By John Haughey | The Center Square
A Santa Rosa County man in his 70s is the fourth Floridian to be diagnosed with COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday afternoon.
The man tested presumptive positive, and state Department of Health (DOH) officials are “highly confident” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention will confirm the results, he said.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. Symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.
DeSantis and Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees addressed the state’s COVID-19 situation at a Tampa new conference. The governor reiterated that with increased testing capacities and more people being screened, “we are anticipating additional positive tests.”
The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved an $8.3 billion emergency aid package the House approved Wednesday, sending it to President Donald Trump’s desk. Trump said last week he would “spend whatever is appropriate” to counter the outbreak.
How quickly the federal bill delivers $950 million in state assistance could temper the emergency assistance the Legislature may be called upon to allocate.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Tuesday lawmakers could earmark an additional $10 million to $20 million in public-health dollars in the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Lawmakers are considering a measure that would give Rivkees, also DOH secretary, “super line” budgetary discretion in directing resources to the contain the coronavirus.
As of 2:30 p.m. Thursday, DOH’s COVID-19 website listed four positive cases – including the Santa Rosa County man – 31 negative tests, 69 pending test results, and 248 currently being monitored, among the 948 people the state has monitored to date.
The website also features a new entry: Florida Cases Repatriated.
There are five Floridians who traveled to China and, upon return to the U.S., tested positive. They are isolated in other states, DeSantis said. If they do not show symptoms within 14 days, they can return, he said.
At least four other Floridians in other states have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and remain isolated in those states, he said.
The Santa Rosa County man traveled internationally, but “he’s not in shape to fully answer all the questions, so there is an investigation ongoing,” DeSantis said.
The state’s three other positive COVID-19 cases are a Hillsborough County woman in her 20s who recently traveled to northern Italy and a person who lives with her, and a Manatee County man in his 60s diagnosed after showing symptoms of pneumonia.
Florida’s Congressional delegation praised the bipartisan cooperation that quickly moved the $8.3 billion coronavirus emergency package through the House and Senate.
“Our package includes $950 million for state and local health agencies to protect the public health, including surveillance, laboratory testing, infection control, contact tracing and mitigation,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, noting the funding will help DOH’s Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville labs test more people faster.
Castor said a provision to allow Medicaid to cover telehealth services “provides additional protections for our older neighbors by allowing Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to seniors in our community, at an estimated cost of $500 million.”
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, a physician, cited the bill’s $3 billion for research and development into vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics that will engender long-term dividends.
“This funding will make diagnostic tests more broadly available, develop medicine to treat those who are affected, assist the Food & Drug Administration in preventing shortages, and expedite vaccine and therapeutic developments,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, said the measure’s $2.2 billion for public-health funding is “critical.”
“This package includes $100 million for critical supplies for our public-health response, including resources for our community health centers,” she said, calling on DeSantis “to prioritize public outreach and consider creating a statewide hotline dedicated to coronavirus-related questions so our health facilities aren’t overwhelmed.”