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Health News Florida
News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Community Spread Of Coronavirus: What Does That Mean?

Dr. Andrew Myers with USF Health and Tampa General Hospital
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media
Dr. Andrew Myers with USF Health and Tampa General Hospital explains what community spread is and how people should respond.

As more cases of the coronavirus are found in Florida, there are questions about whether it is being spread from person to person within the community.

Earlier this week, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the federal coronavirus task force, said Florida was one of four states in the country with community spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says community spread happens when officials cannot determine how or where people are being infected with the disease.

The Florida Department of Health reports four cases in Broward County and one case in Manatee County are not related to travel. But Gov. Ron DeSantis said community spread is not happening in Florida.

“Because that three-person cluster in Broward can all be linked to the cruise ship, that technically doesn't qualify as community spread,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “It should be multiple people who we don't know where they got it from.”

DeSantis did not address the Manatee man specifically during his briefing Wednesday, which preceded announcements of additional cases in the state.

The new cases are still under investigation but include a Broward County man who attended a recent conference in Tampa and a tourist visiting for Bike Week. This could change state officials’ stance on whether Florida is experiencing community spread.

RELATED: WUSF's complete coverage of coronavirus

Health News Florida's Stephanie Colombini sat down with Dr. Andrew Myers, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of South Florida and hospitalist at Tampa General Hospital, to learn more about community spread.

Explain what community spread means.

Community spread means contact between two individuals in the community that spreads whatever the infection may be, in this case COVID-19. So that's different than someone having a positive travel history having been in a place where it is common, or being a known contact of someone who had been in that area.

When there's community spread, what methods should governments and health officials take to contain that spread?

So a lot of times that depends upon what tools we have to stop that spread. Right now, there's not and will not be for quite some time, an effective vaccine, nor are there any approved medications to more or less cure or slow down the infection. So right now, a lot of it would be people being self-quarantined to make sure that they don't spread the virus to anyone else. And then also contact tracing to make sure people they may have been exposed to are aware and can self-quarantine and possibly be tested if they show symptoms.

Explain contact tracing a little bit more and how that works.

Contact tracing occurs when you look at an individual who's tested positive for something that you're concerned could be infectious to others. We do it normally for people who have tuberculosis, sometimes for some sexually-transmitted diseases. And basically, it's just looking at people that you had usually close contact with, and who have potentially been exposed to the infectious process that you now have tested positive for.

When there is community spread, let's say in Manatee where it seems there might be, when do authorities have to make the decision to close schools, businesses, tell people to work from home, etc.?

I mean, that's another tough, tough decision for them to make because you have to balance one, the safety of that community, but also what sometimes people don't realize is when you're shutting down schools, then where are those children going? What will their parents do about childcare? How does that work? Or if they're not in school, then are they in daycare where maybe they're exposed to maybe fewer and maybe more other people?

So there's ramifications that I think they have to take into consideration. And it really just depends upon, you know, weighing the pros and cons of what they think will be best for the community, which is a very difficult thing to do.

When there is known community spread and testing isn’t widely available, if you are feeling under the weather, maybe you have a cough, does it rise the level of self-quarantining? Because maybe you could have COVID-19 and just not know it, but you won't have a way to confirm for sure.

Yeah, I mean, we tell everyone if you're feeling like you have a fever, having a cough and you're concerned, then let us know. You know, we don't want people coming to the hospital or probably coming to work either if they're sick. And so that's something to be to be very mindful of during this time period.

Hopefully in the coming week or two as the private labs LabCorp and Quest (Diagnostics) get this (testing) up and running, then you could go see your PCP (primary care physician) and be tested and then stay home for a day or two. Probably one, you'll be feeling better, but also to find out if you have it or not. But yeah, it's a concern and something that we take very seriously because we don't, again, want to spread it to other people, especially the most vulnerable populations.

And most importantly, whether there are two cases, 200 cases or 200,000 cases, the most important thing you can do is maintain safe distance, wash your hands and get your news from someone that you trust, ideally from the department of health or a health care professional that you know already.