Marion County shifting gears on COVID-19

Mark Lander, the administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, said the agency continues to change its approach on vaccinations and testing as COVID-19 cases in the area maintain a downward trend.

Mark Lander, the administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Marion County, gives an update about COVID-19 in front of the Marion County Commission in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 19. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Lander’s comments came during a presentation to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday. The apparent ebb in the pandemic also spurred the commission to scale back the COVID-19 updates to once per month, instead of the unusual bi-monthly updates. Also, the protective plexiglass shields separating each commissioner on the dais were removed this week.

“The last day of testing at the Livestock Pavilion was this past Wednesday (May 26th),” Landers told commissioners.

The hope is that there will not be a need to reopen the facility for testing, as those seeking tests continue to decline. The percentage of positive test results also has dropped. As of Sunday, the positivity rate in Marion County dipped to 3.75%, the third week in a row that the positivity rate has declined.

The health department will continue to test students and teachers at the main office at 1801 SE 32nd Ave. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. All others can get tested at private locations, including Walgreens and CVS. Lander said of the 5,000 tests done recently in the county only 200 were done by the DOH.

The county reported 31,939 cases and 985 deaths through Tuesday since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The county reported less than 20 positive cases for three days in a row through Tuesday, according to DOH records.

Vaccinations have contributed to the declining numbers of infections, he said.

Through May 27, more than 130,000 local residents are fully vaccinated, after receiving two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson version. Those receiving at least one dose of a vaccine number more than 153,000 or about 44% of the eligible county population.

Lander said the goal was to vaccinate 80% of those aged 65 and older by Sept. 1. That goal is within reach, he told commissioners.

The county’s vaccination approach has also changed. They have closed mass vaccination sites, including the one at the Paddock Mall. There was not enough demand for the vaccine to continue the sites.

“We feel that mass vaccination sites, at this time, are unnecessary,” Lander said.

They hope to shift their efforts to finding facilities capable of hosting individual community vaccination efforts. Lander referred to churches with air-conditioned auditoriums, for example, that could assist in bringing the vaccine to more remote locations. The department hopes to host community vaccination events on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Anyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can get one at the DOH in Marion County at 1801 SE 32nd Ave. on Monday and Tuesday between 3-6 p.m. Vaccines are free. To register for an appointment, visit tinyurl.com/MarionCOVIDvax or call 352-644-2590.

The Pfizer vaccine is available to those 12 and older, while the Moderna vaccine is available to those 18 and older. Health care providers are now beginning to administer the vaccine to their patients. Check with your doctor for details.

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