COVID-19 skyrockets, county agencies step up game plan

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Dr. Jennifer Bencie, county health officer for DOH-Manatee County, lowers her mask to present data on the novel coronavirus July 27, during an emergency Manatee County Commission meeting at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. Islander Screenshot

Manatee County is looking for a way to lower the rate of new infections.

As the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus increased by about 100 people daily, the county turned to an indoor face mask mandate.

An emergency resolution was approved 4-3 July 27, following hours of debate and public comment and weeks of deliberation by the county board as positive cases began skyrocketing in early July.

As of July 30, 8,337 people in the county had tested positive for coronavirus of 77,998 people tested, compared with 7,520 of 71,975 people tested as of July 24, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The rate of positive cases — based on individuals tested — rose to 10.7% of those tested.

A total of 512 people have been hospitalized and 176 people had died due to the virus in the county as of July 30.

As of July 27, 5,743 people in the county were considered recovered from the virus, according to DOH-Manatee.

As of July 30, 140 COVID-19 patients were in county hospitals, with 32 of the patients in an ICU.

At the time the data was reported, two intensive care units remained available in county hospitals, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Additionally, 20 people in Bradenton Beach, up from 17 the week prior, 11 people in Holmes Beach and three people in Anna Maria had tested positive.

Bradenton Beach, the only island municipality without a mask mandate prior to the county decision, was the one island city to have an increase in positive cases since July 24.

At the July 27 county board meeting, public safety director Jake Saur said he and Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the health officer for DOH-Manatee County, requested additional ventilators for local hospitals.

Saur said they also requested more ICU and regular care nurses, as well as respiratory therapists, which the state was to provide by July 31.

Additionally, Saur said the antiviral drug Remdezivir, which has helped some people kick COVID-19, is available to hospitals on an as-needed basis.

Bencie, at the meeting, presented data supporting the use of face masks indoors.

She said cases in long-term care facilities were on the rise, possibly due to asymptomatic staff bringing in the virus by not wearing masks when in public.

“Any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of benefit,” Bencie said.

Early on, there was not enough testing to determine the prevalence of the virus within communities, she said. Now, with more pre- and asymptomatic people testing positive, the spread is apparent.

The best way to determine how many people are asymptomatic is to test as many people as possible, regardless of symptoms.

“And that’s what we are doing a very good job of in Manatee County,” Bencie said.

A county estimate shows about 48% of people with coronavirus are asymptomatic, including children, according to DOH-Manatee.

Bencie said a recent study compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates were passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that five days after masks were ordered, the daily rate slowed by 0.9%. After two weeks, the daily rate slowed by 2%.

“Masks prevent the spread of the droplets,” she said, adding that coronavirus tends to be present in higher levels in the nose and mouth than other viruses.

“Since COVID-19 sheds so heavily in the nose and mouth, these droplets are likely how people without symptoms are spreading the virus,” Bencie said.

The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation recently stated that 33,000 deaths could be prevented by Oct. 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.

“Now the evidence is clear that masks help to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Bencie said. “And the more people wearing masks, the better.”