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Coronavirus might be in Broward, and all the health department can say is, ‘Wash your hands?!” | Editorial

There are two cases of presumptive coronavirus in our “back yard” — Broward County — and the best that county’s health department can tell us is the ancient cautions to “wash your hands” and “don’t touch your face?”

Sorry, but Paula Thaqi’s aggravatingly uninformative press briefing Saturday to discuss the two cases were practically a dereliction of duty. To be fair, her hands were tied, she said, by guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As questions from frustrated reporters were repeatedly rebuffed with Thaqi’s response that she was following CDC rules, or that HIPPA rules prevented her from violating patients’ privacy, she finally said, “We are providing the public with specific information,” punting again and again to

No, she wasn’t.

“Let’s not panic” appeared to be the mantra. But, because Thaqi wasn’t more forthcoming, residents could not be blamed for doing just that, panicking.

The Editorial Board agrees that no one should be freaking out at this point. But state and federal health officials must realize that the best way to keep that from happening is to give us the facts, not to withhold them.

After all, late Friday, state health officials also announced that two people have died from the coronavirus in Florida. One, a 72-year-old man, was from Santa Rosa County. The other was from Lee County, where the health department did not release the person’s gender or age. Why? This kind of inconsistency only contributes to Floridians’ confusion, especially since the public was told that they both had traveled abroad — which is more than Thaqi revealed to reporters asking about the Broward cases. The CDC’s policies aside, the state health department must develop clear guidelines of its own, and stick to them. Individual counties hit with coronavirus cases should not be making it up as it goes along.

Also on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked Florida lawmakers to allocate $25 million toward the state’s response to the coronavirus. On Saturday, both the House and Senate budget chairs agreed. Good. Some of those funds definitely need to go to quickly increasing capacity at Florida’s three public labs. Already there is a backlog of coronavirus test kits waiting to be processed.

DeSantis also spent time on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale with Vice President Pence, who promised cruise-industry leaders that the administration will “lean in” to helping stem the spread of the virus.

Broward County had announced Friday night that two men, 65 and 75 years old, had come down with presumptive cases of the virus.

South Floridians are now in dangerous proximity to the coronavirus.

That’s why the public had a right to know from Thaqi’s Saturday-morning news conference, at the very least, if the two patients had traveled to countries where the disease is prevalent or if they might have come in contact with someone who had.

What we got was zilch. Nothing to see here.

We understand that Thaqi’s hands might have been tied, but in light of a potential major health threat, the public needs to know more, and should demand to know more, if the coronavirus progresses.

The CDC, too, is going to have to adjust. “Soap and water” alone just doesn’t wash anymore.

This story was originally published March 8, 2020 5:00 AM.

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