SARASOTA COUNTY — As vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway, virus cases continue to surge locally – reaching a level not seen since the beginning of the pandemic and causing Sarasota County’s top health official to raise the alarm.
“There is a lot of virus circulating in our community right now, probably more than we’ve seen throughout this pandemic,” Chuck Henry, a health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, told the Sarasota County Commission Wednesday.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic, but this is what the data says is happening in our community,” Henry said.
As of Tuesday, the 14-day positivity rate is 7.7%, compared to the low of about 4% in September. The state 14-day positivity rate is about 11%.
The seven-day positivity rate is a little over 8%, which indicates that “we’re still climbing a little bit, so we need to be careful,” Henry told the commission.
As of Tuesday, there were 21,626 total cumulative cases of COVID-19 in Sarasota County, with 1,839 of those occurring in the last week, the Florida Department of Health reported. Over the last week there has been an average of 263 new daily cases, up from about 34 new cases a day in September.
“This is a bit alarming to me,” said Henry.
At the same time, the county hospitalizations are holding steady, with 70% of the county’s 1,400 beds taken.
The majority of those beds are occupied by the area’s seasonal residents, a common occurrence outside of the pandemic when overall census numbers in local hospitals increase.
Henry noted that COVID-19 patients are being discharged faster and that their stays in the hospital are getting shorter. Treatments have improved and have contributed to shorter hospitalizations.
There were 139 beds being used to treat COVID-19 patients. Of the county’s 114 intensive care beds, 29 are being used to treat people for the coronavirus.
“I remind you that every COVID patient that is hospitalized, even in a regular bed, it uses a tremendous number of resources and staff,” Henry said. “It’s not just a patient number, it’s a tremendous amount of resources for each one of those.”
Henry said that the underlying goal in Sarasota County is to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. He pointed to the overwhelmed hospitals in Los Angeles that are placing patients in hallways and chapels.
“That is not optimal care for those patients,” Henry said. “It’s very important that we watch those numbers and prevent that from happening here.”
Henry believes that the spike in COVID-19 cases is a result of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and the travel associated with holidays.
Also “maybe a little bit of complacency. As a community, we continue to encourage everyone to do the right things but we’ve been in this for 11-plus months and people are getting tired of all of those things, no doubt.”
Henry urged residents who have received the vaccine to continue to socially distance and wear a mask. DOH in Sarasota County has received 5,900 doses total that are expected to be gone by the end of the week.
County Commission Chairman Alan Maio urged residents to take the pandemic seriously and to continue to practice safety precautions.
“You don’t want to be one of the last people to die before receiving the vaccine,” Maio said.
“For heaven sakes, wear the damn mask,” Maio said.