With vaccine demand diminishing, Sarasota County Health Department staff working hard to encourage people to get shots

CDC still classifies county COVID-19 case transmission as high, county Health Officer tells County Commission

This is the COVID-19 report for Sarasota County as of May 3. Image from the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee

With demand for COVID-19 vaccinations having diminished, Sarasota County Health Officer Chuck Henry told the County Commission this week that about 60,000 more people would have to receive their shots for him to reach his goal of reaching the 300,000 mark by July 4.

During his April 21 appearance before the board, he noted his mantra was “300K by Independence Day.”

“That’s going to be a tough 60,000,” Henry added. “The numbers are not moving through the [Sarasota Square] Mall site like they were …”

As of his May 4 presentation, he said the county’s total vaccination count was 237,013. Of those, 174,661 had completed their series.

Altogether, Henry told the commissioners, 61% of county residents age 16 and up have been vaccinated, “which is a pretty high number. I think we’re third highest [in the state].” For those 50 and above, the figure is 77%, he continued. For those 65 and older, it is 87%.

“It’s important that we continue to reach out to our younger populations,” Henry emphasized.

This is the vaccination data that Chuck Henry showed the commissioners on May 4. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Sarasota

“The transmission levels currently in our community are considered high by CDC standards,” he pointed out, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC uses classifications of “low,” “moderate,” “substantial” and “high” as it reviews daily case levels, he explained. “We’re on the edge of high.”

However, he noted, a lag exists in the compilation of figures at the CDC. Therefore, Henry said, he expects that by next week, Sarasota County no longer will have that “high” classification.

This is the COVID-19 positivity data as of May 3. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee

A month ago, he pointed out, the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) was vaccinating several thousand people every day, along with providing several thousand second doses. This week, he continued, DOH-Sarasota will be finishing up the last of its 2,000-per-day, second-dose efforts at the mall, which is located at 8201 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota.

Monday through Saturday, he noted, DOH-Sarasota’s clinic at the mall is open for walk-ups; no appointments necessary. The average number of people coming to the clinic is approximately 200 a day, Henry said. The lowest total for a day has been 170, he added; the highest, around 400. “It’s moving at a much slower pace.”

The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, DOH-Sarasota Public Information Officer Steve Huard notes in regular media updates. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As a result of the situation at the mall, Henry reported, DOH-Sarasota staff will be closing the second space it has been renting. That likely will happen on Saturday, he added.

The Health Department is encouraging or conducting pop-up clinics in the community and closed vaccination “pods” for some of the county’s large employers, he noted.

Staff also is working with minority community leaders, churches and colleges, for example, to help facilitate pop-up events.

Additionally, he pointed out, DOH-Sarasota has partnered with the City of North Port and the State Incident Management Team to conduct a walk-up Pfizer vaccination clinic on Saturday at the George Mullen Activity Center in North Port for youth ages 16 and 17, as well as any other member of the public who would like to get vaccinated. The Activity Center is located at 1602 Kramer Way; clinic hours will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

(In his May 5 media update, Huard wrote that individuals who need their second Pfizer dose also will be welcome at the North Port event. DOH-Sarasota has 500 doses available.)

Health Officer Chuck Henry addresses the commissioners on April 7. File image

Henry reminded the commissioners that the Pfizer vaccine thus far is the only one to have won federal approval for use in persons under the age of 18.

When Commissioner Nancy Detert asked Henry about a clinic she understood would be held at the Jacaranda Public Library in Venice this weekend, Henry explained that he had no details about that, as it is not a DOH-Sarasota event.

“I think the appeal is if [people] know in advance” about such clinics, Detert said, “and they don’t need an appointment. [That is] really very important.”

As both she and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger represent South County, Detert added, she was sure Cutsinger would join her in wanting to know about opportunities there for individuals to get vaccinated without a long wait.

Henry pointed out that vaccine has been directed from the state and the federal governments to many providers, including drug and grocery stores. “I don’t have an exhaustive list of where those providers are doing [events].”

The latest data

Henry also provided the commissioners updates on infection data since his April 21 presentation.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in the county as of May 3, he said, was 32,576. “We’re up about a thousand” from the figure two weeks ago, he added.

The number of hospitalizations was 1,346, 20 more than his April 21 figure, he noted. The total deaths in the county — 812 — had increased by four since his last April report, Henry said. “So that’s beginning to slow down.”

The 14-day positivity average, he continued, was 4.94%. “That’s down just over a full percentage point since I was here two weeks ago.” He and his staff expect it to continue to fall, he added, with what he called “the extended spring break period” in Southwest Florida having ended.

The 14-day case rate average per 100,000 people in the county is 345, Henry said, which is lower by five than it was two weeks ago.

The number of people in the county’s four acute-care hospitals was 46, he added, calling that “the big change for this week.” That was down 28 from the late April figure, he noted. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds was 15, he said, which was up two from late April. “But they’ve been holding in the low teens … That continues to be good news.”

As he has been doing over the past couple of months, Henry also reported on the variant case data in the state and county.

Altogether, he said, the latest total in Florida is 10,332 — about 4,000 more than the late-April figure — with 90 of those infections recorded in the county. The latter figure is up 35 from two weeks ago, he noted.

This is the data on variants that Chuck Henry showed the commissioners on May 4. Image courtesy Florida Department of Health in Sarasota

The state has seen 223 people hospitalized with variants of the virus, Henry added, and 62 deaths have been reported; the latter figure has risen by 21 in the past two weeks.

The predominant variant continues to be the one from the United Kingdom, Henry added, followed by the two variants from California. The UK variant is responsible for all but 12 of the cases in Sarasota County, he noted; the rest were a result of the California variants.

“So far,” Henry pointed out, few “breakthrough cases” involving variants have been identified in persons who have been vaccinated. “We continue to monitor that closely …”

“By and large,” Henry told the board members, “the vaccines have proven to be very effective,” even against the variants.

Caution still urged

These are the CDC guidelines as of May 6 for persons who have been fully vaccinated. Image from the CDC website

As he was wrapping up his presentation, Henry said, “At the risk of sounding like a broken record,” he wanted to continue to urge everyone “to get vaccinated as soon as possible …”

The more vaccinated people in the county, he added, the more stable the community will become, with transmission of the virus declining.

He also encouraged people to keep practicing social distancing and to wear masks until they are fully vaccinated. Even then, Henry repeated his caution from April: Vaccinated individuals should wear masks when they are in “mixed groups,” when they cannot be certain everyone else has had their shots.

He also stressed that to be considered fully vaccinated, a person must wait 14 days after the second Moderna or Pfizer dose or 14 days after the single Johnson & Johnson dose.

People also should continue to practice frequent and vigorous hand washing, Henry said, and they should stay home whenever they are sick. The latter advice, he added, “is probably the most important thing you can do.”