Press Releases

Murphy Urges Federal Government to Consider Additional Steps to Protect Floridians from Coronavirus

Murphy underscores the unique threat to Florida given its status as a top tourist destination and home to many senior citizens who are at greater risk from the illness

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Washington, February 3, 2020 | comments
WASHINGTON—U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Fla., today urged the federal government to consider taking additional steps to protect Floridians from the respiratory illness known as the coronavirus. In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Murphy emphasized the unique nature of the threat to Florida, given that the state is a top tourist destination and home to many senior citizens who are more vulnerable to the illness. Murphy called on the two federal agencies to ensure there are sufficient safety measures in place at Florida’s airports and seaports and to enhance coordination with state and local health officials.

“I write to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue working in close collaboration with other federal agencies, the Florida Department of Health, county health departments, the state’s 300-plus hospitals, and the state’s clinicians to minimize the risk—to the greatest degree possible—that there will be a coronavirus case in Florida,” wrote Murphy. “If despite those best efforts there is a confirmed case in the state, I want to ensure that everything is being done to effectively treat the patient and to prevent the spread of the illness to others.”

The coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan, China, has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. Worldwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surpassed 17,000 and the number of coronavirus-related deaths exceeds 360. In addition to China, coronavirus has been detected in 23 countries. There have been 11 confirmed cases in the United States in a total of five states—Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington—and a larger number of suspected cases. There are patients under investigation for coronavirus in at least 36 states. Last Friday, the Trump Administration declared coronavirus a public health emergency and imposed a number of restrictions on travelers from China.

The full text of the letter can be found below.

February 3, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, DC 20201

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Azar and Acting Secretary Wolf:

As a Member of Congress from Florida, I write regarding the respiratory illness caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus. Worldwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surpassed 17,000 and the number of coronavirus-related deaths exceeds 360. In addition to China, where the outbreak began, coronavirus has been detected in 23 countries. As of this writing, there have been 11 confirmed cases in the United States in a total of five states—Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington—and a larger number of suspected cases. There are patients under investigation for coronavirus in at least 36 states.

There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida to date, and I write to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to continue working in close collaboration with other federal agencies, the Florida Department of Health, county health departments, the state’s 300-plus hospitals, and the state’s clinicians to minimize the risk—to the greatest degree possible—that there will be a coronavirus case in Florida. If despite those best efforts there is a confirmed case in the state, I want to ensure that everything is being done to effectively treat the patient and to prevent the spread of the illness to others. Florida may be uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus given the large number of elderly residents and international visitors.

The federal government recently declared that coronavirus presents a public health emergency and announced a number of responsive steps. For example, upon their return to the United States, American citizens who were in China’s Hubei Province in the previous two weeks will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Meanwhile, those American citizens who were in the rest of mainland China “will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine.” Unless they are the immediate family member of American citizens or legal permanent residents, foreign nationals who traveled to China in the previous two weeks will be denied entry to the United States.

In addition, the federal government has now “directed all flights from China and all passengers who have traveled to China within the last 14 days” to be routed through one of 11 U.S. airports, none of which are in Florida.

In light of the foregoing, I have a number of questions that I hope you will be able to answer during an in-person or telephonic briefing with my office.

• How are HHS and DHS communicating with state and county health and public safety officials, hospitals, physicians, and the general public in Florida to ensure they have the most up-to-date information about coronavirus? Are you satisfied this communication process is leading to the proper level of preparedness on the part of health officials, and vigilance on the part of the public, especially the traveling public? Have you identified any gaps in this communication process?

• Given my understanding that there are no direct flights departing from China and arriving at any Florida airports, are there any international passengers being screened for coronavirus upon arrival at Florida’s airports—e.g., passengers who traveled to China within the last two weeks but arrived in Florida via connecting flights?

• If a passenger on an international flight (e.g., from London) arrives at a Florida airport, and that passenger is determined to have traveled to China within the previous two weeks, what is the protocol for that passenger?

• Do Florida’s international airports—e.g., Miami International Airport and Orlando International Airport—have sufficient personnel and infrastructure to effectively conduct screenings for coronavirus?

• Given the spread of coronavirus to countries outside of China, do you envision that there will be a need to screen passengers arriving at Florida airports on flights departing from other countries affected by coronavirus?

• If a passenger arriving at a Florida airport exhibits symptoms of coronavirus, is there a strict procedure in place to transport that passenger to an appropriate health care facility in a way that minimizes the risk of transmission to others?

• If a passenger arriving at a Florida airport exhibits symptoms of coronavirus, are all other passengers on that flight required or encouraged to visit a health care facility to be tested for coronavirus?

• Are health screenings of passengers and crew of certain ships arriving at Florida’s seaports taking place? If not, do you envision that such screenings might become necessary or appropriate in the future?

• Are there hospitals in Florida that will be pre-designated to receive and treat individuals exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus?

• Do all or most Florida hospitals have the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently-developed diagnostic test used to determine whether an individual has coronavirus? If necessary, is there a plan in place for the CDC or the Florida Department of Health to provide this test to all or most hospitals in the state?

Thank you for everything you are doing to keep the American people safe and healthy. I look forward to receiving answers to these questions during the requested briefing so that I can provide my constituents with the most accurate information possible.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Murphy
Member of Congress

cc: The Honorable Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The Honorable Robert R. Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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