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As cases surge, county leaders urge vaccination

With Franklin and Gulf county residents getting vaccinated
at about two-thirds the rate of entire state, and a dramatic increase in
COVID-19 cases in both counties during the month of July, the Florida
Department of Health that serves the population is pressing its message.

It’s not about masks, it’s not about handwashing, it’s not
about social distancing. If this pandemic is to end, it’s all about taking the

“(The department’s) guidance remains – the vaccine is the
most effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19,” read a news release
Friday. “Florida has reached a milestone of a 61 percent vaccination rate for
all eligible populations. Franklin and Gulf are in the 40s. It is essential to
continue this stride and increase vaccination across eligible age groups.”

The renewed call comes at the end of a month where in
Franklin County, the rates of positivity more than quadrupled, and in Gulf
County, the positive numbers rose steeply as well, as more and more people were

During the first week of the month in Franklin, only three
people out of the 48 tested were positive, a little more than 6 percent. Four
weeks later, about five times as many people were tested, 257, and of those 73
were positive, or more than 28 percent.

In Gulf County, when 95 people were tested during the first
week of July, 22 were positive, about 23 percent. Four weeks later, nearly five
times as many, 455, were tested, and of those 128 were positive, or better than
28 percent.

In fact, Gulf County had the highest case rate per 100,000
people in the state, nearly 946.

Sarah Quaranta, who directs the two-county health department,
opened her remarks to the Franklin County commission Tuesday morning with a lighthearted
clarification of the pronunciation of her last name.

“I tell people it’s like ‘quarantine,” but instead of the ‘tine’ it’s a ‘ta,’” she said.

The point, though, of her appearance, together with nurses Nicole
Sandoval and Emerald Larkin, was very serious, about a very serious subject.

“We are seeing a difference between whose who are vaccinated
and get the virus, and those who are not vaccinated,” she said. “In July, 94
percent of all positive cases in Florida were from unvaccinated individuals.”

The department’s news release had stressed the same point. “The
COVID-19 vaccines continue to be vital to ending the pandemic, including
combating the recent case increases nationally and globally,” it read.

The release moved beyond a mere reference to the benefit of
vaccines, and listed five specifics as to what those benefits are, specifics
that Quaranta reiterated in person.

  • Significantly reduces the risk of contracting the virus even
    if you are exposed.
  • Teaching your body how to fight the virus.
  • Reducing the risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization, and
    death if you contract the virus.
  • Minimizing the ability for the virus to spread, especially
    to our most vulnerable populations.
  • Fighting against emerging variants that can cause worse
    symptoms and spread.

“As cases increase, individuals should continue to watch for
COVID-19 symptoms, especially if unvaccinated,” it continued.

Quaranta pointed out that because of the state’s overall success
in vaccinating seniors, with 78 percent in the two counties, “most of the cases
(statewide) have been among individuals 20 to 49 years of age (and) most
hospitalizations are among individuals 40-69 years of age.

“We recognize that hospitalizations have shifted to a
younger demographic because we have been so successful with vaccinating seniors,”
they wrote. “Again, we must continue this stride to expand vaccination rates
across eligible age groups.”

One of those youngish people who are about to take the
vaccine is Franklin County Commission Chair Ricky Jones.

“I put it off for a long time,” he said. “At the end of the
day this is not a political thing, this is a health thing. I think that’s what
needs to be done.”

Commissioner Noah Lockley, who along with his wife recovered
from a COVID-19 hospitalization some months back, was also strident. “Please take
the shot. I’ve had the COVID and it’s nothing to play with, it’s no joke,” he

“We take many, many calls, and we hear about the severity of
the illness,” said Quaranta. “I don’t want anyone to go through that.”

She said the county offers details on how to handle a positive
case, continuing as it has been to urge that people stay home, just as they
would with any contagious illness.

“Don’t spread your sick germs to others,”
she said, adding as well that those whose tests come back clean should not conclude
that they have forever dodged the virus.

All three of the other commissioners also weighed in, each encouraging
the taking of the vaccine

“Do it not only for yourself but for your loved ones,” said Commissioner
Smokey Parrish. “It’s an individual choice, but a lot of times it’s not about
you, it’s about the people around you.”

Commissioner Bert Boldt, a physical therapist by profession,
said that he has seen the clinical proof of what the coronavirus does. “I am awestruck
about the impairment of the respiratory system,” he said. “It’s absolutely devastating.”

Commissioner Jessica Ward, a respiratory therapist, left no
doubt about the urgency of the matter.

“I’ve seen what happens to them,” she said. “I’ve seen
people my age, with no underlying conditions, die. And die in the most miserable
way possible, intubating on a ventilator, not being able to speak to their

“The young people that are vaccinated, they’re not as
sick and their severity of symptoms is not as bad, as the ones who have not been
vaccinated,” Ward said.

COVID-19 vaccines are available through the health
department, Weems Memorial Hospital, Ascension Sacred Heart Gulf, PanCare of
Florida, Inc., North Florida Medical Center and local pharmacy locations,
including CVS and Buyrite.

If you’ve had a COVID-19 test, you can use the Healthy
Together App for results. In addition, users can securely view their COVID-19
test results, provide symptoms and contacts, with positive residents able to provide
symptoms to the state; and learn what to do after they get tested.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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