PHOTO CAPTION: A sign is posted for COVID-19 testing through Curative outside Islamorada’s Founders Park. WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

A COVID-19 surge during the summer is slowing down in Florida and the Keys, according to data by the Florida Health Department that shows five weeks of continual decreases in new reported cases. 

A little more than 37,770 positive cases were reported to the health department in the latest report issued Oct. 1 for data spanning Sept. 24 to Sept. 30. Total cases are down from the previous week, when 56,368 cases were reported and the week before that when 73,782 cases were confirmed. 

New cases peaked during the week of Aug. 20, when the health department reported 151,821 cases in Florida. 

Like the rest of the state, cases in the Florida Keys are continuing to drop. A little over 130 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Monroe County between Sept. 24 and Sept 30. That’s down from the some 500 cases reported between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12 and 386 reported between Aug. 20 and Aug. 29. 

While encouraged with the recent decline, Monroe County’s top health officer, Bob Eadie, said COVID’s history shows two-month cycles of increases and decreases in cases. Eadie said there are some epidemiologists who believe this could be the end of the rapid increases in COVID-19. But the disease hasn’t vanished. 

“I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing as a trend, (but) I don’t think we should declare victory yet and say that COVID has gone away,” he said. “It definitely hasn’t, but there’s real room for optimism now.”

Eadie said the number of residents at risk for infection is diminishing, with 80% of the county’s population, or 54,824 people, vaccinated. However, he said the disease will hang around longer with people coming in and out of the Keys and a number still not vaccinated. 

“You perpetuate the spread of the disease when you get people coming in large numbers from disparate locations. That increases exposure,” he said. 

Data by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows just over 1,300 COVID-19 tests performed in the county in the last week, down 25% from the previous week. A number of free testing sites are available to residents. A Curative testing van remains at Islamorada’s Founders Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for walk-up appointments. CHI and Good Health Clinic are offering free testing in Marathon. Tests are also available at CVS pharmacies in Stock Island, and Key Largo and Advanced Urgent Care facilities in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo.

Four COVID-19 patients were receiving treatment at Lower Keys Medical Center on Oct. 5. None were in the intensive care unit and nor receiving ventilator care. Baptist Health South Florida had 3 patients with COVID-19 in Monroe County and 156 patients with COVID-19 across its system as of Oct. 6. That’s a 75% decrease in hospitalizations at Baptist hospitals.

“While we are experiencing a steady decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, we continue to encourage the community to get vaccinated and remain vigilant,” said spokeswoman Gina Halley-Wright.

Thirteen students were out of school dealing with COVID-19, per data on the Monroe County School District’s dashboard as of Oct. 4. Eadie said area schools aren’t seeing a great deal of in-school infections, and around 45% of 12- to 18-year-olds are vaccinated. 

“Most of what we can see is infections coming from outside schools,” he said. “We have had some outbreaks, but still nothing that has been major or has given us a whole lot of concern. Children can get COVID, but fortunately it does not seem to impact them in an adverse way like it would others.”

A little over 19 million Florida residents have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Of that number, 1.9 million vaccinations were administered to those 12 to 19 years old. More than 4.5 million citizens ages 65 and older were vaccinated, while 1.4 million people ages 60-64 received a shot. 

CDC continues to recommend people aged 65 years and older, residents aged 18 years and older in long-term care settings, and people aged 50–64 years with underlying medical conditions should receive a Pfizer booster shot. Johnson & Johnson and Moderna booster shots await approval by the Federal Drug and Food Administration and CDC. 

Eadie said he recommends people go for their booster shot, but they don’t need to go right away. 

“The amount of immunity from the initial shots remains effective,” he said. “Vaccinations are very effective in keeping you from being seriously impacted by the disease and being hospitalized.”

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.