County Commissioners out due to COVID-19

The Marion County Commission is shown during a meeting in this March file photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
The current COVID-19 surge touched the Marion County Commission as two members joined Tuesday’s meeting by phone due to the virus.

Commissioner Carl Zalak tested positive for COVID-19, and Commissioner Kathy Bryant was exposed to the virus recently after her husband tested positive.

Mark Lander, the administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, also made an unscheduled presentation during the meeting.

Lander said the recent surge is nearing the high mark for cases locally. For the week ending July 30, the county reported 1,881 or 505 cases per 100,000 population. The record for cases stands at 525 per 100,000, which was set in January.

This week’s positivity rate of 24.5% was a record. 

For the last seven days through Monday, there have been 191 hospitalizations in Marion County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commissioner Carl Zalak is shown during a commission meeting in March. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
While cases are increasing, most testing positive are not vaccinated. Lander said cases of breakthrough infections in those already vaccinated stand at about 6% of all cases across the state and slightly less locally.  

Lander touted the vaccination rate for those 65 and older in the county, which stands at 80%. The county’s overall vaccination rates for those 12 and older is about 53%, lower than the state’s 61% average, according to the Florida Department of Health’s July 30 update.

Lander said the age of those hospitalized was also trending lower with those in the hospital aged between 45 and 65. Cases overall are also trending younger, with most local cases between those aged 25-54.

The surge in cases, however, has also spurred a renewed interest in vaccinations.

Lander said they were having trouble filling a dozen appointments per day before the recent uptick. Now, they are up to 30 to 40 per day.

Vaccines were up to 3,720 for the week ending July 30, after falling below 1,000 only a few weeks ago.

Commissioner Craig Curry pushed for more people to get the vaccine.

“To me, society is going to be vaccinated one way or the other. Either voluntarily, with the vaccines that are available, or we’re going to do it with herd immunity. That’s creating a lot of death and disease. It’s a very difficult way to get you antibodies,” Curry said of contracting the virus.

Herd immunity is considered met when 70% to 80% of the population has been exposed to a virus.  

“I had it when I was running for office. It was probably 10 days of hell. It is the worst sickness I’ve had. I was about one day from going to the hospital. I would just urge everyone that is listening to please get the vaccine,” he said.

The recent surge is thought to be driven by the Delta variant of COVID-19. The variant, first isolated in India, is up to two times as contagious as the original virus.

Commissioner Kathy Bryant is shown in March. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
While there are breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among those vaccinated, the cases are usually milder.

“Even with Delta, we’ve seen they might get exposed, they might get sick, but we’ve seen better outcomes if they are vaccinated,” Lander said.

In response to the recent numbers, the local DOH announced it is reopening a free, county-sponsored drive-through testing site at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion.

The site at 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, served as a testing center previously until the DOH closed it down on May 26 after the number of local cases dropped significantly.

The site will open on Wednesdays in August and September. Testing will be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

People who would like to be tested can line their vehicles up starting at 7:30 a.m. on testing days. To be tested, individuals should bring a valid photo ID; those under 18 will only be tested if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

People should be prepared to stay in their vehicles while awaiting testing; restroom facilities will not be available. Only people who are being tested should be in the vehicle, except for parents, guardians or caregivers. No pets are permitted in the vehicle during tests. School students should refrain from eating or drinking anything 15 to 30 minutes prior to their tests.

For more information, call the Department of Health in Marion County at 352-644-2590.

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County provides COVID-19 vaccinations at its main office (1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala) and at sites across the community.

In August, the department will provide walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations Mondays through Wednesdays from 8–11 a.m. and 1–3 p.m. at its main office. Appointments for the main office are available Monday through Friday. To make an appointment for vaccination or obtain more information, call 352-644-2590.

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