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Alachua County Health Department Reports Decline In COVID-19 Cases, But Concerns Remain

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (Photo provided by the CDC / Alissa Eckert, MS, Dan Higgins, MAMS)

Confirmed COVID-19 cases are on the decline in Alachua County.

Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department, on Tuesday gave updates on the coronavirus situation to the Alachua County Commission. He said positive tests for the virus and reports of influenza-like illnesses are trending downward — promising signs for local residents and healthcare workers.

Myers said he credits the results to better testing in north Florida. He said hospitals in Alachua County are regional health centers, so they can provide care to anyone in the state and even Georgia.

“We have a robust testing program,” Myers said. “And that capacity continues to increase.”

The administrator said there are 255 confirmed cases with two deaths out of 6,600 tests conducted in the county as of Tuesday.

Compared to other counties in Florida, Alachua has conducted the fourth-most tests per capita.

The county ranks 19th in positive cases and 13th in total tests completed, and it accounts for .79% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Myers said hospitals here are at only 30% capacity, and the health department has sufficient staff and equipment at this time.

He said these reports aren’t a reason to rejoice just yet, however.

“A test is a snapshot in time,” he said.

Myers said when a test comes back negative, it doesn’t mean someone should begin to venture out into the community and interact with people. He said even non-carriers should continue to remain indoors.

And while confirmed cases for people without the need for assisted living is down, Myers said positive cases in long-term care facilities are outpacing normal cases with a 16% increase.

“This is a disease that is very opportunistic,” he said. “It’s especially deadly to those who are over the age of 65 with underlying health conditions.”

On the back of Myers’ update on COVID-19 cases, County Commissioner Ken Cornell expressed interest in the progress of antibody tests.

Cornell said he’s eager to provide a test to confirm the number of people in Alachua County whose blood contains antibodies to fight off the deadly virus.

Myers provided good news for Cornell.

“Hundreds of thousands of these tests have been ordered by the state,” he said. “I suspect that they'll be distributed to those places in the state that are hardest hit. I'm certainly advocating for Alachua County to get our share of those test kits.”

Myers said these tests would benefit Alachua County, but that they shouldn’t be used as a pass for people to return to a normal life. He even said he wants to have healthcare workers to test negative for COVID-19 on two separate tests before going back to work.

Despite the decrease in cases, the flush supply of tests and healthy medical professionals, Myers said many Alachua county residents are fearful of receiving help at care centers.

He said local hospitals are reporting a 40% decrease in emergency room utilization.

“People are afraid to go to our local hospitals because they don't want to catch COVID,” Myers said.

He said he wants to assure the public that hospitals have taken and will continue to take necessary steps not just to assist COVID-19 patients but others as well.

“So please don't delay treatment, because delayed treatment is no treatment at all,” he said.

And the pandemic is affecting more than just physical health too.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said mental health, domestic abuse and crime are all variables at play.

Byerly asked Myers if there were any other parameters the county was tracking outside of positive coronavirus cases.

Myers said it’s something the county is looking into.

“Domestic battery, domestic violence, I think that those are certainly going to be in transit that we should all be concerned about,” he said.

Myers said one of the largest concerns the county has right now is how the lockdown has affected the reported number of child abuse cases. While reports of child abuse are down, that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

He said most child abuse cases are reported by teachers and or medical professionals. Because children are home and can’t attend school or normal doctors' appointments, incidents have a greater chance of going unreported. He said it’s something area law enforcement departments are monitoring.

Myers will provide another COVID-19 update to the Alachua County Commission next week.

Dylan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.