A senior health official with the Orange County, Florida Department of Health says that asking about activism during the recent George Floyd protests, has not been a part of the coronavirus contract tracing questions in the Sunshine State.
“The information that we collect is voluntarily offered to us,” Dr. Raul Pino told a local news outlet when explaining how contract tracing works. “We don’t ask specifically to individuals ‘Have you been at the protest?’ because there’s so many elements of freedom and rights for those individuals to be at those protests.”
Orange County, Fla., has had more than10,000 coronavirus cases, with nearly 283 new cases reported Tuesday, according to the state’s Department of Health.
This is just a fraction of the nearly 150,000 cases reported in the state, which has seen recent spikes in infection rates.
The profusion of new cases resulted in Florida’s alcohol regulatory agency banning all alcohol consumption in bars last week, as the daily increase reached over 9,500 new cases Friday.
“Effective immediately, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is suspending on-premises consumption of alcohol at bars statewide,” the agency said in a tweet.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that infection rates in young age demographics have spiked, adding that the median age is no longer hovering around 65. Instead, it has dropped to 33.
“The community transmission is being driven by the 18-35-year-old group,” DeSantis said in a press conference Friday.
Lawmakers and health officials have suggested it has to do with younger demographics heading to bars and not practicing social distancing. However, Orange County health official Pino said he doesn’t “think that’s a coincidence” that the numbers have increased roughly two weeks after the protests started.
He also noted that this could still be a result of states initiating reopening measures around Memorial Day, the same day that George Floyd was killed while in police custody.
Large scale protests happened in Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York and Washington D.C., but recent spikes of coronavirus have not yet occurred in these cities.
States currently struggling with recent surges of COVID-19 rates are Texas, Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who serves as the lead medical specialist on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, addressed younger demographics last week, encouraging them to take the virus seriously.
“It’s a paradigm shift because we’re dealing with young people, people who are going to be asymptomatic, and people who are getting infected in a community setting, not an outbreak setting where you know who to identify, isolate and contact trace,” Fauci said.
Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the younger age groups seeing spikes in infection rates.
“If there’s one message that comes through today I hope it is saying to younger Americans in these states, and in these counties in particular, that they are a big part of the numbers that we are seeing in new cases,” Pence said during a press conference last Friday
Pence was asked if he believed there was any correlation between the states that opened early and where the spikes in the virus were occurring.
“I think there will be a temptation for people to look at these Sunbelt states that have been reopening and putting people back to work and suggest that the reopening has to do with what we’re seeing in the last week or so,” Pence said.
Florida’s Department of Health could not be immediately reached to clarify what questions they ask during contract tracing to compare rates with social gatherings versus people who attended the recent demonstrations.