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New coronavirus cases in Florida cause concern in SWFL

Several officials are speaking out on Monday following the announcement by Gov. Ron DeSantis declaring Florida in a state of emergency. The designation was issued as the dreaded new coronavirus is officially in the Sunshine State and the COVID-19 strain is not far from Southwest Florida.

The declaration comes after two presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in the state were confirmed by Centers for Disease and Prevention. One in Hillsborough and the other in Manatee County. Both are adult residents in Florida, and only one had recently traveled out of the country, during a trip to Italy.

MORE: Complete coronavirus coverage

Despite the public health emergency, DeSantis cautions not everyone who has symptoms should go straight to the emergency room.

“If you work through your local provider or county health department rather than showing up at an urgent care center,” the governor said, “that will help with the resources for other needs.”

Experts said that 80% of patients can be treated at home. For the rest, DeSantis said 15% may have “more severe cases requiring hospitalization” while up to 5% may be “especially severe.”

Florida now has three sites capable of testing for COVID-19. Alex Daneshmand, the chief quality safety officer with Lee Health, said it already had to test one patient.

“We’ve had a few cases that came for us to evaluate them and put them through the algorithm,” Daneshmand said. “And those cases – only one patient had to be tested. That test came back fairly quick within 24-48 hours.”

Also on Monday, Congressman Vern Buchanan talked about his meeting with Robert Meade, the CEO of Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. One of the coronavirus patients is confirmed to be at that facility. Meade emphasized that if you are in good health it is unlikely that you would suffer serious complications.

In total, over 700 people have been monitored for the virus in the state of Florida.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends mitigation measures in communities with COVID-19 cases, including staying at home when sick, keeping away from others who are sick and staying at home when a household member is sick with respiratory disease symptoms or if instructed to do so by public health officials or a health care provider.

But even with the virus inching closer to Southwest Florida, health officials said the risk remains low. “I was a little surprised that we had a case here so quickly and a little afraid, of course,” said Andy Pugh, who lives in Sarasota. “You can tend to become panicked and afraid with every new case, but I’m not too worried.”

However, for some students and staff from Florida Gulf Coast University, there is a risk they will catch the virus. Twenty-eight choral students and staff members are currently touring southern Italy, Rome and Naples. Now that the U.S. has put that portion of Italy under a category three travel advisory, DeSantis and the state surgeon general said colleges and universities will have to follow specific protocols.

“If you have students returning from high outbreak areas, please assist these individuals in self-isolating for 14 days after their return,” said Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. “Commissioner Corkren will be working to get messaging out about this important issue. If any of these individuals become ill, please contact your county health department so we can assist in their evaluation.”

While there are heavy outbreaks of the new coronavirus in northern Italy, that is not the case yet in Rome or Naples.

FGCU shared a statement with us regarding its latest response to students returning to the university and Southwest Florida from potentially affected areas overseas.

“Our greatest concern is the health and safety of our students and the university community,” FGCU shared with WINK News in a statement. “Our hope is that everyone follows the guidance of our health officials to protect their own well-being as well as our state.”

FGCU says the board of governors issued a memorandum to the presidents and provosts of the 12 public universities regarding travel precautions due to COVID-19.

“We have asked them to request all employees and students who return from travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea to self-isolate and not return to campus for fourteen days after their return,” the FGCU statement said.

The university said any student who exhibits symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath should contact their local health department for testing. And FGCU continues to work diligentkly to consider various plans and options to help returning students from affected places.

MORE: FGCU suspends official university travel to China due to coronavirus

Coronavirus briefly takes down the stock market

Last week, the U.S. stock market had its worst week since 2008. The difference between the Great Recession over a decade ago and now are the drivers. For the former, it was a complicated financial product tied to real estate. Now, it is a medical malady: the new coronavirus.

“This is more about fear and uncertainty,” said Dr. Shelton Weeks, the dept chair of economics & finance at Florida Gulf Coast University, “because we really don’t know how this is going to play out.”

Since Southwest Florida’s economy is driven by tourism and retirement spending, the potential impact could be more pronounced.

“When the rest of the market does really well, Southwest Florida does really well,” Weeks said. “But if this ends up pushing us into a recession, we should expect that the economy in Southwest Florida could take a bigger hit than the national or international economy.”

But he adds not to panic. If you are still saving for retirement, then this is not necessarily a bad thing.

“If you got paid today and your employer put money into your retirement account and they bought securities for you, you bought them at a lower price than you did two weeks ago,” Weeks said. “So you want to buy when the market is down.”

Travel is also taking a hit.

For airline companies, such as American Airlines, they have seen a drastic drop in their stock price. American has seen an over 30% drop since Feb. 21.

As a precaution, Nestle is asking its employees worldwide not to travel internationally for business purposes until March 15, 2020. Amazon has instructed its employees to avoid non-essential travel domestically and internationally.

Some airlines are working with customers, offering to waive flight change or cancellation fees for new reservations. American Airlines is waiving change fees for customers purchasing travel between March 1 and March 16. JetBlue Airlines and Alaska Airlines announced last week its suspending change and cancel fees for certain reservations.

“People are probably starting to adjust travel patterns right now in a big way,” Weeks said. “So you think about families taking vacations or students going on international study trips… All of that may not happen.”

*The map is best viewed on a desktop computer. If you don’t see the map above tap HERE for a fullscreen version.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Erika Jackson
Taylor Petras
Allison Gormly
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