BRADENTON, Fla. — A county administration building in Florida is back open following a COVID-19 outbreak among its workforce.
The administrator for Manatee County, located just south of Tampa, said two employees died and three others were hospitalized in a single department.
“It's been a difficult few days, to be honest. I knew all of the individuals. Not closely, but they were friendly. Just really anything you needed of them, they were helpful and I know a lot of county staff who work in this building, in the IT department, are hurting,” said Nicholas Azzara, an information outreach manager with Manatee County. “This is a serious loss to our work family and a lot of people are sad.”
After the county administrator said COVID-19 protocols would be reinstated, the county administrator later announced masks would be an option inside when the building reopened Monday.
“We cannot mandate someone to be vaccinated and you can't prevent them from entering a public space like our building, so it was a strong recommendation to wear a mask indoors and practice the CDC-approved guidelines if you're not vaccinated,” Azzara said.
The county administrator said the cases impacted only people who were not vaccinated.
Separately, a Port Manatee spokesperson also confirmed three cases in its security department the past three weeks, among employees who to their knowledge were not vaccinated.
The Department of Health in Manatee County is asking people to consider getting a shot as soon as possible if they haven’t already.
“We encourage everybody to get vaccinated. The big message is COVID-19 is not over. It is still here and it is still a serious threat to public health. Get vaccinated get tested practice the prevention measures,” said communication director Christopher Tittel.
Fifty-five percent of those 12 and older are vaccinated in Manatee County, according to state data.
“I’m hoping that this week our numbers are a little bit higher but we still have a way to go before we hit that 70 or 80 percent herd immunity figure,” said Tittel.
The department recently hired a vaccine hesitancy consultant.
“Some of the people out there need more information. They’re not convinced that the vaccine is safe. I think you know both Pfizer and Moderna have a really strong argument for full licensure from the FDA, so if the FDA goes ahead and does that I think that will convince people it is a safe and effective vaccine,” said Michael Teng, Ph.D., an associate professor at USF.
Teng said vaccination rates appear like a gradient across Florida, with lower rates further north.
“So you have pockets of unvaccinated people you’ll find these pockets of transmission. With the percentage of people being vaccinated below 50 percent it’s going to a be larger pockets,” Teng said.
Meanwhile, Manatee County said there is a vaccine clinic for employees on Friday.
This story was originally published by Haley Bull on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa.