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Long-term-care COVID-19 cases rising in Alachua County

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

A number of local media outlets today have run headlines about the 14 new cases yesterday–“a new high.” Yes, it is, but the previous high was 13, so it’s not a huge increase.

County Commissioner Chair Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson told the Gainesville Sun a few days ago that we’ll need to wait 14 to 21 days before loosening any restrictions because the grocery store occupancy was allowed to rise to 25% of fire code for two days. For those who were aware of that, it may seem ominous that cases now seem to be spiking, but there is something else going on.

The state’s daily report tracks the number of residents and staff in long-term care facilities who test positive for COVID-19, and until very recently, Alachua County had been fortunate to not have any cases. Residents of these facilities are, of course, among the most vulnerable to complications of COVID-19 because of pre-existing health conditions, and it can be difficult to stop the virus once it’s in an institutional setting with a large number of people.

However, on April 7, the second Alachua County case in a long-term care facility tested positive, followed by a third on April 8. On April 9, there were 7 cases in long-term care facilities, and now there are 13. So 10 of the 19 cases that have been identified in the past two days were from long-term care facilities, and it is likely that more cases will be identified in coming days.

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These residents did not pick up the virus in grocery stores last weekend, but the rise in cases is concerning because Alachua County’s cases have been mostly young up to this point, which is probably why we haven’t yet had any deaths.

Unfortunately, that will likely change in the coming weeks, but the additional cases and possible deaths should not be chalked up to crowded grocery stores. The problem of containing a highly-transmissible virus in any institution is a difficult one, but an increase in long-term care cases is completely unrelated to any failure of the general public to maintain social-distancing measures.

Our morning and evening updates track the number of cases in long-term care facilities, and we’ll start tracking the increase from the previous report, too. It’s important for the community to understand what’s really going on. It’s common to blame the students for the increases, especially given the zip codes with the most cases, but this outbreak in long-term care facilities can’t be blamed on students or grocery stores.

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