The Palm Beach County Commission declared a state of emergency Tuesday, Aug. 17 due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the county, as well as across the state and nation.
Florida Department of Health-Palm Beach County Director Dr. Alina Alonso said the COVID-19 numbers are increasing quite drastically, rising quickly since June 28.
“The line that you see here is a complete vertical line,” Alonso said. “A vertical line like that is very dangerous to the community and to everyone involved because it doesn’t give the community time to adjust for those huge increases that we’ve started seeing.”
In the United States, 72.1 percent of adults have had at least one vaccination dose, and 50 percent have received two vaccination doses.
“We are at a high level, but we have seen some counties decrease a bit on some parts of the map, so there is a glimpse of hope that this will not get as high as it was in January, but the way things are looking here in Palm Beach County, I don’t feel very comfortable in even thinking that,” she said, pointing out that the positivity rate in June was down to 2.9 percent.
“We were very happy and were actually in a decrease from ‘high’ to ‘moderate.’ We were hoping to remain in that 2 percent and be able to go down to ‘low,’” she said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
New cases in July, when numbers started to increase again, were 17,000 for the entire month, but new cases per week only went up to 5,000.
“During the peak of the pandemic in January, our maximum number of cases per week was 6,000, a little under 1,000 per day,” Alonso said.
The most recent number is 9,000 per week. “We have more than 1,000 cases per day,” Alonso said. “That means there is very wide community spread, and people are getting sick and getting hospitalized.”
Florida’s positivity rate is now 18.5 percent, which is very high, but Palm Beach County’s is now at 19.04 percent.
“For the first time, Palm Beach County’s daily positivity has gone above that of Florida,” Alonso said, pointing out that at the end of June, Palm Beach County was the first county to go to only a “moderate” risk out of the five metro counties.
“Big, big difference,” she said. “Now we’re back to ‘high’ and very significant numbers.”
The startling increase in numbers is largely due to the emergence of the Delta variant.
“The variant is nothing more than a mutation of a virus, which is what all viruses do,” Alonso said. “What has brought so much attention to this particular variant is that it is 60 percent more infectious. It’s easier to catch, and it produces more virus, both in your nasal cavity, as well as the back of your throat where the virus first comes in.”
As a result, the carrier is much more likely to spread the virus to other people, she said, adding that hospitals are at critical mass capacity right now, and data from recent weeks indicate that unvaccinated children and younger adults account for more than 98 percent of the new COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“You do not have to be one of these people in the hospitals,” Alonso said. “Please, get vaccinated for you, your family, your whole community and for the whole medical system that’s being stretched out to the max at this point.”
Representatives from the Palm Beach County Department of Emergency Management and the Palm Beach County Healthcare District were also at the meeting. They presented data showing the availability of private hospitals to public agencies, with many of them reporting that their intensive care and emergency rooms were full.
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner asked if the commission should declare a state of emergency for the county.
“Would it be of benefit for all the agencies that are before us today to have an emergency order that imports the private healthcare system to convey the data to us regarding COVID-19 availability and other capacity concerns?” he asked.
“That would be very useful in two ways,” Alonso replied. “Not only for the visibility that we need from different sectors, but also for the public to understand the critical point that we are in right now. I think that this board has made decisions in the past that get that message across to the citizens of Palm Beach County. We are really at a critical point. That vertical line is not going down any time soon.”
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay made a motion to declare a state of emergency for the county, and to get details from private hospitals on their policies for executing emergency plans, and to give the county administrator wide latitude in assuring that the county has a safe work force, absent of mandating vaccinations for staff. The motion to declare the state of emergency carried 7-0.