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Alachua County coronavirus update

Paul Myers

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Alachua County officials provided little new information today at a press conference to discuss the County’s response to its first COVID-19 case.

Paul Myers, the Director of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, said Alachua County’s first case was announced last night–a visitor from Georgia, who is currently isolated. The contacts of the 68-year-old woman have been identified and are currently under quarantine.

Myers said, “While we continue to focus on containment–and that is the identification of cases, the isolation of patients, and the isolation of their contacts–we have also shifted towards mitigation.” Mitigation involves hygiene and prevention, including hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

He continued, “The other aspect of mitigation is clearly social distancing: staying home when you’re ill, staying away from people who are ill. And I can tell you that over the last several months, the intensification of social distancing conversations with our organizations in Alachua County, including the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, the School Board, Alachua County government, businesses… we have all had conversations about social distancing.”

He said that mitigation will buy time until a vaccine is developed. “Once a vaccine is developed… Alachua County is second to none in this state in terms of doing mass vaccination clinics. We demonstrate that every single year when we go into our schools.”

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Hal Grieb

Hal Grieb, Alachua County’s Emergency Management Director, said the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is at Level 3, which is a monitoring status. He said they’ve done drills to be sure that the EOC can function virtually, and they’ve also done tabletop drills with local hospitals. They’ve also verified the availability of personal protective equipment for first responders.

County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson said the community is well prepared for this situation. “We’ve all heard if you see something, say something; that also applies here, whether it’s contacting emergency authorities or just talking to people about something you see that needs to be handled maybe a little bit differently.” He said he is confident that citizens will help each other with routine tasks that may become more difficult in a quarantine situation.

In response to questions, Myers said the infected woman “arrived in Alachua County within the last week.” He said she will remain quarantined in the area until she has been cleared to travel. He wouldn’t give any further details, including how many people the woman has come into contact with, but “I am very confident that we have identified most, if not all, of them, at this point.” He said the Georgia Department of Health is leading the investigation into how she contracted the illness.

Myers said decisions on closing campuses and canceling events would be made on a case-by-case basis. He said people should contact the Health Department and/or their medical provider if they have symptoms. “Nobody in Alachua County who has met the criteria for testing over the last month or so has been denied it… There is no shortage of tests.”

The criteria to be tested are changing daily, but today they include being hospitalized with a respiratory illness of unknown etiology (in other words, they’ve ruled everything else out), being a contact to a confirmed case, having traveled to one of the CDC Level 3 Advisory countries and becoming symptomatic, and being over the age of 65 with chronic illness and suffering from a respiratory illness.

Myers refused to say where the woman has been in Alachua County: “I know where she went in Alachua County, and I know who her contacts are, so the risk to this community is very low.”

Myers encouraged people who are over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions to consider the risk before attending any mass gatherings or even their normal daily activities.

Myers refused to say how many tests are pending for people in Alachua County. He said the Florida Department of Health is providing aggregate numbers for the state. “I don’t want to get into the number of tests that are pending in Alachua County. I can tell you that I do have tests that are pending; I can tell you that I do have scores of negative tests that have been completed, and only one has come back positive.”

Since the press conference, we’ve learned that the University of Florida is moving all classes online starting Monday, March 16, and the NCAA has advised that no fans should be allowed at sporting events, including an announcement that March Madness games will be played without fans. We’ll have more on these stories as official announcements come out.

Local residents can find the latest information at Alachua County’s Coronavirus site, or they can call the state hotline at 866-779-6121.