Local and state health officials are not monitoring at least one person who had direct contact with the Manatee County man who tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 to ensure she remains in self-quarantine or hasn’t begun to show any symptoms.
One of the registered nurses who treated that patient at Doctors Hospital in Sarasota before he was tested, exposing her and others, told the Bradenton Herald she was first notified of the patient’s presumptive positive test results at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, March 1, by her supervisor. She immediately called the local and state health departments and self-quarantined herself and her son at home.
Later that evening, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the man was one of the first two Floridians who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which in two months has sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide, of whom about 3,000 have died. DeSantis also directed the state surgeon general to declare a public emergency.
Since Sunday, the nurse, who asked not to be named, said she has not heard back from any state or Sarasota health officials. They have not called to ensure she remains quarantined. They also haven’t called to ask whether she has developed any symptoms of the coronavirus.
“The one gentleman I spoke with from the state said he would be calling me every day,” the woman said Friday afternoon. “It does upset me that nobody has called.”
The nurse’s experience provides a look at how health officials are managing possible coronavirus cases. In an addition to the six positive cases that have been reported, the Florida Department of Health reported Saturday 100 negative test results and 88 pending results. The agency said it is monitoring 278 people for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
Two elderly men, one in Lee County, the other in Santa Rosa County, have died from coronavirus, the health department said late Friday.
The Bradenton Herald reached out to the Florida Department of Health and the Manatee and Sarasota health departments. A statement from the state health department confirmed that active monitoring is not occurring.
“If in the course of an epidemiological investigation, a person is determined to have potentially been exposed to COVID-19, that person is contacted by their local health department and asked to remain in self-isolation for 14 days,” the statement said. “If after the 14-day period they remain healthy, they are allowed to return to work and normal activities. If a person is in self-isolation, and they develop symptoms, they should call their health care provider immediately.”
Manatee Health Department Communication Director Christopher Tittel said, “Florida statute prevents us from providing details on specific cases or investigations.”
It was not until a briefing on Thursday that local health departments were given permission to speak with reporters, according to Tittel, after several requests by Bradenton Herald for information and comment from state and local officials went unanswered all week long.
Interview requests still needed to cleared through the state-level communications office, as of Friday. The Herald’s request to speak with Manatee Health Department’s health officer Jennifer Bencie, which was made Friday morning, had not been approved by the end of the business day.
Meanwhile, the Manatee man who was diagnosed with COVID-19 was released from Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, the hospital announced late Friday afternoon. Where he lives in Manatee has not been released.
Also not known is how he got sick. Officials said he had not recently traveled to China or any of the other countries where there have been outbreaks of COVID-19.
According to the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 hotline, in order for a patient who has been treated for the novel coronavirus to be released from the hospital, they have to be cleared by a doctor and no longer be contagious.
Federal and state officials the risk of anyone in the general public becoming infected by the coronavirus remains low.
Quarantined nurse in the dark
Despite little guidance from health officials, the registered nurse who cared for the Manatee man before he was officially diagnosed with COVID-19 said she knew what she had to do after hearing the news.
“I told my employer, ‘I have to take care of me and my son because nobody has good answers for me,’” she recalled. “I haven’t left my house since Sunday. My son hasn’t gotten to school or work. People drop food off at my front door and run.”
In addition to speaking with the health department and Doctors Hospital, she said she spoke with her family’s pulmonologist within an hour of receiving the news. Her son has cystic fibrosis, potentially making him more vulnerable to the coronavirus. She also contacted her son’s school, Sarasota Military Academy, the following day to let them know the situation.
Since then, as she was directed by the Florida Department of Health, she takes both their temperatures twice daily and neither have shown any symptoms of the coronavirus.
Based on the day she was exposed, she will remained quarantined until Wednesday, March 11, she said.
“In my mind, I plan to go back to work on Thursday but I don’t know what that process is going to look like,” she said.
Doctors Hospital has not provided her any details, including whether any of her colleagues are also being quarantined.
Manatee commissioners still confident in health department
After learning of the lack of monitoring for at least one of the healthcare workers who provided care for the Manatee man diagnosed with coronavirus, neither Manatee County Commission Chair Betsy Benac nor Vice-chair Carol Whitmore expressed any lack of confidence in how the local health departments are handling the coronavirus.
“I am sorry to hear that no one has followed up with the quarantined resident from the Sarasota Health Department,” Benac said. “As we know this is a situation that is changing rapidly; however, I am encouraged that the tests performed in Sarasota were negative, from what I read in the newspaper, and no new ‘presumptive positive’ tests have been reported in Manatee County.”
Whitmore said she remained confident despite the Doctors Hospital nurse “falling through the cracks.”
She also said she shared some of the public’s frustrations about the lack of information coming from the health departments, especially as a nurse herself.
“Someone is not allowing them to educate the public,” she said.
Doctor who diagnosed Manatee man
The number of healthcare workers who treated the Manatee man with coronavirus and remain under quarantine has not been made public.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital announced that it had been Manuel Gordillo, an infectious disease specialist with Infectious Diseases Associates, who diagnosed the patient, and made him available to some news outlets for an interview through video chat. Infectious Diseases Associates provides inpatient services at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Complex Care Hospital at Ridgelake, Healthsouth Rehabilitation Hospital and Doctors Hospital.
“I was the person who diagnosed the case we have in our county. The day that I went to see the patient, nobody expected the person to have this disease, so the patient was not in isolation,” Gordillo said.
Although Gordillo did not think the man had COVID-19 because he didn’t fit all the criteria, including not having traveled outside the country, he ordered the test. He found out two days later that the man did in fact have the disease, he said.
Since then he has been quarantined at home. He explained that’s not how officials describe his status.
“CDC doesn’t use that term. They use the term active monitoring or self-monitoring with healthcare supervision or with public health supervision to avoid confusion,” he explained.
Gordillo said he has remained symptom-free.
“Our exposure is considered low-risk,” Gordillo said speaking of those in healthcare. “All of us that have had even a minor exposure, we err on the side of caution, abundance of caution and we put ourselves in 14-day self-monitoring.”