DeSantis declares emergency to battle coronavirus

18 residents, 1 non-resident in Florida diagnosed with COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency on Monday to free up resources and relax restrictions to help the state battle COVID-19.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that there were 18 Florida residents and one non-resident diagnosed with coronavirus. Of those, five were diagnosed elsewhere and would not return to the state until they are free of the disease. Later in the evening, the Florida Department of Health announced a 60-year-old woman in Volusia County, who has a recent history of travel, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Click the play button above to watch the governor’s news conference.

Over the weekend, Flordia announced two people who tested positive for coronavirus died in Florida -- the first deaths on the East Coast. Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, confirmed the deaths in Santa Rosa, in the Panhandle, and Lee County, in the Southwest Coast, were of people in their 70s and had traveled overseas.

DeSantis said Monday there is no indication yet of community spread within the state.

As of Monday night, the Florida DOH website said the state is awaiting the results of 115 tests and currently monitoring 302 people. DeSantis said 140 tests came back negative.

Florida residents diagnosed in the state

Of the three people tested positive in Broward County so far, two of those discovered that two of those worked at Port Everglades. In addition, two crew members of a ship docking in there were considered high risk but were not showing symptoms. There is do not disembark order on the ship while those two are tested.

Health officials across the country were quickly trying to contain the spread of the virus. In Florida, worries rose over how panic could play out in a state that is a destination for millions of visitors from overseas. Already, there is concern about how the virus could affect amusement parks such as Disney World in Orlando, one of the country’s most visited attractions. Cruise lines are also already being impacted.

In particular, the Health Department is suggesting that anyone who traveled last month on cruise ships on the Nile River in Egypt self-isolate because some passengers have tested positive with the novel strain of coronavirus.

The governor’s schedule Monday was dominated by COVID-19. The governor spoke again with Vice President Mike Pence, who President Trump has appointed to lead the national effort against the disease.

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Scare at Capitol

The Florida House suspended its session Monday and five Republican members are being tested for COVID-19 after an attendee of two Washington D.C. conferences the lawmakers attended tested positive for the virus. Jacksonville.

The House chamber was emptied Monday afternoon while the desks of the members were disinfected. House communications director Fred Piccolo said the risk of them testing positive is low.

“Members have chosen to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution. They are feeling fine; they have no symptoms," Piccolo said. “They haven’t exhibited symptoms for 10 days and we feel like they’re just doing this out of an abundance of caution. They should be just fine.”

Rep. Cord Byrd, who was among those potentially exposed, said state health officials said they did not need to be tested or quarantined.

Lawmakers were allowed to return to the chamber within an hour.

House and Senate leaders announced Saturday they have agreed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s request for $25 million to help the state combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

DeSantis said he expects Florida to receive at least $27 million from the federal government, along with an extra $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to immediately cover costs like lab equipment and staffing.

On Monday, Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva acknowledged the threat from a new virus to the Florida economy, as he opened what could be the final week of this year’s legislative session.

“We may be facing a very real challenge here. The coronavirus, while it had a rather minute effect on us, the panic surrounding it has had a real effect,” he told his chamber Monday morning.

Shopping limits

Meanwhile, Florida’s largest grocery chain, Publix, began limiting sales of some merchandise, including hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, face masks and other products.

A Publix spokeswoman, Maria Brous, said the decision was “due to the increase in demand over health concerns from the coronavirus.”

The chain has more than 800 stores in Florida and more than 400 elsewhere from Alabama to Virginia.

Take precautions

Florida health officials say anyone who has a fever, shortness of breath and other symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days of traveling to some of the most affected areas, such as China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, should inform their doctor and local health department. The same advisory applies to people who have been in close contact with anyone who recently traveled to severely impacted countries who show symptoms.

People who are asked to self-quarantine should remain home. Health officials say they should not go to work or school or at any other gatherings until 14 days after returning from foreign travel. If any symptoms develop, they should alert a doctor and health officials.