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Okaloosa health director warns county is ripe for COVID-19 outbreak

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — COVID-19 cases, positivity rates and coronavirus-related hospitalizations all have been increasing for the past two weeks, and Okaloosa County is at risk for an outbreak.

In the most dire message she's delivered to county officials in months, Okaloosa Department of Health Director Dr. Karen Chapman said Tuesday that she no longer is urging, but prescribing "that all residents practice personal protective measures to protect yourself and others."

More:Okaloosa Health Department Director expresses concern as COVID-19 numbers rise

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As of Tuesday, 6,244 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the county, and through Oct. 25 the increase in new cases for the previous week had been 369, a jump of 72 cases from the week before, Chapman reported.

Also as of Oct. 25, the seven-day average of positive results among those being tested has reached 9.58 percent. The average of positive tests has been rising for the past two weeks, Chapman said.

"This is alarming," she reported. "Okaloosa remains well above the less than 5 percent target and is at risk for widespread outbreaks of COVID-19."

Because of the fluid nature of reporting COVID-19 cases and exposures within the Okaloosa County School District, Chapman is reporting those numbers for a week earlier than the other data she is sharing with county officials. The information provided indicates coronavirus cases are rising within the schools, however. 

Through Oct. 18, there have been 167 student cases of COVID-19 identified and 74 staff member cases, and in weeks six and seven of the school year an outbreak was confirmed at Fort Walton Beach High School, where 39 cases were identified within 14 days.

More:Okaloosa County School District suffers its worst week yet for transmission of COVID-19

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Chapman reported that 56 percent of the students who caught the virus and 100 percent of the teachers "had an association with a team (sports) activity."

As of Oct. 18, there had been 41 COVID-19 cases confirmed at Fort Walton Beach High School, 37 at Choctawhatchee High School, 18 at Niceville High School and 13 at Crestview High School. 

Personnel from Okaloosa County's Emergency Medical Services and Public Health Department handle a COVID-19 test sample at a drive through testing facility set up at the Crestview Community Center earlier this year.

Chapman also reported 12 cases at Ruckel Middle School and 11 each at Destin and Kenwood elementary schools. 

For the year, there have been 2,323 student contacts with the virus reported and 100 staff contacts. School-based transmission of the virus has been confirmed in 20 instances, Chapman said.

The health director's report also noted that hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients were again on the rise along with the number of patients requiring ICU care.  As of Oct. 26, there were 30 coronavirus patients hospitalized in Okaloosa County facilities. That is 7.6 percent of all of the county's staffed hospital beds.

In his Monday report, Okaloosa Public Safety Director Patrick Maddox stated COVID-19 patients were occupying eight of the county's 54 available ICU beds. That was an addition of two patients to the day before. One patient was using a ventilator, which Chapman noted in her report is rare at this stage of the pandemic.

Dr. Karen Chapman

BY THE NUMBERS 

Total COVID-19 cases from the Oct. 27 report from FDOH:

Florida cases: 786,311

Florida resident deaths: 16,505

Non-resident deaths: 204

BY COUNTY

Okaloosa: 6,244, +55

Santa Rosa: 5,894, +14

Walton: 2,402, +34

DEATHS

Okaloosa: 130

Santa Rosa: 87, +1

Walton: 30, +1