Just when we warned Florida not screw up coronavirus, guess what happened?

Governor Ron DeSantis joined Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees at a press conference in Tampa to give updates on the coronavirus outbreak. BY TIFFANY TOMPKINS

Miami Herald Editorial Board | March 3, 2020

Anyone who remembers Greater Miami as Ground Zero for HIV infection, Zika, dengue — you name it — won’t be shocked if, or when, coronavirus crosses the county line, lands at the airport or cruises into the port.

The “when” might be here. However, a Miami woman told by doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital that she “likely” has COVID-19 — coronavirus — could not get the diagnosis confirmed. As first reported by Jim DeFede at miami.cbslocal.com, state and federal would not conduct the testing needed to confirm it. 

This is not to way to allay public fears of the contagion, contain it and treat those who need it as quickly as possible. Turns out, state health officials are following ridiculously narrow federal guidelines to test a very small pool of people who have been to China or who are critically ill.

We urge Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor who has President Trump’s ear, along with that of Vice President Pence — the nation’s putative coronavirus czar — to ditch the political spin they’ve swirled around this health emergency and get serious about saving lives. Pence has inspired little confidence so far in his ability to handle this potential pandemic. Here’s his chance to prove otherwise.

In Florida, other hard-learned lessons of disasters past, however, appear to have taken hold. DeSantis spoke transparently and with authority Monday in confirming two cases of coronavirus in the state. The governor briefed the public in Tampa after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed two “presumptive positive” cases of the virus: One is a man in Manatee County; the second is a woman in Hillsborough County. A third case was reported on Tuesday.

Monday, the state’s surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, even copped to the 24-hour delay between learning the CDC’s preliminary findings and the announcement to the public, though his explanation — that the patients were being monitored during that time — was fuzzy and not reassuring.

ALERT PUBLIC EARLY

Given the virus’ spread — and its potential to be fatal — the state should err on the side of flagging cases to the public sooner rather than later to better contain the contagion. New cases are a given as Florida expands testing.

South Florida and — Miami, in particular — must be especially vigilant. It is a major point of entry by land, sea and air. Coronavirus has had a wide-ranging journey — from Asia to Europe to Africa to the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, where an Italian national was confirmed to harbor the virus. A smattering of other cases have been confirmed in other Caribbean countries. 

As troubling as the discovery of coronavirus is in Florida counties to the north, the Caribbean is truly our “neighborhood” in South Florida. The familial links of strong; so is the lure for tourists. Both could affect us here.

This community will have to be prepared to protect itself, while likely coming to the aid of compatriots among the Caribbean to help check the threat and manage the aftermath. It will be in the entire region’s best interest.

SAFETY AT ULTRA 

Locally, commend Miami Mayor Francis Suarez for requesting that the organizers of the Ultra Music Festival this month deliver a plan for protecting the thousands of attendees who will descend upon Bayfront Park downtown for the three-day celebration of electronic music. 

While he’s at it, Suarez also needs to make sure that the Calle Ocho festival and Carnavale have such plans in place, too. 

Good to see, too, is Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez taking on the creation of a plan to shield the elderly, one of the most vulnerable populations. The deaths in a stiflingly hot nursing home in Broward County after it lost electricity during Hurrincane Irma still haunt the South Florida community.

Many Floridians have shaken their heads over the years at late evacuation calls as hurricanes bore down, at aerial spraying to kill potentially Zika-carrying mosquitoes — without knowing exactly where it was going to occur — at closed or chaotic storm shelters.

Florida could be on its way to getting its response to this potential coronavirus pandemic right.

It has to.

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