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00000177-b32b-d5f4-a5ff-bbfb6e660000Here is the information you need to know about COVID-19 in Northwest Florida. We will keep this post updated with the latest information from local, and statewide agencies. For inforamtion from Centers for Disease Control and prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirusFor updates on Florida cases of coronavirus, visit the FDOH dashboard.The COVID-19 call center is available at 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121

DeSantis: More COVID-19 Testing Labs on the Way

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Tori Lynn Schneider/ Tallahassee Democrat
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Florida is under a Level-2 state of emergency, after more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the declaration over the weekend. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees — acting on orders from the governor — has also declared a public health emergency.

Florida residents fitting the criteria have been able to be tested at three different state labs in Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami.

In his update on Monday, the governor said other private labs are coming online to expand the testing process, including New York-based Quest and LabCorps, which is based in Pensacola.

“If a physician refers it there, then the will test that and obviously will get the results of that,” said DeSantis. “The Florida Department of is also working to get all CLIA [Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments]-certified labs in the state of Florida to be able to begin testing. That just increases the capability if we have a situation where we have a surge.”  

One area that’s being looked at with COVID-19, is how it affects not only older residents, but younger ones as well, plus the types of symptoms they show.

“And a lot of the people who are younger seem to have very, very mild symptoms,” DeSantis said. “And the problem with that is, is that they may not be someone that’s going to present to a doctor’s office because it’s not something that you think is a huge deal.”

“Our current strategy has been containment, because at the present time we do not see ‘community spread,’” said Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees. “Which means that if an individual has COVID-19, we’ll identify their contacts and make sure those individuals are isolated so they can’t spread it to others.”

But Rivkees is quick to add there is community spread in different states right now, and for preparing for what he believes in an eventuality in Florida, this is something that they’re “very much” focusing on in terms of “mitigation strategies.”

Next up was Education Sec. Richard Corcoran, who said they’ve been keeping in touch with the 67 school districts; he also praised the local superintendents for their work.

“We continue to recognize that we’re at low-risk; we continue to recognize that children in many cases weather it without any kinds of problems whatsoever,” said Corcoran. “And that’s good news.”

Part of the education department’s preparation is beefing up the state’s online Virtual School tenfold, to about 400,000 students in K-12.

“We’ve ordered d15 near servers; in addition to that, we have trainers of how to get on the Virtual School with existing teachers,” Corcoran said. “We’ll have training of an additional 10,000 teachers here in short order; hopefully in the next 15-20 days.”

“Coronavirus – I just want to be able to try to clearly communicate that the objective there is to be prepared, but don’t panic,” said Pensacola city administrator Keith Wilkins, who was pinch-hitting for mayor Grover Robinson at Monday’s news conference.

“The public health system in the United States and in Escambia County and the city of Pensacola is well-prepared,” said Wilkins. “We’ve dealt with epidemics and pandemics before — with SARS, Zika, West Nile, Ebola – and there’s no reason to think that this will be handled any differently than those.”

Both the city and county have “continuity of operations” plans, says Wilkins, and are ready to respond to COVID-19 as it does to other crises.

“Just as we do with hurricanes, just as we did with the ransomware attack, just as we do with a tornado or flood, it’s the same sort of approach,” Wilkins said. “To make sure that we continue to deliver — and safely deliver — city services. We coordinate with the Health Department, maybe twice a day now, throughout the event, and the CDC.”

The city is also looking at its sick leave policies in case employees need to telework or work from home. Those affected by the virus, says Wilkins, do not need to return to work until they’re fever-free for 24 hours, if that happens.

“We are identifying our public and interdepartmental public actions, what faces out to the public,  to make sure that we can still deliver services but minimize those actions in the personal contact,” said Wilkins. “What we can do electronically or telephonically, and to reduce the face-to-face interactions with public or city staff while continuing to deliver our services.”

First responders,  Pensacola police, fire and EMTs,  are ready for what may happen, says Wilkins, who repeated the now-global mantra of self-protection.

“Hand-washing with soap and water, at least 20 seconds, is the best thing to do; if you can’t do that, use a hand sanitizer [with] 60 percent alcohol,” said Wilkins. If you have questions, the Health Department has a number that will get you to the Florida Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 Health Center.”

That number is (866) 779-6121. You can also online to www.floridahealth.gov, and to www.cdc.gov.