By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – While hospitals reach capacity in parts of the United States due to COVID-19 infection surges, Palm Beach County healthcare has not been overwhelmed yet. However with the recent spike to over ten percent positivity rate, officials say the vaccine rollout can’t come soon enough.
As of this morning, the U.S. has recorded 19,257,274 cases, 334,514 deaths, Florida has seen 1,271,979 cases and 21,613 deaths, while Palm Beach County has had 80,865 cases and 1,894 deaths. In the greater Delray Beach area the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to 5,874 cases according to the Florida COVID Action site.
The county’s positivity rate jumped to 10.38 percent yesterday, which may be skewed by testing sites being closed for the Christmas holiday. Still, health officials say it must remain below five percent for two weeks before any meaningful steps can be taken to control the spread of the virus.
In the last two weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday, the county’s rate has averaged 7.3 percent while the state’s has been 8.79 percent. Neither the county nor the state has been below five percent for a 14-day period since mid-to-late October.
Still, on December 22nd, Governor Ron DeSantis highlighted the efforts his administration, and regarding the Coronavirus pandemic he said, “As we look toward 2021, I believe Floridians have reason to be optimistic.”
“The vaccine has arrived in Florida and we have started vaccinating frontline health care workers,” he said. “And we were the first state in the nation to begin vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities.”
Adding, “As more vaccine supply becomes available, we will continue to prioritize Floridians most vulnerable to the virus to reduce the impacts of social isolation and support our state’s ongoing economic recovery.”
As of Sunday night, only about 123,000 people had been vaccinated in Florida, which is home to 21.5 million people. In Palm Beach County, which has a population of 1.5 million, 4,529 had been vaccinated – or 0.0003 percent.
The program is just getting started, and Samer Fahmy, M.D., chief medical officer at Boca Raton Regional Hospital explained, “With COVID-19, you need up to 75- or 80-percent of people to have immunity to really halt the transmission and to slow it down to the point where we can go back to normal.”
Adding, “We could achieve this herd immunity through vaccination. It’s going to take a huge public health information campaign to make sure that people understand that this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Madeline Camejo, chief pharmacy officer and vice president of pharmacy services at Baptist Health South Florida, said, “My guess would be that we’re going to stay in phase one for all the healthcare workers and the long-term care folks, probably until about mid-February.”
Admitting, “[As] of right now, I would say probably that phase two would probably be from February until about April. And then, maybe we could get to the general public closer to late spring, early summer.”
On December 23rd, the Delray Beach Fire and Rescue (DBFR) received its first doses of the Moderna vaccine, and Chief Keith Tomey and other members of the DBFR command staff were the first to roll up their sleeves. “I wouldn’t ask our firefighters to do something I wouldn’t do myself,” Tomey said.
Dr. Kevin Taylor, director of emergency medicine at Bethesda East in Boynton Beach, told Palm Beach Post, “There certainly is a little bit of elation that comes along with receiving the vaccine and seeing the vaccine roll out to our front-line health-care workers. […] To see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel … is very exciting.”
Dr. Fahmy of Boca Raton Regional Hospital said, “I’ll tell you, as someone who has been on the front lines, I can speak for all of my colleagues on the front lines, and say this is a day we’re all waiting for, we’ve all been waiting for it since March.”