Alachua County Board of County Commissioners meeting

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) talked COVID-19 at its Tuesday meeting—from the current state of the virus to continuing using Zoom for public comment.

Paul Myers, administrator of the health department in Alachua County, said numbers continue trending in a positive direction.

The number of new cases reported between Oct. 1 and 7 was 264, and the number of cases per 100,000 residents had dropped to 96.8. That’s the first time it’s fallen below 100 since last spring.

The health department reports 164,924 people in Alachua County have received a COVID-19 vaccine, but the numbers are slowing down.

Paul Myers

Paul Myers

“We’re kind of stuck here at 69 percent,” Myers told the commission. “We still have a lot of people in Alachua County who are eligible.”

He said the health department is working with the Alachua County Christian Pastors Association to hold community events, and the UF Student Healthcare Center received hundreds of $25 gift cards to promote on-campus vaccinations.

He added that the department is ready to begin vaccinating elementary school students as soon as the Pfizer vaccine is approved for that age range.

Myers said the health department has been in schools to vaccinate for the flu and, using the same method, has the supplies needed to do the same for COVID-19.

“We’re ready to go whenever they say it's approved,” Myers said “Then we can go back in.”

Myers also commented on a study that came from Israel that has received attention concerning natural immunity. He said the study shows that individuals who contract COVID-19 and then receive the vaccine have the strongest level of immunity.

However, he said all immunity for COVID-19 fades with time, but only 7 percent or fewer of vaccinated individuals contract the virus again. If they do contract the virus, they shed the virus for less time and in a smaller amount.

The commissioners also discussed whether or not to continue using Zoom for public comment.

Mark Sexton, director of communication for Alachua County, said the county has spent more than $100,000 running Zoom during meetings since the pandemic began, with costs running between $200-300 an hour.

Currently, the county hires an outside firm to run the Zoom public comment. Commissioner Anna Prizzia asked if the county could run the service in-house.

“One of the reasons our vendor has a very popular service right now is [because] it is very complicated,” Sexton said. “We have not been able to figure out how to do it in-house from a telephone point of view.”

County Manager Michele Lieberman said the option is especially useful for county staff. Instead of waiting at commission meetings in person for a question that may or may not be asked of them, staff can watch online and respond to questions.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell requested that commissioners continue the Zoom discussion at a policy discussion in November. He said that would allow commissions to learn about the county’s technological capabilities and other options for public comment.

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