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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 4 months ago

Officials respond to rising COVID-19 numbers

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Following a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is restricting visitors, while the city is interested in expanding testing resources.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As of Wednesday, there were 140 patients with COVID-19 at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and 32 in intensive care, figures that are more than 3.5 times higher than data the hospital reported in mid-July when health officials first sounded alarms about a surge in cases.

The volume of positive patients in the hospital is higher now than at any other point during the pandemic. The hospital said the most severe cases have been largely limited to individuals who were not fully vaccinated. On Monday, the hospital reinstituted a no-visitor policy, a step designed to protect patients and staff from exposure to the coronavirus. 

There’s a similar upward trend in state data. For the week ending July 29, The Florida Department of Health announced 1,412 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Sarasota County at a positive test rate of 13.3%, an increase from 899 new cases and a 11.9% positivity rate the previous week. For the week ending July 1, the state reported 141 new cases at a positivity rate of 3.5% in Sarasota.

On Tuesday, the City Commission discussed its options for responding to a surge of cases in the community. City staff said conditions have changed for local governments since 2020, as Florida is no longer under a state of emergency related to COVID-19 and the state has restricted the implementation of measures such as mask mandates.

Still, the commission identified some possible initiatives the city could pursue. Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said she had heard from residents about increasingly lengthy waiting times at the COVID-19 testing site at the former Sarasota Kennel Club property, and she asked whether officials could help facilitate a second testing site. Mayor Hagen Brody said his conversations with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County suggested the organization was receptive to the idea.

Brody expressed interest in coordinating additional vaccination clinics, particularly in communities with lower vaccine rates than the county average. City officials discussed the importance of publicizing the availability of vaccines and testing at private businesses such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. Vaccines are also available from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the health department’s downtown office, 2200 Ringling Blvd.

City leaders, hospital officials and the health department all emphasized vaccination as the most important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re really now making a plea for anyone unvaccinated to look at the data available, study the information, call and ask questions and consider getting vaccinated, because that’s really what’s going to protect our community,” said Chuck Henry, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County.

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