The Sheriff’s Office did not learn until March 6, a full week after the incident, that the deputy had been exposed.

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Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley told county commissioners Thursday that his agency is "ahead of the curve" on dealing with exposure to the coronavirus that carries COVID-19.


Ashley disclosed that on Feb. 28 one of his deputies was exposed to an individual who would later die from the virus. A Santa Rosa County man, the victim was among the first in Florida to succumb to COVID-19.


The Sheriff’s Office did not learn until March 6, a full week after the incident, that the deputy had been exposed. When the Okaloosa County branch of the Florida Department of Health provided notification the deputy was immediately placed into self-isolation.


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He developed a cough and was tested March 12 for the deadly virus. He learned March 16 results of the test had come back negative and he returned to work March 17.


Ashley’s comments were repeated Friday at the Destin City Council meeting as Dr. Karen Chapman, head of the DOH in Okaloosa County, was talking about contact tracing, the rigorous procedure health officials must go through to find everyone possibly exposed to COVID-19.


Contact tracing involves collecting the names of anyone who might have had close interaction with the infected person and getting in touch with them. In one case alone, Chapman told the council, her team was tasked with locating 53 people.


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"God forbid, if he (the deputy) got infected, how many people did he contact and on and on and on," remarked City Councilman Steve Menchel.


Chapman agreed an exposed public servant like a deputy could add significantly to the beleaguered Health Department’s already significant workload.


"That’s correct. If a contact of a case comes down with this, the contact tracing starts all over again," she said.


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The narrative of the incident in which the deputy was exposed, provided by Okaloosa County spokeswoman Michele Nicholson, states the deputy involved pulled over an erratic driver who turned out not to be intoxicated.


The person was, however, experiencing dizziness and medical issues, and three firefighters arrived on scene and treated the driver.


"The deputy moved the driver’s vehicle to a nearby vacant parking lot," Nicholson said. "The driver refused an ambulance and a taxi cab was called for a ride home."


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After the Santa Rosa man was hospitalized and found to be suffering COVID-19, the Santa Rosa Health Department conducted an exposure investigation and discovered the driver/COVID patient was pulled over by the Sheriff’s Office, the narrative said.


The Santa Rosa Health Department contacted Chapman.


It is unclear whether the three firefighters involved in the case were also ordered into self quarantine, though Okaloosa Health Department spokeswoman Allison McDaniel said "any close contacts to a positive case" are requested to self-quarantine for 14 days.