Star-Banner dives into Marion’s alarming COVID-19 numbers and answers questions, including the input of 2,000 unreported negative tests
Florida Department of Health in Marion warned area residents five weeks ago to vigilantly follow the CDC social distancing and masking guidelines after the county had a spike of 424 COVID-19 cases in June.
During the month that followed, Marion County had an explosion of coronavirus cases, rising sixfold from a cumulative total of 672 cases on June 30 to 4,892 on Friday. That’s a spike of 4,220 cases, or 136 cases per day, in July.
And August started off with 177 new cases reported on Saturday, as well as one more death. Marion County now has 5,069 cases and 61 deaths, according to Saturday’s update by the state.
Though the recent spike has been fueled by an outbreak in state prisons in Lowell, the numbers continue rise outside the prison walls as well.
Marion County’s cumulative positivity rate was 22% in July, up from 3.72% in June and 0.8% in May.
Despite the uptick, area officials maintain that community spread is not out of control and that the spikes can be linked to correction facilities, community functions and other traceable events.
And, they say, many cases have come in clusters, like many family members under one roof.
"While the virus is widespread throughout the county, we have a very low percentage of individuals who do not have a known source," said Mark Lander, the local health department administrator, in an email.
"We have a higher rate of congregate spread based off of facility and family infections, not necessarily unknown community transmission," he said.
Most local governments have declined to mandate masks in businesses, citing the difficulty of enforcement that could lead daily conflicts between businesses and anti-maskers.
The only agency to enact a mask mandate has been Marion County Public Schools, which will require everyone who walks onto its 50 campuses and district officers to wear a mask, period.
The Marion County School Board last week stated that parents must understand that they will enforce the mask mandate.
"This is why we proposed the resolution," said Diane Gullett, Marion’s superintendent of schools, at a recent board meeting. "We took a step forward ... because our county and city have not required this."
Gullett said in most districts the rule is in line with its county and city.
"We take this seriously," Gullett said. "These are our students, these are employees. We took a stand for a reason and we take this seriously."
The Star-Banner today will break down the numbers so far during the 132 days of the pandemic. Here is breakdown of the numbers and answers to some burning questions.
Death toll rises
On June 30, Marion County had 10 deaths. On Saturday, the number was 61, a sixfold increase in 32 days.
During that same span, total hospitalizations also jumped form 66 to 405 during the same period.
During the last two weeks, total emergency room visits have nearly doubled, from 349 on July 17 to 656 on Saturday.
Fueling the surge in July, mostly in the past week, has been infections among inmates and officers in correction facilities.
In a seven-day span, ending Friday, Marion County registered 1,787 new COVID-19 cases, or 36.5% of the county’s overall total. That’s an average of 255 cases per day since July 25.
That one-week surge has been linked to outbreaks in correctional facilities, primary at Lowell Correctional Institution and nearby Florida Women’s Reception Center.
Marion County correctional facilities logged nearly 1,100 of the 1,787 new cases last week. To date, there have been 1,317 total cases in correctional facilities, or 27% of all of the county cases.
Marion County now has 297 residents and employees of long-term care facilities who also have tested positive. In all, one-third of Marion’s cases are from long-term care and correctional facilities.
Data shows that there was an uptick in cases outside the jail setting. Of those 1,787 cases reported since July 25, nearly 700 — about 100 per day — were from outside of the corrections setting.
The first 10 days of July there was an average of 64 cases per day. The second 10 days of July the average was 124 cases per day. And the last 11 days of July the average was 213 cases per day.
On the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, there are daily COVID-19 updates per ZIP code.
Marion’s ZIP code of 34482 has seen a major spike, from 551 on Monday to 1,432 on Friday, according to the state Department of Health. That ZIP leads the county by far.
That ZIP code is where Lowell prisons are located, and "the addresses of all inmates who reside in those facilities are the correctional facilities’ addresses," Landers said.
"Generally speaking, the case is assigned to the county where a person’s residence is at the time of the test, so accordingly, it would remain a Marion positive because that was the person’s residence at the time the positive exposure occurred," Lander noted.
Another common question is the difference in how the overall positivity rate, or called the cumulative rate, and the daily positivity rate are calculated.
The state definition of the cumulative positivity rate is the number of people who test positive divided by all people tested, though a person's negative or positive test is only counted once.
A person who tests negative for 10 consecutive times, for example, is only counted as one negative in the cumulative count. If that person tests positive on the 11th test, their place in the cumulative count would be moved from the negative column to the positive column.
That means a person can only be counted once in the data.
The state uses the cumulative data for the overall rate. Marion’s overall positivity rate climbed from 2.8% on June 30 to 11.1% on July 31.
In the daily rate, all negative tests — including those people who are tested routinely for their jobs — are included.
The end result is there are more negative tests reported in the daily positivity rate calculation than the daily number of cumulative negative tests added to the tally used to calculate the overall rate.
The 7-day rolling average daily positive rate, which includes all negative tests, was 18.9% on Friday.
2,000 negative tests
Last week, County Commissioner Michelle Stone asked at a meeting about how much the local rate would change if the 2,000 negative tests were included in the calculation.
As it turns out, Marion County officials have manually included the 2,000 negatives in the system since her question was asked. Those tests were logged in on the dates they should have been entered.
The negative tests have been included in the total cumulative number used to calculate the overall positivity rate, which is now 11.1%
"These new negative test results wouldn’t show in the most recent daily reports because the vast majority of those were older," said Lander, adding; they do show up in the overall negative test count.
Lander added that "inputting process itself is fairly straightforward data entry."
"It involves creating a profile for each individual test result and putting the appropriate data in there, such as name, address, date of test, test result, etc.," he noted.
At a recent county commission meeting, Lander told commissioners that people needing to quarantine but who can’t because of too many people in a household, can seek assistance.
"There may be certain instances where an individual may not be able to properly isolate at home without impacting the safety of others, or they may be homeless, living in a congregate shelter," Lander noted.
In such cases, "the county will work with local hotels to provide non-congregate sheltering for the duration of the recommended isolation period."
"The health department’s role will be to connect this individual with Community Growth Services and provide their office with the recommended isolation release dates for these cases," Lander said.
For more information on testing, call the Marion County COVID-19 Hotline at (352) 644-2590.
Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.