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Positivity trends trouble health department

Tim Croft

Forget the total number of positive cases of COVID-19 since the March onset of the pandemic.

Gulf County is now approaching 300 positive cases.

Set aside the number of those people who have recovered, recovery is a case-by-case affair, public health officials said.

And put off the table those who tested positive but lacked symptoms.

The number the Florida Department of Health in Gulf is most focused on, most concerned about, is the rate of positive cases.

And on that score, the county is not doing well.

The positivity rate of cases last week (the department moving forward will provide the positivity rates for the prior two weeks each Friday) reached 20 percent.

Statewide, the positivity rate last week was 11 percent.

And consider the prior week: as Port St. Joe commissioners were issuing an emergency declaration requiring the wearing of face masks the positivity rate was hovering around 7 percent.

Comparing the previous two weeks, Gulf County jumped from 43 positive cases to 113 positive cases and that 20 percent positivity rate.

“We can’t be that high,” said Sarah Hinds, Administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin County. “That is also rising in Franklin County.

“I would like to see both counties under 5 percent. Positivity rates, that really is the driver here.”

Worth noting is that positivity rates were in single digits in the initial days of the current week, so a silver lining.

“Statewide, we are seeing positivity rates stabilizing which is a good sign,” Hinds said.

Hospitalizations in Gulf doubled over the past week, from eight to 16 but the county has reported no deaths related to COVID-19.

Hinds said the department testing outreach Monday at Honeyville Community Center would be the last mobile testing from the department, which will rely solely on appointment-only testing.

“We still have the governor’s goal of testing at least 2 percent per month, or 325 people in Gulf County,” Hinds said. “We think we will easily reach that at our department sites.”

Hinds also emphasized that COVID-19 is called novel for a reason, it was previously unknown to researchers before the pandemic.

And while so much of prevention is what folks have heard every flu season for years: wash hands in warm water and soap, stay home when ill, maintain distance from those who are sick, Hinds emphasized it is all true with coronavirus.

But in terms of how it is transmitted, long-term effects and the like, so much remains unknown.

“This virus can’t be compared to anything else,” Hinds said.

She also expressed excitement that a vaccine has gone into final trials and could be generally available by early next year.

The health department plays and will continue to play a critical role in pandemic response.

“My goal is to work with everybody, to protect our community,” Hinds said. “The public health part of us, that continues.

“We are going to do everything we can to protect our citizens.”

Particularly, Hinds added, those in vulnerable populations such as seniors and individuals with underlying complicating health factors.

The opening of schools, from a health perspective, is aided by the fact that public school nurses are all public health professionals from the health department.

The department is also playing a key role with the two assisted-living facilities in the county, neither of which has been hard hit as many facilities around the state, particularly South Florida.

Hinds appeared before the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday to work with the Gulf County Tourist Development Council on a campaign reward and recognize businesses for their efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19.

The board gave approval to move forward with the campaign.