By LINDA CHION KENNEY
With the “unprecedented surge of requests” quickly outpacing the supply of initial COVID-19 vaccines, Hillsborough County officials urge residents to remain “patient” as they work through the early stages of appointments and disappointments.
Pat Kemp, chair of the Hillsborough County’s Board of County Commissioners, made it clear that when it comes to supply, Hillsborough is at the mercy of the state.
“People say it’s Hillsborough County’s program,” Kemp said, at the board’s Jan. 6 meeting. “Just to be clear, it’s a Hillsborough County Health Department program. The Hillsborough County Health Department is the health department of the state of Florida, with an office in Hillsborough County.”
This month, County officials reported the receipt of two weekly shipments of 9,000 vaccines each. More than 200,000 people age 65 and older are qualified to receive the shots.
Four public County vaccination sites collectively delivered 8,447 shots to people age 65 and over, with another 522 shots given to front-line health workers according to County figures for the first week of distribution. This is in addition to vaccines provided by hospitals and private health care systems and providers. The second round of public vaccinations was scheduled for this week.
According to officials, Hillsborough County is in Phase I of its vaccine distribution plan, which, as directed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is categorized by limited supply vaccine availability and focused on residents and staff in long-term care facilities, front-line healthcare workers and seniors ages 65 and older. A limited supply of vaccines is anticipated over the next several weeks.
Residents this week were asked to book appointments online at specified times at www.patientportalfl.com. Residents ages 85 and older were asked to call Jan. 12 between 8 and 10 a.m.; ages 75 to 84, between 11 a.m. and 1p.m.; and ages 65 to 74, between 2 and 4 p.m. Each time slot was to have a dedicated number of available slots. This week’s public distribution sites were at the Vance Vogel Sports Complex in Gibsonton, the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds in Plant City and the Ed Radice Sports Complex in Tampa.
At their Jan. 6 meeting, County commissioners said they received numerous calls, texts and emails about issues related to the vaccine rollout. In a 7-0 vote, commissioners approved Kimberly Overman’s motion calling for a written vaccination plan to review at their Jan. 21 meeting.
“We’re starting to see a community spread level that is unmanageable,” said Overman, who asked for stricter adherence to preventative measures, including social distancing and face coverings. “That’s why it’s so continually important we have people stay on point and follow the CDC guidelines so that we don’t have people getting infected before they have an opportunity to get a vaccine.”
Commissioners reviewed other roadblocks as well, including the second dose necessary for people who got an initial dose, which, in turn, will cut into new shipments of supply and that there is no clear handle on how many doses are required for long-term healthcare workers, first-responders and others in the state’s initial vaccination plan. The report Overman requested is to review those numbers, as well as the number of vaccines provided also by community and health-care organizations.
Meanwhile, the surge in cases continues. Hillsborough County as of Jan. 3 reported a 14-day rolling testing positivity rate of 15.38 percent. Overall, Hillsborough as of Jan. 9 had 86,509 cases and 1,128 deaths. The mandate that face coverings must be worn in indoor locations of businesses, with certain exceptions, remains in effect.
The Hillsborough County school district’s COVID-19 dashboard has been keeping track of confirmed cases in schools and district offices as of July 31. This does not include another 284 cases reported March 20 through July 30.
Overall, Hillsborough since July 31, and through 4:45 p.m. Jan. 11, reported 3,410 cases for students and employees. Employees accounted for 1,289 cases, or 37.8 percent of the total. Students across all levels of schooling accounted for roughly six in 10 cases. Employees classified as district staff accounted for 118 cases, or 9.2 percent of the adult cases reported. The number of cases for employees and students combined increased 935 from the last day of classes before winter break (Dec. 18) through 4:45 p.m. Jan. 11.
Hillsborough’s 28 traditional high schools accounted for 896 cases, or 42.2 percent of the 2,121 student COVID-19 cases reported as of 4:15 p.m. Jan. 11. In turn, six high schools — Plant (102 cases), Newsome (76), Steinbrenner (70), Sickles (61), Alonso (52) and Sumner (49) — accounted for 410 cases, or 45.8 percent of the high school student total.
When ranked in respect to the largest number of traditional students versus eLearning students at each school, Plant (75.43 percent), Sumner (68.21 percent), Newsome (66.18 percent) and Steinbrenner (61.36 percent) ranked first, fourth, fifth and seventh, respectively. Rounding out the top-seven list were Plant City (69.21 percent, 45 COVID-19 cases) and Robinson (62.47 percent, 28 cases).
The rankings were based on the district’s 20-day enrollment count. Figures for the second semester were to be released this month.
Rounding out the high schools in south Hillsborough County are Riverview (57.42 percent, 31 cases), East Bay (51.07 percent, 22 cases), Spoto (50.47 percent, 14 cases) and Lennard (59.28 percent, 12 cases). Lennard this year opened 1,206 students shy of last year’s enrollment, thanks to relief from the grand opening of Jule F. Sumner High in the Balm/Riverview area.