BOCC extends mask mandate as COVID surge wanes

Health department administrator Paul Myers would not commit to announcing a peak for COVID-19 cases, but on Tuesday he told the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) that numbers are again moving in the right direction.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, Myers revealed that while the cumulative positivity rate for cases in Alachua County is 15.8 percent, state numbers released Friday show better numbers for the week of Aug. 20 to 26: 1,520 new cases with a positivity rate of 11.9 percent.

“While the positivity rate went down, we identified more cases,” Myers said. “And that’s because we did a lot more testing in Alachua County.”

Myers said the county administered 12,800 tests last week, leading to an overall rate of testing of 80 percent of the population in Alachua County since the start of the pandemic in March of 2019.

Myers said he was unable to verify the number of cumulative COVID-19 deaths, which was reported at 285 last week in Alachua County, because the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) “scrubbed the data” and he has no access to it.

When asked if he thought Alachua County was at its peak since the delta variant caused case numbers and hospitalization to rise rapidly, Myers struck a tone of cautious optimism. 

“I’m not ready to say that we have hit our peak or plateaued,” he said. “It’s too early to tell, although the data is not getting any worse. The really good news is that some of the pressure is being taken off of hospitals and pediatric hospitalizations seem to be relenting a bit.”

Myers said that prior to the spring of 2021, one pediatric hospitalization was concerning, but as of Tuesday, there are 11 pediatric COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

“This is a disease that is certainly taking its toll on the younger population,” Myers said.

Myers attributed the drop in positivity to increased vaccinations, face mask use, the county’s emergency order, and vaccine incentive programs.

Currently, 66 percent of eligible Alachua County residents are fully vaccinated.

“Perhaps that $25 will convince people to take that next step,” he said, referring to the county’s vaccine incentive plan that pays residents $25 per COVID-19 vaccine shot, including the booster, starting Wednesday.

The BOCC voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency for another week and the short-term emergency order requiring face masks indoors at public places.

They added to the order that businesses are required to display face mask requirement signage. The county has a sign for businesses to download online. The county has a separate sign specific to bars and restaurants also available online.

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