Epidemiologist on school board pushes for face masks

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Dr. Scott Hopes, right, answers questions about epidemiology and the coronavirus July 14, during a livestream session on Facebook with Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia. Islander Courtesy Screenshot

Manatee County is in the thick of it.

The county reported 380 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus July 15, the second-highest single day of new cases since the first local case March 1.

As of July 16, 5,914 people in the county tested positive for coronavirus of 61,375 people tested, compared with 4,402 of 50,422 tested as of July 9, according to the Florida Department of Health.

A total of 380 people had been hospitalized and 143 people had died due to the virus in the county.

As of July 16, 114 COVID-19 patients were in county hospitals, 12 in the intensive care unit at Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton. Blake Medical Center, also in Bradenton, and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center did not report ICU numbers, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Hospitals were reporting to the ACA they had rooms, but were understaffed to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients.

The median age of people with positive cases in the county matched the state at 39.

Additionally, 15 people in Bradenton Beach, 11 people in Holmes Beach and two people in Anna Maria tested positive for COVID-19.

To share information about the spread of COVID-19, County Commissioner Misty Servia hosted a series of discussions with local experts shared live on Facebook.

Servia spoke July 14 with Dr. Scott Hopes, a member of the Manatee County School Board who holds a master’s of public health in epidemiology and biostatistics.

Epidemiology is a medical science that studies the incidence, distribution and possible control of diseases. Biostatistics involves research and management guiding the design, analysis, interpretation and presentation of health science data.

Hopes said that, since COVID-19 is caused by a virus, epidemiologists are looking at infection sources, transmission types and contact tracing to know where to look next for an outbreak and how to contain spread.

“The No. 1 thing that everyone can do, that simple, is wear a mask,” he said.

Hopes said the guideline of 6 feet for social distancing only applies to people “breathing at rest” and other situations require more distance.

Droplets from talking at regular volume travel 10 feet, while coughing, singing or yelling can cause greater spread. So the rule of thumb people should be following is to “try to stay away from people you don’t live with,” including while engaging in outdoor physical activities such as jogging.

If exposure to others is necessary, wear a mask, Hopes said. He also demonstrated the difference between types of masks.

With public schools set to open next month in Manatee County, Hopes said two cloth masks were ordered for every student in the district and N95 masks, which protect the wearer and people close by, will be issued to employees.

The district has about 50,000 students and 8,500 employees.

Face shields, which can be worn without masks, were ordered for elementary school teachers and students, so they can see each other and sound out words.

“Those kids go home and they have physical contact with four, five, 10 different adults,” Servia said. “So whatever is happening in our school district with this virus, it’s going to happen in our community.”

Hopes said if people fail to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, schools in the fall will not be open because there will be too many positive cases.

“We have to be very careful with how we manage the population given the way this virus spreads, to not make the School District of Manatee County the source of an outbreak we are not prepared for,” Hopes said. “I don’t care what the governor says, I don’t care what the head of the Senate says, this is a problem and we don’t have a handle on it.”