TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been stymied over the past week, with the number of cases increasing and the infection rate remaining higher than most surrounding counties.
“Our descent down these steps is stalled,’' said Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County.
Holt’s comments Thursday afternoon to the Hillsborough County Commission, meeting as emergency managers, came after data showed the county’s seven-day average rate of new cases stood at 104 per 100,000 people. A week ago, the county’s new case rate stood at 92 per 100,000 people.
A moderate rate of infection is considered 70 new cases per 100,000 people, health officials have said, and in the Tampa Bay region, only Hillsborough and Polk counties have failed to drop below that threshold. The seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 people ranges from 53 to 63 in Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Hillsborough County is considered “sustained community-based transmission,’' according to federal guidelines. Holt was unable to offer an explanation for the variations across county lines.
“Not sure exactly why such a difference has happened,’' he said.
The upward trend can’t be attributed to Hillsborough County schools opening this week for in-person teaching, because any school-related spikes likely wouldn’t be revealed for about three weeks, Holt said.
Holt said the bottom line is the public must continue to avoid close-contact crowds, wear facial coverings while indoors and practice social distancing and hygiene. With schools opening, the practices become more imperative, he said.
“It’s the only way we can keep our schools with as little virus as possible to protect our teachers, kids and parents. So, we must be super vigilant at this time,’' Holt said.
The county’s rate of positive coronavirus tests was 6.8 percent, and the overall numbers raised concerns among commissioners.
“This virus is still out there. It is not going away. It’s not declining,’' Commission Chairman Les Miller Jr. said to reporters afterward. “And the other scary part about it, flu season is right around the corner.’'
In light of Hillsborough schools opening and the upcoming Labor Day weekend, “we could very well see an upward tick in the numbers. We’re going to have some serious problems,’' Miller said.
Through Wednesday, the Hillsborough County School District, which began in-person classes on Monday, reported 28 cases involving 23 schools and the district office.
State data released Thursday morning showed the number of COVID-19 cases in the county had increased by 153 over the prior 24 hours, bringing the total cases in Hillsborough to 37,821. Four additional deaths were reported, bringing the number of fatal cases to 563. Total hospitalizations grew by 10 to 1,710 patients since March.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
In light of the numbers, Commissioner Sandy Murman said the commission should ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to continue the executive order allowing government public meetings to be held virtually. Commissioners agreed unanimously. The current order expires at the end of the month.
“I wish we could be as protective of everybody as we are of County Center and of the staff and the public coming here,’' said Commissioner Pat Kemp.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.