Florida

Scott tells lawmakers that Florida is prepared for Ebola

Infection prevention and control nurses Stacy Coffman and Adriana Jimenez suit up to demonstrate the latest protocol for treating patients at risk for Ebola at Jackson Health on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Infection prevention and control nurses Stacy Coffman and Adriana Jimenez suit up to demonstrate the latest protocol for treating patients at risk for Ebola at Jackson Health on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

In a conference call with Florida lawmakers Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott led with the only update that mattered:

“We have no confirmed cases of Ebola in Florida, and we hope we never will,” Scott said.

But the brief call gave Scott another opportunity to repeat the precautions taken in case of a possible Ebola outbreak.

▪ The Florida Department of Health continues to monitor six “low-risk” people who returned from Ebola-affected countries under an executive order Scott issued Saturday requiring anyone returning from countries with Ebola outbreaks to be monitored twice a day for three weeks.

▪ Scott is asking federal officials to add Florida airports to the list of five around the country that screen for Ebola symptoms.

▪ Almost 100 Florida hospitals have completed mandatory Ebola training.

▪ One of two Florida National Guard “rapid response teams” that would help transport patients suspected of having Ebola to hospitals completed its training last weekend.

▪ The Florida Department of Health is getting $7 million in federal grants for protective gear and equipment. The state has received only three of the 30 Ebola testing kits Scott requested from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We live in a state that is going to be prepared if anything does happen,” Scott told lawmakers.

He took no questions, leaving unanswered issues such as how much the precautions will cost, and whether the health department has adequate staff in the event of an outbreak. Since Scott took office, the department has reduced its staff by 13 percent.

Lawmakers listening in included Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford.

All lawmakers were emailed the phone number of Surgeon General John H. Armstrong during the call. Gaetz said they could call Armstrong if they had any questions. Unlike the conference call, individual calls would not be subject to the requirement that the news media be invited.

In the middle of a tight battle for reelection, Scott has drawn much attention to Ebola, though Florida has had no cases. His office has issued seven news releases about the virus since mid-October, and his daily public schedules frequently have shown no events other than Ebola-related meetings.

Soon after his second debate with his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist went poorly, Scott held a news conference at which he said Florida was ready for the Ebola crisis despite getting little help from the CDC.

“The CDC and the federal government have already failed to get ahead of the spread of Ebola in Texas, and we’re not going to let that happen in Florida,” he said.

But Ebola politics can be tricky. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie faced a backlash from health experts and the White House after ordering mandatory quarantines for returning medical workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.

Scott hasn’t gone that far.

Last week, after Dr. Craig Spencer tested positive for the virus in New York, Scott issued an executive order that requires only twice-a-day testing for those returning from affected nations, and quarantines for “high-risk” people, as determined by the state health department.

The Florida Department of Health will oversee the monitoring of anyone returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Contact Michael Van Sickler at mvansickler@tampabay.com.

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