by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Most of Florida is in the substantial to high Covid transmission thresholds established by the Center for Disease Control. And that includes Lee County, which as of Jan. 4 was in the high category with a 15.8 percent positivity rate per 100,000 population.
Lee Health Director of Government Relations Michael Nachef told Sanibel City Council on Tuesday the hospital had a total of 1,576 patients and 178 of them are Covid patients with 17 in the Intensive Care Unit and four on a ventilator. There were fewer than 50 Covid patients roughly two weeks ago.
“Those numbers are very important,” said Nachef. “During the peak surge in July and August, we had the highest count of cases since the onset of the pandemic – maxing out at 690 COVID-positive patients, and we are far away from that right now which is good news.”
But Nachef said the recent growth in hospitalizations is something “we need to keep a close eye on. It is not cause for panic, but the need to be aware in terms of community spread.”
Councilman John Henshaw said there is a tendency to throw numbers out with very little meaning and positivity is not a randomized study. “The per 100,000 population may not be the best metric. The best may be hospitalization and severity indicators.”
“We need to stay the course until we have a different metric to evaluate,” said Henshaw.
Nachef said it is “a very difficult data set to get a handle on with the influx of population” to the state this time of year. “Florida is difficult because of so many travelers.”
Hospitalizations from the latest Omicron variant is lower than with the Delta variant. Omicron is proving to be more transmissible, but less severe. “That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously,” said Nachef. “Certainly, measures in terms of mitigation (wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing) are very important.”
Nachef added vaccines and antibodies are showing lower transmission rates. Those who have received a vaccine or have antibodies after recovering from COVID have the best defense against the next variant.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t get it again or can’t get it after being vaccinated,” he said. “But the goal is to deal with it as best as possible and the more antibodies, the better chance in fighting it.”
But he said immunity wanes over time and a booster shot will be needed eventually. Nachef also said if people continue to engage in mitigation measures, “we know will be able to continue to run an open and ongoing society.”
“There is no option to close,” he said. “We have to keep going and give people options to keep going.”
In other discussion:
City Manager Dana Souza reported the mask policy remains in place at all city buildings and 79 percent of city employees have been vaccinated. He said City Hall remains locked to visitors and no additional measures will be taken right now.
The city will begin posting Covid messages on its website, mysanibel.com. Councilman Dr. Scott Crater said visitors may not be aware of the age of island residents. “As a council, we are limited in what we can do, but it is reasonable to make a strong recommendation to wear a mask indoors and get a booster shot, if they have not done so,” he said.