The protocol has been handed down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and funneled through the state Health Department, said Holly Holt, administrator of the Walton County branch of the DOH.

NICEVILLE — Troy Hamilton, the senior pastor of Rocky Bayou Baptist Church, offered encouraging news Wednesday about the state of his flock, which last week suffered an unexpected coronavirus scare.



The condition of a parishioner who was diagnosed with the virus "is improving," Hamilton said in an email.


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And the several who were exposed to the virus at a March 1 church event attended by the infected woman "are well thus far," he added.


"Remaining in self-quarantine for the prescribed 14 days since their contact," Hamilton reported. "No new cases."


"God be praised," the pastor added.


The 61-year-old who tested positive for COVID-19 had returned from a cruise shortly before the church event she attended. She was diagnosed not long after.


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The Florida Department of Health’s Okaloosa County branch could provide no updates on the condition of the county’s single diagnosed victim. It also was unable to provide new information on those who have been self-quarantined.


Meanwhile, a pair of Walton County physicians expressed frustration Wednesday after treating a woman who showed all the symptoms of coronavirus but was turned down for testing.


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"Basically we called the Florida Department of Health to get this person tested," said Dr. Christine Smiley. "She was highly suspicious for the COVID-19, but they said, ’No, she doesn’t meet the criteria.’ "


Health Department protocol dictates that before a person can be tested for the virus, they must have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or traveled from a high risk region and have symptoms associated with the disease.



Tests can also be run in the case of someone who has been hospitalized due to shortness of breath or an unexplained cough, DOH guidelines state.


The protocol has been handed down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and funneled through the state Health Department, said Holly Holt, administrator of the Walton County branch of the DOH.


"We’re going by exactly what they give us," said Holt, who noted that strategies for battling the coronavirus remain "fluid."


Christine Smiley, who with her husband Dr. J.T. Smiley runs the Doc Smiley’s Urgent Care in Santa Rosa Beach, said she believes the best way to control the spread of coronavirus is through testing.


"The Health Department criteria is so stringent they’re not using testing as a tool to catch cases," J.T. Smiley said. "Self-quarantining makes a huge difference in the spread. If we can flatten out the peak we’ll get a much better result. But people are not likely to self-quarantine without a test to go with it."



Local physicians are qualified to do the simple swabbing required to test for the virus, and the Smileys say they intend to do so.


But the doctors say they are only being allotted five swabs per week, and those must be sent to a private lab that requires about four days to process results.


"We’re so frustrated. We want to do the right thing. We can make a difference in preventing the spread if people take the required measures," Christine Smiley said. "It’s hard to help when we can’t even test our patients."


The Smileys told the patient who showed symptoms to self-quarantine and get to an emergency room if her condition worsens. They believe a shortage of proper testing supplies could be at the core of the issues they’re seeing.


But in response to questions from the Miami Herald, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office indicated the state has sufficient testing materials on hand and more are on the way from the CDC.


A shipment is expected this week and more than 500 specimens can be run for results on a single testing kit, the Herald reported, citing a governor’s office spokesperson.


"If there is a limit to how many tests we can run per day, we have not yet reached that point," the newspaper quoted the governor’s office as saying.