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New COVID-19 cases here lowest since New Year’s

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of January 21, 2021)

New COVID-19 cases in the county were down significantly last week from the previous two weeks and the daily hospitalization rate remained stable in the mid to high 30s, with more than one-third of the beds in intensive-care units available.

The daily positivity rate of COVID-19 testing here was below 10 percent five out of the past seven days – the lowest it has been since New Year’s.

The good news, however, was offset by a puzzling spike in the number of cases in the public schools (see story below). No school officials could be reached by phone, text or email for comment on the surge because of the Martin Luther King holiday.

Meanwhile, the barrier island saw an uptick in cases as 32 more 32963 residents tested positive, bringing the total of island dwellers who have had the virus to 568. Countywide, 8,768 people have tested positive since last March and 564 have been hospitalized.

Deaths from complications of COVID-19 exceeded last week’s record of 16, with 18 newly reported in the seven days prior to press time Monday, bringing the county’s coronavirus death toll to 196.

As of this week, only about one in 10 Indian River County residents has either received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or tested positive for the virus in the past few months.

That means roughly nine out of 10 local residents likely have zero immunity to the 2019 version of the coronavirus the world has been battling for more than a year.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that a new variant of the virus first documented in the United Kingdom and seen on the Treasure Coast would be “the predominant strain” infecting people in the United States by mid-March.

Florida has one-fourth of the 88 documented U.S. cases of the new variant, called B.1.1.7, with only California exceeding the Sunshine State in the number of cases.

Public health officials, worried that people will let their guard down now that two highly effective vaccines are on the market and at least two more are on the horizon, urge everyone to continue social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, diligent cleaning and staying home if exhibiting symptoms.

Fortunately, manufacturers of the two vaccines Vero residents are getting expect their COVID-19 shots to be effective for the B.1.1.7. variant commonly known as the U.K. strain.

Federal public health guidance on coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution, meanwhile,  switched this week to direction by President Joe Biden’s virus team. It’s unknown what this changing of the guard will have on the rollout of vaccine from federal warehouses.

In response to Biden announcing he would immediately release all reserved second doses of vaccine that federal officials had initially held back, Operation Warp Speed officials announced they had already dispatched all the reserved doses to the states because they were more confident in the supply chain, so there is no stockpile.

Biden has also said he wants to prioritize vaccinating inmate populations in jails and prisons – a controversial move as Florida’s elderly continue to scramble to get an appointment for their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Of the state’s 1.6 million cases and 24,000 deaths, only 213 deaths (less than 1/10th of 1 percent) have been reported in Florida jails and prisons.