First person in Nassau diagnosed with COVID-19

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A travel-related case of the disease was reported on Wednesday by the Fla. DOH.

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  • Nassau County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Danny Leeper and Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, director of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County, at Wednesday afternoon’s special BOCC meeting held at the county’s Emergency Management Center. PAMELA BUSHNELL/NEWS-LEADER
    Nassau County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Danny Leeper and Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, director of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County, at Wednesday afternoon’s special BOCC meeting held at the county’s Emergency Management Center. PAMELA BUSHNELL/NEWS-LEADER
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As the World Health Organization officially declared the new coronavirus to be a pandemic Wednesday, Nassau County’s first travel-related case of COVID-19 was reported in a 68-year-old man who reportedly contracted the disease while traveling “out-of-state,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a televised public briefing.

COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019.

Baptist Medical Center Nassau has had no contact with the patient announced Wednesday, who is reportedly in self-isolation. The Florida Department of Health – Nassau County is monitoring the patient and researching people with whom he might have come into contact so they can be tested for the virus.

The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting late Wednesday afternoon to address community concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, director of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County, addressed attendees on “a dynamic situation that changes daily.”

Citing patient confidentiality, Ngo-Seidel declined to offer any personal information about the infected individual, including the travel destination where he may have contracted the virus or his condition, other than to say that he does not require hospitalization at this time.

A patient treated at Southeast Georgia Health System’s Camden Campus has also tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is pending for a second patient.

A spokesperson for the facility stated, “Out of an abundance of caution, potentially impacted team members will remain at home and be monitored by the Georgia Department of Public Health. … The public can rest assured that it is safe to seek care at Southwest Georgia Health System, and we are prepared to assist the community as we all manage this complex health issue. … Both acute care campuses have negative-pressure isolation rooms with specialized ventilation systems, and our caregivers use personal protective equipment when necessary.”

As of press time Thursday, the Florida Department of Health reported 26 people in 12 Florida counties have tested positive for the virus. Of those individuals, five are in isolation at federally designated sites for residents returning from abroad. Most, but not all, of the current Florida cases have been linked to travel.

Another 147 individuals have test results still pending. To date, 1,230 Floridians have been monitored for the virus, with 476 being actively monitored at the moment. Two deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded in Florida.

On March 1, DeSantis declared a public health emergency in Florida. All health care providers, hospitals, and labs are required to immediately report all suspected cases of COVID-19 to local county health departments.

Earlier this week, the Florida Department of Health stated that 75,000 coronavirus test kits are available in the state. At Wednesday’s BOCC special meeting, Ngo-Seidel reported four million more kits are now ready for distribution by the CDC.

A bottleneck in efficiently processing test results is also improving as more labs come onboard, according to Ngo-Seidel. Three state labs in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami are now doing coronavirus testing, and private labs Quest and LabCorp have also been approved for processing, thanks to the WHO’s pandemic declaration.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and a heavy chest or difficulty breathing. At this time, testing is still prioritized for those who have reason to believe they have been exposed or who are showing symptoms under public health guidelines. According to Ngo-Seidel, anyone in those categories can be tested at no charge.

Individuals who develop symptoms within 14 days of returning from travel to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, or Japan, or who develop the symptoms after having contact with someone who has traveled to those countries, should immediately contact the county health department and self-isolate until cleared by the Florida Department of Health.

The governor noted that a handful of people testing positive in recent days were found to have been associated with a cruise on the River Nile in Egypt, which is not currently among nations on the high-risk list.

Any individuals who believe they may have been exposed to the virus and have symptoms should contact the health department or their physician before travelling to a physician’s office, emergency department, hospital, or urgent care center to ensure proper protective measures are taken to prevent further spread of the virus to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to emphasize, “For the majority of people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities in the United States.”

The CDC specifies those most at risk at this time are travelers returning from affected international locations, persons who have been in contact with those individuals, and health care workers. The elderly and those with compromised health conditions continue to be most at risk for developing severe or fatal complications from COVID-19. Otherwise, most cases are expected to be relatively
mild and not require hospitalization.

Also on Wednesday, DeSantis expanded the state of emergency to include a “temporary prohibition on visitation in all elderly care facilities, including assisted living facilities and nursing homes, for 14 days.”

By executive order, DeSantis advised all such facilities to do “vigilant screening” for symptoms of the virus on all who must come and go at these facilities, including vendors and staff. State officials, who must also undergo screening, will be visiting elderly care facilities throughout the state to ensure compliance, beginning with any facilities that received deficits during inspections within the last 12 months.

Calls to local care facilities about the new procedures and restrictions were not returned by press time on Thursday. However, Mac Morriss, the administrator of the Amelia Island Fernandina Beach Net-work Facebook page, posted this Thursday morning:

“Fernandina Beach Rehabilitation and Nursing Center (was formerly Quality Health Care) at 1625 Lime St. announced today that it is now closed to visitation of its residents. Spoke with them today by phone and doubly confirmed this prudent move. The mortality rate of those age 70 plus is high with covid-19. Over 80 the mortality rate is even higher. Those with preexisting lung conditions are at high risk.

“This is a very prudent and important cautionary move by this nursing home and rehabilitation center. Want to stress this, no known cases have been found at the center. This is a wise precaution taken to protect a high-risk population. They are doing what needs to be done to protect our family members and friends.”

A sign posted on the door at Fernandina Beach Rehabilitation and Nursing Center says: “Dear Family Members and Visitors, in light of the Presidential order and guidance issued yesterday evening, and in a concerted effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, effective immediately, we are suspending all medically non-essential visits to and from our care centers.

“We understand that contact with family members is important, so please consider alternative measures to connect with your loved ones during this time (such as...Telephone, E-mail, Text, Skype, WhatsApp, and other social media options).

“We are following the recommendations of the CDC and the American Healthcare Administration to help reduce the potential of the virus entering our building.

“At this time, we do not have any cases in our facility. Should you have any questions, please contact facility administration. Thank you for your cooperation and support as we work together to keep our residents safe. We will update you once the restriction is lifted.”

DeSantis advised all state universities to move classes online no later than Monday, March 16. Some colleges may also opt to extend spring breaks for students.

With respect to the upcoming state presidential primary election, DeSantis said polling sites for next week’s Presidential Preference Primary that are located in elderly care facilities will be restricted to voting by residents of those facilities. He asked that alternative polling sites be designated for the public under the circumstances.

Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital held a news conference Wednesday morning in Jacksonville. Mobeen Rathore, M.D., an infectious disease specialist, said he is confident Baptist Health has the resources to deal with coronavirus and COVID-19. “We, collectively, are constantly following changes with the CDC, with the WHO, the Florida Department of Health, and these are important because we want to keep track of what’s latest,” Rathore said.

Baptist Medical Center Nassau, the only acute care hospital in the county, is part of Baptist Health.

Among Baptist Health’s strategies is to increase the use of telemedicine services to evaluate patients using smart phones, tablets, or computers from their homes to speak with a doctor who has emergency medicine experience.

The CDC predicts, ”More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the United States in the coming days, including more instances of community spread. It’s likely that at some point widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur. Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers and workplaces may experience more absenteeism. Mass gatherings may be sparsely attended or postponed. Public health and health care systems may become overloaded. … At this time there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it.”

Many public gatherings for sports and community events in Nassau County, Northeast Florida, and across the country are already being canceled out of an abundance of caution in an attempt to prevent community-based spreading of the virus.

The Florida Department of Health’s toll-free coronavirus information call center can be reached 24/7 at (866) 779-6121. For daily updates on the status of cases in Florida visit http://bit.ly/3cWtJED. For Georgia residents, the toll-free line to report symptoms is (866) 782-4584. Updates for Georgia are available at http://bit.ly/2TYum8g.

pbushnell@fbnewsleader.com