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County nears 1,000-case COVID mark

It is likely by next week, Gulf County will have achieved a dubious honor.

It will have eclipsed the 1,000 mark of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic in February.

A review of the COVID-19 situation for Gulf County shows that as of Tuesday morning, close to one-third of these cases have been in correctional facilities, a percentage about 10 times the statewide average for correctional facility staff and residents,

The report from the Florida Department of Health shows that 290 of the county’s 991 cases have been connected to corrections, about 29 percent of all cases.

Gulf County Health Department logo

Among the county’s total cases, all but 11 have been Florida residents, with the majority of them, close to 60 percent, males.

The median age in the county is 47, well above the statewide median of 40. So far, 57 people, or about 6 percent, of confirmed cases have required hospitalization, and 15 have died, or about 2 percent. These percentages are in line with statewide numbers.

Of those who have died, 11 have been white, non-Hispanic, and three have been Black, plus one has been listed as other.

Of the county’s cases, two-thirds have been among whites, with 39 of these 660 being Hispanic. Blacks have been diagnosed with 29 percent of the cases.

Half of the county’s cases have been among adults between the ages of 35 and 64. There have been 20 cases in children under age 4, 57 in those between age 5 and 14, 91 between ages 15 and 21, and 151 among those age 25 to 34.

No one under the age of 55 has died from the virus, with two of the deaths among those age 55-to-64, eight among those age 65 and 74, and five of them among people over age 75.

In a report issued Friday, the county health department said there have so far been 6,837 unduplicated COVID-19 tests in the county, with the period between Oct. 23 and Nov. 5 showing a positivity rate of 6 percent. This is calculated as the number of people who test positive in a week divided by all the people tested that week, and excludes those who have previously tested positive, as well as all positive and negative inmate tests.

The health department announced plans to ends its bi-weekly COVID-19 updates next month. “However, we’re here to help our community navigate through these difficult times,” the department wrote in a press release.

The health department and TDC have launched "Pledge to Protect"

For daily updates, data, and local counts check out Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. For questions about COVID-19 testing, including scheduling appointments and requesting results, please call 227-1276.

The department is urging residents to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every year. “This year, the CDC underscores that flu vaccine is more important than ever to protect yourself and the people around you, and to help reduce the strain on health care systems responding to COVID-19,” they wrote.

The health department is also reminding people that the quarantine period is important. “We need close contacts to a positive case to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their exposure to the positive individual,” they wrote. “Getting a test that is negative during the quarantine period does not stop the clock.

“We have seen many individuals develop infection on the second week of quarantine, so it is really important to stay quarantined for the full 14-day period,” it reads. “Household quarantine can be a little more stretched since it can be very difficult for a positive individual to properly isolate from everyone else.

“If you live in the same household as a positive case unable to properly isolate, you need to quarantine while the person is sick and once this individual is no longer infectious, that’s when your quarantine 14 period will start,” reads the release.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19, are asked to stay at home and isolate per the guidance provided by public health officials. If you think or know you had COVID-19, and had symptoms, you can be with others after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND at least 24 hours has passed with no fever without fever-reducing medication AND symptoms have improved.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but had no symptoms, you can be with others after 10 days have passed since your test. If you develop symptoms after testing positive, follow the guidance above that includes fever and symptoms improving.

The health department also is urging people to wear masks in public. “My cloth face covering protects you. Your cloth face covering protects me,” reads the update. “Although not a 100 percent guarantee, the use of masks has been proven, using actual case investigations, to dramatically reduce the spread of the virus.

“People who are infected can spread the virus before they develop symptoms or in the absence of symptoms. Wearing a cloth face covering may help prevent the spread of the virus by people who are infected and do not know it,” reads the health department release. “Use of cloth face coverings continues to be a recommendation long-term prevention measures such as vaccines are being developed.”

It goes on to say that cloth face coverings do not replace other protective measures, pointing out that the CDC still recommends people stay at least six feet away from other people (social distancing), wash their hands frequently, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and their face covering. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2.

If you need a cloth mask, please call 850-340-3016. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The health department also is continuing to urge anyone who suspects they might have COVID-19 not to travel to Gulf County. They are urged to get a COVID-19 test (nasal swab for active infection) in their community and have their results confirmed before they arrive here.

“Visitors are also responsible for helping to keep our communities safe and healthy,” notes the health department release. “If a person thinks they have COVID-19, they should call their health care provider before going to their office so the provider can take precautions to prevent exposing other people.

“In some cases, they are going to meet you in the parking lot. It’s just a precaution. We are really trying to keep our healthcare workers and other patients safe,” it reads.

The health department provides free COVID-19 testing in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka. Please call 227-1276 to make an appointment.

The health department release says all available information from the CDC shows immunity for 90 days. “There are no confirmed reports to date of a person being re-infected with COVID-19 within three months of initial infection,” reads the report.

“A person who has had and recovered from COVID-19 may have low levels of virus in their bodies for up to three months after diagnosis. This means that if the person who has recovered from COVID-19 is retested within three months of initial infection, they may continue to have a positive test result, even though they are not spreading COVID-19 and are no longer infectious to others,” reads the news release. “However, additional research is ongoing.

“If a person who has recovered from COVID-19 has new symptoms of COVID-19, the person may need an evaluation for reinfection, especially if the person has had close contact with someone infected with COVID19,” it reads. “The person should isolate and contact a healthcare provider to be evaluated for other causes of their symptoms, and possibly retested.”

The issue of mental health, and feelings of stress, anxiety and depression that call for support, can be addressed by calling 850-270-8911, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET weekdays.

Any Floridian, regardless of whether they are uninsured, can call 833-848-1762 for support in managing feelings of stress, anxiety, grief or fear related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Counselors cannot provide information on COVID-19 testing or treatment.

If you or someone you know has been financially impacted by COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act may be able to help. The Gulf County Board of County Commissioners through the Gulf County S.H.I.P Program has received Coronavirus Relief Funds. Contact Apalachee Regional Planning Council at 850-448-6211 ext. 113 for additional information. For qualification guidelines and to submit the completed application, contact Amber Zies at (407) 310-0198 or at azies@arpc.org, or Donald Morgan at (256) 458-0232 or at dmorgan@arpc.org.

 Any Floridian whose employment has been negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19 should visit FloridaJobs.org and click on Reemployment Assistance Service Center to learn more about the program and watch a short video on how to apply.

If you can’t apply by email you can pick up a paper application and submit it by mail. For more information call 850-229-1641.

Food pantries are open the second and fourth Tuesday of the Month, and the WIG Community Center, 401 Peters St., Port St. Joe. The next Farm Share distribution is Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. with drive-thru pick up on a first come, first serve. Food is also available from the Second Harvest of the Big Bend on the second Saturday of each month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Honeyville Community Center, 240 Honeyville Park Road. There is a three family per vehicle limit; all families do not have to be present to receive food. Please, no children.

Many businesses in Gulf County are stepping up to protect their employees and their staff. Many have taken extra measures to protect their employees and customers, and have taken the Pledge to Protect. This voluntary program is one in which Gulf County tourism businesses commit to clean and healthy standards for their guests and employees to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

By taking the Pledge to Protect, businesses are committing to proper use of personal protective equipment, routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, practicing social distancing and minimized contact and enforcing any sick employees to stay home. Special thanks to the Gulf County Tourism Development Council for the creation of the logo, webpage and incentive promotion design and support; this project has been approved by the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners.

The Franklin and Gulf County Health Departments will resume full clinic services, which include annual physical exams, well woman exams, Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, and other routine appointments. Some services will continue to be done curbside or over the phone to decrease unnecessary exposure. Please call 227-1276 to schedule an appointment! Please do not bring visitors with you to your appointments.