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Coronavirus Florida: Patients in Florida had symptoms as early as January

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

The novel coronavirus infected as many as 171 people in Florida as long as two months before officials announced it had come to the state, a Palm Beach Post analysis of state records shows.

Patients reported symptoms of the deadly virus as early as Jan. 1, when the disease was thought to be limited to China, Department of Health records reveal. The records don’t say if patients reported those symptoms to the state until months later or if local offices of the health department actively investigated the illnesses at the time or a combination of both.

The state pulled the records off its website late Monday without explanation.

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Florida did not announce its first two presumed coronavirus cases until March 1. At the time, cases were not considered confirmed until reviewed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC confirmed those first two cases, in Manatee and Hillsborough counties, on March 2. The state now has recorded more than 36,000 cases of the deadly virus.

But at the time of the first two cases, 171 people across 40 counties who would later test positive for COVID-19 were suffering from the disease, state records show. Three of those patients were in Palm Beach County, which officially didn’t record its first two coronavirus cases until March 13. The county now has more than 3,300 cases.

Until Monday evening, when the state confirmed a coronavirus case, it publicly posted data on each case, without identifying the patient. The publicly shared data included a date that represented one of two things: when the patient first started feeling symptoms or when the patient received a positive test result.

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It is not clear from the data how the state treated the patients or even when they found out about their symptoms. No state officials could be reached for comment late Monday.

The entire dataset disappeared from the state website Monday evening only to return after 7:30 p.m. without the column showing the date relating to symptoms.

An analysis of the state data, which has been downloaded and retained by The Post since the state started posting it in March, found these diverse early cases:

— A 4-year-old Duval County girl started feeling symptoms or had her first positive test on Jan. 1. The state did not officially record her case until April 8.

— An 84-year-old Palm Beach County man who had not traveled, but was hospitalized, had symptoms or a positive result on Feb. 5. But his case was not added to Florida’s coronavirus tally until April 3.

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— A 48-year-old Palm Beach County woman whose symptoms or positive test results were reported Feb. 6. Her case was counted on Saturday.

— A 74-year-old Palm Beach County woman with symptoms or a positive result on Feb. 23, whose case was recorded by the state on April 4. She reported no out-of-state travel and she came into contact with someone carrying the virus.

— A 65-year-old man in Broward County who had traveled to the Cayman Islands listed symptoms or a positive test on Jan. 4 but his case was not recorded until March 7.

— A 30-year-old Broward County man, whose symptoms or first positive result came on Feb. 25, died. His case was added March 15.

— A 65-year-old man in Sarasota County who had traveled to California and came into contact with an infected person reported symptoms or had a positive result on Feb. 23. State health officials added his case April 6.

Among counties where early cases were reported were Broward (31 cases), Miami-Dade (26), Hillsborough (9), Pinellas (10), Orange (9) and Duval (7) and Martin (one case).

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Among the 171 patients were 105 women and 66 men. They ranged in age from 4 to 91.

Even though the disease was thought confined to China before January, most of the early patients hadn’t traveled: 103 reported no travel while just 52 said they had.

None reported traveling to China.

Only six were not Florida residents. Their symptoms or positive results started appearing in mid- to late February. Their cases originated in Orange, Flagler, Sarasota, Hillsborough, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

cpersaud@pbpost.com

@chrismpersaud

For more information:

– Florida Department of Health coronavirus web page

– CDC coronavirus web page

– Florida DOH coronavirus hotline (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday) is 866-779-6121 or email COVID-19@flhealth.gov

This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.