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COVID cases, hospitalizations here down last week

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of September 23, 2021)

New COVID-19 infections here fell nearly 16 percent over the last week, with 581 people testing positive and fewer people ending up in the hospital.

The rolling seven-day hospitalization number this past week was 49, or an average of seven people admitted to the hospital per day. That’s down nearly 38 percent from the 71 people admitted to the hospital last week, and the well over 100 people admitted weekly in August.

Indian River County’s positivity rate – the percentage of all the people tested at a clinic, pharmacy, hospital or other medical facility who tested positive for COVID infection – also fell again this week. The current positivity rate of 16.82 percent was down from nearly 3 percent from the previous week, but every county in Florida is still considered a high-transmission zone, as public health officials get concerned when the positivity rate approaches 10 percent or higher.

The local positivity rate could be artificially low, or artificially high – no one knows – due to the growing popularity and availability of do-it-yourself, at-home rapid COVID-19 antigen tests, the results of which are not reported to the Florida Department of Health and thus not included in the case positivity data published by the Centers for Disease Control.

The tests cost $25 to $35 each and are available over the counter in pharmacies, discount and grocery stores and online. It’s not known how many tests have been sold locally or nationwide, but CVS pharmacies recently had to impose a purchase limit of six packages of tests online, or four packages in its stores.

Traditional clinician-administered testing that is reported to public health officials was down 20 percent this past week from the previous week, with 3,906 tests performed in the week ending Sept. 16, according to the CDC. How many people tested negative or positive at home, or at work using DIY tests, is unknown.

One glimpse into the prevalence of the use of these tests locally is the School District of Indian River County COVID dashboard. The school district now lumps home DIY positive student tests and tests performed by a health professional together, but earlier this month the two types of test results were listed separately.

At that time, 29 percent of the students who tested positive used home tests. That’s statistically very significant when applied to the overall positivity rate. Student cases are tracked and contact traced by the schools hand-in-hand with the health department, but adults testing positive using home tests are not reported or traced.

It’s rational to assume that for every student who tested positive using a DIY home test, at least a handful of adults in the same household also tested themselves with a home test, once or twice.

The increasing use of DIY home tests also makes tracking breakthrough infections among vaccinated people pretty problematic. Vaccinated people with mild or asymptomatic COVID cases who never land in a doctor’s office or emergency room are likely never reported.

Confidential internal CDC documents dated July 29, obtained by the Washington Post, estimate 35,000 breakthrough infections are reported per week, and that the number of breakthrough infections has skyrocketed since April due to the Delta variant. The CDC document based this number off reports of treatment by healthcare professionals.

It said the vaccines are 76 percent to 97 percent effective if the patient is fully vaccinated, and 64 percent to 90 percent effective if partially vaccinated. Effectiveness numbers in the CDC memo dropped significantly for immunocompromised patients and nursing home residents. There is no public report detailing breakthrough infections, or breakthrough hospitalizations at the local level.

Another big unknown is the local death count and which way it’s trending. The CDC Covid Data Tracker lists zero deaths in Indian River County over the past seven days – a number that seems unrealistic.

Vero Beach 32963 will continue to attempt to obtain and report accurate local data.

One statistic the public still has available at the county level is the number of vaccinations and the percentage of people vaccinated, broken down by age group. As of Monday, 70.3 percent of Indian River County residents had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, that number rising to 80.6 percent for all adults, and to 99.9 percent for people aged 65 and older. 

The number of people vaccinated the week ending Sept. 2 was 1,303. That dropped to 766 the week ending Sept. 9 and to 577 the week ending Sept. 16, which is the most recent report.