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Hillsborough vaccinations surge, but so do COVID-19 cases

Hillsborough County is averaging more than 400 new cases each day.
Nurse Joan Diehl prepares COVID-19 vaccinations at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, in Plant City on Jan. 6. Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County, projected half of the county's residents could be vaccinated by June 2 if the current surge in vaccinations continues.
Nurse Joan Diehl prepares COVID-19 vaccinations at the Strawberry Festival Fairgrounds, in Plant City on Jan. 6. Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department in Hillsborough County, projected half of the county's residents could be vaccinated by June 2 if the current surge in vaccinations continues. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Apr. 7
Updated Apr. 7

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s COVID-19 vaccination surge is being accompanied by an increasing number of cases of the coronavirus infection.

The dichotomy came with little explanation Wednesday. But, Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, told county commissioners variants of the coronavirus were not tied to the increased caseload.

The county’s two-week average of positive test results is beyond 9 percent, and the number of cases grew by more than 3,000 between March 31 and April 6. Holt, giving his first briefing to commissioners since early March, noted the number of cases is up 15 percent compared to a month ago.

“This clearly indicates our COVID spread is continuing and increasing,” Holt said

Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, shown on HGTV during the April 7 Hillsborough County Commission meeting.
Dr. Douglas Holt, director of the state Health Department for Hillsborough County, shown on HGTV during the April 7 Hillsborough County Commission meeting. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

The infection rate among people 65 and older has declined, largely attributed to the initial roll out of the coronavirus vaccine, but the highest infection rate is now among people 18 to 35 years old. Both Commissioner Kimberly Overman and Commission Chair Pat Kemp expressed concern about the potential for younger people to become infected.

“I’m very worried now that it’s pushing downward,” said Kemp.

Likewise, Overman urged the public, “Let’s not let our guard down.”

The commission did not discuss its face mask rule, requiring people to wear facial coverings inside of businesses when social distancing is not possible. It also controls where the public can consume food and congregate within bars and restaurants. Neighboring Pasco County lifted its face mask rule earlier this week.

“It’s time to trash the mask today,” Diana Kline, a frequent critic of Hillsborough County’s face covering rule, told commissioners during the meeting’s public comment period.

But the commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Stacy White dissenting, to extend its emergency order for another seven days. White has voted against the order since last year because it contains the face-mask rule.

Within Hillsborough, the county, state, federal and private providers have administered vaccines to more than 366,000 people through April 3, about half of whom have received both doses. If the providers can continue at the same pace, Holt projected that half of the county residents would be vaccinated by June 2 and reach 70 percent of the population by mid-July.

“All of this depends on supply and demand,” said Holt, “... We certainly have seen the demand.”

Hillsborough’s recurring allocation of the vaccine is about 10,000 doses and Holt said he has requested up to 20,000 additional doses each week.

“If we could get that much vaccine we could use it,” he said.

The county also said it will expand its vaccine sites to include Plant City Stadium, 1810 S Park Road, Plant City, beginning Monday, April 12. Appointments are required, but were not yet available for booking Wednesday morning. To create an an account, people should go to patientportalfl.com

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