Florida House Evacuates Chamber Floor Amid COVID-19 Threat

Lawmakers self-isolating while awaiting coronavirus testing results

Crews in blue medical gowns swabbed the Florida House floor on March 9, 2020.
News Service of Florida

The Florida House abruptly recessed Monday afternoon and cleared public galleries after several of its members agreed to be tested for the new strain of coronavirus after recently attending a political event in Washington where one attendee tested positive for COVID-19.

Five House members and their staff attended the conference, according to House Speaker Jose Oliva.

“In an effort to set an example in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, and in an abundance of caution for their fellow Members and staff, Representatives Sabatini, Altman, McGhee, Donalds and Byrd, along with a staff member, have voluntarily agreed to submit to testing,” Oliva said in a statement.

“They have self-isolated pending return of results. After leaving the event 10 days ago, Representatives Sabatini, Altman, McGhee, Donalds, Byrd and the staff member are NOT symptomatic, and they were not in direct contact at any time with the individual who tested positive for the virus.”

Crews in blue medical gowns swabbed the House floor during the recess.

Earlier Monday, Florida officials walked back an earlier advisory requesting all travelers returning from foreign countries self-isolate, further sowing confusion over its efforts to contain a fast-spreading threat to public health.

An earlier statement from the Florida Health Department had advised all individuals traveling internationally to self-isolate for 14 days.

Two hours later, health officials revised its advisory to realign with federal health guidelines that require travelers returning from the high-risk countries — China, South Korea, Italy and Iran — to remain home and avoid contact with others.

It was unclear what led to the communications breakdown, when the Health Department seemed to take the unprecedented step Monday of asking all travelers to self-isolate for 14 days after returning from any foreign travel. A spokesman could did not immediately return phone calls.

Earlier Monday, Florida Health Department Spokesman Alberto Moscoso said “the situation in Florida is swiftly changing."

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

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.

AP and NBC 6
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