As concerns begin to mount in the United States about the potential spread of COVID-19 also known as Coronavirus, Monroe County Emergency Management hosted a countywide coordination call to discuss efforts being taken by multiple agencies to fend off any cases from entering the Florida Keys, but also the preparedness measures being taken for if or when it does reach the Florida Keys. There are no Coronavirus cases being investigated in Monroe County. The threat level for Coronavirus in Monroe County is also considered to be low risk.
Bob Eadie, Administrator of Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, reiterated that Florida Keys residents and visitors receive information from a trusted resource. The most accurate information is from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) www.cdc.gov and the Florida Department of Health www.floridahealth.gov.
“We are doing everything we can to keep this virus from reaching the Florida Keys,” said Eadie. “But it is likely this will grow and it could eventually come here, but the important thing to know is this is not the plague, it is like the flu, and it can be beaten with taking flu-like precautions like washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough, and most importantly, staying home when you are sick.”
The call also included Donnie Brown, Vice President of Maritime Policy of Cruise Line International Association, which represents 95 percent of the ocean-going cruise lines worldwide. He said passenger and crew safety is their number one concern and they are following procedures set forth by the CDC. With 272 ships in its global fleet, he said the Caribbean is its number one market, and that most of the passengers arrive for these cruises from inside the United States or through domestic markets. The cruise lines are working closely with airlines to provide screening of passengers of all communicable diseases.
Erick D’Leon, Assistant Director of Monroe County Airports, said Key West International Airport is following national and international airport standards. There have been no directives to monitor or screen passengers, but the major international airline hubs like New York and Atlanta are doing screenings.
The U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Javier Lopez also said they are working closely with industry partners and said most cruise ships and foreign vessels that come into the Florida Keys originate from other U.S. domestic ports. They also have the authority to deny entry into the port and said they will stay proactive with an entire team dedicated to preventing the spread of the virus.
Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner said that Coronavirus is not the first time the County has dealt with epidemics and compared it to the precautions that were taken during the Zika virus a few years ago, and the preparations for hurricane season every year.
“The threat is out there just like each year when we start hurricane season, but we will communicate preparedness, plan for its arrival, and make sure we have resources in place just in case it does reach us,” she said.
Lower Keys Medical Center and Baptist Health System also discussed their plans, which include education on infectious disease, how they will handle a mass influx, and discussed the hospital’s confined areas and negative air pressure rooms.
Monroe County School Board Director of Operations Pat Lefere said they are communicating to staff the appropriate anti-flu precautions, which is repeatedly done all season long, but also plan on adding more custodial precautions in the schools to focus on touch surfaces like counters, doorknobs, and drinking fountain disinfecting. Staff is also pushing hand washing and hand sanitation throughout the schools.
“This is an issue of international interest and we want everyone to know that we are prepared,” said Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers.
Monroe County Emergency Management information can be found at www.monreocountyem.com, www.facebook.com/monroecountybocc, and www.twitter.com/monroecounty.