New one-day Polk Co. coronavirus cases reach 513 as leaders weigh whether to take action

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The holiday season is bringing a roller coaster ride of positivity rates and a surge of new coronavirus cases in Polk County, state data shows.

On Wednesday, Polk County reported 513 new coronavirus cases, an increase of more than 200 cases in one day.

“I suspect this is a reflection of the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Dr. Tim Regan, emergency department physician and president of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

For many, a 36.59% positivity rate, the percentage of coronavirus tests that show a positive result, after Christmas served as a sign of trouble.

The positivity rate dipped to 12.73% on Wednesday. A decline in tests administered on Christmas Day may have played a role in the spike.

Still, the surge is being felt throughout the county, including at its largest hospital.

“The increase in the community has resulted in an increase in cases here at the medical center. We’re not at the highs that we were during the summer months but we have seen an increase in cases over the last month or so of hospitalized patients,” said Dr. Regan.

One hundred and thirty four coronavirus patients were being treated at Lakeland Regional Health as of Wednesday morning, according to Dr. Regan.

That number was closer to 50 in the fall. Nine of the patients now hospitalized are on ventilators.

“We are entering a crisis. Following the holidays it may be a surge upon a surge. So I’m very concerned about what we’re seeing,” said Don Selvage, interim Lakeland city commissioner.

Selvage, a former city commissioner, will attend Monday’s Lakeland city commission with fresh eyes.

It will be his first meeting since he was appointed to fill Scott Franklin’s vacated seat.

Franklin was elected to Congress in November. While on the city commission, he voted against every mask mandate put to a vote.

His replacement wants to follow President-elect Joe Biden’s lead with a 100-day mask challenge.

“The 100-day challenge with a start and a finish, I think that will resonate with most people. I’m not saying I’m against a mandate but I just want to discuss it with my colleagues to see what they think,” he said.

Mayor Bill Mutz has previously said he would reintroduce a mask mandate if Polk County reported a positivity rate over 10% for at least 14 days.

The positivity rate has not dipped below 9.63% in the last two weeks.

“We are having discussions about alternatives at the present time,” he said Wednesday. “The numbers truly will guide us.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) has banned local enforcement of mask mandates, effectively taking the teeth out of local ordinances.

Polk County commissioners tell 8 On Your Side there are no plans to take any countywide action to stop the spread.

County chair Rick Wilson said he expects commissioners to “continue to encourage people to follow CDC guidelines.”

“I don’t think we’ll change course in any way. With the vaccines coming out, we expect people to still be responsible, wear their mask, socially distance, do all the things they’ve been told to do since day one,” said county commissioner Bill Braswell.

Three hundred staff members at Lakeland Regional Health received the Moderna vaccine as of Wednesday, according to Dr. Regan.

Nursing home staff and residents in the county have begun getting vaccinated.

Polk Fire Rescue EMT’s and paramedics will begin receiving vaccines, on a voluntary basis, on Thursday.

The county has 200 doses available for those first responders, which would cover a third of the department, according to Polk County Public Information and Media Relations Supervisor Jeremy Maready.

While other counties have released plans to distribute vaccines to vulnerable community members, Polk County is still in planning mode.

“We are currently developing a plan for distribution that meets the requirements of the governor’s executive order as quickly as possible. As more doses become available, we will be working with our community partners to notify the community when vaccine is available,” wrote Nicole Riley, spokesperson for the Fla. Dept. of Health in Polk County.

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