COVID-19 Two Years Later: Palm Beach Bouncing Back from Pandemic

U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is seen as a local resident fishes after local authorities restricted the activities of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other similar businesses and asked residents to practice 'social distancing' for precaution due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Palm Beach, Florida U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is seen as a local resident fishes after local authorities restricted the activities of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other similar businesses and asked residents to practice ‘social distancing’ for precaution due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Palm Beach, Florida U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 13 marked two years since Palm Beach County recorded its first diagnosed cases of the coronavirus, but the region is putting the pandemic behind it just in time for spring break.

As local officials continue to whisk away the remaining mask mandates, COVID-19 infection rates maintain a steady decline and the number of people receiving their coronavirus vaccine rises, business and community leaders across the region are welcoming back tourists with open arms, although shaking off the pandemic-induced economic downturn is easier said than done.

“In Florida we are doing more than recovering from COVID-19; we are setting visitation new records and beating pre-pandemic numbers,” said Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “However, hotels, restaurants and attractions are facing rising costs due to inflation, supply chain shortages, rising fuel costs and a historic labor crisis.”

Palm Beach County had a total of 364,171 COVID-19 cases and nearly 5,000 fatal cases with a positivity rate of new infections dropping to 2.6%, slightly higher than the statewide rate, according to the latest data available from the Florida Department of Health as of press time. More than 1 million of the county’s 1.4 million residents have received their coronavirus vaccine, the agency reports.

Since Florida recorded its first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 on March 1, 2020 — the same day as New York — the Sunshine State has seen 5.8 million cases and 71,860 deaths from the virus, outpacing the Empire State, which had 4.9 million cases and 67,105 fatalities. More than 79 million cases and over 966,000 COVID-19 deaths were reported nationwide and 462 cases and over 6 million deaths were recorded globally for the same timeframe.

On the local level, Town of Palm Beach officials last month let its local state of emergency expire and last week lifted its requirement that people wear masks on town-owned property, as has been the trend in other communities nationwide, including in the Hamptons.

Katie Burkett sits in a hammock amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) beneath palm trees at sunset in Clearwater Beach, Florida, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Katie Burkett sits in a hammock amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) beneath palm trees at sunset in Clearwater Beach, Florida, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“We announced the lifting of the mask policy last Friday in response to the sub-5% positivity rate in Palm Beach County,” Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar told the Palm Beach Daily News. “We believe that rate is even lower in Palm Beach due to our extremely high vaccination rates.”

Feeling even more bold, Florida’s top health official said on March 7 the state would recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children, breaking with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In announcing the move during press briefing convened by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the state’s surgeon general Dr. Joseph Lapado cited studies that showed few COVID fatalities among healthy children and elevated risk among young boys receiving the vaccine of side effects such as myocarditis.

“The Florida Department of Health is going to be the first state to officially recommend against the use of COVID-19 vaccines for healthy children,” Lapado said during the more than 90-minute panel discussion.

Last week, a study based on New York State health records suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was less effective at preventing infection in children ages 5–11 than in older kids but still cut hospitalizations by about 50%.

A CDC report released in January found that the vaccine was 91% effective in preventing rare but often serious conditions in children that causes organ inflammation weeks after COVID-19 infections called “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children” in 12–18 year olds.

The CDC has strongly recommended that parents have children over the age of 5 inoculated, despite a sharp decline in infections and hospitalizations nationwide since a winter peak in January and evidence that it has been less effective against the Omicron variant.

“It’s deeply disturbing that there are politicians peddling conspiracy theories out there and casting doubt on vaccinations when it is our best tool against the virus and the best tool to prevent even teenagers from being hospitalized,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response to Lapado’s comments.

DeSantis, a Republican often named as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has often sparred with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, over COVID mandates and restrictions.

~ With Reuters

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