TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida health officials took the unprecedented step Monday of asking all travelers to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from any foreign travel, to help contain a fast-spreading threat to public health.

Two people have already died in Florida, and state health officials say 18 other people have tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus that is now quickly spreading across the United States and other parts of the world.

The Florida Department of Health, like those in many other states, had previously limited the advisory to people returning from China, South Korea and Italy.

Florida Health Department Spokesman Alberto Moscoso said the move was taken “as part of the effort to control the spread” of the virus in Florida.

“The situation in Florida is swiftly changing,” he said.

Of the 18 Floridians testing positive, 12 were diagnosed in Florida and five were diagnosed in another state, according to the Health Department. In addition a California resident, now under self-isolation in Florida, has tested positive.

It was unclear how the new advisory could play out in a state that is a destination for millions of visitors from overseas. Already, there is concern about how the virus could affect amusement parks such as Disney World in Orlando, one of the country’s most visited attractions. Cruise lines are also already being impacted.

Florida health officials advised residents who have traveled internationally to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to the United States.

In particular, the Health Department is suggesting that anyone who traveled last month on cruise ships on the Nile River in Egypt self-isolate because some passengers have tested positive with the novel strain of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Florida’s largest grocery chain, Publix, began limiting sales of some merchandise, including hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, face masks and other products.

A Publix spokeswoman, Maria Brous, said the decision was “due to the increase in demand over health concerns from the coronavirus.”

The chain has more than 800 stores in Florida and more than 400 elsewhere from Alabama to Virginia.

On Monday, Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva acknowledged the threat from a new virus to the Florida economy, as he opened what could be the final week of this year’s legislative session.

“We may be facing a very real challenge here. The coronavirus, while it had a rather minute effect on us, the panic surrounding it has had a real affect,” he told his chamber Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the governor’s schedule Monday was expected to be dominated by COVID-19. The governor was to again speak with Vice President Mike Spence, who President Trump has appointed to lead the national effort against the disease.

Florida health officials say anyone who has a fever, shortness of breath and other symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days of traveling to some of the most affected areas, such as China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan, should inform their doctor and local health department. The same advisory applies to people who have been in close contact with anyone who recently traveled to severely impacted countries who show symptoms.

People who are asked to self-quarantine should remain home. Health officials say they should not go to work or school or at any other gatherings until 14 days after returning from foreign travel. If any symptoms develop, they should alert a doctor and health officials.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this story from Miami.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

3/9/2020 1:31:40 PM (GMT -5:00)

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