Manatee County declares state of emergency

Manatee County declares state of emergency
Dr. Jennifer Bencie and Public Safety Department Director Jake Sauer addressed county commissioners Monday afternoon.

BRADENTON – As a fifth case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was announced in Manatee County today, commissioners declared a state of emergency.

Manatee County Public Safety Department Director Jake Sauer made the announcement during Monday afternoon’s emergency Manatee County Commission meeting.

“We added one today for a total of five residents in Manatee County that have tested positive for COVID-19. We have 25 under public health monitoring within the county,” Sauer said.

“So far in Manatee County, there are zero fatalities related to COVID-19. So far in Florida, there are four deaths. Positive cases, 136. There’s a lot of data coming in and as soon as I say these things they’re already out of date,” Sauer said of those numbers.

Florida has several confirmed COVID-19 cases and exposures related to ports and airports, Sauer said.

He also noted Florida has a large tourist population and a large population of elderly citizens.

“These factors make Florida communities particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19,” Sauer said. “We are nowhere near the peak of this and you should expect to see more cases come online as testing becomes available.”

Sauer stressed the importance of taking precautionary measures that include avoiding large crowds and staying home if you’re sick.

“Moving forward we must all be proactive rather than reactive. It is not a time to panic. It’s a time to plan and prepare. There’s not a supply chain problem and there’s not a supply problem. You do not need to hoard supplies,” Sauer said.

Dr. Bencie speaks

Sauer then deferred to Dr. Jennifer Bencie, director of the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County.

“The new and uncharted territory we’re entering with this disease and the tremendous publicity that it is generating can only deepen concerns. Now is not the time to panic, but a time to unite and a time to practice prevention tips,” Bencie said.

“Although we’re only at the start of this pandemic, with no idea how long it will last, we will surely see this public health event through, just as we have with so many others in the past,” she added.

“As of one o’clock today, Manatee County has seen five cases of the disease. I’m happy at this time there are no deaths in Manatee County due to this illness and that those who have been diagnosed have either recovered or are in the recovery phase,” Bencie said.

“Our team continues to track and monitor anyone who may be at risk for having coronavirus based on symptoms, travel history, contact with those who’ve been diagnosed with the disease and other criteria,” Bencie said.

Bencie said the symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

Bencie encourages anyone who believes they might have contracted COVID-19 to first call the Manatee Health Line or the Florida Department of Health before visiting a hospital emergency room or health care provider.

The Manatee Health Line phone number is 941-242-6649 and is in operation from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Florida Department of Health COVID-19 call center in Tallahassee can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 866-779-6121.

Bencie encourages anyone who has traveled internationally or domestically to places with higher case counts, or those who have come in contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus, to also call one of the health department phone numbers before going to an emergency room or doctor’s office.

Bencie said this allows health department personnel to interview the caller to help determine if they need to be tested. It also helps prevent a contagious person from walking into a doctor’s waiting room or an emergency room unannounced and unexpected.

Emergency declaration

During Monday’s emergency meeting, county commissioners declared a countywide state of emergency.

Commissioner Steve Jonsson said declaring a state of emergency gives the county a place in line if and when state and federal funds become available regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

“That’s one of the main reasons for a local state of emergency. It really is for tracking and financial purposes,” Sauer added.

No beach or business closings

Commissioner Betsy Benac asked if there were any plans to close the county beaches. Sauer and County Administrator Cheri Coryea said there were currently no plans to do so.

In response to questions from Benac and Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, Sauer said the county does not have the authority to close or dictate hours of operation to privately owned restaurants, bars and businesses. He said that direction would have to come from the state and Governor Ron DeSantis.

Manatee County declares state of emergency
White House Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx, center, asks for cooperation with coronavirus guidelines.

Federal guidelines announced

About an hour after the county meeting ended, the White House Coronavirus Task Force released a new set of federal guidelines that recommend people not gather in groups larger than 10 people for the next 15 days.

Task force member Dr. Deborah Birx stressed the importance of all Americans of all ages to follow these voluntary guidelines in order to help contain the spread of COVID-19.