WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Vaccinations are up and COVID-19 cases are down.
Palm Beach County's top health official on Tuesday delivered reassuring news about the state of the coronavirus pandemic, saying there's been a "significant decrease" in the number of new cases in the county.
According to Dr. Alina Alonso, there were 5,548 new COVID-19 cases in Palm Beach County between Sept. 3 and 9. The county had been averaging around 9,000 cases per week of late.
Palm Beach County's daily COVID-19 positivity rate is also down to 11.6%.
"What we predict is that this will continue to go down a little bit more," Alonso said. "And then as we get into the holidays, the travel, Thanksgiving, the holidays and new year, we'll see that spike that we saw in January to go up again. So we have to be ready. We can't let our guard down."
"With the Labor Day and football games, we may see a spike and we need to be prepared for it," said County Administrator Verdenia Baker.
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Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Mary Blakeney said the number of new COVID-19 hospital admissions decreased between Aug. 26 and Sept. 13. A majority of patients continue to be unvaccinated.
Alonso said the decline in cases and hospitalizations can be attributed to an increase in local COVID-19 vaccinations, which are up 12% in Palm Beach County since July.
As of Aug. 29, 62% of Palm Beach County residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated. In addition, more than 50% of school-aged children between 12 and 19 are fully inoculated.
"All the efforts that we're doing in terms of getting this done is very important," Alonso said.
The health director added, however, that vaccinations need to increase among 20-to-49-year-olds in order to get closer to achieving herd immunity.
Treading a thin line over a very controversial issue, Alonso on Tuesday suggested the School District of Palm Beach County's universal mask mandate -- which doesn't allow students to opt out of wearing facial coverings -- appears to be working.
"All the mitigations to stop the spread help. Those numbers go down," Alonso said.
There have been 4,947 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school district since the 2021/22 academic year started on Aug. 10, including 4,293 students and 654 employees.
As of Sept. 10, 2,725 Palm Beach County students have been told to stay home because of possible exposure to COVID-19.
"The biggest problem right now is how many children we are having to quarantine on a daily basis," Alonso said. "Most of the positivity is coming from the home. In other words, the birthday parties, the outside activities that the families are having outside of school. But we have had breakthroughs in the schools this year that we didn't have last year."
Alonso added that around 16% of the total number of Palm Beach County students quarantined this year have ended up testing positive for COVID-19. She said more efforts need to be put into testing so children aren't unnecessarily sent home.
The Florida Department of Health currently operates a rapid COVID-19 testing site on school district property at the Chuck Shaw Technical Education Center, located at 4260 Westgate Avenue in West Palm Beach.
A second rapid testing site is scheduled to open soon at the West Technical Education Center in Belle Glade.
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When it comes to caring for COVID-19 patients, Alonso said more than 4,000 monoclonal antibody treatments have been administered since Aug. 19 at the Westgate Park & Recreation Center in West Palm Beach and Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade.
The county is averaging around 150 treatments per day.
Monoclonal anitbodies are lab-made proteins that are injected via IV or under the skin through the abdomen and arms to fight off viruses.
"This is for people who become positive, have a positive COVID test but are not sick enough to go to the hospital yet. They might have just some symptoms," Alonso said. "They need to go right away and get the monoclonal therapy."
Health officials on Tuesday continued to urge vaccinations with a "greater surge" in coronavirus cases expected during the holidays and winter.
"The vaccinations remain the most important tool to stop the spread and save lives," Alonso said. "The vaccines are working against all the variants."