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FORT WALTON BEACH — The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Okaloosa County has more than quadrupled in the last month, and county Health Department Director Karen Chapman sees no end of the upward spiral in sight.
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“Okaloosa has widespread ongoing transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19,” she wrote in a weekly report to county officials. “The situation continues to worsen.”
On June 12, the Department of Health reported 315 cases in the county. By July 12 that number had risen to 1,385, and as of Tuesday the total had hit 1,445, with 10 deaths reported.
The Health Department assesses coronavirus numbers on a seven-day “rolling average,” and Chapman’s research showed a 14-day trend from the beginning of July through the beginning of this week in which the number of Okaloosa County cases had gone from an average of 31 cases reported per day to 66.
Just a month ago, Chapman notes, the county was reporting an average of just under 10 cases per day.
One reason for the increased number of cases being detected is efficient county testing. The 7,050 tests conducted last month significantly exceeded the goal of 4,092.
The number of residents tested showing up positive for the virus has risen from 6.6 percent last month to 12.5 percent this month, but Chapman said the number of tests being conducted is not the sole reason Okaloosa COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing.
“There is an ongoing need to practice physical distancing (6 feet or more) and to wear face masks in all public spaces, especially when maintaining physical distancing, is difficult,” she wrote. “Failure of most of the population to practice both practices is significantly contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in Okaloosa County.”
As cases climb, so do hospitalizations. On Monday, there were 39 COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds in Okaloosa County with 18 of those being treated in intensive care units. Five were breathing with the help of a ventilator.
“ICU beds exceeded 80 percent occupancy on 12 of the last 13 days,” Chapman wrote. Some days, including Monday, the occupancy rate exceeded 90 percent with 53 of 56 total beds in use.
Approximately 33 percent of ICU beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, Chapman reported. That number has risen from under 6 percent on June 21.
Okaloosa’s three acute care hospital facilities are also being taxed outside the ICUs, Chapman reported. Three times in the last five days, more than 80 percent of the county’s 470 licensed hospital beds have been occupied.
Emergency rooms are also feeling the strain. Chapman said that a greater percentage of county residents are appearing at local emergency rooms with flu-like systems than at this time last year. She called the phenomenon “highly unusual at this time of year.”
Fort Walton Beach Medical Center and Twin Cities Hospitals have discontinued all elective surgeries, Chapman said. North Okaloosa Medical Center is limiting its inpatient elective surgeries.
Long-term care facilities across the county are also being impacted by the surge in COVID-19 cases. Chapman reported that as of Monday 11 of the 22 long term-care facilities in Okaloosa County had been determined to be in “outbreak” status with at least one coronavirus case reported among residents or staff.
Five of the long-term facilities have reported five or more residents or staff testing positive for the virus. Fifty of the 1,803 employed by LTC’s are infected, Chapman said.