Central Florida COVID cases rise; health leaders recommend vaccinations, boosters

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Central Florida continues to rise.

In Orange County, the 14-day rolling positivity rate is at 15.9% according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the middle of March, that number was at 2.3%.

News 6 spoke to the new Director of Health Services in Orange County Thursday to ask what’s being done to keep people safe and what his message is to the community.

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Dr. Raul Pino said he has noticed a sharp increase in cases this past week, compared to prior weeks. He has watched a steady rise in new infections for the past seven weeks. He noted the increase has not yet translated into a sharp increase in hospitalizations or ICU admissions.

“This week, actually Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday has been very high compared to prior weeks,” Pino said. “On Monday, we had more than 800 cases and on Tuesday and Wednesday more than 500 cases each day.”

Pino worked for the state as the Orange County Medical Director during the height of the pandemic.

“There is a prediction that we’re going to have a wave in the fall and winter, so people should be getting ready,” Pino said.

Signs of a spike this summer are already showing up in wastewater samples in Central Florida.

“What we’re seeing right now resembles the lead up to other spikes,” said Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz.

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Martz said Altamonte Springs has tracked wastewater data since 2020. He said the pattern he is seeing now he has seen three times before.

“What we see before a spike are spikes in the percentages of change,” Martz said. “What we’re seeing right now is a slow steady increase, not only of those percentages of change, but we are seeing a change in the numerical values ​​and the current concentration of COVID.”

The data from city, county and state agencies shows a steady increase week to week. The test positivity remains much lower than it was at the height of the omicron arises after Christmas.

Dr. Todd Husty, an EMS Medical Director in Seminole County said so much has changed when it comes to COVID.

“It’s hard to look at where we are today and reflect back and say, ‘Gee, this would’ve been a bad positivity rate six months ago.’ It was a worse virus six months ago,” Husty said.

Husty said it is difficult to compare what’s considered an alarm bell now compared to past months in the pandemic. He credits better treatments and vaccines for the change, along with heightened natural immunity.

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“I think sort of the key is it’s not as bad of a disease right now. It’s treatable,” he said.

Pino believes part of the increase in cases we are seeing now is due to people in need of second vaccine doses or booster shots. He said those people have waning immunity after four to six months.

“Many people who got vaccines at the beginning of the pandemic that have now not been boosted or haven’t had their second doses, their immunity is decreasing,” Pino said. “You can pick up where you left off, meaning if you had your first dose you could have your second and then the booster in four to six months.”

Orange County Health Services is closely watching the current trend, and watching what could happen in the months ahead. Pino said their effort is focused on providing people with the resources to take personal responsibility.

“We perhaps need to increase our communications with the public to offer that clarity through the noises,” Pino said. “The reality is now we have everything that we need to fight this pandemic, and now the responsibility is shifting from the government to the individual. We are eliminating mandates. We are not requiring masks, but we have to inform the individual to take individual responsibility within their families to protect themselves.”

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