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45 Manatee County employees have tested positive for COVID in the past three months
Bradenton Herald - 7/30/2021
Jul. 30—BRADENTON — Manatee government continues to struggle with COVID-19 infections among employees, the county administrator said Friday.
Since early May, 45 workers have tested positive and another 111 have been forced to quarantine after exposure to positive employees, County Administrator Scott Hopes said. In that time, three county employees have died from COVID-19, including one last weekend.
"I'm comfortable that I have been able to address why we were seeing some of the spread. I can tell you the Utilities Department was one of the areas with a lot of vaccine hesitancy and resistance to wearing masks," Hopes said.
Most recently, a 57-year-old utilities employee died from COVID-19 on Sunday.
Friday's update on COVID-19 cases among county employees comes more than a month after a COVID-19 outbreak forced the shutdown of the county Administration Building in downtown Bradenton. As many as 700 employees report to work there every day.
That cluster of the virus was traced back to the county's Information Technology Department, where five people tested positive. Two of them died and three were hospitalized after facing severe symptoms from the illness.
County officials did not disclose how many of the infected employees had contact with the public. Asked for details, Hopes said he would try to gather that information.
Hopes explained that cases of positive employees have spread throughout all of Manatee County's 14 departments. Of the 45 cases, five of them were breakthrough cases that affected vaccinated employees. Three of them were fully vaccinated and two were partially vaccinated.
County officials are unlikely to require masks or vaccinations, Hopes said, but he urged "personal responsibility" and advised anyone who hasn't been vaccinated to get one as soon as possible.
"We all have responsibility for our own health and our neighbor's health," said Hopes, who has a master's degree in epidemiology. "I believe in freedom of decision and choice, but I also believe in public health."
Following the outbreak in June, the county organized a series of vaccination opportunities for workers at the Administration Building. At the time, more than 40 employees took advantage. Everyone who gets a vaccine is doing their part to limit community spread, Hopes said.
"The vaccine works. It worked in the beginning," he said. "It still works."
The county also released a report of the contact tracing that has taken place since May 3, just before the Board of County Commissioners voted on May 11 to put an end to mandatory COVID-19 safety measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Since then, the county's public buildings have operated at full capacity.
Disinfection protocols remain in place, according to Hopes, and county buildings are routinely cleaned. Hopes also announced a change to the county's quarantine policy, which used to rely solely on a negative test before allowing employees to return to work.
"The problem was the reliance on the negative tests to determine that someone was no longer infected or contagious," Hopes said.
Any employee determined to have been exposed to COVID-19 through contact tracing will now be required to stay home for at least 10 days. If they're symptomatic, they will also need to stay home until their symptoms are lessened and they've been without a fever for 24 hours, without the help of any fever-reducing medicine.
What departments have been affected by COVID-19 cases?
— Utilities: 16 cases
— Public Safety: 6 cases
— Information Technology: 5 cases
— Parks and Natural Resources: 3 cases
Neighborhood Services: 3 cases
— Financial Management: 2 cases
— Public Works: 2 cases
— Property Management: 2 cases
— County Administration: 1 case
— County Attorney's Office: 1 case
— Human Resources: 1 case
— Redevelopment and Economic Opportunity: 1 case
— Building and Development Services: 1 case
— Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1 case
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