ST. LUCIE COUNTY — As COVID-19 runs rampant throughout communities across the nation, St. Lucie county is no exception.
Spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has led to spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations — especially among unvaccinated individuals, local health officials and medical experts say.
School districts are experiencing outbreaks among staff and students, local government is having difficulties keeping up with services due to employee COVID-19 positivity rates, local businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and first responders are being pushed to their limits; school, county, and hospital officials said at a news conference Friday.
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“This pandemic is like a hurricane event that never ends,” said County Administrator Howard Tipton…”Today, we are in a health crisis here in St. Lucie County.”
There were more than 9,400 COVID-19 cases here last month, according to Department of Health Administrator Clint Sperber.
Over the past seven days, the county has averaged over 312 COVID-19 cases per day, Sperber said. Furthermore, the highest case counts during that time period have been among ages 12-19.
For comparison, the highest case counts last week were among children ages 5-14.
“The vaccine has been shown to work as advertised, has now been fully approved by the FDA and is widely available in the community,” Tipton said. “It remains the critical path forward to our better days.”
Cleveland Clinic Martin Health hospitals here have 164 COVID-19 patients, according to president Rob Lord. Of those, 31 are in the Intensive Care Unit and nine patient have died from the virus in the past three days, he added.
More than 90% of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated and virtually all that are in the ICU or on ventilators also are without the vaccine.
“Our hospitals are full of patients, many of whom are needlessly suffering, and in some cases needlessly die,” Lord said. ” This is heartbreaking to our caregivers. They are the true frontline soldiers in this battle against an ever-changing relentless opponent, and I’m concerned about their mental health.”
Lord highly encouraged those who are unvaccinated to consider getting a shot. Other good preventive measures he cited were socially distancing and wearing a mask.
“My message to our community is that hospitals are not an inexhaustible resource,” Lord said “Don’t take them for granted.”
COVID-19 in schools
As of Friday, more than 700 students and nearly 200 staff members in St. Lucie County public schools have tested positive for COVID-19, data shows.
The school district will be partnering with Allied Health to open seven COVID-19 testing sites at schools across the county for students and employees, according to spokesperson Lydia Martin.
PCR and rapid tests will be available, she said.
Beginning early next week, locations will be listed on the district’s website.
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Additionally, parents have access to the school’s COVID-19 hotline, 772-429-3601, to help navigate the quarantine process.
Support teachers also have been appointed at every single school to reach out to families within 24-48 hours of a student being quarantined to ensure children have access to a computer for virtual learning or provide one if needed.
The school district has had no discussions of closures, Martin said. Unlike Indian River County where Beachland and Treasure Coast Elementary Schools closed in the past two weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
COVID-19 has had a drastic effect on summer and after-school programming for children — said Sean Boyle, CEO of the Children’s Services Council of St. Lucie County, which provides programing to about 40,000 children here annually.
“We have seen a reduction in the availability of slots for after school programs by about 25 to 30% because of COVID-19,” Boyle said.
Although the CSC expanded programs this summer, nearly half had to close because of COVID-19 exposure, 27% of the county’s early learning coalition childcare centers had to close classrooms or shutdown completely and calls were pouring in from parents who had never had to reach out to CSC before the pandemic.
“We’ve actually added mental health professional support to the programs not only for the children, but quite frankly for the staff as well,” Boyle said. “COVID has triggered a lot of trauma and mental health concerns.”
Families in need of support can reach out to the Children’s Services Council at 772-408-1100.
Businesses, especially those within the service industry, have been forced to short their door as they grapple with employee shortages due to COVID-19.
The St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce surveyed 300 businesses and found that that 67% of them had employees infected with COVID-19 and 11% had employees that have died from the virus.
More than 40% of businesses have had to suspend their operations and over 55% of employees have had to take time off to quarantine, according to Terissa Aronson, CEO of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey.