More than 2,200 deaths in Okaloosa County in 2020 set 20-year high record

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — A preliminary estimate of the number of deaths reported in Okaloosa County in 2020 was 2,230, which represents a 20-year high and is 342 deaths more than the annual average.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the county and in the nation as a whole, according to a report issued this week by Dr. Karen Chapman, director of the Okaloosa County branch of the Florida Department of Health.

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Deaths from influenza and pneumonia ranked No. 9 in 2019 and No. 10 in 2020, based on provisional statistics recently released. The county's number of suicide deaths increased in 2020, but fell out of the top 10, Chapman's report said.  

Dr. Karen Chapman

The county's COVID-19 death toll had risen by nine between March 21 and April 4 and stood at 353 as of Monday, according to Health Department data. Two of those who passed away were residents of long-term care facilities. The number of LTC residents and staff who had fallen victim to the coronavirus since March  2020 rose Monday to 162.

Nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention preliminary analysis of the 2020 leading causes of death, COVID-19's move to third on the list displaced accidents in the No. 3 spot and also knocked suicide deaths out of the top 10, the report said.

The release of the grim statistics comes as Okaloosa County is reaching milestones indicative of a significant drop in the impact of the virus on the community. Chapman said that the number of reported cases of COVID-19 has been falling steadily for 21 days since early March.

"So far Okaloosa has not seen a surge associated with spring break," she wrote in her report. "This is good news."

Also, for the past 13 days, percent positivity among those tested in Okaloosa has reached the CDC stated goal of below 5%.

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"This is the first time we have seen a sustained percent positivity at this low level since the pandemic began," Chapman reported. "Percent positivity has been below 10% for the past 30 days."

Chapman also reported that the county is ahead of the rest of the nation in having 63.3% of its seniors fully vaccinated and on par with national numbers of seniors who have received at least one dose. 

She said she hopes that the state's decision to make vaccinations available to anyone 16 or older will allow Okaloosa to quickly catch up to the rest of the nation in number of all residents having received vaccines. 

In Okaloosa, 23.1% of the white population and 21.6% of the black and other populations 16 years old and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, Chapman reported. Data received thus far indicates only about 8% of the Hispanic population has received any dose of vaccine.

Chapman said she is concerned "that men are much less likely to come out for the vaccine than women."

She said women are being vaccinated at about a 32% clip while men at about 23%.

"While all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death — and are safe and effective, many people continue to have questions," her report said.  

Chapman cited studies that show vaccines to be 90% effective in preventing coronavirus infection as early as two weeks after a second vaccination. She also reported that clinical trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine to be 100% effective in preventing symptomatic infection in children between the ages of 12 and 15.