SEBRING — How do you keep from getting COVID-19 and how do you get numbers to come down in your community?
Nearby counties don’t have exact answers for that, other than to have people do what health officials and epidemiologists have said from the beginning of the pandemic.
“It’s not attributable to any one particular thing,” said Nicole Riley, public information officer for the Health Department of Polk County. “It’s hard to say what is the ‘magic bullet.’”
Polk County, which had seen 43 days of three-digit increases, saw only 94 cases on Tuesday but was back up to 185 new cases as of Wednesday’s tallies.
Riley said receptiveness to the message to wear masks, keep distance from each other and wash hands frequently has been mixed, as far as she could tell, but the county has been diligent on the message to use a mask when out and about.
Lakeland’s mask ordinance, in effect since July 2 and renewed on Monday, will be in effect until Sept. 8.
City of Lakeland Emergency Manager Audrey Cain has seen good compliance and not heard about any issues, although she would defer to police for actual incident reports.
“At this point, the mask mandate seems to be going well,” Cain said. “People are not congregating in large groups. They are wearing masks, even when walking around the [downtown] lakes.”
Masks are required, she said, of anyone who cannot easily social distance in the city of 110,000 people — roughly 4,000 to 5,000 more people than in all of Highlands County.
“Our partnerships are a huge part of what we’re doing,” Riley said of Polk County.
It has taken a lot of conversations to get everybody on the same page, she said, but it’s working.
In Hardee County, where there have been 859 cases, with seven non-resident cases, 73 hospitalizations and seven deaths, the numbers of new cases have stabilized over the last few days in the 5-13 range, said Emergency Manager Amalia Arista.
By comparison, Highlands County got 17 new cases of COVID on Wednesday for a total 1,311 cases, but no new deaths.
When Highlands County commissioners on July 21 considered whether or not to mandate masks, they voted to continue following the lead from Gov. Ron DeSantis to recommend people wear masks, wash their hands as much as possible, practice social distancing and leave it up to local businesses as to whether or not they want to require masks.
People wearing face masks could feel free to continue, while those who don’t could also do that.
Hardee County also has no mask mandate. Officials there have encouraged people in the county to perform social distancing, wear masks when out and about, and to wash their hands, Arista said. Also, the county had brought in extra staff to sanitize surfaces in public buildings, but the county does not have a mask mandate.
In addition, Walmart — arguably one of, if not the largest retail venue in the county — gives masks to people as they come in, Arista said, and the school district is making preparations to make schools as safe as possible.
Basically, Arista said, it’s all about getting people to go along with the messages of what to do to cut infections.
Lafayette County has seen no increase in cases for two days in a row. The Health Department in Suwannee County, which covers Lafayette, has a hold message that describes in detail the hand-washing technique needed to cut down on infections. Even if a person can’t reach the official they want, they can still get the message.
As reported by health officials across the state, 28,573 people in Florida have been hospitalized with the virus.
Having contact with an infected individual remains the main way the virus gets spread. On Wednesday, 141,518 infected people were listed as having been in contact with an infected person, as opposed to 3,832 who have traveled.