COVID UPDATE: NEW STATE GUIDANCE PUSHES BACK AGAINST CORPORATE MASKING

New guidance in Florida is advising against masking requirements from corporate headquarters and recommending less isolation for those who are positive with COVID-19. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced the measures in a 10-minute video titled “Buck the CDC” on Feb. 24. Within the video, DeSantis said guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn’t “the best guidance.” A day after the release of the video, the CDC released a new tool that outlines a county’s COVID-19 transmission level of “low,” “medium” or “high” and provides recommendations based on that designation. 

For instance, Monroe County’s COVID-19 transmission level is deemed “medium,” per the CDC. Recommendations under the medium designation include staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccines, getting tested if people have symptoms and consulting a healthcare provider on whether to wear a mask. Transmission levels are determined based on the number of hospital beds used, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases. 

As of March 1, Lower Keys Medical Center had one COVID-19-positive patient. Mariners Hospital, too, had one patient in-house with COVID-19. The Baptist Health South Florida system had 52 COVID-19 patients receiving treatment. 

“We continue to see a steady and significant decline in cases. As always, we encourage eligible members of the community to get vaccinated and remain vigilant,” said Gina Halley-Wright, spokeswoman. 

Per the Florida Department of Health’s latest report, 79 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Monroe County between Feb. 18 and Feb. 24. Statewide, new cases are decreasing each week. A total of 25,640 new cases of COVID-19 were reported between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18. The week before, Feb. 4 to Feb. 11, 42,406 confirmed cases were reported to the health department. 

Bob Eadie, administrator and health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, said it’s important to continue taking precautions — remain vigilant, wash hands with soap and water, and cover your mouth when you sneeze.

“These things will help protect you as much from cold and flu as well,” he said.

Counties in the high categories are recommended to wear masks indoors while in the public. But new recommendations by the Florida Department of Health state there’s no strong evidence that facial coverings reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses. As a result, the governor and the state’s top health official are advising businesses to no longer require facial coverings for their employees. 

“I think so many of us are happy to see the end of employees having to walk around with masks in hot restaurants when everyone else is sitting comfortably,” Ladapo said. “There’s never been evidence that this has benefitted employees or patrons. We’re not recommending it in Florida.”

Per the CDC, people may choose to mask at any time, but those with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.

New state guidance updates the school isolation rule to five days and maintains the parents’ right in determining whether their children should wear a mask. The Monroe County School District’s dashboard showed three students and two staff members with COVID-19 as of March 1. Two cases came out of Coral Shores High School and one from Key West High School, while one staff member from Plantation Key School and another from Horace O’Bryant School were out with COVID-19. That’s down from seven weeks ago, when 183 students, 40 teachers and 26 staff members were confirmed positive with COVID-19. 

New state guidance also gives practitioners the flexibility to make the decision to treat patients with off-label prescriptions if they determine it to be in the patient’s best interest. Ladapo said doctors who receive pushback from hospitals have an avenue to file a complaint through the state Agency for Healthcare Administration if they interfere in their ability to treat their patient.  

“We want people to be able to have a right to access these medications, especially if they’re in a situation if nothing else has worked,” DeSantis said. 

Monroe County is second in the state in the percentage of people vaccinated, 84%.  Miami-Dade County is No. 1 in percentage of the population inoculated, 97%.

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Jim McCarthy is a 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 3-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, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.