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Monday, February 06, 2023
how covid spreads
how covid spreads

The Alachua County Commission updated its COVID-19 response after a presentation at its Tuesday meeting. Below is a breakdown of the presentation and the commission’s decisions.

COVID-19 Update Presentation

The number of total confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased from fewer than 500 to 2,173 since the start of June, said Paul Myers, an administrator at the county health department. The county has averaged 50 to 100 new cases per day over the past two weeks.

15,487 people in the county have received COVID-19 tests over the past two weeks, Myers said. 6.7 percent of those tests were positive, which is higher than the county’s 4.3 percent positivity rate on the 53,384 total tests the county has conducted during the pandemic.

The virus spreads quicker among people who gather in closed, crowded spaces, Myers said. He mentioned a case where a person with COVID-19 attended a house party and spread the virus to some other partygoers, who later spread it to even more people.

“One individual, at the end of the day, ended up infecting 9 people,” Myers said. “And that’s one person out of a 24 person house party.”

The nine infected were young people who weren’t hospitalized. However, Myers said this should be a learning moment for the community.

“When you don’t take personal responsibility, this is the sort of spread we can see,” Myers said.

Myers said the county health department used contact tracing to track the spread. The department will add an additional 10 people to its contact tracing team, currently composed of 80 people. Of the team, 30 will work directly with UF, Myers said.

Each contact tracer can process 10 to 15 cases a day, depending on how many people a COVID-19 patient has had contact with, Myers said. Asymptomatic carriers, meaning people who have the virus but don’t display symptoms, create additional challenges. Asymptomatic carriers usually do not get tested but can still spread the disease, Myers said.

Myers also pointed to residents who aren’t following the county’s directions, such as wearing face masks in public. He said many residents don’t wear face masks properly, but instead keep the mask under their nose.

“I've seen some analogies where it is said that wearing a facemask under your nose is like closing two out of three submarine windows,” Myers said. “If we are going to wear a facemask, please wear it appropriately.”

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COVID-19 relief grant program

The county commission voted to set a meeting Aug. 3 to discuss application requirements for the COVID-19 relief grant program it approved July 7.

If the application requirements are approved by Aug. 3, applications could open to the public a day later, said Assistant County Manager Thomas Crosby.

Businesses and residents who have been impacted by COVID-19 are allowed to apply to receive grant money.

The grant application will be online once approved, Crosby said. All information supplied for the grant will become public records, so county staff is trying to limit the information required so it isn’t too invasive, Crosby added.

County Commissioner Ken Cornell said he would want to include a requirement for businesses they must follow the county’s face mask order.

Mask Requirement Enforcement

The county commission received an update about increased enforcement of the mask order it approved June 23.

Code enforcement observed 3,968 people entering stores since the crackdown, said Missy Daniels, the county’s director of growth management. Code enforcement officers station themselves outside stores across the county, such as Bass Pro Shop, Publix and Circle K.

Ninety percent of residents observed wore a facemask without code enforcement warning them, Daniels said. Of the 10 percent who didn’t wear a mask, most wore a mask offered to them by code enforcement officers. Only 3 percent of those not complying said they had a medical exception.

While code enforcement hasn’t handed out citations, the county commission decided they would revisit the possibility of issuing citations at their next meeting.

County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said he expects it would be difficult to issue citations if violators refuse to give their name to code enforcement officers. Since violation of the mask order isn’t a criminal offense, code enforcement officers can’t detain violators who refuse to give their name.

“We will be issuing a lot of citations to Donald Duck I’m sure,” Hutchinson said.

Poe Springs

The commission also voted to open Poe Springs certain days during the week. The number of days will be determined on how the county is able to offset the cost of reopening.

It will cost $65,000 to open the springs every day because of extra sanitation costs and employee salary, said County Manager Michele Lieberman. The county is applying for a grant that supports businesses hiring employees to offset the cost.

If the county doesn’t receive the grant, the commission decided Poe Springs will operate Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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