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County still meets COVID-19 “gating” criteria

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Alachua County Commission today discussed the county’s status relative to the federal government’s “gating” criteria for beginning to reopen.

Paul Myers, Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health, again gave a presentation showing that Alachua County meets the federal “gating” criteria for Phase 1 re-opening.

(This slide has a typo: 6,271 is the correct number of negative test results as of yesterday, but the correct number of tests completed was 6,532, and today that number is 6,631.)

Here Myers said the line is “starting to flatten out a little bit.”

Myers said, “The age distribution is dominated by the 20-20-year-olds.”

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Myers said, “As we continue to test, and as our new positive tests are going down, we are really hyper-focusing on our long-term care facilities, and we are finding cases in those long-term care facilities. And as we find those cases, those cases are starting to outpace the number of cases we see out in the community… long-term care facilities are conduits to our hospitals, and that’s what we’re seeing with this increase in our hospitalization percentages.” This graph is cumulative, so that’s why the trendline is increasing. Last week we were at 14%, and this week we are at 16%.

Myers said, “We continue to test a lot in Alachua County, very aggressive here… we continue to have the capacity and the partners out in the community to do a lot of testing in Alachua County.”

“Criteria met”

Myers said, “You can see that, as of yesterday, our trends for cough-associated admissions, cough, fever, and shortness of breath, those continue to trend downwards, and again, this is what the hospitals and the emergency rooms notice as the chief complaint when someone is seen in our local ERs. Again, very good news in terms of that downward trend.”

“Criteria met”

Myers said, “We are starting to go below the 4%, which is, again, very good for us in the environment of increasing testing.”

Myers said, “This is not local hospitalizations. As you know, our hospitals are regional care centers, so we accept patients from south Georgia, all over north central Florida, and in some cases, from south Florida, and so you can see that our ICU capacity, which is that dotted orange line, we have an upward tick in the utilization of our ICU beds, but again, we still have about 30% capacity…”

Myers said, “We have a robust testing program, as you can see, for healthcare workers, and that capacity continues to increase, and there is some emerging antibody testing… the science is not completely conclusive, in terms of what these tests mean.”

Commissioner Ken Cornell asked about information he’s heard about the percentage of the population that needs to be tested. “I’ve heard the governor report that we need to be testing about 33,000 in the state of Florida per day, which, when I do that math, says that we need to be testing locally about 400 a day… Do you think that 400 is an adequate number in Alachua County, or do you think that’s too high?”

Myers said we are testing 300-400 people every single day and increasing that capability “day by day, especially in east Gainesville, under the leadership of [City] Commissioner Simmons. She’s reached out to me, and I’ve worked with UF to go into neighborhoods in east Gainesville, where testing, right now, is not occurring… working with the City of Gainesville, over 15,000 door hangers have been printed, and this week they’re going door-to-door with City staff to get the word out, in terms of safety messages, where people can get tested… This is an issue of demand right now, not an issue of the supply of sample collection kits. Our drive-through testing has the capability of doing more than 200 a day; we’re averaging about 25. So right now, I think we are in a good position in terms of meeting that expectation of doing 400 per day… I think it’s a reasonable number.”

Cornell also asked about nursing homes. Myers says the Health Department is going into nursing homes with a suspected or positive case and testing everybody in the facility. Last week, they started a program of partnering with facilities to go in twice a month, regardless of whether any illness is reported or suspected. “We have to remain hyper-focused on those vulnerable populations, as we have been from the beginning.”

In response to a question from Commission Chair “Hutch” Hutchinson, Myers clarified that they are also testing in Tacachale and other group homes in the county.

Commission Mike Byerly asked about public health data other than COVID-19 cases that the Health Department is tracking. Myers said “We can’t be myopic in terms of just concentrating on the scorekeeping of the number of cases, the percentage positive, the ICU beds, which are all very important, but these lockdowns are having other impacts on our healthcare system. So, for example, our local ERs… are reporting a 40% decrease in emergency room utilization. People are afraid to go to our local hospitals because they don’t want to catch COVID. I want to assure everybody out there that our local hospitals have taken mitigation steps to separate… suspected infectious individuals… and everyone else. Please, don’t delay treatment, because treatment delayed is no treatment at all.”

He continued to discuss the fact that child reports are down, which is significant because most reports come from people outside the home; public health and safety officials do not believe that child abuse is actually down. Tips about internet crimes against children have increased 700%. He recommended asking local law enforcement about these issues because we wanted to stay within his lane of the healthcare system. “There are a lot of impacts to this lockdown that, when we take a look back to see what we have done, I just hope that the cure isn’t worse than the disease itself.”

Byerly asked whether the County should be tracking things like suicide and domestic abuse. Myers said, “I absolutely recommend that you, in addition to the metrics that I am providing to you, take a look at this issue from a broader sense… there are some trends that are becoming pretty clear. Gunshot wounds and gunshots heard are some that are very remarkable.”

Hutchinson added that he would like the county to track unemployment, unemployment claims, and some other economic indicators along with COVID-19 data.

  • That was a brave comment by Paul. Hope he doesn’t get fired for it!

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