By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees said Friday that 15 people in Florida have tested negative for coronavirus.
The state is monitoring another 150 people for the deadly virus, a significant drop from the 700 people who were at one time under investigation, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared with Rivkees at Palm Beach International Airport Friday afternoon, told reporters.
As of Friday, Florida had no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which began in China and is known as COVID-19.
DeSantis, Rivkees and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez traveled to the airport to meet with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss COVID-19 and the $2.5 billion in emergency funds President Donald Trump is seeking to help fund efforts to prepare for and fight the virus.
“We are going to make sure states like Florida, and your local health officials, have the resources to be able to be prepared for any eventuality,” Pence said. “And in the event that this virus spreads more broadly, that the states are able to be compensated for their efforts.”
Trump tapped Pence on Wednesday to serve as his administration’s point-person on COVID-19. The vice president was accompanied in Florida by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Assistant Surgeon General Stephen Redd, who also serves as director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.
The coronavirus has drawn worldwide concern in recent weeks, with the World Health Organization reporting 83,652 confirmed cases as of Friday. The majority of those cases — 78,961 — are in China, where more than 2,700 people have died from the coronavirus disease. COVID-19 is now in 52 countries, including the U.S., according to the WHO.
There are 61 confirmed cases in the United States, Pence said, noting that the figure includes Americans who contracted the virus abroad and have been repatriated into the country.
A vaccine for the deadly virus isn’t expected to be ready for at least 18 months, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told news outlets.
In naming Pence to the position, Trump boasted of the “great health care” in Indiana, where Pence served as governor.
Pence touched on his gubernatorial background at the press conference with DeSantis Friday afternoon.
“I can assure you that we are going to work very closely with Florida, with states across this country,” Pence said. “I serve as vice president now, but as governor of Indiana, I came to appreciate the vital importance of partnership in dealing with infectious diseases and health issues.”
DeSantis and Rivkees addressed the media a day after the governor told reporters in Tallahassee that he wanted to share information about COVID-19 testing but was advised he couldn’t.
Senate Democrats quickly called their own press conference to criticize the Republican governor for withholding important information from the public.
In a prepared statement issued Friday, Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, noted the DeSantis administration’s change in policy.
“I welcome the governor’s reversal on withholding this information, and look forward to a continuation of this transparency as the state monitors the progression of this disease,” Rodriguez said.
Department of Health spokesman Alberto Moscoso said in a statement that Rivkees released the information about the testing after DeSantis reviewed the statute and determined “there is no reason to bar the release of generic information.”
“While it is encouraging that there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Florida at this time, Gov. DeSantis believes we must provide our residents with all the information necessary to prevent the potential spread of this virus,” he wrote.