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Palm Beach County health director 'concerned' about holidays and COVID-19

Dr. Alina Alonso urges families to keep gatherings small with only 'local' loved ones
Dr. Alina Alonso speaks to Palm Beach County commissioners, Nov. 17, 2020
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 17:43:43-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Just days before Thanksgiving, the health director for Palm Beach County says she's "concerned" about the holidays as COVID-19 cases continue to climb on local, state, and national levels.

"I'm very concerned of the holidays. I'm very concerned that so many people are going to be traveling," Dr. Alina Alonso told county commissioners on Tuesday.

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WEB EXTRA: Palm Beach County health director 'concerned' about holidays and COVID-19

Alonso said a "disturbing trend" is the daily COVID-19 positivity rate in Palm Beach County, which was 7.55% on Nov. 15 and as high as 10.44% on Nov. 13, which is the highest it's been since August.

Health officials aim to keep the positivity rate below 5% because that allows for more effective contact tracing to limit community spread.

"Our numbers have definitely been going up," Alonso said.

The health director said the 15 to 44 age group continues to be the dominant population that's getting the majority of new COVID-19 cases in Palm Beach County.

"That's the group that we're having a lot of concern," Alonso said. "They're getting infected in bars and restaurants, clubs, house parties. And some are getting infected even at family gatherings, weddings, birthday parties."

As we head into Thanksgiving, Alonso recommends that residents only gather with "local" family members whom you already interact with on a daily basis.

"It's not the time to ask for Uncle Joey from Wisconsin to come visit," Alonso said. "We it need to keep it small enough where you can maintain the 6-foot distancing."

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 58,754 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,627 coronavirus-related deaths in Palm Beach County.

The county has averaged 415 new daily cases between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15, a steady increase from the previous two weeks.

Despite that, Alonso said the message from health officials remains the same: wear face coverings whenever possible, maintain social distancing, wash and sanitize your hands frequently, get a flu shot, and avoid crowded, enclosed spaces.

"We do not have to reinvent the wheel," Alonso said. "We can do it while maintaining our businesses open but safer for the public."

Alonso also said the recent news of effective COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna is very promising, and a vaccine should be available to the general public by next spring.

"It's gonna be a process that's in phases," Alonso said. "The estimates is that for the general public, after they do the seniors, the health care workers, and the first responders, the general population would probably, if things go on track, would probably be available around April."

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who recently recovered from COVID-19, said on Tuesday the county has limited options when it comes to stopping the spread of the virus.

Those options include moving to reduce capacity and operating hours at local businesses, both of which would require approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"I hope we don't have to move in that direction," McKinlay said.

With the holidays upon us, the commissioner urged the public to avoid COVID-19 "fatigue" and continue practicing safety measures like wearing face masks and social distancing.

"This virus is coming at us from a whole lot of different locations," McKinlay said. "Now is not the time to let up on the precautions that we have so carefully had in place."

At this point, the county is not working on any restrictions, but members of the COVID Education and Compliance Team will increase their efforts to educate businesses during the day and night.

"We've seen definitely a little bit of lowering the guard when it comes to people going out to restaurants and clubs and that type of thing," said Ramsay Bulkely, a senior member of the compliance team.

To report concerns to the COVID Education and Compliance Team, click here.