MIAMI (AP) — Two people who tested positive for the new coronavirus have died in Florida, marking the first deaths on the East Coast attributed to the outbreak in the U.S., health officials said Friday.
The Florida Department of Health said the two people who died were in their 70s and had traveled overseas. The announcement raises the U.S. death toll from the novel coronavirus strain to 16, including 13 in the state of Washington and one in California.
One of the Florida deaths was that of a man with underlying health issues in Santa Rosa County in Florida’s Panhandle, according to the statement. The health department added that the second death was that of an elderly person in Lee County, in the Fort Myers area.
The statement did not give immediate indications of where the two had traveled or whether officials were seeking to determine who they came in contact with.
Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, confirmed the deaths and other new cases in South Florida, on Twitter. She promised in her tweet that updates would be provided regularly as they become available.
The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email request by The Associated Press for more information.
As of Friday, Florida authorities said seven people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19. They said six are Florida residents and the seventh is a non-resident.
One of the new cases was only confirmed after the person had died, according to the statement. The other two cases that were confirmed to have tested positive on Friday were a 65-year-old man and a 75-year-old man, both in Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale. The state’s health department said both men have been isolated until public health officials clear them.
Officials had previously announced that five Florida residents who had been traveling in China have also been quarantined elsewhere after testing positive for the virus.
Officials continued to say on Friday that the risk to those in the state remains low as most cases have concentrated in Washington state and California, where a cruise ship is being held off the coast after a passenger on a previous trip died and others became infected.
But at least in Miami, city officials have canceled two large music festivals over fears that crowded events could spread the new virus more widely. It is not clear whether state officials will implement any other drastic measures ahead of Florida’s busy Spring Break season later this month.
Earlier Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had asked state lawmakers for $25 million for health officials to use immediately in the state’s response to coronavirus.
DeSantis said he expects Florida to receive at least $27 million from the federal government, along with an extra $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to immediately cover costs like lab equipment and staffing.