WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Between variants of the COVID-19 virus and increasingly lax behavior among the public, Palm Beach County's top health official fears another surge in cases of the deadly coronavirus.
"There's still threats for a fourth wave of COVID to hit the United States," said Dr. Alina Alonso, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
Alonso, who admitted she's "cautiously optimistic" at this point in the pandemic, said increased vaccinations are making people ignore mask mandates and social distancing.
"It's very important that even when you're vaccinated, that while you may maintain your close circle of family, that once you go out, you continue to use your mask," Alonso said. "We need to protect each other and the public."
WATCH NEWS CONFERENCE:
Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines saying that, in some cases, vaccinated people can gather with others without wearing masks.
Alonso said Wednesday that a factor of "great concern" for the medical community is the increasing presence of COVID-19 variants in the U.S. and worldwide.
According to the CDC, Florida has the highest number of COVID-19 variant cases in America with 753 cases among three variants. A variant that originated in the United Kingdom is the most prominent in Florida with 738 cases.
Palm Beach County has 75 variant cases, Alonso said.
"We are a crossroad," Alonso said. "There's a lot of international communication."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, 353,156 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County, including 74% who are 65 and older.
Officials released a map on Wednesday showing the percentage of senior citizens who have received the vaccine in every zip code in Palm Beach County.
The highest percentages of vaccinated seniors are in southern Palm Beach County, including west Boca Raton, west Delray Beach, and west Boynton Beach.
SEE VACCINATIONS BY ZIP CODE:
"The south end, obviously, is in contact with Broward which has the federal sites," Alonso said. "[Broward County] are doing that because of the federal vaccine that they're receiving. The federal sites, like Publix has decided to follow the federal rules."
Those federal rules, in part, allow all K-12 teachers and child care personnel, regardless of age, to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.