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Palm Beach County health director compares current COVID-19 surge to worst of 2020

'We're in a more dangerous area now,' Dr. Alina Alonso says of highly contagious Delta variant
Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso and doctors from Wellington Regional Medical Center take part in a virtual COVID-19 discussion on July 29, 2021.jpg
Posted at 2:47 PM, Jul 29, 2021

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County is experiencing an exponential surge in COVID-19 cases similar to what we saw during the worst of 2020, the county's top health official said Thursday.

Dr. Alina Alonso and other medical professionals delivered the latest information about the coronavirus pandemic, along with the urgent need for more vaccinations, during a virtual discussion organized by the Village of Wellington.

Alonso said Palm Beach County tallied 864 new COVID-19 cases on July 26 and averaged more than 700 new daily cases last week.

In one of the most troubling developments, the county's daily COVID-19 positivity rate is 15.96%, up from roughly 3% at the beginning of May.

"Our numbers are expected to double every 10 to 14 days at this point. That's how fast this virus is spreading," Alonso said. "Unfortunately, after July we peaked just like we did in 2020."


Palm Beach County health director gives COVID-19 update

The main reasons for that devastating peak include the explosion of the highly contagious Delta variant -- which first emerged in late April and now accounts for 82% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. -- along with low vaccination coverage.

Every county in Florida, with the exception of Glades County, now has a "high" level of community transmission.

COVID-19 community transmission map on July 29, 2021.jpg
COVID-19 community transmission map on July 29, 2021.

"These are all worrisome trends," Alonso said. "This increase in the number of cases will put more strain, especially on the health care system and our resources, and it will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths."

Dr. Adam Bromberg with Wellington Regional Medical Center said emergency departments are "packed" with coronavirus patients, similar to the crisis in early 2020.

"We're back to times where we were early on in COVID where we were completely full. We're back to those times now because of this Delta variant," Bromberg said.

Bromberg added the younger populations -- which have the lowest vaccination rates -- are being significantly impacted by Delta variant.

"We're seeing a lot more younger people that are getting significantly sick, needing oxygen, needing to be hospitalized. Things that we didn't see much earlier," Bromberg said.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course and recommended that people who are vaccinated wear face masks indoors in parts of the country where there is "substantial and high transmission" like South Florida.

"If you go into a restaurant now, everybody in there that is unmasked, the Delta is in that restaurant," Alonso said. "That's why we're going to back to saying wear your mask. Because you're not as safe anymore."

The health director added that "we're in a more dangerous area now" and "we have to go back to being more protected."

"This is a very efficient virus. And it's gonna win every time we get our guard down," Alonso said.

While Alonso said the current COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are working well against all coronavirus variants, there are concerns that effectiveness will weaken if we don't reach herd immunity.

"The danger is that if this continues as the predominant variant, especially here in the United States, then we're in danger," Alonso said. "The vaccine will not be able to work because it will continue to variate in a way that the vaccine won't protect us."

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 64% of people 12 and older in Palm Beach County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, Alonso said that number is "inflated" because the majority of those vaccinated are 65 and older.

Only 35% of people between the ages of 12 and 19 are inoculated in the county, Alonso said.

"The younger age group, the group that's going to the hospital, is at best up to 47%," Alonso said. "We need to do more to continue to vaccinate."

RELATED: As COVID-19 cases surge, more people getting first doses of vaccine

To find places to get a free COVID-19 vaccine, click here. Put in your zip code and the site will tell you which pharmacies in your area have the vaccine in stock.

You can also see an interactive map of COVID-19 vaccination sites in Palm Beach County by clicking here.

"This has an escalating effect which will affect people's jobs. Jobs will close, people won't go out, they won't shop, they won't go to restaurants. That hits the economy, and it's this vicious circle that we keep getting," Alonso said.