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Bay County seeing surge of COVID-19 cases leading into Thanksgiving holiday

Jacqueline Bostick
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY — Bay County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases leading into the Thanksgiving holiday as one leading official for the Florida Hospital Association warns that the virus still poses a threat.

"We have to remain vigilant and diligent, continue with the social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks," said Florida Hospital Association President and CEO Mary Mayhew who met Wednesday with hospital officials from Northwest Florida in Escambia County. "We're doing well in Florida," but "as we look at upcoming holidays and family gatherings, we have to remain just as focused."

Previously:Bay County reports declining trend in COVID-19 cases

Colder weather has brought an anticipated surge of positive COVID-19 cases both nationally and statewide. After a stint of maintaining below the 10% positivity target rate, Bay County cases have soared as well. The local health department reported the surge starting the week of Nov. 1, which saw 475 new cases and a positivity rate of 12.51%. On Tuesday, the department reported 71 new cases and a rate of 12.82%. The health department reported 92 more cases and a rate of 11.03% on Wednesday. 

Mayhew described the overall surge as being "very gradual."

"Right now, (medical teams) are seeing a very gradual increase at their hospitals, but nowhere near where we were in July," Mayhew said.

About 3,300 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment, which is just a third of the number of hospitalizations reported in July, she noted.

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Mayhew also said the health industry has pocketed several "learned lessons" since the initial onslaught of the pandemic in March. Hospitals are better managing their personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns and have learned that some equipment is not as useful as initially believed, such as ventilators.

She said the earliest stages of treatments had viewed COVID-19 as an entirely respiratory illness. However, medical experts soon learned the ventilators "complicated" the care more than improved the prospect of a patient's recovery.

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"Hospitals are not moving as quickly to put individuals on ventilators," Mayhew said. "New treatments such as Remdesivir reduced the need for the ventilators and improved the outcomes of individuals in the intensive care units."

Therefore, "there isn't the same level of reliance on ventilators now as we were seeing back before other treatments were available," she added.

On the list of preventive treatments is the new vaccine, which, according to Mayhew, is expected to see its first round of distribution at hospitals statewide within the next couple of weeks. U.S. biotech Moderna announced this week a 95% efficacy rate in the vaccine trial involving 30,000 people.

"This interim review of the data suggests that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in adults," a Nov.16 announcement states on the National Health Institute's website.

The vaccine will be authorized for emergency use pending approval from U.S. Food and Drug Administration.