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State inmates bear brunt of COVID cases

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Franklin County is doing much better than the rest of the state when it comes to COVID-19 cases.

Except when it comes to state inmates.

A review of the pandemic situation for the county shows that as of Tuesday morning, only 1 percent of the county’s total 806 cases, or 10, required hospitalization, well below the statewide average of 6 percent.

Franklin County health department logo

In addition, only four people, or 1 percent, had died, half of the 2 percent rate statewide.

However, a whopping 44 percent of all cases, or 352, have been in state correctional facilities, a percentage 15 times the statewide average for correctional facility staff and residents,

That prevalence does not extend to the county jail. "We've had zero cases,' said Sheriff A.J. Smith. "We've worked hard to keep it that way

The report from the Florida Department of Health shows among the county’s total cases, all but seven have been Florida residents, with the majority of these 789 cases, or close to 68 percent, males.

The median age in the county is 40, identical to the statewide median of 40. So far, 10 people have required hospitalization, and the four who died have all been white, non-Hispanic.

Two-thirds of the county’s COVID-19 cases have been among whites, and among these cases, only 7 percent, or 54 of the 514, have been among Hispanics.

Among the Black population, 30 percent, or 233 of the789, have come down with the coronavirus. Three of these people have needed hospitalization, and none have died.

More than half of the county’s cases, 55 percent, have been among adults between the ages of 25 and 54. No one under the age of 55 has died from the virus, with one of the deaths among those age 55-to-64, one among those age 65 and 74, and two of them among people over age 75.

In a report issued Friday, the county health department said there have so far been 5,957 unduplicated COVID-19 tests in the county, with the period between Oct. 23 and Nov. 5 showing a positivity rate of 9 percent. This is calculated as the number of people who test positive in a week divided by all the people tested that week, and excludes those who have previously tested positive, as well as all positive and negative inmate tests.

The health department announced plans to ends its bi-weekly COVID-19 updates next month. “However, we’re here to help our community navigate through these difficult times,” the department wrote in a press release.

For daily updates, data, and local counts check out Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. For questions about COVID-19 testing, including scheduling appointments and requesting results, please call 653-2111.

The department is urging residents to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every year. “This year, the CDC underscores that flu vaccine is more important than ever to protect yourself and the people around you, and to help reduce the strain on health care systems responding to COVID-19,” they wrote.

The health department is also reminding people that the quarantine period is important. “We need close contacts to a positive case to quarantine for 14 days from the date of their exposure to the positive individual,” they wrote. “Getting a test that is negative during the quarantine period does not stop the clock.

“We have seen many individuals develop infection on the second week of quarantine, so it is really important to stay quarantined for the full 14-day period,” it reads. “Household quarantine can be a little more stretched since it can be very difficult for a positive individual to properly isolate from everyone else.

“If you live in the same household as a positive case unable to properly isolate, you need to quarantine while the person is sick and once this individual is no longer infectious, that’s when your quarantine 14 period will start,” reads the release.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19, are asked to stay at home and isolate per the guidance provided by public health officials. If you think or know you had COVID-19, and had symptoms, you can be with others after at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared AND at least 24 hours has passed with no fever without fever-reducing medication AND symptoms have improved.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but had no symptoms, you can be with others after 10 days have passed since your test. If you develop symptoms after testing positive, follow the guidance above that includes fever and symptoms improving.

The health department also is urging people to wear masks in public. “My cloth face covering protects you. Your cloth face covering protects me,” reads the update. “Although not a 100 percent guarantee, the use of masks has been proven, using actual case investigations, to dramatically reduce the spread of the virus.

“People who are infected can spread the virus before they develop symptoms or in the absence of symptoms. Wearing a cloth face covering may help prevent the spread of the virus by people who are infected and do not know it,” reads the health department release. “Use of cloth face coverings continues to be a recommendation long-term prevention measures such as vaccines are being developed.”

It goes on to say that cloth face coverings do not replace other protective measures, pointing out that the CDC still recommends people stay at least six feet away from other people (social distancing), wash their hands frequently, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, and their face covering. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children under age 2.

If you need a cloth mask, please call 850-340-3016. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The health department also is continuing to urge anyone who suspects they might have COVID-19 not to travel to Gulf County. They are urged to get a COVID-19 test (nasal swab for active infection) in their community and have their results confirmed before they arrive here.

“Visitors are also responsible for helping to keep our communities safe and healthy,” notes the health department release. “If a person thinks they have COVID-19, they should call their health care provider before going to their office so the provider can take precautions to prevent exposing other people.

“In some cases, they are going to meet you in the parking lot. It’s just a precaution. We are really trying to keep our healthcare workers and other patients safe,” it reads.

The health department provides free COVID-19 testing. Please call 653-2111 to make an appointment.

The health department release says all available information from the CDC shows immunity for 90 days. “There are no confirmed reports to date of a person being re-infected with COVID-19 within three months of initial infection,” reads the report.

“A person who has had and recovered from COVID-19 may have low levels of virus in their bodies for up to three months after diagnosis. This means that if the person who has recovered from COVID-19 is retested within three months of initial infection, they may continue to have a positive test result, even though they are not spreading COVID-19 and are no longer infectious to others,” reads the news release. “However, additional research is ongoing.

“If a person who has recovered from COVID-19 has new symptoms of COVID-19, the person may need an evaluation for reinfection, especially if the person has had close contact with someone infected with COVID19,” it reads. “The person should isolate and contact a healthcare provider to be evaluated for other causes of their symptoms, and possibly retested.”

The issue of mental health, and feelings of stress, anxiety and depression that call for support, can be addressed by calling 850-270-8911, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET weekdays.

Any Floridian, regardless of whether they are uninsured, can call 833-848-1762 for support in managing feelings of stress, anxiety, grief or fear related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Counselors cannot provide information on COVID-19 testing or treatment.

The Franklin County Board of County Commissioners through the Franklin County S.H.I.P. Program will be receiving Coronavirus Relief Funds in the amount of $175,000. For an application or more information please call Lori Switzer-Mills or Teresa Kelley at 653-8199, email: Franklincountyship@yahoo.com or come by the office at The Fort Coombs Armory 66-4th Street, Apalachicola.

Floridians whose employment has been negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19 are asked to visit FloridaJobs.org and click on Reemployment Assistance Service Center to learn more about the program and watch a short video on how to apply. For more information call 653-4981.

The following pick up locations for paper applications in Franklin County are located in a box outside each building - CareerSource #1 Bay Ave Apalachicola; Eastpoint Ard’s Service Station, 407 US Highway 98 Eastpoint; and Carrabelle City Hall, 206 Highway 98 East.

Help may also be available through Catholic Charities Financial Emergency/Hardship, You can call (850) 763-0475 the first Monday of each month after 9 a.m. for screenings. An initial screening will take place on the phone to complete the application process and receive an appointment. Proof of need will be required: past due utility bill, proof of check stub from place of employment (before and after date affected).

Pledge to Protect is a voluntary program in which Franklin County tourism businesses commit to clean and healthy standards for their guests and employees to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Visit Pledge to Protect at www.floridasforgottencoast.com/pledgetoprotect

By taking the Pledge to Protect, businesses are committing to proper use of personal protective equipment, routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, practicing social distancing and minimized contact, and enforcing any sick employees to stay home.

The Franklin County Health Department has resumed full clinic services, which include annual physical exams, well woman exams, Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, other routine appointments and COVID-19 testing.  Please call 653-2111 to schedule an appointment.