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COVID-19 And Flu Season: Palm Beach Health Director Warns That Virus Could Come Back 'Stronger'

Dr. Alina Alonso speaking with Michelle Quesada and Matt Papayci of WPTV Channel 5
Dr. Alina Alonso speaking with Michelle Quesada and Matt Papayci of WPTV Channel 5

When the U.S. got its first cases of COVID-19, there was hope that hot summer weather would eventually help suppress the virus. It hasn’t worked out that way. And Palm Beach County’s top health official says the virus could still get worse in the fall.

Dr. Alina Alonso spoke to WPTV Wednesday. She says during flu season, she expects COVID-19, influenza A and influenza B, will “float around at the same time.” And that people will have a hard time navigating the viruses.  That could complicate efforts to develop and distribute flu vaccines quickly as COVID-19 “comes back stronger.”

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“We'll have to be dealing with the flu and the COVID and most people are going to have to, you know — if they get the flu, they're going to think it's COVID. If they get COVID, they might think it's the flu,” Alonso said.

During the 25-minute interview, Dr. Alonso discussed everything from the county’s issues with contact tracing, increased positivity rate, and declining death rates, to education awareness and best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Alonso says county officials will remain in phase one of economic reopening until the COVID-19 positivity rate decreases. It’s currently hovering around 10 percent.

Here are just a few other takeaways from the interview.

On three basic obstacles with contact tracing:

"The first one is the people who are positive, not understanding the importance of the contact tracing — which is basically the ability that we have to stop the spread of the virus by being able to immediately get a hold of the people who that person came in contact with, and be able to quarantine them at home so they don't spread it any further.

The second challenge is that they're afraid to give out names of where they work. Of the people that they are in contact with, the people that live with them for multitude of reasons, including employers telling them that they have to keep coming to work. So in that instance, we're trying to work with the business community to have that piece of [if you're] sick, you need to stay home. Very important.

And the third one is just the general education that people still don't have a good grasp of what the COVID does and how it spreads and how you can stop from spreading it. So that's the educational component."

On positivity rate clarification:

The positivity rate we see on the Florida dashboard is not an average percentage of people tested for a particular day. Alonso added: 

"No, it's not an average. It's the number of positive tests that day divided by the total number of tests that were tested that day. It's a fraction. It's a rate of positive people over the total number of people tested that date for the labs. That changes every day. Because both of those rates should be going down. If you have less virus in the community and some people say, well, we're seeing more virus because we're testing more — we want to test even more than what we're testing."

On staying in phase one of Florida's econmic reopening plan:

"We need to wrap our hands around this and get the numbers down. And so that's why the county administrator has decided not to open anything further. Miami opened and then they had to close back down. That's even more devastating to businesses. They have to get prepared to open up. They have to buy supplies. And then all of a sudden they're going to get shut down. That's gonna be the end of the business if they do that. So I think we've been wise to keep things where we are with phase one and not go any further until we see some of these numbers coming down. And especially that positivity rate will tell us that the virus has slowed down."

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Wilkine Brutus is a multimedia journalist for WLRN, South Florida's NPR, and a member of Washington Post/Poynter Institute’ s 2019 Leadership Academy. A former Digital Reporter for The Palm Beach Post, Brutus produces enterprise stories on topics surrounding people, community innovation, entrepreneurship, art, culture, and current affairs.