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COVID-19 Hospitalizations, Infections Fall In Leon County; Racial Gap In Vaccines Persists

Two gloved hands are seen giving a shot in an arm.
National Cancer Institute/Unsplash
Four states and one city will participate in a federal pilot program of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Florida’s COVID infection rate has dropped over recent weeks, following a surge of cases over the holidays. The decrease mirrors what's happening in other parts of the state and the country.

In Leon County, there’s been a similar decline though not as sharply as the rest of Florida. Capital Regional Medical Center’s Trey Blake says Tallahassee passed its last peak in cases around the middle of the month.

“We unfortunately had people who got admitted who knew they caught it at Christmas dinner because everyone else tested positive. So now that the holidays are over--less traveling, less family gathering, and hopefully everyone is adhering to masking and social distancing--we’ll continue to see that trend head in the right direction.”

Florida recorded both its highest positive test rate and highest death figure around January 6th. Leon County’s figures are somewhat higher than the state due the area's large college student population. The median age for new infections in Leon is 25. Local health officials are urging people to stay cautious and to stick with social distancing protocols—they say the numbers can easily go up again. More recently federal health leaders warned people to avoid large gatherings, like Super Bowl parties.

The decreasing hospitalizations and infections are coming as the state recorded more people with vaccinations than with infections for the first time.

Leon County has now vaccinated about 50% of eligible seniors and more than 70% of frontline health workers and first responders. Yet only 17% percent of eligible Black seniors have been vaccinated in Leon. It's a disparity mirrored across Florida and highlights the challenges of getting vaccines to some of the most vulnerable people. Damon McMillan with the Bond Community Health Center says, minority interest in vaccines is picking up.

“And as we continue to be in the communities, not only vaccinating but also continuing COVID testing, people are becoming more aware of what’s going on, getting educated, and it’s been helpful in dispelling some of the concern diverse communities have had,” he said in a recent webinar update on the state of the coronavirus in the county.

Black and Hispanic people are more likely to suffer worse outcomes from the coronavirus, and their rate of vaccinations continues to lag behind white Floridians.

In a prepared statement, the Florida Department of Health-Leon says as more vaccine becomes available it expects to start to close the gap. Right now, that duty is falling to the Florida Division of Emergency Management through a partnership with Black churches.

"Recently in Tallahassee, two churches Bethel A.M.E. Church and Bethel Missionary Baptist Church worked together to vaccinate some 500 people. Just this past weekend, Saturday January 30, the faith community in our neighboring county, Gadsden, hosted a vaccine clinic for residents in one of it underserved communities."

It was not immediately clear whether those services are ongoing.