ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly a month after Florida entered Phase 3 of reopening, workers such as Orange County epidemiologist Charles Letizia stay busy as the number of cases continues to climb, more than 8,500 in Orange County in just the past two months, according to officials at the Department of Health in Orange County.
“The age demographic has shifted younger with a lot of our cases, especially with schools and colleges and universities resuming classes,” Letizia said.
News 6 met with Letizia back in May, when statewide new daily coronavirus cases were only about half of what we’re seeing throughout October.
According to the Department of Health, hundreds of thousands of positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Florida since March 1, when the virus was first detected in the Sunshine State.
News 6 got a rare look at the inside of the offices of case investigators who conduct contact tracing, the process of finding out who has been exposed to the coronavirus after a positive case.
“They do the primary interview and try to get as many exposures in the 14-day window before someone gets sick to see if there are any contact links,” Epidemiology program manager Alvina Chu said.
Since the pandemic began, leaders changed the way they conduct contact tracing in Central Florida.
“We certainly had to scale up dramatically,” Letizia said.
The team now consists of more than 60 staff members including 37 case investigators, 4 nurses, 15 epidemiologists, and 9 data managers. Some are dedicated to groups such as schools and colleges as well as nursing homes.
The team is also utilizing seven UCF student volunteers who work part-time.
“They all require a slightly different skill set,” Letizia added. “We become familiar with all the different settings and points of contact at those locations.”
Letizia gave a simple message for the community as we prepare for the holiday season and an increase in travelers heading in and out of the state.
“Holidays may end up being a big risk factor for transmission of COVID-19,” he said. “Traveling and seeing your family and friends is not the time to let your guard down.”
Since Aug. 25, Florida Department of Health in Orange County leaders told News 6 they were assigned 8,563 cases and have investigated 75% of them, with about 6% of cases containing missing contact information.