New coronavirus infections are increasing across Central Florida, tied to ‘relaxation’ of precautions, health official says

Stephen Hudak and Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel
·3 min read

As the nation was transfixed on vote counting around the nation, new COVID-19 infections climbed in Central Florida this week, including at least 300 new cases in four of the last seven days in Orange County.

The new cases were not just the result of increased testing, as positivity rates also climbed outside of the 5% threshold in Orange, which the World Health Organization considers a community having transmission under control. But the overall caseload increase also presents challenges for health officials to effectively trace new infections, to potentially curb outbreaks from occurring.

“The rise in cases is in multiple communities and an overall increase,” said Alvina Chu, the epidemiology program manager at the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. “The rise in cases across the U.S. is tied to persons who are relaxing...the pandemic precautions.”

Chu said cases are frequently tied to group gatherings ranging from birthday parties to larger events. The increase is also being driven by a younger population, who can spread it quicker than their older counterparts because they tend to be more active.

“We have been focused since the beginning of the pandemic to push our priorities to the places we can have the most effect,” Chu said of the agency’s contact tracing effort. “We will continue to focus the contact tracing efforts on those who are the most vulnerable."

The department also has received confirmation of 15 new deaths related to the virus since Monday, ranging from ages 35 to 94. At least 13 of the deceased had pre-existing health conditions, and Chu said she couldn’t provide more information on the 35-year-old’s death.

An average of 331 new positive cases were found over the last four days of data, with single-day positivity rates ranging from 5.9% to 9.5% in that time frame. Similar jumps in cases have been found throughout Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties as well, according to state data.

For example, Osceola has had single-day increases of at least 100 cases three times in the past seven days, far more than weeks prior, while positivity rates have been at least 7.5% each day for the same time period. In Lake County, the positivity rate Tuesday reached higher than 14%, and has been 5.8% or higher each day in November.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said leaders from the region speak biweekly about the virus and discuss data trends and efforts needed to combat the virus. Daily phone calls happen with emergency operations officials across the state.

The mayor also announced the county will provide free coronavirus testing at Barnett Park through the end of the year.

County residents may take either a rapid test, which usually yields a result in about 15 minutes or a PCR test, which is generally regarded as the more accurate method for diagnosing active infection but which usually takes longer to produce a finding.

The PCR test, an abbreviated name for a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction, detects the genetic material of the virus from a fluid sample collected by a health-care worker most commonly from a nasal swabbing or saliva.

“Our goal is to be able to test up to 4,000 people a week,” said Public Safety Director Danny Banks.

Administered by Orange County Health Services, the testing effort is funded by federal coronavirus relief aid and the test site will be open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., said Doreen Overstreet, a county spokeswoman.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com, rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com

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