Once again, Hillsborough County has seen a recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases.
The Board of County Commissioners continues to meet each week to discuss the state of emergency and address the recent medical updates regarding the spread of COVID-19 throughout the region.
During Thursday’s meeting, members were met with an unsettling synopsis: the numbers are once again increasing and the county’s infection rate is one of the highest in the state.
“Our descent down these steps is stalled,’’ Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, said.
Holt had just wrapped up a presentation that showed the county’s seven-day average rate for new cases rose to 104 per 100,000 people. Just last week, the numbers were at 92 per 100,000 people. Those numbers alone mean very little to the average listener, but in order for a county to claim it has a “moderate rate of infection” it has to have 70 new cases per 100,000 people. Obviously, Hillsborough is not yet there.
The interesting part of Thursday’s conversation arose when Holt began to explain to commissioners that Hillsborough, for some reason, has become an outlier.
Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota have all gotten their rates of infection down to the manageable percentile. The highest number in the above listed counties was 63 as of last week’s presentation and the lowest was 53. New numbers are expected to release today. Hillsborough is 30 points higher, give or take, and the medical experts don’t have an answer as to why.
And everyone at the table realized the message that was unsaid: dangerous waters lie ahead.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of cases in Hillsborough County schools rose to 182, with 138 of those reported from employees and 44 reported from students. The numbers are beginning to stack up across the board as well. Polk County had 76 cases, Manatee had 43, Pinellas had 34, Pasco and Citrus each had 32 and Hernando had eight cases.
Several school districts held meetings Tuesday to discuss how to handle the growing spread of COVID in schools.
In Plant City, the numbers are still relatively under control. Bryan Elementary reports four students have been diagnosed with COVID-19, Durant High has three employees and one student who have tested positive, Knights Elementary and Marshall Middle report one employee and one student are positive at each school, Robinson Elementary has one positive employee, Simmons Career Center has one positive employee and Strawberry Crest High reports one employee and two students have tested positive.
But the reality is the majority of the cases won’t be represented in the numbers for another two to three weeks. The students and employees may come into contact with the virus and not show symptoms for up to two weeks. Then they have to be tested. Then those test results have to be processed. Only then will the contagion be reported to the school district. So the rising numbers in schools that have already been spotted are more than likely the result of exposure that happened before the first day of school began. The majority of the cases will come in the next few weeks, so the large quantity of schools can’t yet be blamed for the unusually high rate of infection.
Pair the upcoming school data with the numbers that will inevitably pop up due to Labor Day weekend parties and gatherings, and you have a county bracing for impact.
When asked for an explanation, Holt merely said he’s “not sure exactly why such a difference has happened.”
As of Tuesday afternoon Florida had a total of 650,092 total cases of COVID, an increase of 1,823 from Monday. It also reported the total deaths related to COVID-19 rose to 12,067, which was 44 more than was reported on Monday.
The BOCC will meet at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon to further discuss the rising numbers and its emergency order. You can listen or watch the meeting live at the county’s Facebook and YouTube pages.