Message from County Commissioner Bill Braswell Regarding COVID-19 and Polk County

Message from County Commissioner Bill Braswell Regarding COVID-19 and Polk County

July 1, 2020
Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit down one on one with Dr Joy Jackson the Director of the Department of Health here in Polk County. I would like to share our conversation with you.
Dr Jackson is very concerned because as we all know our numbers are trending upwards. That said, she knows this up and down cycle will continue for the foreseeable future. I think that is something most people do not want to accept. This is not going to be “fixed” this year or even next year. This is a virus that does not and will not have a cure. Viruses are never cured. The solution is an effective vaccine or herd immunity. Those are the only 2 choices.
Let’s talk about option 1, a vaccine. It may or may not happen. She was far more optimistic about this than I am. Why am I not optimistic, there is no vaccine for AIDS and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to find one. It took 35 years to develop a yet unproven vaccine for Ebola. Influenza has a vaccine and still 30,000 – 60,000 Americans will die from it and up to 600,000 people globally. So even if there is a vaccine there is no promise of how effective it will be or how long it will last.
Option 2 is herd immunity. This occurs when a large percentage of the population has been infected with the disease and recovered. As future outbreaks of the disease occur it has nowhere to spread because all of the people that it is passed to are immune. For this to happen most of you reading this post will need to get the disease. This is a scary thought but it is the situation we are in. You, me, our children and grandchildren will all most likely become infected at some point with Covid19. I don’t know how to say it any plainer.
The issue that we as a community have to deal with is this, we need it to spread slowly. There is no doubt it will spread. If it moves at a manageable pace, we can avoid overwhelming our hospitals. If it ramps up and moves quickly the hospitals will not be able to handle it. We do not want to be New York City.
Up until the last few days we had not seen a spike in hospitalizations, ICU usage, or ventilator needs. That has changed. We have been averaging 3 or 4 people on a ventilator for the last 6 weeks. As of yesterday, we had 16. As I write this our county has about 13% of our hospital beds available. I don’t think that is a big concern because a lot of that is a result of elective surgeries. What is a concern is at 7pm tonight Polk County only has 16 ICU beds available. These are real people getting very sick.
From the first time you heard of this virus the terms social distancing and washing your hands were seen as the best way to slow it down. That advice came from centuries of experience. We were told to flatten the curve. That has been and will continue to be the goal. Face masks have been added to the advice. This is controversial and there are plenty of arguments for both sides. How well they work depends on what they are made of and how they are worn. When Dr Jackson and I discussed this topic, her advice was whatever we do we will most likely need to do it for at least 3 or 4 years. Let that sink in for a moment. That should give you an idea of where we are in the timeline of this disease.
I expressed my frustration with our system that does not allow you and I to know more specific information about where the hotspots are and how they are spreading. Only the courts can change that. All of us will be days or even weeks behind in knowing where we should have avoided. Family gatherings have been a major source of spreading. We now have workforce issues causing rapid spread. Groups are not a good idea. Personally, I think social distancing will be the primary factor in reducing the spread.
Another topic we discussed was the age of the current positive cases. It continues to trend lower. Half of the positives in Polk are under the age of 35. While most young people will be able to handle the virus, they will still get sick. Some will get very sick.
Going forward there is no one answer to this problem. It will spread no matter what we do. It cannot be stopped. It can only be slowed down and that should continue to be our goal. It is important that regardless of your politics on this issue you acknowledge it is real. It can make you very sick and it can be fatal to some. Dr Jackson confirmed what I have posted here in the last few days about who is most at risk. Otherwise healthy people with type 2 diabetes are dying from this disease at an alarming rate. People with lung issues like COPD are also seeing high rates of mortality. If you fall into one of these categories you will need to be extremely careful.
Our county has been tracing each and every positive since day one. We now have 45 individual tracers but as the cases ramp up they are falling behind. Tracing gives us a slight head start on preventing an otherwise unknown positive individual from further spreading. We are averaging 1400 tests per day. Unfortunately, we are also averaging over 16% positives for the last 7 days. Just 2 weeks ago we were around 4%.
As responsible citizens it is up to you to do what you can to slow down the spread. There are many people who simply cannot afford to stay home to avoid exposure. Their bills must be paid. Others are not going to wear a mask even if it is mandated. I see no purpose in exposing our police officers in enforcing such a mandate. I am hearing stories daily of people not wearing masks harassing people who are wearing masks and vice versa. I find that behavior very bizarre.
The bottom line is this, you must accept responsibility for your own actions. Protecting your family should be your primary motivation. Do what you need to do. Comply with CDC, the Florida Surgeon General, and Dr Jackson’s guidelines, Socially distance, wash your hands regularly, and use a mask when social distancing is not an option if it is practical.
I will keep you posted as things change.