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Hillsborough's death rate 'significantly increased' this past week

Hillsborough’s Emergency Policy Group heard from local public health workers Thursday, warning about the status of COVID-19 in our area.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough’s Emergency Policy Group heard from local public health workers Thursday, warning about the status of COVID-19 in our area.

Hospitalization rates are up. Available ICU beds availability is down.

But perhaps most alarming was a significant increase in fatalities, up 21 percent from the previous seven days.

“The number of deaths we have had over the last week has significantly increased,” said Dr. Doug Holt, Hillsborough Public Health Director. “In fact, we had 19 reported yesterday.”

The board also heard a presentation on contact tracing. The county currently has just over 200 investigators and tracers working as teams.

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They hope to double that number by this time next month. But experts say contact tracing can’t be as effective while Hillsborough is still reporting between 650 and 700 new cases each day.

“We need to be back to the point where we’re dealing with about 14 or 15 new cases a day at the most,” said Dr. Marissa Levine, with USF Public Health. “The last time we were there was April 28.”

There had been reports the EPG might consider disbanding itself, transferring authority for Hillsborough’s COVID-19 response to the county commission, but that discussion never took place Thursday.

One important clarification which came out of Thursday’s meeting had to do with Hillsborough’s face covering mandate.

The county’s attorney says there’s nothing about the rule that conflicts with people who have a concealed weapons permit, and that there is no state law prohibiting a concealed weapons carrier from wearing a face covering. So, they too, she said, should abide by the mask mandate.

Public health experts say they are still experiencing less cooperation than they’d like to see when it comes to wearing face coverings and contact tracing.

They suggested the county enhance its campaign to remind the public we are all in this together, and said the more cooperation and compliance they get, the quicker we will be able to flatten the curve again.

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