Delta Variant Has County’s Health Director Concerned

After weeks of no COVID-19 reports to the Palm Beach County Commission, Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County Director Dr. Alina Alonso was back on Tuesday, July 13 with mixed reports on the pandemic’s status.

“I’ve got lots of news to discuss today since I haven’t been here for so long,” Alonso said. “The trend now is it’s going down again, and the deaths have remained going down, so that’s good news.”

The bad news is that the nation’s seven-day daily positivity rate is in the 8 to 9.9 percent positivity range. “Anything above 5 is community spread, so Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, we’ve got a little bit of a problem here,” she said.

The current focus of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is the Delta variant.

“It’s highly transmissible, which means it’s more contagious. It continues to spread across the U.S. at a very rapid rate. Delta now makes up more than 50 percent of the new cases that we’re seeing, and cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in areas where there’s low vaccination coverage.”

Recent weeks show that adults ages 18 to 49 now make up 40 percent of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, Alonso said.

“Delta is very important, and we need to continue to follow it closely,” she said, adding that the CDC is the lead agency on variants. “Because it is so contagious, it’s very easy to spread, especially if you’re indoors and at events.”

Although the variant is not as strong in the southeast as some other areas of the nation, Alonso said it still warrants being watched closely, pointing out that Palm Beach County is surrounded by counties that are considered more contagious.

She added that 58 percent of Floridians have received at least one vaccine dose. This number is high because 83 percent of the 65-and-over age group have received vaccinations, Alonso said, adding that 74 percent of the 60-to-64 age group have been vaccinated.

This has pushed the case trends to younger demographics. The 30-to-39 age group now has the highest cases per 100,000 population.

“This whole group here, the ones we’ve been talking about all along,” she said. “These are the ones most likely to get infected.”

The group that has increased the most in vaccinations is the 12-to-19 age group.

“That’s good because that means we’ve been vaccinating a lot of the kids before they get back to school,” she said. “There has been a huge effort here in Palm Beach County led by the Health Care District.”

The vaccination rate has started to level off or is increasing at a very slow rate, Alonso said. In total, 62 percent have received at least one vaccination, and 54 percent have completed their series in Palm Beach County, which is a vaccination rate increase of 1 percent.

Alonso said she is concerned about a resurgence of new cases that could be almost as high as the big peak in January 2021.

“We had seen a steady decrease of new cases… all the way down to 902 cases,” she said. “The problem is that this 902 is only for the first week in July, so we went from 50 to 60 cases per day. We are now at 300 [per day] and 900 in that first week [of July].”

If the trend continues, the case count would be higher than in recent months, but not as high as the case count last summer.

Alonso said it is unclear what will result from summer travel and the holidays.

“Will we see a surge? Or will this just continue to wave up and down based on how much vaccination we do?” she asked. “We are hoping that this vaccine will keep us from the surge that others are predicting. We are holding our own, but very concerned, and we have to keep our eye on what will happen as we go forward.”