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Many here complacent despite dramatic jump in COVID-19 cases


Indian River County’s death toll from COVID-19 rose by just one person this past week, and hospitalizations have been fairly low. At Friday’s county press conference, Health Department Director Miranda Hawker said only five people were currently hospitalized, with two of those patients on ventilators.

That, unfortunately, strikes some people as encouraging news. And until local people start to die at a rate that is sufficiently alarming, or until our hospitals have people with COVID-19 symptoms stacked in the waiting areas, some do not seem unduly worried by the recent surge in new cases here

But we were horrified to see Indian River County’s positive test count soar from 216 cases on June 18 to 686 cases at the start of this week. That’s a 217 percent increase over the past two weeks. The percent of people testing positive the past few days has been about 9 percent.

On the barrier island, where residents had been so disciplined at following safe practices and keeping case numbers down, the 32963 ZIP code went from 12 cases on June 15 to 32 cases to start the week. This has got to be disheartening for island residents who have been mostly staying home, limiting trips out for essentials, and religiously wearing face coverings in public.

But staying vigilant is more important than ever as we enter uncharted territory.

Gov. Ron DeSantis – based on unknown scientific evidence – said Sunday that people are not getting the virus going to the grocery store. They are getting it by socializing. His theory is that young people are sick of social distancing the past three months and have returned to partying, which is driving the increase in cases.

That’s why the state shut down on-site alcohol consumption in bars last Friday. DeSantis said he supported the decision to shut down bars because it was almost impossible to police the bad actors. But he said young people will just have house parties instead, or beach parties. That’s why Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties announced beach closures this week through the July 4 holiday weekend.

Indian River County on Friday announced a confusing half-measure requiring employees of businesses in the unincorporated county to wear face masks. Customers of private businesses can enter, shop, eat, drink and take care of business without a mask, though, so that’s a head scratcher.

The Vero Beach City Council was set to gather Tuesday to discuss doing something similar to the county’s feeble order.

Federal officials issue stern warnings, but not even a toothless order has come down from Washington, D.C.

The normally stoic Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar made the rounds on the Sunday political talk shows, expressing his concerns about the June COVID-19 surge on CNN’s State of the Union show. “This is a very, very serious situation, and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control,” Azar said.

County Administrator Jason Brown said as much on Friday. “If we don’t wrangle this thing back under control, that lockdown will have been for nothing. All of that sacrifice will have been for naught.”

But other than making speeches and issuing warnings, it’s quite obvious that no government at any level has an effective strategy to slow down the freight train of coronavirus.

Human error is to blame for our current predicament, the error of every human being who is not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

It’s scary to say that common sense and individual responsibility must prevail. If you’re not inclined to wear a mask or keep your distance to protect others in our community, at least do it to protect your own life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts say that somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of the people who test positive for the novel coronavirus have zero symptoms, even though they are contagious. Fortunately, opportunities for coronavirus testing have begun opening up to people who do not have symptoms, but want to make sure that they are not carrying the disease and endangering the elderly and those in at-risk groups.

Though the main hospital testing center in Vero Beach is still following strict testing guidelines requiring most people to have symptoms to get an appointment for a test, a new testing center opened this week at the Indian River County Fairgrounds where people with no symptoms and no appointment can get tested on a first-come, first-served basis.

The hours are 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at this drive-through center at 7955 58th Avenue. For more information, call Treasure Coast Community Health at 772-257-8824.