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HAINES CITY – Mayor Morris West signed an executive order “strongly encouraging” anyone doing business within city limits to wear a mask during a Haines City Commission Special Call meeting on June 23.

The change in city policy has no expiration date and there is no enforcement or fine associated with the new policy.

The commissioners changed city policy following a presentation by Polk County Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson, who talked about a recent spike in positive COVID-19 test results.

Jackson said there has been a four-fold increase in positive COVID-19 test results over the past two weeks.

“This is just not a result of more testing,” Jackson said. “We've got more community spread.”

Jackson said she believes that the combination of people growing tired of wearing masks and people trying to get back to normal may have led to the spike in positive test cases.

“Frankly I would not be surprised if our recent increase in cases is not related to Memorial Day weekend,” Jackson said. “It's about the right time.”

For example, it takes around a week for the COVID-19 virus to incubate in the human body. Those who present symptoms may not go to the doctor right away. Then it takes awhile for the test results to come back. Around two weeks after that, the statistics get added into the COVID-19 state database, Jackson explained.

Jackson went on to say that, a month ago, 30-35 percent of Polk County residents who tested positive were living in assisted living facilities for the elderly. That percentage is now around 17 percent. A month ago, the median age for a resident who tested positive had been 54, but as of June 23 Jackson said the median age was 34 in Polk County.

“What we are seeing now is a trend toward a younger demographic of cases,” Jackson said.

According to Jackson, there have been a number of recent outbreaks linked to family and other social gatherings. She told the commissioners that if someone were to have the virus but did not know it, he or she could spread it to a loved one just as easily as to a stranger.

The Polk County Health Department Director also discredited a theory that black Americans were more susceptible to the virus than Americans of other races. Jackson said the numbers do not support that theory and that COVID-19 related numbers roughly match population numbers equally.

There has also been an uptick in COVID-19 related emergency room visits of late, Jackson said.

“We may be done with COVID but COVID is not done with us,” Jackson said.

The Polk County Health Department has been testing around 500-1,000 residents per day, regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms or not. Staff were in Frostproof and Fort Meade last week.

Jackson said testing in Polk County is difficult due to geographic size, but that staff would be in the northeast quadrant of the county to do free testing as soon as possible.

“Haines City is not forgotten,” Jackson said. “We will get there.”