Elected leaders in Pasco and Hillsborough counties are still requiring masks to be worn indoors in their counties, as rates of COVID-19 remain concerning.
Mike Napier, health officer for the Florida Department of Health – Pasco County, updated the Pasco County Commission on current local conditions during an Oct. 20 meeting.
“I wish I had better news. Our goal, when we talked last time was, ‘Let’s see what the data looks like and maybe we can make revisions,” Napier said.
In his update, that came 30 days after his last appearance, Napier told board members:
“We have 10,294 positive cases, as of yesterday (Oct. 19). That’s a 3.5% increase over the last seven days. That’s 358 new cases, just this past week.
“The total population infected was just under 2%, and we have a less than 1% (.04) population that has died. That’s 229 cases.
“The other point that we talk about is the seven-day rolling average of cases. Last month, when I was here, we had increased from 29 cases per day, on average for seven days, up to 49. As of today, we’re looking at 53 cases per day. That represented an 8.1% increase from last month when I came and spoke with you.
“The other part that’s a little bit alarming is our 14-day rolling average. That’s the percent of positive cases that we get each day. It has climbed from 3.2% to 4.5%. That represents a 40% increase in the number of positive cases, percentage-wise.”
“As of today, we have 227 deaths.
The county is not seeing a huge increase, but it is trending in the wrong direction, Napier said.
The gold standard would be about 1 case per 100,000 — which means Pasco County would have 5.5 case per day, Napier said. “We’ve got a ways to get there.”
“We know that schools was one of the questions — what was going to be the impact of schools?
“I’ve got to give a shout-out to the school system. They’ve been great in working with the students and faculty and health department, in letting parents know as soon as we can about a positive case.
“I will tell you that the schools are not driving our case increases. They represent roughly 15% of our cases, which is what we had seen previously,” he said.
Students who have been exposed to someone positive must be isolated, which interrupts football practices and other things, as “life continues to go on,” he said.
“We understand that it’s disruptive, but we’re also trying to prevent the spread,” Napier said.
He said his staff is not finding spread within the schools themselves.
“Typically, what we’re finding is that a parent is sick and then the child is sick,” the health officer said.
“Our positivity rate is concerning. We were feeling pretty good when we were at 3%. We’re getting pretty close to 5% right now,” Napier said.
Commissioner Ron Oakley weighed in: “I think we should continue our masks,” he said, adding that he’d feel more comfortable doing away with the restriction when a vaccine becomes available.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey agreed with keeping the mask mandate: “I say, ‘Stay the course, still.”
She said she’d traveled to other parts of the country where restrictions were more extensive.
In some places, people are wearing a mask if they are outside their own homes, she said, noting she’d see people outside riding bicycles or on trails, wearing masks.
She doesn’t think Pasco’s ordinance is excessive.
Commission Mike Wells addressed Napier: “I’m assuming you’re telling us that you recommend us continue with the mask.”
Napier responded: “I don’t think anybody here is saying that masks are fun to use. Nobody enjoys using them. We understand that. It’s just a matter of the times that we’re in and the need to be able to do something to be able to prevent the spread of the disease.”
The mandate is being recommended throughout the region.
He said he spoke with his counterparts in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the consensus was to keep the mask ordinance in each county in place.
“If I was standing here and the numbers had declined since my last presentation and we were starting to make good progress, then, all right, that might be a little bit different conversation. Right now, with what our numbers are demonstrating, I couldn’t suggest that the data says we should change course,” Napier said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said the county should “strongly recommend” rather than mandate masks, and he made a motion to that effect.
Wells told Mariano: “I do agree with you commissioner; I just don’t think there are three other votes.”
Commission Chairman Mike Moore said his colleagues should consult with local hospital CEOs, frontline medical workers and epidemiologists to help inform their decisions
Mariano’s motion failed, for lack of a second, keeping Pasco’s mandate in place.
Meanwhile, in Hillsborough County, commissioners extended the requirement for face coverings inside of local business, with certain exceptions, until Oct. 29, according to a news release.
The board approves its emergency orders for a maximum of seven days at a time. (See HCFLGov.net/facecoverings, for more detail).
Commissioners also approved spending $4.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for a project at Tampa General Hospital to repurpose an existing stand-alone structure into a dedicated COVID-19 unit.
The $8.2 million unit will contain 59 fully equipped ICU beds and up to 45 surge-readiness beds. Under a three-year contract with TGH, the unit also will serve as an alternate care site during declared states of emergency, the release said.
COVID19 statistics, as of noon on Oct. 26
Pasco County: Positive cases: 10,556 residents and 81 non-residents; deaths: 236
Pasco County Schools: Positive cases: students, 197; staff, 78
Hillsborough County: Positive cases: 46,813 residents and 267 non-residents; deaths: 759
Hillsborough County Schools: Positive cases: students, 465; staff, 372
Florida: Positive cases: 782,013 cumulative; deaths: 16,429 residents and 203 non-resident
United States: Positive cases: 8,553,827; deaths: 224,221
Worldwide: Positive cases: 42,745,212; deaths: 1,150,961
Sources: Florida Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; World Health Organization.
Published October 28, 2020