CDC, Brevard officials say don’t let guard down on COVID-19 during holidays

After steady decline, Brevard County’s count of new COVID-19 cases has risen during 3 of last 4 weeks

A group waits to get a COVID-19 test, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in North Miami, Fla. Federal health officials say Florida has reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state's highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic. The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) (Marta Lavandier, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Government and health officials are urging residents to heed coronavirus prevention strategies, as they prepare for get-togethers during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

COVID-19 case counts have been rising in Brevard County in recent weeks, according to News 6 partner Florida Today. But they have not yet reached the rates in three South Florida counties — a region where total case counts more than tripled last week. The statewide count of new cases more than doubled last week to 29,568 from the previous week.

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Against the background of climbing infection rates and the rise of the highly contagious omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, Brevard County Emergency Management Director John Scott is urging residents to stay home if they’re sick — and not go to work or to holiday gatherings, despite the attraction of going to holiday parties.

“We know we want to get together for this holiday season,” Scott said. “It’s been another rough year for all of us.”

He also reiterated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, wearing face coverings, avoiding large crowds and practicing good hand-washing hygiene.

“We really need to be mindful of those things,” Scott said.

Scott urged vigilance during the holiday season and beyond.

“Every single one of us can make an impact” to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Scott said. “I implore everyone to return to vigilance, to really be cognizant of what we’re doing.”

In its own advisory, the CDC said that the best way to keep your family and friends safe is to get vaccinated. It also encouraged people to wear a mask in public indoor settings for those people not fully vaccinated, or with a weakened immune system or in an area of high transmission. It also recommended avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces, and delaying travel for those not fully vaccinated. Above all, it said: “If you are sick or have symptoms, don’t host or attend gatherings.”

Scott compared the approach to preparing for a hurricane: You don’t wait until the wind and rain intensify before taking protective measures like getting hurricane supplies and putting up storm shutters.

“We know what’s on the horizon,” Scott said. “Get ready today.”

Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said he expects local case counts in the coming weeks to rise more sharply than they have been, reflecting patterns elsewhere in the state. The fast-spreading omicron variant increases the concern of officials monitoring the virus.

“There’s a potential train coming down the track,” Brevard County Public Safety Director Matthew Wallace said during the county’s latest COVID-19 briefing on Friday. “We know the outcome if we don’t do anything.”

John Davis, community health nursing director for the Florida Department of Health-Brevard, said COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Brevard also are starting to rise. Davis, Wallace and other local officials resumed their call for people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 to get vaccinated. Wallace called it “the greatest tool in out toolbox” to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Rising case counts

After a steady decline, Brevard County’s count of new COVID-19 cases has risen during three of the last four weeks. The count was 307 new cases in the week of Dec. 10 through Dec. 16. It had been as low as 227 during the week of Nov. 12 through Nov. 18.

But those numbers pale in comparison with three South Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Those counties have 29.0% of Florida’s population, but reported 63.9% of all COVID-19 cases in the state during the latest reporting week. That’s 18,904 of the state’s total 29,568 cases for the week of Dec. 10 through Dec. 16.

Davis said the South Florida counties are “seeing a pretty dramatic increase in their daily cases,” with 400.5 new cases per 100,000 residents last week in Miami-Dade County, the highest in the state.

In comparison, Brevard reported 50.2 new cases per 100,000 residents last week. Brevard’s weekly case count peaked at 4,550 or 744.4 new cases per 100,000 residents during the week of Aug. 13 through Aug. 19.

But vaccine uptake on the Space Coast is largely stagnant. Most of the recent vaccine activity in Brevard and statewide has involved people getting a booster to a two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or to a one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Walker said people who are fully vaccinated with two Moderna or Pfizer shots or one Johnson & Johnson shot should now consider getting the booster shot — as about 110,000 Brevard County residents already have done.

“The more that you arm yourself” with the vaccine, “the better you’ll be,” Walker said.