Belle Glade considered a ‘hot spot’ for COVID-19; Residents urged to follow social distancing guidelines

WEST PALM BEACH – The Belle Glade area has become a “hot spot” for the COVID-19 virus according to information shared at the May 15 meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission. As of May 15, there were 246 positive cases in Belle Glade.

Glades residents have not been observing the social distancing recommendations, according to a report from the Palm Beach County Health Care District.

“We need to be all hands on deck in the Glades,” said Commissioner Mark Bernard.

He said while increased testing is good, it’s not enough. “I think we need to create a plan that will holistically address that area,” said Commissioner Bernard. “We need to do something that will drastically stop this from spreading in the Glades,” he said.

Dr. Alina Alonso of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County said education has been a problem in the Glades. She said it has also been difficult to make sure those who have been exposed to people who tested positive also stay home.

“The contact tracing piece is that we talk to them to find out how they got it, and also talk to others living in the home and tell them they should also stay home,” said Dr. Alonso.

“The biggest problem that we get when have when we have that conversation when we have that educational piece, is that if they don’t go to work, they don’t get paid,” said Dr. Alonso. “We can talk until we are blue in the face, but if they don’t have a pay check, they go out. They’re living in a home with five or six other people. All those people are going out. They are working in the restaurants. They are working in all of these places that can spread it, and that’s why it’s so important that they wear the masks.”

Dr. Alonso said the Belle Glade number does not include the cases at South Bay Correctional.

“Obviously we have a hot spot in the Glades,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay.

She said the staff at South Bay Correctional indicated the high number of COVID-19 cases at that facility were related to employees who live in Hendry County.

“Of the people that are showing up at Lakeside Medical Center, 40 percent of them are testing positive,” said Commissioner McKinlay. “They are not coming in when they are asymptomatic. They are coming in when they are very sick.”

“They have patients who are leaving the hospital against medical advice,” she added. “They are advised or suggested that they not leave the house. They are not ordered or quarantined.

“If somebody knows they are positive and they leave the hospital, why are we not putting an order on them to stay home?” she asked.

Dr. Alonso said quarantine orders have to be signed by the surgeon general. She said her staff can do more to visit homes to make sure those who have tested positive are staying home.

Commissioner McKinlay said the state needs to do a community wide strike team in the Glades area. “When you’ve got 40 percent of the people showing up for a test at that hospital location, 40 percent are testing positive, pop up sites testing 100 people are not enough, she said. “That is an all hands on deck, call in the National Guard, do testing.

“You are going into a community that historically does not trust the government. They don’t want to come in to a government testing site and give over their personal information and get a test done. We need to change the way we are providing those tests,” said Commissioner McKinlay. She said last week three bus loads of farm workers were driven to the testing site and only a handful opted to get off the bus and be tested.

“We need to take the testing to them,” she said. “We need to involve people they know and trust.”

She said she has reached out to the employers in the Glades and they are doing a phenomenal job with things like taking employees’ temperatures and changing the way they transport workers to the fields.

She said she has also reached out to the churches to help with messaging.

“They will not go to the National Guard,” said Dr. Alonso. “They don’t trust the National Guard. It’s the uniform.” She said involving community leadership will be more effective.

“We need more resources, no matter what they show up wearing,” said Commissioner McKinlay. Rural minority communities need help, she said. “If we don’t, it’s going to get worse.”

The Health Care District of Palm Beach County released the following statement regarding coronavirus cases in Belle Glade:

“We are grateful to Commissioner McKinlay for bringing attention to the health of the Glades Community in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Care District owns and operates Lakeside Medical Center, our acute care teaching hospital in Belle Glade. On May 7, we began to see spikes in admissions and Emergency Room visits with clusters of people complaining of COVID-like symptoms.

“Several of those patients reported circumstances that indicated they had not been engaging in social distancing. Health Care District leadership reached out to Commissioner McKinlay for assistance in spreading the message about these concerns to community leaders to help change those behaviors. Internal hospital data was shared to help emphasize the growing concerns. On May 7, the census was 43, of whom 20 patients were known positive and 14 had results pending. At that time, of all 243 patients who had been tested at Lakeside Medical Center since March 14, 41% had tested positive for COVID19. On May 7, there were six patients on ventilators, though Lakeside has a capacity of 17 ventilators.

“As of May 15, Lakeside Medical Center’s census has stabilized at 27, of whom 15 are known positive and 8 have test results pending. Four patients are on ventilators. In the current environment, most patients who arrive at Emergency Rooms, including Lakeside are typically very ill and require admission, or present with concerns of having COVID-19, as others are fearful of hospitals at this unprecedented time. We anticipate that the percentage of people with COVID will likely remain high in our facility for some time, however we are pleased that the number of patients requiring hospitalization has declined over the past 7 days and remains stable. At no time was there concern that Lakeside Medical Center was unable to manage their existing patient volume, there was only concern that community behaviors would result in continued growth in required admissions, which would then overburden our system.

“We understand that these numbers will continue to spike and decline at all hospitals until a vaccine is identified and widely administered. Lakeside Medical Center is prepared with appropriate staffing, equipment, PPE’s and the availability of all private-patient rooms to serve the current need in the Glades community. In addition, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County and Lakeside Medical Center are conducting outreach efforts to educate Glades residents about prevention through educational fliers, social media, a radio PSA with retired NFL football player Anquan Boldin and one-on-one patient education in the hospital.”

The Florida Department of Health advises everyone to maintain 6 feet between people in public, and to wear cloth face masks when in public.

The health care district advises everyone to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

• The #1 way to prevent getting coronavirus (CoVid-19) is to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (two “happy birthday” songs).

• Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick, sneezing or coughing.

• If you have symptoms of acute respiratory illness or have a fever, stay home.

• Make sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

As of the May 17 report from the Florida Department of Health, the Belle Glade ZIP code had 269 positive cases; South Bay, 95 cases; Pahokee, 92 cases; Clewiston, 175 cases.

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