Coronavirus cases rise again in Orange assisted living facilities, health official says

Ryan Gillespie and Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel

The number of residents with COVID-19 in Orange County assisted living facilities doubled last week, the county’s top health official said Monday, signaling deaths could once again climb from the virus.

Dr. Raul Pino, the local state health officer, said there were 104 new cases of the virus in long-term care facilities, where health outcomes are often worse due to patients being elderly and often times with pre-existing health conditions.

“This is where we get really concerned about mortality rate,” Pino said. “It was just a matter of time.”

Pino said the infections are likely stemming from spikes in new cases among younger people who pass the virus to their parents or grandparents.

But even amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, local hospital systems are performing well, he said. In all, 256 patients are hospitalized with the virus while another 52 are in ICU beds. About 23% of hospital beds in the county are still available.

“Every day it’s increasing, and increasing,” Pino said. “Although it’s expected, it’s not without fear.”

So far, 5,486 people have been vaccinated in Orange County with the Pfizer cocktail. The local health department is expecting a shipment of about 16,000 dosages of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.

The county’s testing site at Barnett Park has drawn large crowds in recent weeks, at times hitting capacity more than three hours before testing was scheduled to close for the day, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. The site, which offers rapid tests, will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

With Christmas Day approaching, Pino and Demings cautioned residents to avoid large groups and mixing households if possible.

If gatherings are necessary, precautions at home should be made to ensure people older than 65 and with pre-existing conditions are protected, they said.

State data released Monday shows 633 new positive cases of the virus in Orange County, with 7.3% of tests returning positive. Also last week, 9.91% of tests countywide were positive for COVID-19, the highest rate in more than six weeks.

More than 10% of tests were positive in Osceola County last week with the rate reaching 9.27% in Seminole and 11.03% in Lake. The World Health Organization considers a rate of 5% or less to be manageable for health systems.

“We want to come out of this post-holiday having managed the spread of the virus within our community,” Demings said. “We cannot do that without the help of the people of Orange County.”,