WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County's top health official on Tuesday said COVID-19 cases locally are going down steeply, however, coronavirus transmission in the community is still "very, very high."
Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, said all monoclonal antibody treatment centers in the county have temporarily closed after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revoked drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly because they weren't effective against the omicron variant.
In a news release, the FDA said several other monoclonal therapies are expected to work against omicron, which accounts for 99% of all COVID-19 cases in Palm Beach County.
"We have to look and see what we have here," Alonso said. "They're not gonna be giving the therapy that's not approved. They will make their changes accordingly so that people can get treated with the right monoclonal therapy."
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Alonso added that once Palm Beach County's monoclonal treatment centers reopen with the approved drugs, anyone in a high-risk category based on age or health factors should get an antibody therapy to avoid hospitalization or serious complications.
"Even if it's delta or it's something else, they all work against it. So anybody who is high-risk should get the monoclonal as a prevention," Alonso said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis immediately condemned the FDA's decision to revoke the Regeneron and Eli Lilly drugs, saying it was "reckless" and "will cost some Americans their lives."
"This is not based on a clinical trial. This is not even peer-reviewed," DeSantis said Tuesday during a news conference in Crawfordville. "What we would say in Florida is we have had people use it, and we've had good results."
The governor said the FDA's decision is disruptive to treatment sites that have been set up throughout the state, and his administration plans to fight back against the federal government.
"It was very effective against the delta," DeSantis said. "Even if with omicron it's half as effective or 25% effective, that's better than nothing for people."
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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there were 1,013 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Palm Beach County during the week of Jan. 14 to 20, up from just 48 cases per 100,000 people in November.
Palm Beach County's new case positivity rate is currently 24.8%, dramatically higher than the 5% positivity rate that health officials aim for.
"The transmission in the community is still very, very high," Alonso said.
However, in a reassuring sign, the health director said Palm Beach County has passed its peak of omicron cases, which occurred at the end of December when the county tallied roughly 29,000 new cases per week. Between Jan. 21 and 27, there were 3,151 new cases.
"It's a downward trend. So that is good for us," Alonso said.
Health officials said one of their main priorities is now getting more children between the ages of 5 to 11 vaccinated. Alonso said only 14% of 5-to-9-year-olds and 12% of 10-to-11-year-olds in Palm Beach County are fully inoculated.
"This group that is going out is still in the very low numbers," Alonso said. "We are doing everything we can to continue to provide those vaccines for that young age group."
Countywide, 75% of all residents ages 5 and older have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 65% are fully vaccinated.
"That is why we, not be afraid of this thing, but we have to take precautions. We have to take care of one another," Alonso said. "And just learn how to live in a pandemic instead of being alarmed all the time. We gotta let the fear come down."