Leon County not a hotspot despite recent spike in coronavirus cases

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Compared to the large number of cases in some counties in Florida, Leon County is not close to being considered a hotspot for a coronavirus outbreak. 

However, no one is writing off the chances of seeing a continued jump in the spread. In part, the concern arises out of the number of new cases among the demographics of college-age young people.

That was especially concerning for Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare’s CEO Mark O’Bryant and Dr. Carlos Campo, a critical care specialist at the hospital.

The 18 to 22 demographic is a concern because Tallahassee is home to Florida State, FAMU and Tallahassee Community College. 

Dr. Carlos Campo and Mark O’Bryant, CEO at TMH, gave a COVID-19 update during a recent town-hall styled conversation hosted by Village Square.
Photos special to the Outlook

O’Bryant and Campo were featured speakers during a digital conversation titled “COVID in Tallahassee: A politics-free status report.” The more than an hour long Zoom talk was presented by Village Square.

It came on the heels of a record-setting spike in coronavirus cases in the state last week.

“The college kids are going to be here,” said O’Bryant. “They are going to get it. Everybody realizes that 18-19-year-olds do what 18-19-year-olds do. They are going to find a way to aggregate and have a good time. That’s part of the college experience and with that there is going to be a spread of COVID.”

Not long after Gov. Ron DeSantis began to reopen the state to stimulate the economy in May, people around the state were seen storming beaches. When bars were permitted to reopen, some had to close just as quickly because of reported positive cases involving employees or patrons of the establishments.

Dr. Carlos Campo and Mark O’Bryant, CEO at TMH, gave a COVID-19 update during a recent town-hall styled conversation hosted by Village Square.
Photos special to the Outlook

That has led to the governor calling for a halt to the sale of alcohol at bars. Transmission of the virus is almost certain to continue, Campo said, because of contacts that the young people made in crowded places.

Campo expressed concern that young people who have not been following health guidelines such as wearing masks and hand washing, could transmit the virus to older people who live in their homes.

“We know that once somebody is infected in the household, 80 percent of the people in that house are likely to get infected,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m wrong but we will start to see older adults are getting infected and generate a higher volume not just hospital admission, but ICU admissions.”

 O’Bryant gave a breakdown of how the number of hospitalization cases in the state has changed in Florida during the last two months. For example, in early April there were 2,000 patients in state hospitals with COVID — 832 in ICU and about 600 were on ventilators.

The jump since then and as of June 24, there were 3,600 hospitalized, while there was about 745 patients statewide in ICU, but there wasn’t a significant increase in patients on ventilators.

As of last Sunday’s update from the Florida Department of Health, Leon County had a spike of 176 cases, bringing to 951 in the county. The local cases more than doubled the next highest in eight surrounding counties.

O’Bryant went on to say that TMH is equipped to handle an uptick in local cases. He also said that the hospital has only two COVID cases.

While few of the COVID-19 related deaths were people under 25, there have also been some fatalities in children.

Children can’t be overlooked during the pandemic, O’Bryant said.

“You’ve got to create an environment that addresses the need of kids,” he said. “There is an educational component but there is a social, emotional and psychological that we’ve got to address along the way.”

O’Bryant and Campo said testing and tracing are essential to keeping pace with the virus. They also encouraged individuals with underlying health problems to continue seeing their physicians.

O’Bryant also disclosed that FSU and TMH have partnered on creating “a research-type analyzer.”  Through the partnership they should be able to do 1,000 quick tests each day.

“We would be very unique as a community with that level of access to testing,” said O’Bryant, who added that it will take development of a vaccine before any sustained dent is made to contain the virus.

This COVID-19 is much different than the 2003 outbreak of SARS, he said, adding that “this is a crazy virus.”