As county officials work to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease, the identity and location of the Volusia County victims of COVID-19 remain under wraps, at least for now.
“The [Florida] Department of Health has determined that only the county would be shared with the public,” Volusia County Health Department Administrator Patricia Boswell told the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials on March 9. “It really does protect the confidentiality [of the person infected].”
Thus far, the only details as of Wednesday morning of the individual virus victims are that one is a 60-year-old woman, while the other is a 66-year-old woman.
Where in Volusia County the women live is not known.
Officials at the Whisperwood manufactured-home community in DeLand sent residents there a notice saying a parishioner at Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand, where a number of Whisperwood residents attend church, had contracted the virus.
It’s not known if the Trinity parishioner is one of the two cases already known, or a new case.
Boswell spoke publicly at a recent midday gathering of the county’s local leadership cadre at Daytona Beach International Airport, after having briefed top officials of the county and municipal governments earlier behind closed doors.
Thus far, Volusia County Emergency Management Director Jim Judge said the prime symptoms of the disease appear to be “a high fever and a cough,” especially affecting those who have traveled outside the United States.
Difficulty breathing is another symptom of the virus, according to the Department of Health. The virus spreads mainly through droplets dispersed when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Similar symptoms can be caused by other common illnesses, like the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for most people the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low.
Health care workers, people who have traveled to places with a high concentration of COVID-19 infections, and those caring for an infected person are at higher risk.
“We’re learning more and more about the spread of this disease,” Boswell said. “We know that 80 percent of the people may be exposed to this and not show any symptoms,” Boswell said.
As of the morning of March 11, Florida had 21 residents testing positive for the coronavirus. Two non-residents with the virus are being treated and monitored in the state. The revelation of patients in Volusia County came Sunday and Monday.
Broward County has the highest number of the state’s patient total, with four people showing symptoms of the illness, according to data released by the Florida Department of Health.
While the figures on the extent of the spread of COVID-19 and its death toll change hourly, the advice on how to counter the spread of the disease remains the same: the need for frequent hand-washing. Hand sanitizers also work, but only if the alcohol content is still active.
“Hand sanitizer — it does expire after about three years,” Judge said.
Other timely advice includes staying home from work if one becomes sick or shows symptoms of cold or flu, or what may be the coronavirus.
Judge said he is involved in conference calls with public-health and other emergency-management authorities on a daily basis, as the epidemic morphs.
State health officials are now also directing those returning from trips to China, Iran, Italy or South Korea in the past 14 days to self-isolate for 14 days, and call their county health department — at 386-273-0500, in Volusia’s case — if they get sick.
Additionally, if you’ve returned from any international travel or cruise in the past 14 days and feel sick, call your health care provider or county health department.
Volusia County Schools, which has already been encouraging its students and staff to stay home if they feel sick, has taken an additional step to protect their personnel by suspending all student field trips involving air travel.
“Following a call with the Florida Commissioner of Education this morning and based on his strong recommendations, all student field trips involving air travel will be suspended immediately through the end of the current school year,” School District spokesman Frank FitzGerald said in an email. “District and school staff members will work with parents and travel companies on appropriate cancellation arrangements.”
“While we have been advised by experts that the risk to young people remains low, we encourage everyone to continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and to follow healthy habits,” the email continued. “Hand washing with soap and water remains the best prevention.”
Meanwhile, other county agencies are taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease.
The county is making hand sanitizer available at all public-service desks within libraries, and staff are routinely disinfecting computer keyboards and mice. All solid surfaces are being cleaned nightly, as well.
Volusia County Department of Elections staff are also routinely sanitizing materials, including voting machines, secrecy sleeves and pens.
To vote in the upcoming primary election, voters may bring their own blue or black pens if they choose. All voting sites will also have hand sanitizer available for public use, as well.
— Beacon editor Anthony DeFeo contributed to this report.