MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – A total of 234 people in Manatee County have died from complications related to COVID-19. This week, the county saw its largest spike in coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The Florida Department of Health reported 91 new COVID-19 deaths Monday. Out of those deaths, 35 of them happened in Manatee County.

District 12 Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Vega says the county did not see 35 deaths in one day. The large number, he explains, is the result of a backlog due to an increased workload with limited staff.

“We were managing pretty well through June because the number of reported deaths was pretty low. Even in the beginning of July, it was not too bad. But as July picked up, we started to see a big increase in the number of deaths and it increased our workload by 50% over normal easily, probably more than that maybe 100% over normal,” Dr. Vega said. “And we just don’t have that big of a staff so when we get a workload like that, it is really really hard for us to manage.”

Dr. Vega says he has already brought in temporary staff to help get back up to speed including former and retired employees from the medical examiner’s office.

“Without that option, we really would have been in bad shape, so I have been pretty fortunate that we have been able to pretty much keep where we need to be and just get through the short term backlog that we had,” he said. “I think we will be in pretty good shape from here on forward unless things get even worse. I’m really hoping against that.”

COVID-19 cases have been trending downward in Manatee County over the last few weeks. Dr. Vega is hopeful the trend will continue that way with cases and deaths but urges people to remain vigilant.

“Even if we see numbers that are trending well at the state level – whether we are talking about new cases, percentage of cases testing positive, hospital admissions or deaths – the only way to keep that trend going is to maintain things that we are doing that are lowering them,” he said. “Don’t lose your focus and don’t start relaxing too much because we see some positive trends. We want to keep those trends going and that means we have got to keep doing what we are doing that is working.”

As a frontline worker in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Vega wants to remind folks the numbers coming from the state Dept. of Health come directly from his office and others around the state.

“We don’t make up anything. We are reviewing the records. We know these people are dying of the disease. It is not a made-up thing and it is not overblown. It is a real phenomenon and that is the message I would like people to be able to take away as well,” said Dr. Vega.