Pence Talks Coronavirus Response With Florida Governor

A large monitor displaying a map of Asia and a tally of total coronavirus cases and deaths is seen behind Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Vice President Mike Pence met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday as the White House seeks to quell growing fears of a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus, which pushed the stock market to its worst week since 2008.

“The threat of the coronavirus spreading in the United States remains low,” Pence said during the meeting held at the Palm Beach Airport in West Palm Beach. “We are going to make sure states like Florida have the resources in order to be prepared for any eventuality.”

Florida has no reported cases of coronavirus.

The public appearance is Pence’s first since President Donald Trump appointed him on Wednesday night to head the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

DeSantis, a Republican, said the state has asked for local testing kits, more medical equipment like face masks and gloves, and financial help for people who may be isolated due to monitoring or a coronavirus infection.

“Most people are very willing to do that, but some people live paycheck to paycheck,” DeSantis told reporters. “So we have the ability to help with some of that loss of income, but again, if the numbers get bigger, having a federal supplemental [bill], we’d be able to have some flexibility with that and it would make a huge difference.”

In a media briefing Friday afternoon, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said state health clinics and labs will start receiving updated coronavirus testing kits in the coming days.

She also confirmed a second patient in California has contracted the virus through “community spread,” meaning the patient had no relevant travel history to an affected area or contact with another infected person. Messonnier said coronavirus cases in the U.S. will rise.

So far, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 15 people infected with the coronavirus while in the U.S. Another 43 infected Americans came from a cruise ship docked in Japan. Three more were repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus.

The coronavirus, recently named COVID-19, has spread from Wuhan to 30 countries. It has infected more than 83,000 and killed more than 2,800 people worldwide. On Friday, the World Health Organization increased the global risk to “very high.”

The worldwide outbreak has spooked the U.S. stock market and stock indexes continue to plummet to 2008 levels.

On Thursday, the Dow dropped 1,191 points – the worst one-day point decline in history. The Dow fell another 357 points on Friday while the S&P 500 declined 0.8%.

A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran, on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Trump has touted the country’s strong economy in his reelection bid and Pence’s visit to Florida underscores the administration’s importance in reassuring voters in the country’s most populous battleground state.

“We would be in a very different place if President Trump didn’t take the unprecedented action of suspending travel from China,” Pence said, adding that the coronavirus task force may decide to impose more travel restrictions at a meeting later Friday.

But the Trump administration continues to take heat over its response to the crisis. Democratic presidential candidates have blasted the president in new ads this week and some government health officials seemed to challenge Trump’s assertion that the government is prepared for an outbreak.

CDC officials have expressed concern over the lack of coronavirus test kits. A whistleblower complaint accuses the Department of Health and Human Services of sending workers without protective gear to Wuhan to help with evacuations of sick Americans.

Much like the rest of the country, Floridians are increasingly nervous about an outbreak in the state – a top winter destination for domestic and international tourists. In addition to popular international airport hubs, Florida boasts two of the busiest cruise ports in the country.

This week, the Cruise Lines International Association announced members like Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian will deny boarding to people who traveled through South Korea and China. The association also asked members to conduct preboard screening of passengers.

Florida airports are no longer accepting travelers coming from China.

The University of Central Florida canceled study abroad programs to China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Mongolia. Other colleges may follow in the coming days.

The Florida Hospital Association also announced increased screening in the state’s hospital system.

In a message to the state court employees, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady said staff should update office and personal emergency plans.

“There certainly is no cause for undue alarm,” Canady said. “But we know there is a potential for this disease to affect the courts and our entire legal system in the weeks ahead.”

Over the last two days, DeSantis and state health officials stressed there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Florida, but they will not release information on how many people have been tested.

The state cannot perform its own tests and any potential cases have been sent to the CDC in Atlanta, according to state health officials.

In a letter to DeSantis on Thursday, several Democratic state lawmakers urged the governor to provide more details on the state’s plan in the event of an outbreak, including specific measures for nursing homes and providing masks to the public.

Florida Senator Rick Scott sent a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield on Thursday asking him to set up a 24-hour coronavirus hotline to answer questions from the worried public.

Florida’s other Republican senator, Marco Rubio, urged the head of the Small Business Administration to take immediate action to prepare for disruptions caused by the virus.

Coronavirus anxiety is also surfacing in uniquely Florida ways. One central Florida police department is offering to test recreational drugs for coronavirus.

“Being that a large amount of narcotics come from outside the US, we want you safe,” the Tavares Police Department wrote on its Facebook page. “Bring it by our station and we will test your batch within minutes!”

In Tampa, a preacher who once prayed over Trump in the Oval Office said he plans to curse the coronavirus out of the United States, just as he did for the Zika virus a few years ago.

“We do not need it on these shores,” Rodney Howard-Browne said in a video posted on Twitter. “Somebody said, ‘Well, what about the rest of the world?’ I mean, I can’t be responsible for every city, or whatever.”

After Friday’s meeting, aides to the governor and vice president rushed reporters out of the room without taking questions. Tonight, Pence heads to Sarasota to attend a $25,000-a-plate fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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