Leading doctor urges caution as Orange County begins to get coronavirus pandemic under control

Cases could increase due to bars, schools reopening, warns Dr. Raul Pino with DOH

A worker prepares a collection tube during COVID-19 tests for first responders, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, at Hialeah Fire Station #1, in Hialeah, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Weekly coronavirus case totals locally have been declining for about two months but due to a data dump, that likely won’t be the case this week for Orange County.

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health in Orange County said the two-week positivity rate currently sits at 5.04%.

“This is probably the lowest that we can press this down and with the World Health Organization definition, they consider someone will have this under control if you are below 5% positivity for the last 14 days. So we are there and where it goes from here, it depends on how we behave in our daily interaction with our peers,” Pino said.

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He said COVID-19 cases have been declining week over week for the past eight weeks but on Tuesday, a lab reported 180 positive tests to the department as part of a data dump. Those numbers will be reflected on Wednesday when the previous day’s case totals are released.

“This week so far, we had without those 180, 323 cases. For comparison last week, we had 446. So we should expect that this week, for the first time, our cases are going to be higher than the prior week in a while,” Pino said.

Schools in Orange County have been open for in-person learning for weeks now, nursing homes and similar facilities recently got the go-ahead to start accepting visitors once again and starting Monday, bars were allowed to start serving customers alcohol.

With the pandemic trending younger -- Orange County’s median patient age currently sits at 34 -- Pino said we could see more cases pop up because younger people tend to be more active.

“Another concern that I have is that the median age continues to decrease, meaning the pandemic is starting to move to the younger age. And when that happened in the past, this is a group with a lot of social activities. So it’s a lot of social interaction and moving in that age group around the county,” Pino said. “So that is a concern, I want people to be aware of that.”

For those who do plan to be out and about, Pino reminded them to wash their hands, social distance and wear a mask.

According to Orange County Public Schools' coronavirus dashboard, 117 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported among students and staff since campuses reopened on Aug. 21.

Pino said that number is relatively low considering there are 220,000 students and 14,000 employees in the district. Thus far, he hasn’t seen any secondary transmission within the schools.

“I think that it’s not about the numbers, it’s about how the transmission occurs. We could have three people in one school but if transmission is occurring from classroom to classroom, I will be highly concerned," Pino said. "We could have three students in one classroom, I will not be that concerned if the students are isolated, we have a seating chart, they wear a mask and they were not interacting. So risk has to be assessed every single time but I think that we are performing well for the school system.”

Pino said he did not know of any severe illnesses or hospitalizations among local students who have contracted the respiratory illness.

As of Tuesday, Orange County has reported 38,147 COVID-19 cases since March as well as 1,211 hospitalizations and 412 deaths.