WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate.
That was the firm message from Palm Beach County's top health official on Tuesday, saying COVID-19 cases are on the rise locally and not enough people are getting inoculated against the deadly virus.
Speaking to county commissioners, Dr. Alina Alonso, the head of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, said the county is averaging roughly 300 new COVID-19 cases per day following a "steady decrease" over the last few months.
"We gotta get the word out to vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate," Alonso said. "That's the only way we can keep this COVID down and keep people safe so it doesn't get to the big surge we had last time."
WATCH HEALTH DIRECTOR'S COMMENTS:
Alonso said Palm Beach County's daily COVID-19 positivity rate was 6.9% on July 9, up from 3.2% on June 3. Health officials aim to keep the positivity rate below 5%.
In addition, the level of community transmission in Palm Beach County has increased from "moderate" on June 5 to "substantial" as of July 10. The next level above that is "high."
"Very significant, and therefore we are in wide community spread at this time," Alonso said.
"This is very troubling to hear this going on after so much good work being done in the community," Commissioner Gregg Weiss said.
Alonso said several factors are to blame for the increase in local COVID-19 cases, including the highly transmissible Delta variant which is spreading across the U.S. at a "rapid pace."
Alonso said the variant makes up more than 50% of new COVID-19 cases in the country, and the 18 to 49 age group now accounts for more than 40% of COVID-related hospitalizations in the U.S.
"This Delta is very, very important and we need to continue to follow it closely," Alonso said. "We don't have the most Delta [in Florida], but we're certainly concerned."
In response to the emergence of the Delta variant, Pfizer recently announced it's developing a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine in the event that a booster shot is readily needed.
Alonso on Tuesday said, at this point, she doesn't see a need for a booster shot just yet, adding that the issue is being heavily researched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various pharmaceutical companies.
"The vaccine is holding steady. The antibodies are holding steady. We will need one in the future? Probably at some point. But there's no sense starting to get boosters until it's declared," Alonso said.
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, more than 19 million people in the Sunshine State have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which represents 58% of the state's population.
In Palm Beach County, roughly 811,000 people, or 62% of the county's population, have gotten at least one shot. However, Alonso stressed the rate of vaccinations is slowing down.
"It's very, very slow," Alonso said. "We don't see the numbers we used to see before of the thousand in one day. We're seeing now 10, 15 people at a time."
Alonso said the fear among the medical community is not reaching herd immunity, which could allow COVID-19 variants to overtake other strains and make the vaccines less effective.
"The virus is doing what a virus does. It continues to mutate to try to overcome the immunity that is created in the community," Alonso said. "By becoming stronger, it can affect more people and it can continue to spread from person-to-person."
The health director urged commissioners to get the word out and implore faith-based groups, grassroots organizations, businesses, HOAs, sports clubs, and more to encourage the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"What will happen now as we get into the summer with the travel, with the holidays? Will we see a surge, or will this just continue to wave up and down based on how much vaccination we do?" Alonso said. "We are hoping that the vaccine is gonna keep this from the surge that others are predicting."