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County administrator addresses third COVID-19 staff fatality

MANATEE COUNTY – A third county employee has died of COVID-19 related symptoms and 41 county employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since early May, according to County Administrator Scott Hopes.

None of the three workers who died were vaccinated, according to the county.

“We’ve had a total of 41 positive cases” from May 3 to July 30, Hopes said during a press conference he held Friday afternoon outside the county administration building in downtown Bradenton.

“We’ve had a total of 105 exposures we’ve identified through contact tracing and we’ve had three deaths. Five of our positive cases in the past couple of weeks have been in fully vaccinated individuals,” Hopes said.

According to the COVID-19 summary report Hopes referenced, three positive cases involved fully vaccinated individuals and two involved partially vaccinated individuals.

Hopes said those 41 cases included involved 16 members of the Utilities Department and five in the Information Technology (IT) Department – including two previously reported IT Department fatalities.

“The largest spread was in utilities. That’s where one of the deaths occurred last week. It was an individual that had been identified by contact tracing. The individual was home on quarantine and became ill rapidly. His spouse is also a utilities worker and found the employee deceased. Subsequently, the spouse has become ill with COVID. They were not vaccinated,” Hopes said, without providing the name of the deceased employee.

“The Utilities Department was one of those areas with a lot of vaccine hesitancy. In addition to that, there was a lot of resistance to wearing masks. That’s why you have so many cases,” Hopes said.

According to Hopes, a planning meeting prior to the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa that included Utilities Department members and representatives from Waste Management and Waste Pro also contributed to an outbreak.

Regarding the IT Department deaths in June, Hopes said, “We finally got the gene sequencing back from the health department, and it was the Alpha variant. Two relatively healthy individuals without comorbidities passed away in that four-day period. That was the Alpha variant and what we’re dealing with today is far, far worse.”

Cases peaking again

“We are seeing case volumes at the levels of the peak last year. The Delta variant is the most prevalent variant. The Delta variant is causing breakthrough infections in individuals that have been vaccinated. We know that there’s a limit to the time with which you’re going to have coverage, and we’re just beginning to realize that we may need to use a booster to give people continuous protection.

Hopes does not anticipate the county requiring its employees to be vaccinated.

“We’re a community of choice. In these departments that have had a large number of cases – and especially when they have a death – we’re seeing an increased desire to get vaccinated. The vaccine works. It worked in the beginning. It still works,” Hopes said.

“This pandemic is not behind us. It is still here. We are in our new normal. This virus has proven to have staying power. We are a thriving community. Our economy is thriving. We cannot let a disease stop that economic growth. It’s here, and quite frankly we know how to minimize the risk of contracting this virus,” Hopes said.

“The county has made available the appropriate masks. That is the known way to mitigate the spread of the virus. We have changed our protocols. We identified why we’re having spread in various departments. We have mitigated that and we have developed new quarantine guidelines in collaboration with the Manatee County Department of Health,” Hopes said.

“But people have to take personal responsibility. Vaccinations work. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, reduce your risk by staying away from people that you know may not be vaccinated. If you’re sick, don’t come to work and don’t come to school. I do believe in the freedom of decision and choice, but I also believe in public health we all have a personal responsibility for ourselves as well as our neighbors,” Hopes said.

Still in the midst of a 10-day potential incubation period for his own exposure to a COVID-positive employee, Hopes said he’s been wearing a face mask when interacting with others inside the county administration building. He also said he’s fully vaccinated.

Latest CDC numbers

According to the CDC website, 21,683 new positive COVID-19 cases were reported in Florida on July 30.

As of Sunday, more than 39,000 Floridians had died of symptoms associated with COVID-19, with 409 deaths reported statewide during the previous seven-day period.

According to the CDC website as of Sunday, 1,547 new COVID-19 cases and fewer than 10 COVID-19 associated deaths were reported in Manatee County during the past seven days. During that seven-day period, positive cases in Manatee County increased by 56%, the percent positive of all those tested increased to 19.86% and there were 98 COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

According to the CDC website, 187,359 Manatee County residents (46.4%) were fully vaccinated as of July 31.

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