ORLANDO — Florida remains one of the nation’s top tourist destinations, and Central Florida and the city of Orlando have experienced record-breaking years recently for tourism.
But as an international destination, there’s growing concern about the potential risk here for the possible arrival of visitors from Liberia and other African nations who could potentially be carrying the Ebola virus, and what it means for the other visitors to the region’s top tourism destinations like Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando – and the employees who work there.
Since last week, as the national television networks extensively covered the case in Dallas of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from the disease – and now a health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who cared for Duncan and has tested positive for the virus after a preliminary test – there has been growing concern about what Florida state officials need to do to help contain the illness from spreading.
Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced the state would take some initial steps toward preparedness, even as the Florida Department of Health began working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test a patient for Ebola in Miami.
“It’s important to point out that this patient did not meet the CDC case definition for Ebola, but the test is being conducted out of an abundance of caution and health officials expect the test to rule out Ebola,” Scott noted in a press statement.
That is what happened. The teenager visiting Miami Beach from West Africa, who had flu-like symptoms, was tested for the virus by the Florida Department of Health’s lab in Miami and the results came back negative. That meant Florida has known Ebola cases.
“As we announced after our health briefing yesterday, Florida still does not have any confirmed cases of Ebola, and we hope we never do, but we are taking every preparedness step possible to keep our citizens and our visitors safe,” the governor noted.
He also compared the potential for an Ebola case in a state that remains an international destination to the risks of a hurricane.
“We know from our experience in responding to hurricanes that we must prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best,” the governor noted. “As part of those preparedness efforts, Florida’s Department of Health today requested 30 additional Ebola testing kits from the CDC. This number of kits ensures that all of Florida’s 30 public hospitals have the ability to test patients who county health officials and the CDC believe need to be tested for Ebola.”
The governor also said the Department of Health had requested 100 units of additional high-level personal protective equipment “to ensure the state is ready to backfill any county whose medical personnel develop a future need for these supplies. We know Florida’s hospitals and county health offices are prepared to identify and treat patients who may have Ebola. While they are prepared on the local level, the state is requesting increased federal resources out of an abundance of caution for the unlikely event that we may have an extended response that warrants additional resources.”
The governor also had a conference call last week with President Obama, and Scott called on the federal government to consider imposing some international travel restrictions in response to the Ebola concerns.
“The White House needs to look at certain restrictions on travel from countries battling Ebola to keep Americans safe,” Scott said. “This is not a partisan decision. It is a common sense decision. I assume the administration is doing everything they can to secure our country and combat the spread of this disease. That is what we are doing in Florida, and I assume they are taking the same steps at the federal level.”
Orlando International Airport has no direct flights from African nations. Most of the planes that come to this city are connecting flights from either New York City or Atlanta.
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