Coronavirus Close-Up Dominant

Local health officials are keeping their eyes open for any sustained increase of COVID-19 infections as variants continue to spread and cases trend upward in almost two dozen states.

Reported contractions of the novel coronavirus in Citrus County have varied day-by-day, according to the Florida Department of Health in the county (FDOH) on Monday, March 22, with average daily transmissions hovering at around 20 over the past two weeks.

“The health department is always concerned when we see a sustained increase of COVID-19 cases,” FDOH spokeswoman Audrey Stasko said, “however, the reported cases have fluctuated daily, so it is hard to say what we are seeing other than COVID-19 is still spreading in our community.”

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Florida Department of Health (FDOH) in Citrus County Logo

Florida Department of Health in Citrus County

Citrus County recorded a total 10,159 COVID-19 cases as of Monday — an increase of 142 over the week, at an average of 20 cases a day, according to the FDOH.

Citrus County’s average positivity rate — the number of positive results out of total COVID-19 test results — also increased from 5.90% to 6.54% since March 8.

Health officials want to keep positivity rates below 10%.

Stasko said the health department typically sees an increase of cases following events of mass travel or gatherings, like spring break, which is March 27-31 for the Citrus County School District.

Since starting school Aug. 20 for the 2020-21 school year, the school district recorded 624 cases — 179 staff, 445 students — as of March 19, an increase of 14 since March 15.

Citrus County School District Logo

“We are also seeing more and more people becoming relaxed with the precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing,” Stasko said. “All of these have the potential to contribute to an increase of COVID-19 cases.”

As of Monday, according to the FDOH, 659 county residents have been hospitalized for COVID-19 — an increase of four since March 15 — and three more locals died from the disease over the week, increasing the county’s death count to 420.

Long-term care facilities in the county have documented a total of 1,450 cases, up two since March 15, according to the FDOH.

Citrus County COVID-19 Vaccination & Case Demographics: As of Monday, March 22, 2021

*COVID-19 case, hospitalization and death data represent the 15-24 age group.

Age Group First Dose Series Complete Total People Vaccinated All Cases Hospitalizations Deaths
16-24* 114 172 286 1,035 5 0
25-34 218 394 612 1,116 15 2
35-44 330 543 873 1,054 25 0
45-54 629 820 1,449 1,276 48 9
55-64 2,711 1,450 4,161 1,676 91 40
65-74 7,613 9,715 17,328 1,660 163 90
75-84 4,950 6,797 11,747 1,216 198 148
85+ 1,378 2,039 3,417 543 109 131

COVID-19 data from the FDOH is subject to change as epidemiological investigations reveal new information on cases.

A Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) report from Monday stated Citrus County had 23 people in hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, up 17 from March 15.

There were also 38% of hospital beds available in the county, according to the AHCA, and 15% of local adult intensive care units were open.

Nationwide, infections have plateaued after decreasing from a winter surge, with roughly 20 states reporting increases, according to Johns Hopkins University data from Monday.

U.S. health officials are also expressing concern over the spread of COVID-19 variants, viral mutations scientists have been studying to better understand their transmissibility and deadliness. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Florida held the nation's highest count of reported COVID-19 variants on Sunday, at 1,070 (16% of the total variant cases in the U.S.), ahead of Michigan’s 617.

Variant B.1.1.7, which originated in the U.K., is the dominant of Florida’s three documented variants types, accounting for 97% of the state’s variant cases and roughly 0.05% of its total COVID-19 cases.

As of Monday, three variant cases have been reported in Citrus County, Stasko said. A spokesperson for the state health department did not respond to the Chronicle’s request to specify the county’s reported variant types.

“While variants are being detected and reported at a higher rate, we suspect that there will be less virus circulating thanks to vaccine rollouts,” Stasko said. “Vaccinating as many people as possible will help in slowing the spread of this virus.”

Almost one in four Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, according to the CDC, with 13.5% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated.

According to Johns Hopkins, 12.74% of Florida’s population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Monday marked the first day the state began offering COVID-19 vaccinations for its residents over the age of 50.

On Monday, according to the FDOH, 39,873 Citrus County residents have been inoculated, an increase of 4,481 since March 15, and 21,930 locals completing their entire one- or two-dose series — 14.7% of the county’s population.

To people skeptical of getting vaccinated, the local health department said the benefits far outweigh the risks of getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

“These vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in our country's history,” Stasko said. “We encourage those who are skeptical to talk with their friends, family and people they trust about their experience getting the vaccine and to take a closer look at the information they are sharing and basing their decision from.”

To preregister for a COVID-19 vaccine with the state health department, visit myvaccine.fl.gov.

Haven’t been vaccinated yet? Continue to practice these precautions to help curb the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask;
  • Avoid crowds;
  • Stay at least six feet away from others you don’t live with;
  • Stay home if unwell;
  • Wash hands often;
  • Cover coughs and sneezes;
  • and, disinfect and clean often.

Here are the number of COVID-19 cases reported March 22, ranked by Citrus County’s 15 ZIP codes:

  • 34452 (Inverness, Floral City, Inverness Highlands North and Inverness Highlands South): 1,124, an increase of 12 since March 15.
  • 34461 (Black Diamond, Citrus Hills, Homosassa Springs, Lecanto, Pine Ridge and Sugarmill Woods): 1,100, up 13.
  • 34465 (Beverly Hills, Black Diamond, Citrus Springs, Lecanto and Pine Ridge): 1,068, up 19.
  • 34446 (Homosassa, Homosassa Springs, Lecanto and Sugarmill Woods): 1,016, up 14.
  • 34442 (Citrus Hills, Citrus Springs, Hernando, Lecanto and Pine Ridge): 932, up 15.
  • 34429 (Crystal River, Ozello, Homosassa Springs, Lecanto and Black Diamond): 859, up 14.
  • 34453 (Inverness, Citrus Hills, Hernando, Inverness Highlands North and Lecanto): 722, up 12.
  • 34428 (Crystal River, Red Level and Inglis): 644, up 12.
  • 34434 (Dunnellon, Citrus Springs, Hernando and Pine Ridge): 640, up 14.
  • 34450 (Inverness and Inverness Highlands South): 533, up eight.
  • 34448 (Homosassa, Homosassa Springs, Sugarmill Woods, Lecanto and Crystal River): 531, up six.
  • 34433 (Dunnellon, Citrus Springs and Pine Ridge): 398, up three.
  • 34436 (Floral City): 359, up four.
  • 34445 (Holder, Citrus Springs, Hernando and Pine Ridge): 12, no change.
  • 34449 (Inglis and Yankeetown): six, no change.

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916,  bthompson@chronicleonline.com or visit tinyurl.com/yxn2ahso to see more of his stories.