Health department sees falling positivity rates despite case rise

Tim Croft

This week’s COVID-19 updates from the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County have been a decidedly mixed bag.

On the positive side, the rate of positive cases, the percentage of those tested who are deemed positive, has fallen off a bit that past two weeks, from 20 percent to 15 percent.

Still, too high, but at least an improvement; the goal is under 10 percent.

“Positivity rates, that really is the driver here,” said Sarah Hinds, Administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Gulf and Franklin County. “I would like to see (the county) under 5 percent.”

It is important to note that the positivity trends being closely analyzed by public health officials are week-to-week with the data for the past two weeks updated every Friday.

For example, for the entire course of the pandemic, measuring from mid-March, overall positivity in Gulf County is 11.6 percent, still above the target range but much better than 20 percent.

But all but meaningless given the results of recent weeks.

Statewide, weekly positivity rates have stabilized at around 11 percent.

“How we are tracking positivity is not for the entire time of the pandemic, but on a weekly basis,” Hinds said. “We want to know that weekly positivity rate.”

On the flip side, positive cases in the county are, as of press time for this edition, over 400, with more than 60 of those cases involving inmates at Gulf Correctional Institute where Hinds said the virus has arrived.

Hinds emphasized that the inmates are quarantined from the county’s population: support workers at the prison, she added, remain counted within the general core population of the county as they leave the prison for daily life.

In addition, the county recorded its first two deaths during the pandemic in the past week and hospitalizations have nearly doubled again to 30 after doubling the prior week.

A month ago, Gulf County did not have a hospitalization.

Prevention is not far removed from typical flu season: wash hands in warm water and soap, stay home when ill, maintain distance from those who are sick.

But in terms of how COVID-19 is transmitted, long-term effects and the like, so much remains unknown.

“This virus can’t be compared to anything else,” Hinds said.

The health department plays and will continue to play a critical role in pandemic response.

“My goal is to work with everybody, to protect our community,” Hinds said. “The public health part of us, that continues.

“We are going to do everything we can to protect our citizens.”

Particularly, Hinds added, those in vulnerable populations such as seniors and individuals with underlying complicating health factors.

As of press time, there were 491,773 positive COVID-19 cases statewide with 27,952 hospitalizations and 7,526 deaths.