With COVID-19 positivity rate ticking up in Sarasota County, people should be prepared for potential of another COVID-19 surge, Sarasota Memorial’s infectious disease specialist says

Vaccinations and boosters among best options, Dr. Manuel Gordillo advises

Dr. Manuel Gordillo. Image courtesy Sarasota Memorial Hospital

While COVID-19 cases are at a low point once more in Sarasota County, Dr. Manuel Gordillo, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s infectious disease specialist, is advising the public to be prepared for the potential of another surge.

During an April 5 interview with members of the news media, Gordillo pointed out that only 13 patients in Sarasota Memorial’s two facilities — in Sarasota and Venice — were being treated for COVID-19 that day, and only three were in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

“We are at one of the lowest levels of activity with COVID that we’ve had in a long time,” Gordillo noted. “We’d probably have to go back to the days of pre-Omicron or pre-Delta, back in November of last year or [last] summer,” he continued, to find a level that low.

On April 7, SMH reported a total of 11 cases between its two campuses, with three people remaining in the ICUs. Additionally, as of that date, the health care system noted that the total number of patient deaths it had recorded since the pandemic’s first cases were identified in Florida in March 2020 was 651. On March 25, the SMH COVID-19 death count was 649.

Over the seven days through April 5, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 11 deaths had been recorded in Sarasota County. That number marked a 15.38% decline, compared to the prior seven-day average.

“We absolutely are very delighted that we have such low numbers,” Gordillo added in the interview. “The problem is, we don’t know how long this will last. The pandemic is not over. The virus hasn’t gone away.”

For the seven days through April 3 — the most recent data available prior to publication of this issue of The Sarasota News Leader — the CDC reported that the positivity rate in Sarasota County was 4.66%. That was up 0.92% from the previous seven-day average, the CDC said.

As the News Leader noted in its April 1 issue, the positivity rate had climbed from 2.94% on March 21 to 3.59% on March 31.

However, the number of tests performed over the seven days through March 30 was just 5,565, the CDC pointed out. That was a drop of 10.26%, compared to the figure for the previous seven days.

This is among the latest data available about the status of COVID-19 in Sarasota County, as shown on the CDC website on April 7. Image courtesy CDC

“At the peak of Omicron,” Gordillo said during the interview, Sarasota County was recording about 1,000 new cases a day. As of the start of April, he continued, the count was down to 35 a day. However, he added, just a week earlier, the caseload was 20 a day.

The BA.2 variant of COVID-19 — referred to as “stealth Omicron” — is showing up in greater numbers in other states, especially New York, and in China and other parts of Asia, Gordillo pointed out. “I think we have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

To that end, Gordillo added, “We are always promoting vaccination,” especially for the most vulnerable members of the population.

This is the April 7 update from the CDC with a summary of Sarasota County’s COVID-19 status. Image courtesy CDC

Reuters reported on March 29 that the new variant “represents nearly 86% of all sequenced cases, according to the World Health Organization. It is even more transmissible than its highly contagious Omicron siblings …” However, Reuters added, “[T]he evidence so far suggest that it is no more likely to cause severe disease.”

In response to a question about whether people age 50 and up should get a second booster — as authorized by the FDA on March 29 — Gordillo responded that approximately one-third of the population between the ages of 50 and 60 has what are called “co-morbidities”: health factors that make them more vulnerable to serious illness and death if they contract COVID-19. Those persons with what he called “substantial co-morbidities,” such as obesity, mild hypertension, or mild lung or kidney disease, should go ahead and get those second boosters, he added.

This is part of the FDA’s statement about authorization of a second booster for persons age 50 and older. Image courtesy FDA

Moreover, “The older you are over 50,” Gordillo said, “the stronger the recommendation to get [the second booster],” in his view.

Still, he encouraged individuals without co-morbidities to talk to their personal physicians before deciding to make an appointment for another booster.

This is the April 7 vaccination update for Sarasota County, as shown on the CDC website. Image courtesy CDC
This is the April 7 booster data for Sarasota County, as reported by the CDC on April 7. Image courtesy CDC

Individuals who regularly track the latest COVID-19 numbers, Gordillo continued, can wait to see the trends before making a decision.

Further, people who have had Omicron since December 2021 are as protected as though they had received a second booster, Gordillo added. Yet, he cautioned that someone would need to be certain, through testing, that he or she did indeed have Omicron and not just a cold.

And even for those who have had boosters, he pointed out, “Immunity’s gong to wane …”

The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County provides this information on its website about COVID-19 vaccination availability at its locations. Image courtesy DOH-Sarasota

Yet, given the fact that about 40% of county residents contracted Omicron between December 2021 and April, Gordillo said, “We have a good level of immunity in the population now.”

Asked whether he believes COVID-19 will become endemic, Gordillo replied that that is difficult to predict. Again, he stressed that preparation for the worst-case scenarios is advisable. People should be aware that good treatments have become available — with more expected — and testing and masks of good quality also can be accessed easily.

He also said that people should try to avoid the cycle that he described as moving from panic to acting as though the pandemic is over and then feeling panicked again, as another surge starts.