Coronavirus cases in the Keys reached 131 on June 16. The islands reopened to visitors on June 1. Since then, a total of 22 new positive cases have been reported by the Florida Health Department.
Hospitalizations, however, have remained at zero for the past four weeks. Health officials say they’re keeping a close eye on hospital visits as the Keys continue to welcome guests from various parts of the state and other parts of the country.
The Weekly spoke with Bob Eadie, health officer of Monroe County, on the recent reopening, the new cases witnessed since the checkpoints ended and testing and contact tracing throughout the islands.
How would you assess the reopening and cases we’ve seen since the reopening? I’m expecting, given more people coming in and out of the Keys, that we probably will see more cases. The thing to really emphasize with everything is that all of the CDC recommendations that were given from the beginning to now — adding the wearing of masks everywhere — are really the most important things we can be doing right now. There’s been an uptick in cases, but those cases have come from people who have been here. There’s a case on Stock Island that had several cases within the family group after they had been to a family meeting in Dade County. The family was exposed to their father, who was from South Carolina, who was positive. The family group is starting to show positivity too. The other recent case we had was someone in the Crystal Nursing facility in Tavernier. All of the people who are here in the county, all of the new cases we have, are people who were legitimately here that the checkpoint would not have had any effect on. But it does show that there are infectious cases around and that we have to be very vigilant.
What is the health department specifically monitoring as we move forward? The thing that’s really concerning is how many of the people who are positive go on to develop the disease and the serious effects of it, and how many need hospitalization. So far, our hospitalizations have all come at the beginning of the outbreak. Are we seeing those go up? No, we are not. Are we ready? Yes, we are. We’ve learned a lot since the beginning of the outbreak as to the best ways to treat people who do get hospitalized. I think we’re better off along those lines, but we still want to be very vigilant, as there’s a finite capacity for hospital beds here. We seem to be as prepared as we can right now.
How are the contact tracing operations in Monroe County going? We’re working on that right now. The staff that we got is working hard to come up with a procedures manual. The central office of the state department of health has put contracts in place for us to reach out to contact tracers. I had wanted, and we’re working on this, to be able to use our EMTs to do some testing and some contact tracing. They are a resource here that would have a smaller learning curve and they are used to medical procedure and they’re local. That’s proceeding, not as quickly as I want. We’re running as fast as we can.
How would you assess the availability of testing in Monroe County? In what ways has it expanded? You couldn’t get PCR tests at all in the beginning because they weren’t being distributed. We don’t have that problem now as the department of health is distributing them to those who really need them. Those tests are available now through testing labs like Quest or Labcorp and other facilities to take pressure off the state lab to do testing. With antibody testing, more and more are coming online. The issue with those were they didn’t have FDA vetting at all. The issue became that they weren’t reliable. But that’s starting to get better. You can get tests now from any of the Advanced Urgent Care centers. Dr. Bruce Boros has been working with us, so we’re developing where we will have community events. CHI has the ability to do both tests, as does Rural Health Network.
What’s a key message that the health department in Monroe County is getting out to the public? You need to take those CDC guidelines to heart and make sure that you have your mask on at all times when it’s appropriate and that you socially distance, wash your hands and take care of yourself. I know people are upset when they see people who don’t have their mask on, and rightfully so. At the end of the day, nobody can take care of their health better than an individual can. If you’re in a place where you feel uncomfortable, leave and go somewhere else.
Do you support the county’s ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside establishments? Yes, I totally support people wearing masks. I think you wIll see more and more studies that prove it effective in helping control the spread of COVID-19. I think it’s easier if you have a government mandate for business owners to be able to say you have to do that, rather than try to tell somebody this is what I’m going to do if you’re in my establishment. I think it gives more emphasis to how important mask wearing should be.