Lawmakers standby to act as coronavirus arrives in Florida

'This is a real crisis in our country'
Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-02 19:14:47-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers say they’re ready to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, if needed.

It comes after the Governor DeSantis declared a health emergency on Sunday night. Officials also announcing two presumed cases of COVID-19 in the Tampa area.

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“This is a real crisis in our country,” said Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach.

Health Policy Vice-Chair Berman said having lawmakers gaveled in would benefit the state if the threat worsens. In the session’s remaining two weeks, she believed, the House and Senate could move fast to file policy or push forward funding to help.

“We were in session when the Stoneman Douglas event happened,” said Berman. “We were able to respond really quickly. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with coronavirus.”

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami, has become one of the first to act. He’s filed an amendment to an expansive piece of medical legislation, SB 230. His provision would require the state, during an infectious outbreak, to disclose how many people are being tested and in what counties.

“We should not have a situation where members of the public and community leaders are filling in the blank,” he said.

Rodriguez’s move follows the governor’s recent decision to briefly withhold COVID testing data over privacy concerns. DeSantis quickly reversing course and releasing them following public outcry.

“Should we ever be in a situation like this again — we want it absolutely clear,” he said. “The Department of Health is focused on public health and that their only consideration is medicine.”

Outside the statehouse, trade groups are telling their business members to take the virus seriously. Geoff Luebkemann, a VP with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said common sense would go a long way in helping prevent the disease’s spread.

“Don’t work sick,” Luebkemann said. “Don’t allow your employees to worry sick.”

Luebkemann also reminded tourists that the state was ready for spring break. He urged visitors to keep their plans.

“We, with the rest of the business world, are watching,” he said. “But, right now— there are no domestic travel restrictions. Florida is open for business.”

Keeping tourism healthy as the virus spreads will be vital to Florida’s economy. Some predict the situation will help keep the state’s tourism bureau, VISIT FLORIDA, in operation.

Lawmakers are currently debating cutting its funding this session.