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SMH Says First Batch of COVID-19 Tests Are Negative

The hospital recently tested 14 patients with unexplained respiratory illness; it has also set up a 24/7 coronavirus command center and a public hotline.

By Megan McDonald March 5, 2020

A microscope image of 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. 


Sarasota Memorial Hospital has announced that tests on 14 of its patients with unexplained respiratory illness are all negative for COVID-19, or coronavirus; however, they're not considered official until confirmed by the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.(Before the CDC will test for COVID-19, current guidelines require precursor testing rule out all alternative explanations.) The hospital sent the tests to state-run labs on Monday evening and received the results on Wednesday. 

The hospital says it continues to treat a high volume of patients with respiratory illness and submit additional samples for testing, but that it does not currently have any presumptive or confirmed cases. Those who come to the hospital and meet CDC criteria for a potential coronavirus diagnosis are put in isolation and treated with all necessary precautions while the hospital completes a battery of tests to rule out flu and other viruses. If the results of those tests are negative, state health officials test the samples for COVID-19 at the state-run labs in Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami.

Below, SMH CEO David Verinder and chief medical officer Dr. James Fiorica provide updates on the situation.



In addition to its testing, SMH has opened a 24/7 coronavirus command center to provide staff, local healthcare providers, local nursing homes and others in the community with information and guidance. It also created a public coronavirus hotline (941)-917-8799, and its infection prevention team and hospital leaders are meeting frequently throughout the day to ensure anyone with a suspect illness or travel history is properly identified, isolated and cared for.

In addition to precautions being taken by local hospitals and health departments, the CDC emphasizes that the public that everyday preventative actions can help prevent the spread of respiratory infections. They include:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Staying home when you are sick and avoiding contact with people in poor health;
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then disposing of the tissue;
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty; and
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

For more information, visit the Florida Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Coronavirus Command Center.

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