Alonso Eyes School Re-Openings As Potential Cause For Concern

COVID-19 cases and deaths are down overall in Palm Beach County, but school buildings re-opening next week is an area of concern, Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County Director Dr. Alina Alonso told the Palm Beach County Commission on Tuesday, Sept.  15.

Before Alonso spoke, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay made the virus pandemic more personal when she explained that her 19-year-old daughter, who attends the University of Central Florida, was in an emergency room in Orlando with COVID-19 symptoms.

“I just want to give a heads up to those that may be addressing this board on this particular issue,” McKinlay said. “For the past six months, I have listened very patiently to the folks in our community who want to deny the seriousness of this virus.”

She said her daughter had texted her at 2 a.m. Tuesday to say she was in the emergency room with excruciating pains.

“I absolutely will be making my decisions today from a personal experience because people continue to come before this board saying we need herd immunity, and that the young people in this community need to catch this virus because they don’t have any symptoms. I’m here to tell you that’s not true,” McKinlay said, adding that she also understands the economic concerns, having two children in the restaurant industry whose incomes have been severely impacted due to the virus.

Alonso said that in Florida, a total of 655,730 cases have been reported, with 1,736 new cases over the past day, along with 77 new hospitalizations and 34 additional deaths, to bring the total fatalities to 12,642.

The number of Palm Beach County cases remain at number three in Florida behind Miami-Dade and Broward, with a total of 44,139 cases, including 114 new cases. Miami-Dade has 164,299 and Broward has 74,525 total cases.

The daily lab positivity rate for Palm Beach County has continued to drop over the past 14 days to 2.99 on Sept. 13. “We are at our lowest point of positivity as of yesterday,” Alonso said.

Her biggest area of concern was a high level of new cases within the younger age groups.

“This is where we’re going to be guiding ourselves in terms of the schools, in terms of our population and being able to analyze where the new cases are coming from,” she said, pointing out that 33 percent of new cases were in the 15- to 24-year-old age group. “What are those people doing? Why are they becoming positive? Why have the seniors dropped significantly with only five new cases? But look at how many hospitalizations we have had.”

Alonso stressed that the COVID-19 contact tracing teams had determined that partying late at night and other large gatherings are the biggest current factor in the spread.

“They’re having fun, like any in that age group,” she said. “That is what we have to go after. If we want to stop spreading this to the rest of the community, we have got to keep an eye on where these people are going.”

Alonso said the county will be under added pressure to control the virus when school classroom teaching resumes on Sept. 21, warning about the spread from younger people to seniors, who are more likely to succumb to the virus.

“You may not even know who you are spreading it to when you are having these house parties or partying at the bars, doing what is natural for all of us to do,” Alonso said.

 More information about COVID-19 in Palm Beach County is available at www.pbcgov.com/coronavirus.

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