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Our local elected officials are unaware of basic information about our COVID-19 situation

The County Commission met on Zoom on April 28

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

I am continually astonished at how little our local officials know about the situation here. Paul Myers, the Alachua County Administrator for the Florida Department of Health, has consistently provided factual, up-to-date information to the County Commission, but just as consistently, they choose to listen to other “experts” or just their feelings.

Elected officials also repeatedly demonstrate that they don’t have the most basic information about how COVID-19 is affecting Alachua County. At last night’s City of Gainesville Telephone Town Hall, a caller asked about nursing homes. Mayor Lauren Poe said he didn’t have the numbers in front of him; I know those numbers off the top of my head (and put them in my articles every day; today we have 63 patients with COVID-19 currently from long-term care facilities. That’s 21% of everyone who has tested positive in Alachua County to date. ). It’s increasingly clear that COVID-19 is mainly a nursing home problem (80% of our local deaths were from nursing homes); the fact that Poe isn’t hyper-aware of that tells you he’s not paying attention to the actual facts.

Then a caller asked Poe about antibody testing. He passed the question to Dr. Lisa Chacko, and they both fumbled it. They seem unaware that both Quest and Labcorp are offering antibody testing to anyone with a lab slip from a doctor.

At a County Commission meeting on Tuesday to discuss changes to the governor’s Phase One order, Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson said he couldn’t answer a question about the governor’s order because he didn’t have the governor’s order in front of him.

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At an April 23 City Commission meeting, Commissioner David Arreola said he wouldn’t favor “easing any restrictions we’ve issued” until there is “a sustained and consistent fall in daily transmission rates, infection rates, and death rates.” Myers had given a presentation to the County Commission on April 21, demonstrating that Alachua County already met those criteria. Myers gave a second presentation on April 28, stating that the county still met the criteria. Arreola seemed unaware of this information, and the City Commission has not invited Myers to brief them on the data from the Department of Health.

At the April 14 County Commission meeting, Myers told the commission that contact tracing involves determining who has been “within six feet of somebody for a significant period of time.” We have known for at least a month that transmission is more likely when people are in close contact with the sick person for at least 30 minutes (or in frequent contact, like in the same home). Transmission happens most often in households and in group living facilities. Health officials do not consider passing someone in a grocery store to be close contact.

As the numbers of COVID-19-positive persons in local long-term care facilities continue to increase, our local elected officials are focused on forcing us to wear face masks when we have incidental contact with other people. As Myers has pointed out, there is no scientific consensus about whether face masks (and particularly partial facial coverings like bandanas and t-shirts) make any difference. County Commissioner Ken Cornell chose to discard Myers’ professional opinion, deferring to the opinion of two researchers from the University of Florida on a webinar he’d viewed. (Cornell said the researchers said masks can reduce transmission by 60%; that information appears to come from this paper, which discusses the use of masks within households when a household member is sick.)

With the notable exception of County Commissioner Mike Byerly, our local elected officials have demonstrated that they aren’t paying attention to the data that is available every day from the Florida Department of Health–but they are making policies that will determine both the public health and economic health of our community for years to come.

They are claiming that we are not ready to fully move into the governor’s Phase One plan, but they have offered no data to support that. In fact, Alachua County’s 7-day average of new cases is 4.0–an extraordinarily low number by any criteria. Our peak 7-day average was 8.4 on April 11–which is still not an alarming number. I’d be willing to bet that few, if any, of our elected officials know that.

Why should we trust them to make policy for our community when they don’t have the most basic info about what’s going on here?

  • Several relatives died in World War Two fighting for freedom against the fascists. I’ll be damned if I’ll let the Alachua fascists push me or my family around.

  • Excellent reporting, analysis and opinion. Thank you for doing the heavy lifting that our city and county commissioners are unable to do, or are uninterested in doing.

  • We all know what’s going on here. The facts don’t matter because the agenda isn’t getting us back to work, nor is it even to protect us. It is, at best, a form of hyper-virtue-signaling and, at worst, a much-sought-after excuse to take power. This is all about self-aggrandizement and the sooner we understand this, the sooner we’ll understand why they do the things they do.

  • Meanwhile, Hutchinson goes shopping, sans mask, the week before enacting this mask horsecrap. His excuse was that he was driving his wife’s car, and the mask was in his car. That’s rather like the guy sponging drinks and meals because his wallet is “in his other pants.” Under his edict, I would have to drive home and secure a non-functional “face covering” and go back to the store. And this, in spite of the surgeon general saying masks don’t work.

    These people should have handlers. They should not be in charge of diecting outcome for an entire county.

  • Thank goodness we have a strong President like Donald Trump in charge of the nation and can trust him to make policy, unlike the clueless County Commissioners. We don’t need no stinkin masks, COVID-19 can be eliminated by following the President’s excellent scientific advice to take anti-malaria drugs and wash them down with a big glass of Clorox.

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