ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County health officials are concerned about the county’s COVID-19 death rate after recent data shows both a spike in the number of elderly infections and an increase in recent deaths.
According to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, the county has reported 20 new coronavirus-related deaths since last Thursday.
Dr. Raul Pino, with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, who often reminds members of the community that there can be significant delays in the reporting of deaths, said the latest deaths to be added to the county’s toll were made up of mostly ones from this month, which could be a bad sign for the county’s death rate.
“Three of those deaths were from August and September, three were from November, and 14 were from December. And that happened also last week, too, the largest number was from this month and that’s an indication that our rates may be increasing,” Pino said.
Pino said the fact that the number of infections in assisted living facilities is on the rise is another cause for concern regarding the county’s death rate.
“I’m concerned about some of the data, and I wanted to mention it to you, especially about long-term care facilities. From the prior week to the last week that just finished, we doubled the number of individuals with COVID-19 in long-term care facilities,” Pino said. “Week 50, we ended up with 54 individuals. Last week, we ended up with 104 individuals in assisted living facilities. And this is where we get really concerned about the mortality rate.”
Pino said “it was just a matter of time” until the county saw a spike in cases in those facilities. He believes they could be due to increased social interaction within the facilities, including visits from grandchildren and other family members.
He said the county is closely monitoring the performance of its hospitals. As of Monday, Pino said there is still a healthy number of hospital beds and ventilators available, despite the fact that there are currently more than 300 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Orange County.
He said the county recently saw one of the highest one-day increases in hospitalizations that it had seen in a while, with 30 new patients hospitalized overnight. Still, he said the county’s hospitals continue to perform “very well.”
Pino issued a warning ahead of the holiday asking people not to let their guards down ahead of the Christmas holiday.
“Although it’s expected, it’s not that without fear that we look at this data so please mask up, wash your hands, watch your distance. Do not have Christmas gatherings if you don’t have to, and if you have to, please put some measures at home. Try not to mix households, try to protect people who are 65 years and older with pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Though it is the hope that it will help decrease the death rate, Pino asked people not to rely on the new coronavirus vaccines yet to slow the spread, since the county remains nowhere near reaching herd immunity yet because the shot is still only going to those in priority groups until it’s more widely available.
“Please do not trust the vaccine yet because the vaccine as we are going to implement it, will not have an effect on the pandemic right away. It will probably have an effect first in death rates and that’s the intended objective, to decrease the number of people who are getting [extremely ill] and dying from this disease,” Pino said.
As of Monday night, more than 5,000 people have been vaccinated in Orange County using the Pfizer shot, according to Pino. The county is preparing to receive 16,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday and plans to vaccinate EMS personnel Dec. 26-31.
Orange County has reported 69,491 cases of COVID-19 and more than 700 deaths since the start of the pandemic.