State reopens but officials advise to remain cautious

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Tracing the contact history of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 continues to drive virus cases up in Putnam County.

The county had reported 58 COVID-19 cases April 21. The number of positive tests has more than doubled in two weeks, standing at 120 Monday.

Mary Garcia, the administrator for the Department of Health in Putnam County, said the agency continues to work internally to track down people who might have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

“That’s the hardest part,” Garcia said. “For every person, you need to go back in time to before you got sick, three days at least, and come forward to that day of who you’ve been in contact with.

“It could be not that many people if you’ve been doing social isolation correctly or it could be a lot of people if you are still working, if you are still seeing friends, if you are not following social distancing. Sometimes it’s a lot of people. And that person could lead to somebody else who could lead to somebody else.”

There were no new reported cases Monday. However, the number of cases jumped by 12 over the weekend, including nine on Saturday and three Sunday. Seventy-nine of the cases – nearly 66% – are in Palatka.

The county also reported the death of a second Putnam County resident Saturday. The department said the victim was an 86-year-old Satsuma man. His case was travel-related and he was in contact with a confirmed case.

The other coronavirus-related death was a 54-year-old Palatka man April 3.

Meanwhile, some businesses and parks statewide entered Phase 1 of reopening Monday under guidelines from Gov. Ron DeSantis. Restaurants could choose to open indoor seating to 25% capacity as could retail stores. The main entrance for Dunns Creek State Park at 320 Sisco Road reopened Monday.

The scheduling of elective surgeries has also resumed at Putnam Community Medical Center.

Garcia urged residents Monday to continue taking precautions against the virus, including limiting contact with others and frequently washing their hands.

“To be terribly honest with you, I think there’s a lot more that we have in front of us,” Garcia said. “I’m always a cautious person. I just want to ensure that everybody follows social distancing, everybody wears a mask, everybody behaves.

“It is one of my biggest fears that we’ll have a surge and I think we should be expecting one in September. I think that’s to be expected. At that point, I would think the schools are going to be back open. We’ve seen it in other places where people are just going to start coming out. We see that with the flu all the time, too.”

Garcia said while the state gets ready for Phase 1 opening in some areas of the state, it’s important to remember some are still in Phase 0.

“Some counties have not had a lot of action and they can get started to reopen,” Garcia said. “But we’re certainly still doing a lot of contact tracing and we’re still doing a lot of investigations that will change things as we go.”

Testing in Putnam reached 1,873 people and 1,750 residents tested negative as of Monday. Three cases are pending, according to floridadisaster.org. Nineteen of the cases have required hospitalization.

The department will not release the number of people who have recovered from coronavirus because the reinfection rate is currently unknown.

Statewide, 36,897 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 1,399 deaths were reported in Florida 

Health officials cannot release the names of coronavirus patients due to health privacy laws that restrict the release of personal patient information.