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Covid has claimed at least 81 here since July surge

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ (Week of September 2, 2021)

As the state continues inexplicably to withhold weekly COVID death counts by county, Indian River County’s health department circulated weekly reports to select health professionals – but not the media – reporting another 16 COVID-19 related deaths in the county last week. More may have occurred, but have not yet been logged into state records.

The latest report also shows an additional 13 deaths from July 24 to Aug. 21. When that update is added to last week’s count, the total number of people lost to COVID since the surge began in late July is 81.

That number is expected to rise. In the past few weeks, the backlog in reporting has added around 20 percent more deaths each week.

How many of those deaths involved long-term care facilities is unknown; the state no longer publishes data by county, nor does it publish cases by facility.

But there is a record of long-term care deaths, again, withheld from the media but shared with certain clinics, hospitals, doctors and pharmacists.

Of the 13 deaths logged last week, five were in long-term care. In all, from the start of the pandemic, 143 people in Indian River County’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died in the pandemic.

The bulk of cases though are showing up in younger patients; though seniors make up a third of the population in the county, they make up only 20 percent of cases now, with most seniors fully vaccinated. Older teens and young adults continue to lag in vaccination rates, and they comprise the largest sectors of infected people. Those aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 account for 29 percent of all cases since the pandemic began.

As testing kept declining last week, positivity rates continued to rise averaging just under 27 percent for the week ending Sunday.

New COVID-19 infections in our county set yet another record, inching up 10 percent to an average of 185 people per day, totaling nearly 1,300 new infections in a single week, even as numbers statewide appeared to be leveling out and some counties were seeing slight declines in new cases.

New hospital admissions here were down by 30 percent this past week to 83, from 103 in mid-August, and the number of intensive care beds being used by COVID-19 patients was down 15 percent.

One reason may be the increased access to Regeneron, the monoclonal antibody treatment intended to keep those at highest risk for severe COVID disease from progressing to hospitalization.

The treatment, limited to those high-risk people who are still early in the disease progression, is now available at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital as well as Whole Family Health Center and infectious disease specialists around town. The drug, administered by IV infusion or a series of injections in the abdomen, is designed to block the virus that causes COVID-19.

Its dual antibodies bind in different ways to the virus’ spike protein, making it hard for the virus to work its way into human cells. RENGEN-COV, as the drug is officially called, won emergency use authorization last November.

Experts agree though that the best way to avoid hospitalization is vaccination. And vaccinated people are already protected against severe disease, so they rarely qualify for Regeneron’s drug.

As for the rate of fully vaccinated people in Indian River County, it inched upward again last week, but only to 54.6 percent of the total population.