Health Administrator: New cases are on the decline in Alachua County

Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers said about 16,000 COVID-19 tests have been completed in Alachua County as of May 26th and the positivity rate measured over the last two weeks is now at .7 percent.

Of the 6,443 tests processed between May 12-26, 46 were positive, Myers said during a presentation to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Tuesday.

Long-term care facilities continue to be challenged in stopping the spread of the virus in Alachua County and beyond. According to the Florida Department  of Health (FDOH) dashboard report, Brookdale, Oak Hammock, Palm Garden, Parkland Care Center, Signature Health and Terrace Health and Rehab Center have all reported cases of staff or resident cases or both. 

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Parkland Care Center reports 38 positive residents transferred out and 14 staff members testing positive as of May 23. Brookdale Gainesville Southwest reports 1 staffer positive, Oak Hammock reports 6 residents and 2 staffers positive, Palm Garden reports 2 resident cases, and Signature Healthcare reports 1 resident case.

“Hopefully many of the efforts we are taking are interrupting disease transmission,” Myers said about outreach to the long-term care facilities where testing has become a focused effort. So far, 9 facilities have been visited by testing teams with 815 residents and 649 tests administered.

Myers presented antibody test results to the BOCC for the first time revealing that there is a 5 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 antibodies.

“These are blood draws that are taken to a laboratory,” Myers said but cautioned that the data is in its infancy and should be used with caution.

Alachua County’s rate for antibodies is the same as the State of Florida’s at 5 percent.

According to Myers, the estimated number of Alachua County residents that would be positive for antibodies based on the 5 percent outcome would be 269,000 times the 5 percent equaling 13,450 individuals who may be harboring antibodies to COVID-19.

The median age of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Alachua County is currently 47, which is lower than the state median of 54.

The County’s cumulative positivity rate is currently 2.32 percent, less than half of the State’s 5.65 percent rate.

Myers attributed the low mortality rate of 1.89 percent to the community’s efforts in social distancing and to the medical community, plus the early detection of cases through testing at long-term care facilities.

Myers said high priority testing continues to be aimed at hospitalized patients, healthcare facility workers and residents, workers and residents in congregate living settings including prisons, and first responders with symptoms.

Testing for all has opened up to anyone wanting a test (call 352-334-8810 for appointment) and mobile units are beginning to test rural areas of the county including Archer, Newberry and High Springs.

Myers said hospital occupancy is up due to the reopening for elective surgeries and that the effort for contact tracing has been simplified since the number of contacts per case has decreased, which he attributed to “BOCC policies and people keeping distance from others.”

Myers said as college campuses discuss reopening, he is prepared to onboard more teams for contact tracing.

“Looking at about 40-50 to add to staff for tracing at colleges,” he said and added that assigned seating for students taking college courses will likely be one way to help with contact tracing. 

“Where you are sitting,” he said. “When we have individuals test positive, we will be able to identify people sitting to the sides and in front.”

A lot is still unknown about COVID-19, Myers said about how long a positive tested person can continue to spread the virus. “People shedding the virus,” he said, “we’re not sure if it ends after 14 days.”

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