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The State of Florida Issues Updates on COVID-19 3.16

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 16, 2020
Contact: Joint Information Center on COVID-19 for the State of Florida (850) 815-4940, ESF14@em.myflorida.com
The State of Florida Issues Updates on COVID-19
 
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The State of Florida is responding to COVID-19. In an effort to keep Florida residents and visitors safe and aware regarding the status of the virus, the Florida Department of Health will issue this update every day, seven days per week. 
 
Governor Ron DeSantis is in constant communication with Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz and State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees as the State of Florida continues to monitor and respond to the threat of COVID-19.
 
Today, in a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center, Governor DeSantis announced the following:
  • Governor DeSantis announced he is going to supplement federal Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The Governor activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Loan Program. Up to $50 million has been allocated for the program.
  • Governor Ron DeSantis directed the Department of Revenue to provide flexibility on the deadlines of taxes due such as corporate income tax and sales tax to assist businesses that are adversely impacted from COVID-19 mitigation measures.
  • Floridians throughout the state are lending a hand to stop the spread of COVID-19:
    • Members of the Florida House of Representatives have been activated to their National Guard units,
    • The Players Championship donated thousands of pounds of food to Feeding Northeast Florida,
    • Miami-Dade County school administrators are handing out computers and mobile devices, and
    • Comcast agreed to provide free WiFi for the next 60 days to kids who do not have it.
  • The Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Orange County Convention Center have agreed to open their parking lots to stage supplies and locate testing sites.
  • Restaurants throughout the state including Jimmy John’s in Tallahassee and Toasted Restaurant in Orange County are providing children with free lunch throughout the week.
  • Drive through testing sites are expected to open, throughout the state, in addition to the first proposed state site at Memorial Healthcare System in Broward. So far, sites are being developed in in Myers, Pensacola, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee.
  • The Floridians who were at held at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base are on their way back to Florida; 15 Floridians have elected to stay at the base to care for their family members.
  • On March 9, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-52, declaring a State of Emergency for COVID-19. By declaring a State of Emergency, Governor DeSantis is ensuring that state and local governments have the resources and flexibility they need to prepare and respond. 
More Information on COVID-19
To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, please visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), please visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, please visit the travel advisory website.
For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, please contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling (866) 779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.
 
What you Should Know
 
COVID-19 can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when an individual coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
 
Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days following exposure. Most people recover from COVID-19 without needing special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness.
 
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The Department recommends everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of respiratory diseases, including:
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with persons in poor health;
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Covering your cough or sneezing into a tissue, then disposing of the tissue;
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty; and
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
The CDC does not recommend that asymptomatic, healthy people wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
A person that experiences a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from any other destination with community transmission should call ahead to their health care provider and local CHD and mention their recent travel or close contact.
 
If a person has had close contact with someone showing these symptoms who has recently traveled from this area or been in contact with a person with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, he or she should call ahead to a health care professional and the CHD. The health care provider will work with the Department to determine if the person should be tested for COVID-19.
 
Actions the state has taken to prepare for and respond to COVID-19:
 
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • At the direction of Governor DeSantis, State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees declared a Public Health Emergency for COVID-19 in Florida.
  • Governor DeSantis announced that the State ordered an additional 2,500 test kits to supplement the adequate resources already available to test for COVID-19. These additional test kits will enable the Department of Health, working with Florida health care providers, to test up to an additional 625,000 individuals. The Governor also suspended non-essential in state and all out-of-state travel for state employees for 30 days.
  • Established an Incident Management Team to coordinate response operations.
  • Defined a high-level phased response strategy for COVID-19.
  • Activated a dedicated incident command post for on-site response activities.
  • Conducted three public health and health care stakeholder conference calls to provide statewide updates on the current outbreak situation, response actions and guidance for pandemic planning. Over five hundred participants joined the calls.
  • Established a public call center for questions regarding COVID-19. The call center launched Monday, March 2.
  • Developed and distributed COVID-19 presentation materials to County Health Departments (CHD) for use at community meetings.
  • Activated the Joint Information Center in coordination with the Division of Emergency Management.
  • Developed and implemented protocols for investigation, surveillance and monitoring for COVID-19 to rapidly detect and contain cases.  
  • Established mechanisms for monitoring and coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding epidemiological activities.
  • Distributed CDC Interim Guidance for public health personnel evaluating Persons Under Investigation (PUI) and asymptomatic close contacts of confirmed cases at their home or non-home residential settings to CHDs.
  • Approved and disseminated an updated Clinician Screening Tool for identifying COVID-19 PUIs.
  • Distributed a health care provider letter regarding enhanced surveillance and preparedness for COVID-19 to associations, licensed providers, Health Care Coalitions and CHDs.
  • Implemented testing at all three State Public Health Laboratories.
  • Distributed updated CDC guidance for schools to CHDs and the Department of Education.
  • Distributed updated laboratory guidance regarding implementation of testing at State Public Health Laboratories.
  • Developing a laboratory surge plan.
  • Developing a clinician-level briefing for medical audiences.
  • Identifying and monitoring close contacts of presumptive cases. Any close contacts with symptoms will be tested.
  • Implemented private lab testing.
  • Developed and disseminated pandemic planning guidance. 
  • Advised CHDs and HCCs to retain expired personal protective equipment until further until further notice.
  • Continued development of public information resources.
  • Developing infographics for first responders (fire, law enforcement and EMS) regarding infection control and personal protection for COVID-19. 
  • At the Governor’s direction, a public-private partnership has been put in place between Memorial Healthcare in Broward and the National Guard to set up a mobile testing unit.
  • At the direction of Governor DeSantis hiring additional epidemiologists from university health programs to help with workload.
  • Governor DeSantis directed the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) to extend all existing nursing home and assisted living facility licenses for 90 days to remove distraction from patient care.
AGENCY FOR HEALTH CARE ADMINISTRATION
  • AHCA distributed a provider alert to licensed health care providers regarding the Division of Emergency Management’s new Emergency Order tightening visitation restrictions at residential and long-term care facilities.
  • AHCA, in coordination with the DEM and the Department, is hosting ongoing statewide calls for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, group homes, and adult family care homes in conjunction with the Florida Health Care Association. Secretary Mayhew and Surgeon General Rivkees are continuing to address critical issues impacting these providers such as restricting visitors and providing updates.
  • AHCA, in coordination with DEM and the Department, is hosting ongoing statewide calls for hospitals in conjunction with the Florida Hospital Association. Secretary Mayhew and Surgeon General Rivkees to provide the most up-to-date information to hospital partners and residential facilitates caring for aging and vulnerable populations.
  • After previously opening an event on the Emergency Status System (ESS) for hospitals to enter census information, emergency room status updates and isolation beds, AHCA expanded the ESS event to track nursing homes and assisted living facility bed capacity, effective March 15.
  • The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) will be granting a 90-day extension to all licenses for health care providers and regulated facilities.
  • AHCA is distributing information regarding regulatory flexibilities created by waivers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to skilled nursing facilities, critical access hospitals, home health agencies, durable medical equipment, provider enrollment, etc. 
  • AHCA participated in a collaborative call with the Florida Health Care Association, Florida Hospital Association and LeadingAge Florida to discuss patient transfer arrangements between health care facilities such as nursing homes and hospitals. 
  • The Florida Medicaid Program announced coverage of commercial testing for COVID-19 for dates of service back to February 4. 
  • AHCA submitted requests to CMS for flexibility for Florida’s program under the federal declaration of a state of emergency. 
AGENCY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
  • The agency’s three state-run centers in Marianna, Gainesville and Chattahoochee, as well as APD-licensed group homes, are restricting visitors in compliance with the Executive Order to protect the health and safety of our customers. 
  • APD Adult Day Training programs across the state are screening visitors for possible exposure to COVID-19 using a visitor questionnaire. The questionnaire is also being used to screen visitors coming into APD Regional Offices.  
  • APD continues to provide an up-to-date status on COVID-19, best practices, preventative tips, and CDC guidance to APD providers, Waiver Support Coordinators, Stakeholders and APD employees.
DEPARTMENT OF ELDER AFFAIRS
  • The Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA), in coordination with the Administration for Community Living (ACL), facilitated a virtual Town Hall meeting at the request of Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper. More than 2,700 seniors were online for the meeting. Charlotte Mather Taylor, Executive Director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Broward County, led the discussion with participation from ACL Representative Constantino Miskos, Chen Senior Medical Center, and representatives from Emergency Medical Services. Their primary topics of conversation centered on the work being done, specifically by the Area Agency on Aging, to continue to provide people resources and services to maximize support during COVID-19.  
  • Through Departmental Leadership and the Area Agency on Aging contract managers, DOEA provided ongoing technical assistance to the entire Aging Network regarding allowable flexibilities within programs to ensure continuity of services and the safety of elders. For example, we provided guidance to all Executive Directors regarding the safe delivery of home-delivered meals to prevent spread of respiratory infection.
  • DOEA continues to provide updated information on current closures and possible future temporary closures of specific services at Congregate Meal Sites, Senior Centers and Adult Day Care Centers on our website homepage and all corresponding program pages. Clients are guided to contact the specific location for alternative services, they are provided the Area Agency on Aging helpline, and directed to the DOH website with any additional questions on COVID-19.
  • “The Vision 2020: Looking Towards Your Age-Friendly Future Tour” to five communities across Florida originally planned for April 20th - April 24th and co-hosted by the Department and AARP has been postponed to protect the health and wellness of seniors, volunteers and staff.  
  • All Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE) participation in scheduled outreach events, presentations, and in-person SHINE/Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) counseling has been suspended until further notice. SHINE volunteers and staff will continue to provide counseling services, but the services will be conducted over-the-phone with future considerations for the use of webinars and Facebook LIVE.
  • DOEA Secretary Prudom held a conference call with The Comprehensive Assessment and Review for Long-term Care Services (CARES) supervisors to discuss the suspension of face-to-face assessments. CARES assessors will provide reviews through phone or tele-technology to reduce client/staff exposure and reduce spread.
  • Through Departmental Leadership and the Area Agency on Aging contract managers, we provided ongoing technical assistance to the entire Aging Network regarding allowable flexibilities within programs to ensure continuity of services and the safety of elders. For example, we provided guidance to all Executive Directors regarding the provision on completing assessments for multiple program types, specifically for clients who have chosen to self-isolate.
  • DOEA provided updated information on current closures and possible future temporary closures of specific services at Congregate Meal Sites, Senior Centers, and Adult Day Care Centers on our website homepage and all corresponding program pages. Clients are guided to contact the specific location for alternative services, provided the Area Agency on Aging helpline, and directed to the DOH website with any additional questions on COVID-19.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
  • The Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Office of Child Welfare is sending regular communication about COVID-19 specifically to licensed child care providers, directing them to follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Childcare Programs and K-12 Schools to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). An FAQ document for providers was also posted prominently on DCF’s Child Care webpage.
  • DCF’s Office of Child Welfare is disseminating a survey to licensed child care providers to assess closures throughout the state. Currently, the decision to close is at the discretion of each individual facility.
  • DCF Secretary Chad Poppell sent thorough communication to all DCF staff, contracted partners, and licensed facilities (including child care providers) about COVID-19, including precautionary measures (as outlined by the CDC) and temporary policy updates.
  • DCF is working with AHCA, DOEA, and APD to compile and develop guidance for agency staff and stakeholders who work directly with Florida’s elderly population and have a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
  • DCF is leading status update calls with both internal leadership and leadership from external contracted partners. For the time being, these calls will take place twice weekly, every Tuesday and Friday.
  • DCF General Services staff throughout the state are working with lessors and janitorial contractors to increase sanitizing measures in office buildings, especially restrooms and common areas. They also began taking inventory of sanitizing supplies (disinfecting wipes, Lysol spray, hand-sanitizer, etc.) and are ordering more as needed.
  • DCF established strategies for COVID-19 prevention at all three state mental health treatment facilities, as well as the South Florida mental health facilities run by Wellpath Recovery Solutions, a contracted partner. They are reporting daily updates to ensure compliance with virus prevention and monitor potential outbreaks.
  • DCF has established a visitation protocol for all state-owned and contracted mental health treatment facilities, as well as vendors and patient families, requiring all outside parties to complete a Visitors Viral Symptoms Screening prior to entering a facility. At this time, there are no cases of patients or facility staff testing positive for COVID-19.
  • DCF’s Office of Economic Self-Sufficiency is communicating with DEO regarding work requirements and CareerSource operations and availability.
  • DCF’s Office of Economic Self-Sufficiency implemented screening procedures, including a set of questions that must be asked prior to entry, at all economic self-sufficiency storefronts.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
  • Effective March ‎‎11, 2020, FDVA is restricting visitor access to its State Veterans’ Nursing Homes and Domiciliary ‎until further notice, with the exception of essential visitors, such as ‎family members of those residents undergoing end-of-life care.
  • The U.S. ‎Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has also temporarily restricted access to their nursing and ‎community living center facilities to only essential visitors until further notice.
  • All VA Medical Centers in Florida are implementing ‎enhanced screening protocols at their facilities. VA Outpatient Clinics are also ‎implementing enhanced screening protocols. Please plan to arrive at the facility well in advance of your ‎appointment to allow additional time for the screening ‎process. ‎
  • Veterans who are concerned they may have symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19) are encouraged to contact the VISN 8 Clinical Contact Center at 1-877-741-3400 ‎‎(toll free). Clinical staff provide 24/7 virtual care and support, including nurse advice ‎and triage. The service is available at no cost to veterans enrolled for care in the VA ‎Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8). ‎
  • All FDVA and VA facilities remain fully operational.
DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY AFFAIRS
  • There have been over 200 Florida National Guardsmen placed on state active duty in support of COVID-19.
  • The Florida National Guard is activating all of their medical professionals (Army Combat medic specialists and Air Force medical technicians) to support Florida Department of Health's drive-through screening operations. Guardsmen have reported in and formed Task Force Medical already.
  • The Florida National Guard has activated soldiers to augment the State Logistics Readiness Center in Central Florida.
VOLUNTEER FLORIDA
  • Volunteer Florida is working with state counterparts and FEMA to develop volunteer plans.
  • Volunteer Florida’s National Service Department has discussed using AmeriCorps members in food banks as feeding needs increase.
  • Volunteer Florida is having conversations with Mass Care on the anticipated needs of volunteers. Together, we are working on a plan for volunteers with volunteer safety guidelines to ensure that we are protecting our service providers (volunteers and clients).
  • Volunteer Florida has asked all Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) partners to review their continuity of operations so that there is no service delivery disruption.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
  • Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) Richard Corcoran provided strong recommendations for extending spring break following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing guidance specific to COVID-19 in Florida. As all Florida school districts and public charter schools have different schedules, please click here to see the recommended spring break changes for each district. In addition, the department also announced that the start of state testing will be delayed by a minimum of two weeks. To stay up to date on school closure information, visit: org/em-response.
  • FDOE sent updated guidance to school districts and superintendents ahead of spring break. To view that memo, visit: fldoe.org/em-response.
  • In an effort to be proactive, and only as a precautionary measure if COVID-19 evolves in Florida,