U.S. Navy warns sailors to watch for respiratory symptoms as coronavirus spreads

Florida Health Department forms team ahead of potential coronavirus spread in state

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – There are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Florida but health officials are anticipating the virus’ spread in the Sunshine State, which houses nearly two dozen military bases.

Those bases -- and others around the country -- are taking extra precautions against the virus, especially after the first U.S. service member, a soldier stationed in South Korea, tested positive for coronavirus.

RELATED | Tracking coronavirus: Johns Hopkins maps outbreak

The U.S. Navy sent a reminder to service members and their families who have recently traveled to China to pay attention to possible respiratory symptoms.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said health officials in the state have formed an Incident Management Team to monitor and respond to coronavirus cases.

“We are working lockstep with the CDC, receiving multiple updates on a daily basis. More than several hundred members of the department are engaged in this response,” Rivkees said.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke in Tallahassee on Wednesday about the city’s preparations for the virus, saying state CFO Jimmy Patronis is coming to the county this week to meet with the Duval County Emergency Operations Center team.

“We don’t see a threat now, but you have to be prepared because you watch what’s happening. Our emergency operations center is always prepared for any potential threats,” Curry said.

Curry also acknowledged the potential danger to ports, which are a major contributor to the city’s economy.

“The most important thing is the safety of the people. We want goods to move and flow, but the most important thing for me and the people of Jacksonville is we’re doing everything to keep them safe, and we’ll deal with any economic impact if and when that comes,” Curry said.

Manufacturing companies are also at risk financially because of the virus. One Tallahassee-based manufacturer that makes highly efficient commercial air conditioning compressors will suspend production beginning next week because it can’t get parts from China.

Brett Ewing, a frequent contributor to Bloomberg News on Chinese financial issues, said the worst economic impact may be yet to come.

“What we are focused on is it’s disrupting the supply chains," Ewing said. "With the trade war over the last two years, we had a major disruption, and this is compounding those problems.”

Patronis has been in constant contact with the state’s first responders.

“This is no different than a hurricane. We’re doing pre-event staging right now," Patronis said.

And State Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Sebring, who is also a first responder and an emergency room physician, said the virus presents unique challenges.

“What’s it’s going to mean -- if we pick someone up who later is found to have it, how are we going to keep our first responders safe from contamination?" Pigman said. "How are we going to keep our hospitals safe from contamination? And then how are we going to de-con things?”

The state’s lodging and tourism association said it hasn’t seen cancellations yet but is monitoring the situation daily.

Even with the newly formed task force and coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preparing for a virus outbreak has been difficult for health officials.

According to Rivkees, the CDC issued testing kits that were received at each of the state’s three main laboratories in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, but due to a problem with one of the reagents, the kits have to be remanufactured and then reissued.

Rivkees and the Florida Department of Health hope to establish the state’s own lab for testing.

Rivkees is expected to brief a state legislative committee on the virus next week.

About the Authors: