Florida coronavirus: State's secretary of health authorized to take ‘any action necessary’
The coronavirus public health emergency declared late Sunday by Gov. Ron DeSantis gives broad powers to Scott Rivkees, the state’s secretary of health and surgeon general, to respond to the crisis.
Fifteen Floridians have been tested, with two people in the Tampa Bay area coming up “presumptively” positive for the COVID-19 virus, leading the governor to issue an executive order declaring a public health emergency.
Rivkees is “authorized to use his judgment as to the duration of this public health emergency” and is “authorized to take any action necessary to protect the public health.”
The major part of that will be to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19 and educate the public on prevention measures. Any action taken by Rivkees, the state health officer, now is immediately enforceable by law enforcement.
That includes arresting anyone and charging them with a second-degree misdemeanor for violating any isolation or quarantine or any other rules or orders imposed under the public health emergency order.
The Department of Health also is the lead state agency to coordinate emergency response activities with other state and local government agencies, including the Department of Education, Elder Affairs, Children and Families and the Division of Emergency Management.
The DOH will actively monitor people with symptoms of COVID-19, or “persons under investigation” are isolated or quarantined for 14 days or until they test negative for the virus.
Under Florida Statutes, a public health emergency means any threat that can cause “substantial injury or harm to the public health from infectious disease, chemical agents, nuclear agents, biological toxins, or situations involving mass casualties or natural disasters.”
The public health emergency lasts until Rivkees finds the threat has been contained or eliminated. “However, a declaration of a public health emergency may not continue for longer than 60 days unless the Governor concurs in the renewal of the declaration,” the law says.
Under a public health emergency, Rivkees can order any individual to be examined and tested for communicable diseases that have a high mortality rate and present a severe danger to public health. Those who refuse can be quarantined or isolated.
If there is no practical method to isolate or quarantine the individual, Rivkees can use any means necessary to vaccinate or treat the individual.
According to Florida law, quarantine means the "separation of an individual reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease, but who is not yet ill, from individuals who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the disease."
The order also gives Rivkees broad enforcement authority, including the power to apply for injunctions and issue warrants to make people comply with his orders, as outlined in law.
Also, he can reactivate the inactive licenses of retired physicians, physician assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses, respiratory therapists and emergency medical technicians and paramedics as long as they are in good standing.
And he can direct manufacturers of prescription drugs or over-the-counter drugs and wholesalers of prescription drugs located in Florida to give priority to shipping of specified drugs to pharmacies and health care providers.
Also, he can direct pharmacists employed by the department to compound bulk prescription drugs and provide these bulk prescription drugs to physicians and nurses of county health departments or any qualified person authorized for administration to persons as part of a prophylactic or treatment regimen.
The rules adopted by the Department of Health under a public health emergency supersede all rules enacted by other state departments, boards and commissions, and local ordinances.
Anyone who violates any rule, any isolation or quarantine, or "any requirement adopted by the department pursuant to a declared public health emergency can be charged with a second degree misdemeanor."
Contact Jeff Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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