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Leon County hosts virtual summit focused on spread of COVID-19

The summit featured government, hospital and school officials
Posted at 11:00 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 23:00:52-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — As people sit in testing lines for hours and Leon County's COVID positivity cases rise, leaders are now asking, "How can we adjust to fight Omicron?"

That question brought county, city, school, university, law and healthcare leaders together today for a virtual summit.

"Our cases have increased dramatically. On Nov. 29, we were at a 1.9% case positivity with 89 cases for the week. The week ending Dec. 23, we had a 22.1% and 4,051 cases," said Leon County Department of Health head Claudia Blackburn.

That surge and the issues brought with it inspired Leon County Commissioner Chairman Bill Proctor to host a virtual summit.

"We're charged as a county government to do all that we can for the health, safety, and welfare of the public," said Chairman Proctor.

One you thing you most likely won't see from the county; an emergency order related to masks and vaccines. Leon County Attorney Chasity O'Steen explained that's because of state law.

"It raises a very high bar and the county would have to make a very good legal foundation to survive any sort of a challenge for a mask requirement," she said. "The legislature has created a heightened bar to create an emergency order that affects the rights to people and business within the county."

While the county can't effect change via emergency order, it is working on ways to increase testing. Leon County Director Office of Human Services & Community Partnerships Shington Lamy says his team is currently working with local homeless advocates to ensure a safe place to quarantine for unhoused people while also working to secure more tests for the homeless.

His office is also addressing the county-wide issues with testing.

"It became known more testing was going to be needed as more people return to our communities after the holiday and the increase in the omicron variant," he said.

In the first weekend of 2022, Leon county's pop-up sites tested 500 people.

At Florida A &M University's site, more than 3,800 people tested Monday alone. The lines are so long, the team has added 14 new staff members in two weeks.

Even still, there's still a demand for more testing in the. county. A demand the Department of Health and TMH is working to meet.

"We are collaborating with TMH and NOMI Health to set up another testing site that will have considerable capacity," said Blackburn.

That comes as local hospitals urge people to stop using the emergency room as a testing site.

Tallahassee Memorial CEO Mark O'Bryant said the influx of people looking for a test in the ER is taking a toll on the hospital.

"It's impacting everybody including those colleagues that work in the healthcare environment. They're removed from the workforce, which creates more difficulty because we have a shortage of a qualified workforce to take care of our patients," he said.

As of January 4th, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare is treating 35 patients with Covid-19. Two-thirds of those patients are unvaccinated. 45% came to the hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, but the other 55% tested positive while they were in the hospital for something unrelated.

While other strains of the virus have almost entirely impacted the lungs, 37% of patients have pulmonary symptoms right now.

Capital Regional Medical center has 28 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday,

Commission Chairman Proctor said if omicron remains an issue, you can expect more summits like Tuesday's to happen.