Spring breakers could cause increase in COVID-19 cases in Orange County

Leaders want younger residents to get vaccinated once eligible

After 1,000 arrests were made in Miami with spring break crowds, police across Central Florida are bracing for more to visit the region.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – While spring break in Central Florida has been tame compared to other parts of the state, the region could still see an increase in COVID-19 cases as a result of the influx of visitors.

Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health said data scientists should know by mid-week whether there will be a spike in infections.

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“There has been an increase in the younger segment of the population. Probably by mid-week this week, we will see the numbers go real high and part of what I was saying last week also was that we may not experience everything in Florida because we got a lot of travelers that, you know, already may be back (in their home state),” Pino said.

He added that spring break travel tends to be staggered since different schools celebrate it at different times, which is another cause for concern.

“So we have the next few weeks are going to be an increasing problem. We all hear the stories of Miami and other places that have to deal with unruly crowds and we haven’t seen that in here, at least that we have been informed, but the parks are full capacity for the reservation system in the next few weeks, so that’s an indication there is an increase of activity in our area as well,” Pino said.

Overall, the coronavirus figures have been looking better than they were in January but Pino said there are some “mixed messages” in the data. He said last week was the first week since the region has started experiencing a decreases that cases went up compared to the week before. In addition, the positivity rate increased from 5.4% to 5.8% and the recovery rate decreased from 97% to 96%.

At the same time, he said hospitalizations and deaths are “significantly down.”

Part of that could be because about 71% of Orange County’s seniors are vaccinated and that population is much more likely to experience severe coronavirus symptoms.

As was the case during the summer, younger residents are making up a good portion of the new infections. This time, about 30% of new infections are among those 15 to 24 years old, according to Pino.

He and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said that making sure those younger residents get vaccinated once they’re eligible next week will be crucial in order to achieve herd immunity. For that to happen, about 80% of individuals need to be vaccinated and right now, only about 10% of residents are fully inoculated.

Demings expects to use social media platforms and perhaps enlist help from athletes or other high-profile figures to encourage younger residents who may be less willing to get the shot.

“I mean, that’s a reality. People who have been less affected in the sense of, you know, dire consequences of the pandemic, are probably less concerned about it,” Pino said.

While things may be opening up, including senior centers, gyms and outdoor courts own by the county, Demings said citizens need to stay the course and not let their guard down until it’s safe to do so.

“We still have a good way to go. So I think that there’s still new cases every day, there’s still people dying and because of that, it is not the time, in my humble opinion with advice from the experts, to really do something other than what we have been doing at this point,” Demings said.

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