portion of Florida’s communities… Investigations are ongoing, but we’re acting as if that would happen anyway.”

He said we’ve had 10 cases in Florida from Egypt, along with Iran and Ireland–“not just from Asia, but from really all over the world. Now we’re starting to see it brought in from other states, primarily New York… I would imagine we’re going to see that number grow over the next week or two.”

DeSantis is directing the Florida Department of Health to recruit and hire additional epidemiologists and public health staff from university public health programs and other allied health programs for the duration of the emergency. He said the investigations are very labor-intensive, and the new hires will assist the current staff.

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He said residents should not be surprised if they hear of positive cases that haven’t shown up in official state numbers yet. If a doctor takes a sample and sends it to a private lab, the person may get their result directly from the lab. The lab is required to report that to the State, but there may be delays as the State aggregates the various reports. “The testing is going to be more robust, but it’s also going to be more decentralized.”

Limits on visitation to nursing homes and assisted living facilities will be extended for the next 30 days. “At the end of the day, this is a virus that does not threaten all segments of our society equally. The folks who are most at-risk for this are folks who are elderly, frail, or have serious underlying medical conditions, so we want to do all we can to prevent this virus from affecting those communities who are at most at risk from it.”

Driver’s license renewal requirements will be suspended for 30 days. All agencies are suspending state licensing and renewal requirements for existing professional licenses for 30 days.

The Department of Emergency Management is gathering key supplies, including additional swabs, respirators and ventilators, gowns, face shields, goggles, gloves, N-95 masks, shoe covers, lab test kits, a mobile hospital for up to 250 people, and the ability to bring in additional doctors and nurses.

Total numbers, as of late last night: 70 Florida residents have tested positive for COVID-19 (6 diagnosed and isolated outside of Florida, 7 are not Florida residents), and there have been 3 fatalities (one out of state). 221 tests are pending in state labs, with an unknown number in private labs. 365 people are currently being monitored.

DeSantis said the most important thing is for people, especially the medically vulnerable, to avoid crowds. “Just steer clear of crowds entirely, for the time being.” Even if a person is not personally at risk of serious effects of the virus, he said they can potentially save lives by practicing good hygiene and social distancing.

Dr. Scott Rivkees, Surgeon General of Florida, emphasized that travelers to Florida “from an international destination or from the hotspots in the United States, when you get here… we ask you to avoid being in the public, avoid the elderly, watch for symptoms for 14 days, and if you become ill, self-isolate at that point.”

Department of Emergency Services Director Jared Moskowitz said there is no testing capacity issue. Once the ordered test kits arrive, they will be able to test 625,000 people. He said items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer will be resupplied quickly in local stores. He said it’s a good idea to make sure you have the supplies you need.

Mary Mayhew, Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, said aggressive measures are necessary: “We cannot say enough the risk that exists for our elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. This infection is highly transmissible, and for those over the age of 70 and our nursing facilities and assisted living facilities and other residential programs, it can be highly deadly. That is why we are taking the steps that we are.

“To the family members: this is being done because of our love and compassion and concern. We are taking every step possible to protect our most vulnerable.”

Laurel Lee, Secretary of the Florida Department of State, said voters who have any questions about the election on Tuesday can contact the Voter Assistance Hotline at 1-866-308-6739. It will be available from now through when the polls close.

DeSantis said that he expects this will last at least 6-8 weeks.

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