Southwest Florida prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak

The message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the coronavirus COVID-19 is coming and you need to have a plan now. Now, many are now wondering if Southwest Florida is prepared.

Kim Evans was looking forward to her mother-daughter cruise coming up in the next couple of weeks.

“My daughter is a sophomore in high school and I feel like I only have a short period of time where I get her all to myself,” Evans said.

But with the news surrounding the spread of the coronavirus in Asia, she is not sure if she wants to get on a boat, even if it is to the Caribbean and Mexico, areas that are not affected right now.

“All it takes is that one person and the idea of being stuck at sea for two weeks or however long it could be is just a little daunting to me,” Evans said, “and I just don’t want her to get sick.”

While Evans booked travel insurance, she will not be able to get her money back from canceling the trip.

Mark Friedlander, who works at the Insurance Information Institute, said in cases like hers, paying extra money for a “cancel for any reason policy” is your best bet; but even that has fine print.

“Some travel insurance policies have a clause when a worldwide epidemic is issued,” Friedlander said, “you may have a problem canceling the plan.”

As for Evans, she is still trying to decide what is best for her family.

“My daughter really wants to go,” Evans said. “I’m hesitant. I don’t want to lose the money but really right now, I’m 50/50.”

‘I heard it was a bio-weapon in a lab’

New numbers, horrifying stories, wild warnings. But not everything you may hear about the coronavirus is true. It has gotten so bad the World Health Organization said we need a vaccine against misinformation.

WINK News asked what you heard.

“I heard it was a bio-weapon in a lab,” Virginia Detwiler said.

That is incorrect. The internet is teeming with origin theories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it originates in bats and is linked to open markets in China.

“I think I heard it slowed in the area in China where it started,” Evan Williams said.

That is true. It is still bad, but the WHO said the number of new cases in the Hubei Province is declining.

“Right now, I’m most concerned about my hometown of Italy,” Roger Sidotr said. “I don’t know if you know. they’re in deep trouble. it’s spreading like crazy.”

‘Taking care of the most precious things of our community’

When it comes to infectious diseases, a quick response can save lives. Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, the medical director for infection prevention and epidemiology at Lee health, said having a plan in place before the coronavirus hits is crucial.

“When you have a plan in place,” Dr. Saunders said, “then you’re prepared to make sure that you’re taking care of the most precious things of our community – our citizens.”

Now, Lee Health has a plan to do its part to stop the spread of the new virus.

“During seasons such as this, you may find that we’re limiting visitation especially if people who may be more at risk such as children,” Dr. Saunders said. “And that we are encouraging everyone to do the things that they need to do to stay safe – cover your cough, use a tissue, wash your hands, not go to work when you’re sick.”

For parents, their precious children are a concern. WINK News spoke with daycares in the area. Wellington Academy in Fort Myers said it has already sanitized everything and does so each day. Creative World Gateway said they have got internal policies for viruses, but would not explain further.

At Southwest Florida International Airport, there is a worry about people traveling into the area. RSW said it has not gotten notification from federal or state agencies to take any specific measures. But, RSW has asked sick employees to stay home and it is monitoring passengers for visible signs of sickness. RSW is not the only agency preparing for the pandemic.

We spoke to officials from several different places like SWFL schools, county health departments, local government and more to see if they have any plans to prepare for potential impacts from the coronavirus.

Below is a list of statements from those groups and their current plans:


Lee County Schools

Our Health Services department has been in close communication with our local health department as well as in communication with the School Health Liaison at the State level in Tallahassee. We are monitoring the absence totals at each school and receiving updates on any new information or advice from the local, state and federal health departments as well as the CDC.

“We do have a process document in place to address the Coronavirus and our school clinics are monitoring daily visits to the clinics and the signs and symptoms most commonly seen. At this time we have not seen a dramatic increase in related signs and symptoms associated with the Coronavirus. We will continue to monitor our school clinics and keep communication frequent with our local and state health departments.

Charlotte County Public Schools

We work very closely and have a great relationship with the Charlotte County Health Department. Our Director of School Nursing and Assistant Superintendent for Student Support are in a meeting right at this moment with the Director and his Assistant at the Health Department about this matter. We will follow their lead and their advice once they have their plan in place.”

Collier County Public Schools

Health staff in each school receive routine and specialized training.  School health staff monitor for communicable diseases in our clinics to minimize the spread of illness.  CCPS Health Services provides educational materials to post in our schools that include strategies to remain healthy.  We provide fact sheets from the Department of Health (DOH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) to parents and staff members on flu prevention.  We provide classroom training, when applicable, on staying healthy.

“We provide attention to cleanliness in our learning environments. Daily custodial services include disinfecting all hard surfaces in classrooms.  If there is a cluster of flu-like illness, defined by the DOH, of three or more students in the same classroom, the school health staff fill out a flu log and fax or scan it to CCPS Health Services. In turn, the Director of CCPS Health Services requests a deep cleaning for that particular classroom through CCPS Environmental Services.  Environmental Services then works with the custodial vendor and the school plant manager to do an immediate deep cleaning of that classroom that evening. This includes disinfecting of hard surfaces, learning pods, and restrooms. (This is in addition to the daily custodial services each school provides.)

“The cleaning company thoroughly disinfects the school health clinics irrespective of contagious illness.  Our school health clinics are equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to use if necessary. PPE equipment includes masks, gown, gloves, a non-contact thermometer, and safety goggles. The Director of Health Services is in direct contact with the Florida Epidemiology Department of Health, (FDOH), for any updates. As of today, there are no new directives or new preventative measures.”

    • Proper handwashing
    • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
    • Using disposable tissues
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
    • Avoiding close contact with people who are showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing. “Preventative measures in place include:
      • Staying home when you are sick.  (Our Health Services policy states that any student sent home with a temperature of 100 degrees or greater must stay home for at least 24 hours and not return to school until having been afebrile without the use of fever-reducing medication such as Tylenol or Motrin.)”

Public Transportation

Lee County Port Authority

“For COVID-19/Coronavirus, the Lee County Port Authority is recommending that its employees take the same precautions we advocate during flu season.

    1. Stay home if you are sick
    2. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
    3. Practice respiratory hygiene. (Cover mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing)
    4. Do not touch your face, mouth or eyes.

If the Center for Disease Control or the state of Florida Department of Health issues additional actions for Florida airports, in particular, Southwest Florida International Airport, we will implement those recommendations.”

“Sick calls go to ARFF and then Lee County EMS. Our responders are taking normal precautions, but if someone is exhibiting flu-like symptoms they are asking key questions like recent travel patterns and person-to-person contact information. You can check with Lee County EMS on anything they are doing.”

Local Government

City of Cape Coral

Cape Coral Fire Department

    • The CCFD’s Division of Emergency Management has been and will continue to monitor COVID-19 commonly referred to as the Coronavirus. 
      • “Residents can visit the CDC website if they would like more information, and we remind everyone that it is important to be mindful of the best practices for stopping the spread of germs every day: If you are sick stay home; Wash your hands; Cover your cough or sneeze.”

City of Naples

“Indeed the city does have a plan. Our Emergency Management Team is housed within the Naples Fire-Rescue Department. Chief Pete DiMaria is the city’s Emergency Manager. We have been coordinating efforts alongside Collier County for several weeks now as we have received updates from the Florida Department of Health.  Protocols are in place to assist our dispatchers and responders as it relates to flagging instances that could be related to the everyday flu or the Covid-19 (Coronavirus).

“Today, our more pressing concern is related to the normal strains of flu we encounter this time of year annually. We are urging everyone to take precautions in terms of general health hygiene (i.e. wash hands frequently, refrain from touching your face, be mindful of your health-especially if you are running an above normal temperature).”

      • In response to our questions, City of Naples’ Charles Chapman replied with the following:
        • Our standing protocol is the same for flu season.  If you’re sick with the flu, stay home. CDC guidelines state you have to without a fever for at least a 24 hour period to be considered not contagious.
        • We have a very limited work from home policy. We have the ability technologically, but it’s not something we allow generally due to our commitment to high levels of customer service and the preferences for face to face interactions. We are open to considering relaxing work from home protocols if needed.
        • All illnesses that last for more than one working day may require a doctor’s note to confirm the claimed illness.  However, the city provides a personal leave accrual to all employees that can be used at their discretion and in coordination with their supervisor whether sick or not. We do not have separate annual or sick leave benefits.

Charlotte County

“Charlotte County public safety and emergency management officials are in regular contact with the Charlotte County office of the Florida Department of Health regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Administration officials are reviewing contingency plans in place to handle public health threats. We continue to monitor news media and CDC messaging for updates. Charlotte County would play a support role to the FDOH Charlotte office if the need arises for quarantine or logistical needs.

“There have been no reported cases of infected individuals in Charlotte County or in the state of Florida. We have posted an informational link to the FDOH website’s novel coronavirus page on the county website.”

    • In response to our questions, Charlotte County’s Bryan Gleason replied with the following:
      • Before any closure of government offices, the County Commission would declare a local state of emergency. There is no rule, any closures would be dictated by events and circumstances.
      • Except for staff assigned to duties during a state of emergency, employees cannot work on county business from home if county offices are closed.
      • Employees who are feeling ill are always encouraged to use their sick time to rest and recover. Employees are not allowed to work from home if they are using sick time. Since there are no reported cases of coronavirus in Florida, there is no reason for an employee to cite concerns about it as a reason to miss work.



“NHC leaders are continually monitoring the development of the novel Coronavirus and the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC guidance is updated frequently and available to the public, here. Since yesterday’s CDC announcement, we have not received any guidance to change our current planning and processes at NCH. We would expect notification from the Collier and Lee County Health Departments for any changes in recommendations for COVID-19 management in our healthcare facilities.

“Likewise, our school nurses will receive guidance on expected changes to their management of school clinics through our local Health Department. We have screening processes in place to intervene if patients or visitors arrive with cough or flu- like symptoms. These processes are well rehearsed, as this is the same process and script our staff use during annual flu season. Staff ask individuals to wear a face mask and they provide hand gel and tissues to these individuals. NCH staff work directly with the Collier or Lee County Health Departments if there is a patient case that raises suspicion for the COVID-19.

“The Health Department can determine if a patient is at risk for the novel virus, based on the latest CDC recommended algorithms. Should an individual meet the current definition for potential coronavirus illness, we will follow the direction of the local Health Department and CDC for management. This typically involves instituting isolation precautions and obtaining laboratory specimens per CDC recommended testing protocols. Any tests collected to identify the novel virus will be sent to the CDC for testing. Currently, the testing protocol is not available at a state or local level at this time.

“Initially, our healthcare providers will determine if there are any other underlying illnesses such as seasonal influenza or a bacterial pneumonia. Medical interventions and treatment will be carried out based on developing symptoms and diagnosis. NCH has a close relationship with Collier and Lee County Health Departments and work in concert to identify communicable illnesses and provide interventions to protect the community.

“In addition, while there are no vaccine or medication to reverse the virus, patients can receive supportive care at NCH. We have teams of Emergency Room, Infectious Disease and Critical Care providers who are abreast of the developing situation and treatment recommendations if an individual would require inpatient hospital care. To date, NCH has not treated an individual with suspected novel coronavirus.”

    •  Preparedness plans for families:
      •  Before a Pandemic:
        • Store a two week supply of water and food.
        • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
        • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
        • Get help accessing electronic health records.
        • Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference.
        • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
      • During a Pandemic:
        • Limit the Spread of Germs and Prevent Infection
        • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
        • When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
        • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
        • Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
        • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
        • Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
      • CDC’s guidance/recommendations for families with an infected loved one
      • CDC’s guidance/recommendations for businesses:
        • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
        • Separate sick employees
        • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
        • Perform routine environmental cleaning
        • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps
        • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
        • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
      • OSHA on protecting employees from COVID-19.
Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Sydney Persing
Anika Henanger
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