As COVID-19 Cases Decrease In Alachua County, Vaccination Rates Climb

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Over the past two weeks, new coronavirus infections in Alachua County steadily declined, reaching lows not seen since the summer.

According to Florida Department of Health data, 247 Alachua County residents tested positive for COVID-19 on January 7. On March 7, just 14 residents tested positive — a milestone for a county that’s lost at least 242 people to COVID-19.

Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers touted these lower case counts and the county’s vaccine programs at a Tuesday county commission meeting.

“The metrics are trending positive for us here locally, and that’s a testament to the testing that we’re doing,” Myers said.

According to the health department, 49,686 people have been vaccinated in Alachua County, with the vast majority having already received both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Sixty-seven percent of Alachua County seniors are vaccinated.

On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the state was expanding vaccine access to include all Florida residents 60 years of age and older. Previously, Florida residents had to be 65 years of age and older to be eligible. The new rules go into effect Monday.

In late February, governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 21-46, expanding vaccine access to those deemed by their physician to be extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.

“We’re understanding more and more about these vaccines and they’re very safe,” Myers told the commissioners. He also said those who’ve received vaccines should continue to take precautions when out in public.

“The shot prevents illness but does not prevent infection,” he said.

The county health administrator also said all K-12 school employees 50 years of age and older who want the vaccine will be vaccinated by Friday.

“We had a massive clinic, actually two clinics, this past Friday,” Myers said. “And this isn’t just for School Board of Alachua County employees, this is also for K-12 and our private schools, including PK-Young. So we have done a tremendous amount of outreach to include as many people as we possibly can.”

Commissioners voiced concerns from residents about excess shots going to waste. Myers said that at mass vaccination sites, such as February’s vaccine clinic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, there’s often more supply on hand than patients.

“We sent out 17,000 invitations for individuals to sign up for that clinic,” Myers said. “So it was a bit disappointing we left 1,700 slots unfilled. But we are making a lot of headway.”

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler asked the health department administrator whether those excess shots could be given to critical workers.

Myers said some excess vaccines are being distributed based on a “standby list,” which includes teachers, law enforcement, firefighters and other frontline workers.

“It’s like the lottery. If you get one of those standby vaccines, then it’s your lucky day,” he said.

Myers told the commissioners Alachua County is ready to serve additional populations as soon as the governor allows it.

Despite the steady decrease in new COVID-19 infections, Myers urged both vaccinated and un-vaccinated Alachua County residents to stay vigilant and follow safety guidelines.

“You really should try and stay away from large crowds, but if you are fully vaccinated, again, take precautions when you’re out in public. That’s just good common sense,” he said.

About Houston Harwood

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

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