TAMPA, Fla. — Florida's governor issued an executive order Sunday amid news that two people living in the Tampa Bay area had tested "presumptively positive" for the novel coronavirus.
They're from Manatee and Hillsborough counties. Both have been isolated and are receiving medical care.
The respiratory illness is being called COVID-19 (short for "coronavirus disease 19"). Its symptoms are similar to those of the flu.
Symptoms include a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell.
The World Health Organization has already called it a public health emergency of international concern. On Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed State Health Officer and Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees to declare a public health emergency in Florida.
Under Florida law, public health emergencies can be declared when there are threats that could result in substantial harm to public health. Such threats can include infectious diseases and even natural disasters.
The declarations help free up government resources to focus on responding to the health situation.
"The declaration of a public health emergency shall continue until the State Health Officer finds that the threat or danger has been dealt with to the extent that the emergency conditions no longer exist and he or she terminates the declaration," the statute explains.
Dr. Rivkees will determine the duration of the emergency declaration -- although the declaration cannot continue for more than 60 days without the governor's permission. Under Florida statutes, he will have the power to take action to protect public health. According to the executive order, Rivkees will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to establish protocols to control the spread of COVID-19 and educate people about prevention tactics.
The Florida Department of Health has been designated as the lead state agency for coordinating emergency response efforts among local governments, and it will actively monitor anyone suspected of having COVID-19.
The executive order says anyone suspected of having COVID-19 will be isolated or quarantined for two weeks or until they test negative for it.
In general terms, public health emergencies allow the state health officer to take actions that can include anything from directing prescription drug manufacturers to give priority to certain needed medications and temporarily reactivating certain inactive health care practitioners to deal with an increase in patients. The health officer can also order someone to be isolated or quarantined if they pose a danger to public health.
"Thanks to Florida's integrated public health system, we have been able to proactively engage and plan with our public health partners at every level, enabling us to take these important steps in a very expeditious manner. Our epidemiological teams are among the best in the nation, and they are right now aggressively pursuing every potential lead during these critical early moments of this outbreak in Florida," Dr. Rivkees wrote in a statement.
Despite the two cases in Florida, the state maintains that the overall threat to public health "remains low."
Read the governor's executive order by clicking here.
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