Health officials have said that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for serious complications from the coronavirus.

Local groups and institutions charged with caring for the elderly are on high alert this week after Santa Rosa County officially received its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.


The case, which officials announced was an elderly man in his 70s who had recently been traveling internationally, is the first case of COVID-19 in the Florida Panhandle and the fourth in Florida. The man is being treated in quarantine at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. As of Friday, his case had not been officially confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though state officials say they're confident the presumptive case will be confirmed.


Health officials have said that the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for serious complications from the coronavirus. The current epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. is located at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where an outbreak there has left four nursing home residents dead and others hospitalized.


With COVID-10 expected to continue to spread in the United States and beyond, local nursing homes and senior centers in Santa Rosa County are taking extra precautions to ensure their residents don't contract the potentially deadly virus.


At Sandy Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center in Milton, administrator Ashley Hodge said they were implementing several new protocols concerning outside visitors in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.


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"We have signs on the front door and any of the entrances just letting people know the signs to look for, and if you're ill, don't visit," Hodge said. "We've done away with our typical sign-in sheets and now have a sign-in sheet where they have to put their name and fill out a questionnaire, and if they check 'yes' on any of the boxes, they're told not to visit the home."


The questionairre asks things like whether or not the visitor has traveled in the past 14 days and if they have or have recently had symptoms that could be indicative of the coronavirus.


Hodge said she has 54 residents in the 60-bed nursing home right now, and loved ones of those who live in the home have expressed concerns already about the potential for the virus to spread.


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"It's kind of a pain in the butt to fill out a questionairre, but we're doing this to keep our people safe, and (loved ones) are actually pretty appreciative of that," Hodge said. "They appreciate just knowing that we're aware and are doing something about it."


The Council on Aging West Florida is the lead agency over in-home and community-based services for the elderly in the area. Communications director Josh Newby told the News Journal in an email that the Council on Aging is closely monitoring the outbreak and working with its partners, caregivers and senior citizens to spread the word about precautions that can be taken.


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"It’s my understanding that this individual is under quarantine and presents no significant risk to the general population," Newby said. "Nevertheless, we are continuing to encourage our staff, volunteers, clients and caregivers to wash their hands, refrain from touching their face, cover coughs with a tissue, clean and disinfect surfaces, and alert medical professionals of any troubling symptoms."


Newby said the Council also has a plan in place in case any of their clients come down with the sickness.


"If a client of ours was diagnosed with the virus, we would conform to regulations regarding our interactions with that person," he said. "Every case is different and I can’t speculate about how we would respond, but we would follow the recommendations of medical professionals and our state government."