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Island COVID-19 cases down slightly

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of April 1, 2021)

With places around the globe reporting an uptick in cases, or even a post-spring break surge in COVID-19 infections, Indian River County held steady this past week with an average of 24 new infections reported each day, and hospitalizations from the virus in the single digits.

Ten barrier island residents tested positive over the past week, down slightly from recent weeks.

The case positivity rate countywide increased slightly, with the percentage of people tested turning out positive inching above 5 percent on seven out of the past 14 days. But the overall positivity rate remained well under 10 percent, which has been seen as the threshold causing increased concern from public health officials.

Vaccinations continued at full steam with people age 50 and older eligible to get the shot last week, and people age 40 and older eligible as of Monday. More than 58,000 local residents had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of last weekend.

“This has expanded our reach for vaccinating the population,” said Health Department spokesperson Stacy Brock of the new age limits. “Currently we have about 3,500 people on the county’s waiting list.  Many of these individuals have been or will be offered appointments in the next two weeks.

“We are happy to be able to vaccinate even more Indian River County residents through our Fairgrounds operation with Fire Rescue, as well as in partnership with our county vaccination partners,” Brock said.

A full 76 percent of people vaccinated countywide have been in the targeted 65-plus age group that Florida put first in line, along with healthcare workers, nursing home patients and assisted living facility residents. As of last weekend’s reports, 84 percent of Indian River County’s seniors age 65 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine.

The Indian River County Health Department’s vaccine efforts at the Fairgrounds represent only one facet of distribution countywide. Publix, Winn Dixie, Walmart and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital also are actively giving shots locally.

“The Health Department/Fire Rescue operation at the Fairgrounds has provided 27,448 doses of Pfizer and 3,072 doses of Moderna to residents. The health department/Fire Rescue and our community vaccination partners together continue to do an amazing job,” Brock said.

On Monday, April 5, all Florida residents will be eligible for vaccination according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization protocols. The Florida Department of Health clarified this, saying “the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for persons 16 and up. The Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines are authorized for persons age 18 and up.”

For those holding out for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, the health department is waiting, too, for its supply of vaccine. “We are currently doing immunizations with Pfizer vaccine. I do not have a timeline at this time for receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

With expanded access to vaccines, the latest controversy is over the idea of a “vaccine passport” being discussed at the federal level – documentation that could be required to participate in certain activities such as travel by airplane.

Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes vaccine passports for Floridians, and on Monday DeSantis said he’d be signing an executive order rejecting vaccine passports, or any effort by the federal government to force people to be vaccinated.