By LINDA CHION KENNEY
As the summer of discontent over the relentless press of the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold in Hillsborough County and beyond, proponents for both wearing the mask and keeping it off are doubling-down on their respective stances.
Meanwhile, state officials, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, sound the call for vaccination as seven-day state figures, released every Friday, show a disturbing surge in numbers.
“These vaccines are saving lives,” DeSantis said, at a news conference in St. Petersburg on July 21. “They are reducing mortality.”
Still, as the numbers rise, most decidedly because of the Delta variant, DeSantis stands firm in his decisions to ban businesses from requiring proof of vaccination and in fighting local and federal officials if necessary should lockdowns or mask orders be issued for the upcoming school year.
“We’re not doing that in Florida, okay; we need our kids to breathe,” DeSantis is quoted as saying earlier this month. “We need our kids to be able to be kids, to be able to breathe. It’s terribly uncomfortable for them to do it, there’s not very much science behind it.”
Still, according to news reports published July 26, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was considering a revision to its COVID-19 guidelines that would recommend that even fully vaccinated individuals wear masks in public.
The standing recommendation allows for the fully vaccinated to take off their masks, even in crowded spaces.
“More mitigation is coming,” Dr. Jerome Adams, former U.S. surgeon general, told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday. “And it’s coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again. And it’s spiraling out of control because we don’t have enough people vaccinated.”
According to a USA Today Network analysis of federal and state vaccination data, one quarter or less of residents are fully vaccinated in approximately 120 counties that are home to more than 3.6 million people across nine southern states.
“With 49.1 percent of the nation fully vaccinated, the U.S. is a long way from herd immunity, made more difficult by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, now accounting for 83 percent of the cases nationwide,” according to USA Today, in a July 26 news report.
The spotlight is on Florida, with roughly 20 percent of the nation’s new cases coming from the Sunshine State alone, according to news reports.
In its weekly COVID-19 report, Florida Department of Health Officials keep track of cases and positivity rates over a seven-day time period. The reports are released every Friday and account for cases statewide overall and by county.
According to the latest report, released July 23, new cases for Florida amounted to 73,199 for the seven-day period ending July 22, up from 45,584 cases the week before and 23,554 cases the week before that. The July 23 figure represents a 298 percent increase from the 18,409 seven-day figure reported May 14.
Overall, this amounts to a 15.1 percent new case positivity rate as of July 22, up from 11.6 percent a week earlier and from the 4.7 percent figure released May 14.
Meanwhile, the number of vaccine doses administered in the past 10 weeks dropped from the 769,402 reported May 14 to the 245,954 reported July 16. Overall, Florida since March 1 and through July 22, reported 11,469,755 people vaccinated, which represents 60 percent of the population ages 12 and up. Overall cases totaled 2,479,975. The positivity rate registered at 17.3 percent.
Closer to home, 711,085 of Hillsborough’s 1,508,560 residents accounted for a 55 percent vaccination rate, according to the updated figures as of July 22. Cases amounted to 155,741; the positivity rate, 18 percent.
To view the weekly reports and for help getting a vaccine, preventative tips and available treatments, visit www.floridahealthcovid19.gov. The state’s COVID-19 call center is available 24/7 at 1-866-779-6121. Email COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org. For Hillsborough County health information, visit www.HCFLGov.net and search for “COVID.”