SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County officials and local hospital leaders met Monday to provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.
Leaders took a serious tone and told residents that even though the pandemic has caused lifestyle shifts, having to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is nothing compared to the disastrous outcome should the state continue on its upward trajectory of cases.
“At one point here in Seminole County, we did flatten the curve… we were successful in doing that,” Jay Zembower, Board of County Commissioners Chairman, said. “Then what happened? We opened the economy back up. People went back to work, people were staying home… now we’re reopened people have been locked up for months, our young people have not been able to get out and socialize like they’ve wanted to. Even our elderly have not been able to get out and socialize. Now, behold we have opened, we see the numbers starting to climb. And not only climb but here in Seminole County, as well as many of the other central Florida counties, it is climbed extremely high.”
Zembower said that while cases remain high, closing the economy once again is not an option.
“We have an obligation to our fellow man, and to ensure that we’re able to maintain an economic drive that, hopefully, will remain open and hopefully continue to generate jobs. So we continue to work because if we don’t, there’s no telling (where) we may end up and I don’t think any of us want to be there,” Zembower said.
The chairman also urged county residents to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously, despite some critics who believe the pandemic is rooted in policy.
“A lot of people think this is politically driven. A lot of people believe that this is some kind of conspiracy. They think it’s the flu. I’m telling you it is not the flu. It is not a conspiracy theory and it is not politically driven,” Zembower said. “We have to pay attention. We have to do what’s right.”
[RELATED: Seminole County requiring residents to wear masks as COVID-19 continues to spread | ‘We’re going to be New York:’ Seminole County officials stress importance of testing as COVID-19 cases surge]
Donna Walsh, Florida Department of Health in Seminole Health Officer, said the current numbers of infection in the county is cause for worry.
As in much of Central Florida and across the state, a high percentage of newly reported cases of COVID-19 are in younger demographics.
“We certainly are seeing a shift in the ages of folks who are becoming positive, but that doesn’t mean that the other age groups are exempt, no doubt, because we’re seeing it throughout,” Walsh said. “Just in our 20-year-olds to 29-year-olds about 34% of our cases, in our 30-year-olds 16% of our cases. So about 50% just in the 20 and 30-year-olds, if you add the 40-year-olds it’s about 63% of our cases to date.”
Dr. Timothy Hendrix, Medical Director for AdventHealth CentraCare, said that his hospital has seen a marked rise in COVID-19 patients, especially in younger demographics.
“We have seen a steady increase in the number of patients coming into our facilities and hospitals since Memorial Day when people started getting out and socializing and spreading the virus. We’ve seen predominantly in younger people initially at Centra Care. We had a large number of young people coming in, college-age that, were testing positive after Memorial Day, and that’s gradually transitioned as we’ve seen it become an older age group,” Hendrix said. “And to my fear, we have seen a similar increase now not just in young people but in hospitalizations. So we’re seeing people in the hospital as a result of this increase, so just the fact that we’re seeing more cases, we are testing more people, we are having a higher percentage of those tests come back positive.”
Seminole County leaders announced they would be instituting the mandatory use of facial coverings for anyone going out in public in Seminole County - a measure Hendrix said is absolutely necessary in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“This is the single best way we can prevent transmission. I myself have no symptoms right now, but in a matter of two days, I could wake up with a fever,” Hendrix said. “That means, anybody within six feet around me could be at risk, because I could be transmitting asymptomatically. So that’s why it’s so important to wear these masks because we wear the masks so I can protect you, because I care about you. I care about myself, preventing transmission but also, I don’t know if I’m developing symptoms. I want to protect you, I want to protect the community I live in.”
Zembower took a firm tone when asked about residents who may refuse to wear a mask and said that compliance is not optional.
“I have a core belief, your rights end where they infringe upon mine,” Zembower said. “And that’s the reality. The reality is we owe it to our brothers and sisters in this community. We all have rights. But please don’t go off on a political tangent that you don’t have to wear a mask and you know just because it’s self-serving to do what’s right. I mean, that’s all we’re really asking to do what’s right we really don’t want to penalize anybody. We don’t really want to go down that road, and for the most part, 99.9% of the people in this in this county will do what’s right.”
Walsh echoed that to curb the spread of COVID-19, it will take the effort of all members within the Seminole County community.
“I encourage you to continue to protect each other. They know that this is serious. It’s growing, unfortunately, but as we have said from the very beginning, together, we can get through this and we just need everybody’s help,” Walsh said.
As of Monday, the FDOH reported 2,477 total cases of COVID-1 in Seminole County since the pandemic first hit the state on March 1, as well as a total of 16 deaths and 162 hospitalizations.