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Florida governor declares public health emergency after state records first coronavirus cases

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisTrump jokes he'll 'find a way' to fire Gov. DeSantis if he loses Florida Exclusive poll: Biden up in Mich., Pa., tied with Trump in Fla. The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden hit campaign trail in Florida MORE (R) declared a public health emergency on Sunday after two residents in separate counties tested “presumptively positive” for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. 

The two individuals reside in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, respectively. The resident from Manatee County is an adult who has no history of traveling to the countries that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised against visiting in response to the recent outbreak, according to the Florida Department of Health. The second person does, however, have a history of traveling to Italy, where authorities have confirmed 1,694 cases of the virus.

The state agency said both patients will be isolated until they are cleared by officials.

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In the executive order declaring the emergency late Sunday, DeSantis said he is designating the state’s Department of Health “as the lead state agency to coordinate emergency response activities among the various state agencies and local governments." 

He also said that he will be directing the “State Health Officer to take any action necessary to protect the public health” and added that the official “is authorized and directed to use his judgment as to the duration of this public health emergency."

The order states that the Florida Health Department will be monitoring anyone in the state who meets “the definition of a Person Under Investigation [PUI] as defined by the CDC for COVID-19 for a period of at least 14 days or until the PUI tests negative for COVID-19.”

DeSantis is also directing the agency to make “its own determinations as to quarantine, isolation and other necessary public health interventions as permitted under Florida law.”

In a statement on Sunday, Florida's surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, said “this is the scenario that we prepare for every day in public health.”

“The department is moving forward with the appropriate plans, and we are working directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local medical providers to ensure these individuals receive the proper treatment and that anyone who has come into contact with them is following the necessary protocols, limiting or stopping any further spread,” he added.

The public health emergency issued in Florida follows similar alerts issued in parts of California and more recently in Washington state in response to the coronavirus outbreak.