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County corona case count low, but growing

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

Franklin County has seen a rise in its number of cases of the coronavirus, as Apalachicola continues its mask requirement and Carrabelle is set to consider the possibility of enacting one at its commission meeting tonight.

“Yes, we are seeing more cases,” said Sarah Hinds, director of the Florida Department of Health in Franklin County. “This is happening across the state. We’ll continue to see more cases.”

A look at the most current numbers, as of Thursday afternoon, July 9, show that out of 1,402 people tested, 1,378 have been negative. Of the 24 positives, only one is a non-Florida resident.

Seventeen of the 23 others are females. The racial breakdown is 14 white, three Black and the rest listed as unknown. The median age of the positives in the county is 57, well above the state median of 39. Seven of the 23 are no longer required to isolate.

“The goal was to slow the spread over time. This is necessary in order to maintain our medical services,” Hinds told the county commissioners Tuesday.

She said the county thus far has tested more than 10 percent of its population, with positive results around the 1 percent mark.

“We’re still the lowest case count in the state but that doesn’t mean we let our guard down,” Hinds said.

She urged visitors to be sure they are negative before coming down on a visit or vacation to the county.

“Get tested before you arrive if you think you’ve been exposed, and wait for those results before you come to our county,” Hinds said, noting that results from testing in Franklin will be relayed back to the visitor’s home county.

“So you might as well get tested in your own county,” she said.

Hinds said the county health department continues to call for social distancing, and for the wearing of masks in public, as well as regular handwashing.

Chairman Noah Lockley asked Hinds about what the policy is regarding people who have tested positive who are seen out and about in the community.

She said each of them have been asked to sign a voluntary agreement to remain in isolation, for at least 10 days.

“There is a partnership in place that they are agreeing to isolated. We are asking for them to stay at home,” Hinds said. “It depends on if they develop symptoms. It’s not a blanket statement that says in 10 days, everybody is going to be recovered.

“(Returning to the community) depends on employers and the patient’s condition. It’s individualized for each person,” she said. “We do get a lot of reports (from neighbors). It probably means they’re no longer required to isolate.”

Hinds said there does exist a process of putting in place an involuntary order. “But we have not had to use one of those and that’s a good thing,” she said.

Emerald Larkin, a nurse at the health department said COVID-19 differs from the seasonal flu. “It’s a different virus, and there are many things it does. Some are very mild,” she said. “However we have to simplify it. It’s a different virus; it has different things that are going on.”

Hinds was also asked about social media postings, based on the Florida dashboard information, that Franklin County is “a hot spot,” because of the sharp percentage rise in cases.

“We’re responsible for disseminating information and we haven’t disseminated anything about a hot spot in our community. It’s still 1 percent,” Hinds said.

“If you hear something, that’s what we’re here for, to answer those questions with credible information,” she said.

David Walker, Weems Memorial Hospital CEO, said the team of hospital and clinic workers, and ambulance staff, have been doing “a great job” at addressing the county’s medical needs.

He said Weems continues to rely on the advice of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, as well as a rural health website that has provided lots of excellent information.

Walker said talks are going well with Jim Coleman, head of the health care consulting firm Louisville, Kentucky-based Alliant Rural Hospital Solutions, on the terms of a management contract for Weems in collaboration with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

“The next thing is for County Attorney Michael Shuler to meet with Jim Coleman,” he said. “We’ve been in conversation with TMH. We’re not waiting for an agreement to be signed.”

The TMH talks have concerned the bringing in of orthopedic services, wound care, and a sleep center under the Weems umbrella.

Walker said Weems has also talked with a doctor interested in relocating here, with the likely structure being TMH to hire them. He said Weems is also looking to bring in orthopedics, in which that specialty would rent space from and contract with Weems.

He said the young doctor, who worked at a critical access hospital in Montana, originally talked with former CEO Mike Cooper. If hired, he would start in November at the earliest, Walker said.

“He has a lot of great ideas,” Walker said, noting that the prospect would be visiting Weems on Monday. “It’s looking very, very favorable. He would be a great asset to this community.”

He said the hospital board just welcomed a new board member from Alligator Point, Dr. David Harris.