JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jimmy Patronis, the State Fire Marshal and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, paid a visit Jacksonville on Thursday to discuss preparing firefighters for potential cases of coronavirus.
Patronis said first responders are concerned that the coronavirus will need a multi-regional response, meaning they may need to move assets around the state. Jacksonville fire service community members, elected officials and Jaxport representatives were part of the conversation.
“These men and women prepare for challenges, they prepare for hurricanes, they prepare for pandemics,” Patronis said. "This is no different than pre-staging for a hurricane.”
Thursday’s roundtable was all about opening up lines of communication and establishing contacts with medical suppliers to ensure first responders are properly equipped.
TRACKING CORONAVIRUS: Johns Hopkins maps outbreak | RELATED: How are Jacksonville area schools preparing for possible coronavirus outbreak?
“We are here as a collaborative effort,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “There’s no disruption to life as we know it now because they are being prepared behind the scenes.”
It was a similar scene with public health officials in Tallahassee on Thursday, where Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged that some Floridians have already been tested for the coronavirus. However, DeSantis didn’t say how many have been tested.
“I don’t think I’m allowed to go into the numbers, but lets just say that since the beginning of this in January, Dr. Rivkees, we’ve been monitoring people coming in," DeSantis said.
The advice to keep the number private comes from the Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Surgeon General, who said the law doesn’t allow the release of those statistics because with no cases in Florida, there is no risk of it spreading.
“If those circumstances change, then we absolutely will make the public informed to protect the public. But at the present time, we don’t have community spread in Florida,” Rivkees said.
State officials say it takes four or five days to receive the results of coronavirus tests. They remind the public that it’s more likely to get the flu than the coronavirus.
Floridians are still urged to prepare.
“Act right now as you would if we were trying to protect yourself from the flu,” Curry said.
Thursday’s meeting also ensured Jaxport, a full-service international trade seaport, was taking necessary precautions.
“It’s important for people to understand that there are procedures in place to protect us here locally,” said Ronald Lendvay, the director of public safety and security at Jaxport.
Lendvay said his agency is working with Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control. He said they’re already implementing safety procedures.
“A ship can’t just come into Jaxport and pull up from a foreign country and have people get off that ship," Lendvay said. "There are federal regulations in place.
Lendvay said Jaxport doesn’t currently take any first touch ships from China, which means any ship from Asia has to be cleared through other ports before making it to Jacksonville. He said Jaxport is also following the guidance of the federal government, which at this point, has not required local port workers to take any extra precautions.
“As of now, everything is status quo," Lendvay said.
‘Very, very ready’ for the threat
President Trump declared Wednesday that the U.S. is "very, very ready'' for whatever the coronavirus threat brings, and he put his vice president in charge of overseeing the nation’s response.
Mr. Trump Trump sought to minimize fears of the virus spreading widely across the U.S., saying, “I don’t think it’s inevitable.”
But standing next to him at a White House news conference were health authorities who reiterated that Americans need to get ready for what could become a wider outbreak requiring such steps as school closures.
“Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases we have so far. However, we do expect more cases,”said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 81,000 cases of COVID-19, an illness characterized by fever and coughing and sometimes shortness of breath or pneumonia, have occurred since the new virus emerged in China.
The National Institutes of Health’s top infectious disease chief cautioned a vaccine won’t be ready for widespread use for a year or more, but said the virus might return, so researchers have to push ahead.
NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci called it "quite conceivable'' that the virus will "come back and recycle next year. In that case, we hope to have a vaccine.''
Trump said Vice President Mike Pence will be working with CDC, NIH and other government agencies to coordinate the response. In previous outbreaks, the White House has appointed a “czar” to pull together the different departments’ work.
Coronavirus: How it spreads & the symptoms
Under a powerful microscope, coronavirus looks like a ball with growths protruding from the surface. When someone who is infected sneezes, the particles float in the air and eventually land on surfaces we touch.
Memorial Hospital Pulmonologist Alexis Vazquez said it only takes a small amount of saliva from the cough or sneeze of an infected person to spread the virus.
“Every time we touch a door handle, a laptop, anything -- sometimes we touch our mouth, and that’s how we get infected," Vazquez said.
Therefore, washing your hands is important. The common flu can last on surfaces for a couple of hours.
But when it comes to coronavirus, surface duration is uncertain. Another way to protect yourself, especially if you are walking inside a hospital or traveling via plane, bus or train is using a mask to cover your mouth and nose. There are many types of mask sold in stores and online.
Medical experts say the N95 particulate respirator is one of the best masks on the market when it comes to protecting yourself from the coronavirus and even the common flu.
Vasquez said he’s seeing an increasing number of patients who believe they are infected with the coronavirus, including his own mother. No cases have been reported in Jacksonville, or in Florida.
“She was convinced she had the coronavirus. I said, ‘No you don’t,’" Vasquez said. "But yes, it’s happening more frequently now, especially since it’s the top story in the news over and over again. It’s more national attention because now we’re seeing more of a spread of it. But in the U.S., it’s contained.”
Another reason people believe they have the coronavirus: The symptoms mimic the flu.
“Symptoms are very high fever and almost always associated with respiratory problems," Vazquez said.
Once the coronavirus enters the respiratory track, it eventually attacks the lungs. Then the infected person starts having flu like symptoms that last for days, and a lot longer for people with pre-existing respiratory problems or compromised immune systems.