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Lee Health monitoring coronavirus locally

March 11, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The impact of the new coronavirus has hit home with Lee County seeing its first fatality.

Lee Health reported last week that a patient in its care, who was 77, died Thursday from the coronavirus.

The health care organization held a press conference Saturday in which it was stated that two patients, described as elderly, arrived at the Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers on Wednesday around noon. They were admitted to the intensive care unit. One of the patients remained isolated and was being treated as of Saturday.

According to Lee Health president and CEO Larry Antonucci, both patients exhibited "severe respiratory distress" upon their arrival to Gulf Coast Medical Center and had "underlying health conditions."

The death, one of two in Florida as of Tuesday morning, was reported to the state Friday evening.

Antonucci said those hospital workers who came in contact with the patients and treated them are being evaluated and have been isolated.

"No Lee Health employees have shown signs of an infection," Antonucci said Saturday.

On Monday, Lee Health implemented a temporary restricted visitation policy, updated since it was first announced over the weekend. The health care system is limiting all rooms to two visitors at a time and are restricting all visitors under the age of 12.

In addition, all visitors are being screened and asked to answer a questionnaire before being allowed in patient rooms.

Entrances at some of the hospitals have been temporarily closed to make this process more efficient.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, issued a statement Saturday in which he announced that he has directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to activate to Level II to coordinate the state's response to COVID-19 and provide critical support to the Florida Department of Health and county health departments.

The governor's directive follows Friday night's announcement from the Florida Department of Health that two individuals have died and two new presumptive positive cases were confirmed in Broward County. Additionally, on Saturday, the DOH announced a new presumptive positive case in Lee County. The individual was isolated and was being appropriately cared for, officials said.

"I have directed the Division of Emergency Management to activate to Level II to ensure our state has all the necessary resources engaged as we respond to COVID-19," DeSantis said in a prepared statement released Saturday morning. "It is critical that we proactively coordinate all state resources to mitigate the threat and contain COVID-19. I urge all Floridians to take necessary precautions and follow hygiene guidelines issued by the Surgeon General and Florida Department of Health."

As of Monday morning, there were 18 confirmed cases in Florida. The number of individuals under public health monitoring was 302 currently being monitored with 1,104 individuals monitored to date. Of those numbers, 140 had tested negative for the virus with 115 tests still pending, according to the state Department of Health.

On March 1, DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-51, which directed Surgeon General Rivkees to declare a public health emergency to better equip Florida with the resources needed to handle the public health threat. The Governor has requested $25 million from the Florida Legislature to be appropriated in this current year for the Florida Department of Health to be used immediately to assist with the COVID-19 response.

Guidance from the Florida Department of Health

The Florida Department of Health is working closely with the patients, potential close contacts of each case and health care providers to isolate and monitor persons who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and implement testing of anyone who may develop COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough or shortness of breath, officials said.

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 the 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 this virus. As a reminder, the Department always recommends everyday preventive actions to help impede 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 sneeze with 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.

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 China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and any other destination under CDC travel advisory should call ahead to their health care provider and local county health department and mention their recent travel or close contact.

Visit the Department's dedicated COVID-19 webpage at This remains the best and most up-to-date resource for information and guidance regarding COVID-19 in Florida.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department's dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121 or emailing The Call Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.



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