At one point, it appeared that Pasco County might be on the verge of dropping its mask mandate — but that looks unlikely for at least the foreseeable future.
“When I stood before you in September, we were looking at 29 cases a day. We’re up to 207 cases,” Mike Napier, the health officer for the Florida Department of Health — Pasco County told Pasco County commissioners at their Dec. 8 meeting.
“Back in September, when we were looking at 29 cases per day, that was considered a very low case rate. However, we’ve gone in the wrong direction.
“We’re now in the environment where we have what is considered a high case rate, and no end in sight at the moment,” Napier continued.
“Pasco County has the highest positivity rate in the region.
“At 200 cases a day, we could double our total cases from 16,000 to 32,000 in the next three months, if we don’t do anything else. That’s startling. That means 400 cases a day, instead of 200 cases a day.
“We’re not seeing any indicators that these rates will slow until the vaccine is widely available in the spring.
“The recommendation at this point is to continue the emphasis of the importance of social distancing, hand hygiene and face covering,” the public health officer said.
Napier shared some statistics and trends with the board.
“As of this morning, we’ve had 16,544 positive cases. Something that’s a little bit startling is that 9.5% of those total cases — 1,578 — happened in the last seven days. So, we are seeing a spike in numbers,” the public health officer said.
“Our 14-day rolling average is up from 5% to almost 10%, so we’ve seen a similar doubling in numbers in positivity rate, as well,” Napier continued.
The county also had 305 deaths related to COVID so far, with a slight increase in the number of deaths occurring during the previous three-week period, Napier said.
“Many of us were concerned back in late June, early July about our cases and our percent positive. We’re surpassing that now.
“Our positivity rate is not equal to what we had during the spike, but has been consistently above 10%.
“Most people are being tested, therefore we’re getting more numbers,” he said. “The concern that I have, honestly, is that we’re getting to the maximum of our ability to test people, currently, to diagnose people with COVID.”
He also told board members the increasing number of cases do not appear to be tied to students being back in school.
“We are seeing very limited transmission within the school system,” the Pasco health officer added. “It’s really when the kids go home to their parents, and activities after school.”
Napier said he understands COVID fatigue: “People are just over it at this point.” But he added that vigilance to health protocols remains necessary to reduce potential spread.
Hillsborough County’s state of local emergency enacted in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has been extended until at least Dec. 17. The county also has extended its mask mandate to at least that date.
The Hillsborough County Commission is expected to discuss its local emergency declaration on Dec. 16.
Hillsborough survey on vaccines
Hillsborough County is conducting an opinion survey to find out how residents feel about the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines and to understand what obstacles the community might have to taking a vaccine.
The anonymous survey, offered in English and Spanish, is designed to help County leadership understand respondents’ attitudes and trepidations about the COVID-19 vaccines, according to a Hillsborough County news release.
The survey is intended to help county leaders better plan and execute distribution logistics and campaigns to maximize the number of residents who choose to get vaccinated.
Visit HCFLGov.net/COVIDVaccine to participate in the survey. To participate by text, text “vaccine” to 73224 or “Vacuna” to 73224 to participate in Spanish.
COVID-19 Cases (As of 8 a.m., Dec. 14)
United States: 15,932,116 cases; 296,818 deaths
Florida: 1,125,931 cases, 19,866 deaths
Pasco County: 17,628 cases; 318 deaths
Hillsborough County: 64,967 cases; 986 deaths
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Florida Department of Health
Published December 16, 2020