County FDOH shifts to periodic COVID-19 updates

Florida Department of Health in Alachua County has shifted to a want-to-know basis of delivering COVID-19 information.

The lack of info is by design, said health department administrator Paul Myers, as he delivered an update on Alachua County statistics to the Alachua Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.

"We've gone from a need to know to a want to know," Myers said about the transition from daily reports. He attributed the change to the developing post-vaccine situation in Alachua County.

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"We made that decision collectively as the department of health to go to weekly updates," he said. 

According to Myers, as of June 18, Alachua County has had 25,358 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 154 variant cases.

The 13 percent case positivity rate for the total number of residents tested over the past 15 months is much higher than the current positivity rate of less than 5 percent, Myers said.

Alachua County has lost 291 residents to the virus.

Myers reported that there were 63 new cases of COVID-19 reported between June 11 to June 17, equating to 2 a percent positivity rate for that time period.

"It's not like we aren't out there looking for cases," Myer said, adding that local hospital systems are administering more than 450 tests per day to pre-surgery patients at the health department, University of Florida and health practitioners throughout Gainesville.

More than half of Alachua County residents ages 12 and up (134,920) have received the COVID-19 vaccine, with 1,120 of those vaccines administered last week, Myers reported.

"The vaccine has proven to be very effective—it's safe—so we would encourage everybody that wants to and can get a vaccination, please do so," Myers said. "As vaccinations increase, clearly new cases decrease."

The health department website lists 10 walk-up vaccination clinics in Alachua County from now to the end of July. 

In comparing Alachua County with the rest of the 67 counties in Florida, Myers reported that Alachua County ranks 14th in state for vaccinations (56 percent), 17th for fewest cases per capita (23.1 percent) and the 10th for lowest positivity rate (2 percent).

Myers pointed to the hesitancy for vaccination for those ages 18 to 39.

"Those are a subset of the population that just does not suffer severe consequences of the disease," Myers said, offering a possible explanation for why many residents in that age range are opting not to get vaccinated.

Myers heralded the efforts of the Scientific Medical Advisory Council (SMAC), which has now been decommissioned, and said that Alachua County schools modeled how schools could open safely with onsite testing and nurses in all schools, a community approach that he said will continue in fall.

Without the expertise of the SMAC, Myers said cases in Alachua County public schools would have been much worse.

"Early testing, onsite testing and quick identification led to one of the lowest pediatric positivity rates in the state," Myers said.

Myers reported more than 9,563 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered to Alachua County students ages 12 to 17 and about a third of those were administered in schools.

UF took care of its own, Myers said, but also opened its doors to all residents and visitors, resulting in more than 50,000 vaccinations.

"They were force multipliers," he said.

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