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Intersection: Orange County Health Department Creating Vaccine ‘Strike Teams’ To Get Vaccine Out

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Photo: Mirko Sajkov from Pixabay

This week Florida became the third state – behind Texas and California – to hit one million coronavirus cases.

Several vaccines are on the way, but in the meantime, health experts are bracing for a surge in cases after the Thanksgiving break, and warning it could be a bleak winter.

Black Americans have the highest per-capita death rate from COVID-19. But at the same time, polls have found Black Americans are the least likely to say they would get vaccinated.

So what is the Orange County health department doing at the grassroots level to reach communities of color and get this vaccine to them?

Alvina Chu, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, says they are creating small teams to go door-to-door in certain areas.

“No. 1, (where) we’ve seen clusters and hotspots for cases, and also where there is a need,” Chu said. “Those communities that have greater health care disparities, or less access to health care, or vaccination rates that are historically low.”

Chu said Orange County is already seeing the impacts of increased COVID-19 cases linked to Thanksgiving gatherings. She said over summer, about 30 percent of cases were linked to a known laboratory confirmed case. Now it’s about half of cases – and that means the virus is being spread among families.

“What we’re seeing more of is not necessarily something like a large, super spreader event or going to spring break or the beach, it’s really easy transmission spread within a household,” Chu said. “So it can be children to parent, parent to grandparent and even great grandparent.”

Governor Ron DeSantis said he won’t impose more lockdowns or mask mandates. He also said schools will stay open.

Orange County Public Schools is expecting to see more students come back to school face-to-face in spring of 2021.

Dr. Maria Vazquez, deputy superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, said fall enrollment is down by about 5,000 students. She was asked if staff would be required to get a vaccine when one becomes available.

“At this point, there’s been no discussion of requiring staff or students to have the vaccine,” Vazquez said.

Dr. Amesh Adalja with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said he feels safe getting a vaccine. He called the vaccines a light at the end of the tunnel.

But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the tunnel yet.

“Even though these vaccines are very promising and we’re really enthusiastic and they will put this pandemic behind us, we’re still in this pandemic and it’s not something we can afford to let our guard down,” Adalja said. “The more people let their guard down, the more the community hospitals are going to go into crisis.”

WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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Abe Aboraya

About Abe Aboraya

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