BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) — The Manatee County administration building reopened Monday after it was abruptly shut down Friday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Around 2:30 p.m. Friday, employees were told to go home, and the building was disinfected.
Two county employees died last week. Three others tested positive for the virus.
Masks remain optional for staff and visitors, but are highly recommended for those who are unvaccinated.
“It’s been a shock to the organization. People were just beginning to get back to what the new normal was like and then this. So it’s devastating and my heart goes out to the families,” said Dr. Scott Hopes, the Manatee County Administrator.
Epidemiologists from the Manatee County Health Department went to the building to conduct contact tracing. Now, they’re working to figure out which, if any, variant of the virus the employees may have been exposed to.
“My suspicion as an epidemiologists is that we are dealing with a variant unlike what we had last year,” said Dr. Hopes. “This seems to be a very contagious variant and based on these five cases and the situation, it was a 40% case fatality rate, that is very high,” he explained.
Family members have identified one of the victims to 8 On Your Side as Al Cox. The father of three and grandfather of five was in his early fifties. In addition to his county government job, he was the longtime and beloved athletic director for 13th Avenue Dream Center in Bradenton. His wife of 26-years says he loved working with children.
“He was involved with the Dream Center for over 20 years. He was a great mentor, building relationships with the children, introducing them to different sports and instilling life lessons in them,” said Kim Strong-Cox.
Strong-Cox says her husband was not vaccinated against COVID-19 when he fell ill.
“That is our choice and we weren’t ready… We contemplated over and over again,” said Cox’s wife. “He was a faithful mask wearer, he would wear it everyday,” she continued.
She wishes others who were unvaccinated would do the same. “Don’t just think about yourself.. think about others and their family members. If you don’t wanna wear your mask, stay away from people; that is just my opinion,” said Strong-Cox.
So far, county officials say all of the employees who tested positive for the virus were not vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I am aware of at least one employee working in that group, that worked closely with these individuals who was vaccinated, and he did not contract COVID-19,” said Dr. Hopes.
Other workers who were vaccinated and worked close to the infected individuals were not affected. Now, the county is making a new push for vaccines.
“We know how to prevent the spread of it, and we need to practice it, but most importantly the vaccines appear to be very effective at preventing illness and certainly at preventing severe illness,” said Dr. Hopes.
This Friday, the county will hold a COVID-19 vaccine clinic for employees.