Dr. John Lanza, director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County, gave a COVID-19 update to the Escambia County Commission this morning. However, he wasn’t allowed by his superiors to participate in a press conference after his presentation.
Any questions were to be directed to the public information office of the Department of Health in Tallahassee.
The state website, floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19, gives statistics of the number of positive, negative and pending tests. As 9 a.m. Thursday, Florida had only 482 tests that were pending or completed. However, Lanza could not tell the commissioner how many people had been tested in Escambia County.
The commissioners received few specific details about the coronavirus in Escambia County, but Lanza did talk about how DOH was investigating the death of a Santa Rosa County that occurred at Baptist Hospital last week.
“My epidemiologic staff are proceeding, opening investigations of people who are PUIs, Persons Under Investigation, usually from travel,” he said. “We’ve had, I think, 13 or 14, at least, that we’re aware of that we follow. We have a couple of right now where we follow that are associated with travel from the Level 3 countries, which is China, Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Italy.”
He continued, “We will implement appropriate containment strategy in coordination with local health care providers. Basically, if you’re traveling, come back to the United States and are not sick, then self-monitor for 14 days. If you are sick, you’re going to have to be self-isolated for at least 14 days, but please contact a health care provider and, in turn contact, your health department so we know who you are.”
Test Kit Polka
Commissioner Jeff Bergosh asked about the availability of coronavirus test kits. Lanza said that test kits don’t exist. The health director said the same testing material used for other viral respiratory issues, such as strep and flu, could be used with COVID also.
Lanza said, “So there aren’t kits, as such. Most of the practices already have the test materials.”
Inweekly interviewed a local hospital official who wasn’t sure what Lanza was talking about. His hospital has ordered commercial coronavirus test kits. The kits are collection kits, so maybe Lanza was focusing on the word ‘test.’
The Center for Disease Control references test kits: “CDC provides the test kits for public health laboratories (PHLs) to perform real-time RT-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) in respiratory specimens.”
Bergosh asked Lanza, “So there’s no fear of shortage of the screens for the virus, so we’re adequately prepared if there was an outbreak to be able to screen?”
Lanza replied, “Well, the situation is that people have what they have, and we’re to get more, depending how the situation evolves.”
Inweekly sources have shared getting tested isn’t simple, but Dr. Lanza gave a different impression.
During the presser, Inweekly Escambia County Emergency Manager Eric Gilmore shared what he had learned from Lanza about testing.
“If you are sick, the direction that Dr. Lanza provided us earlier was to make contact with either your health provider or the health department provide them the information about what’s going on with you, where you’ve been, and they will direct your appropriately, and if you meet that criteria, they’ll do the appropriate swabs and the appropriate testing.
I replied, “I’ve talked to the hospitals. It doesn’t seem to be that simple that people cannot just easily just get tested. But, your impression now is that if anyone feels they have symptoms, they can get tested.”
Gilmore said, “That’s the understanding that I have and basically what I heard from Dr. Lanza.”
Sources shared with Inweekly that Dr. Lanza this afternoon told the Leadership Pensacola that not everyone can be tested. People have to meet a specific criteria.
Inweekly would love to ask Dr. Lanza to clarify, but he doesn’t answer questions from the media.
County Administrator Janice Gilley apologized for the lack of communication with the media and public over the past two weeks and pledged to do better.
She said that her PIO Laura Coale has been meeting with public information officers of the city, Visit Pensacola and others and would reach out to the sheriff’s office, school district and hospitals.
“Potentially, we could probably be giving daily updates, so even if by 10 a.m.,” said Gilley. “If we don’t have an update, we can at least say “no update” from the different PIOs and the different organizations. I do think that’s what everyone feels like they’re experiencing, is a void of consolidated information.”
She wanted the communication to work much like it would if the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) was activated.
“As you know, when you have that activation, we have that consolidated coordinated effort,” said the county administrator. “Throughout the day that you’re going to get that information. So I think absent that activation, I think that we can provide that through all of the folks that do manage communication each and every day.”
She said the pandemic is different from a hurricane or BP oil spill because you see the damage to infrastructure—“tangible things that we know how to prepare for, respond and then recover at recovery afterwards.”
“And so we do have to try and find ways to make sure that we are getting the information out to you, and that we are managing it,” said Gilley.
Then she added my final recommendation, “If you’re a praying person, I think you should pray for our community. I think you should pray for any community or particularly the state of Florida and the country, so that we don’t necessarily have an expansion of this disease to the extent that we have issues that shut down all of the operations, and things like that.”
Inweekly asked Escambia County Emergency Manager Eric Gilmore what would trigger the activation of the EOC.
He replied, “Once we see active transmission (of the virus) in the community.”
And it’s the Department of Health that tells the county when the virus is being transmitted.