Walton Officials have plans to fight COVID influx

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WALTON COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — Walton area hospitals are practically being overrun with COVID patients and officials say they have proactive plans in place that help minimize hospital wait times.

Right now about one out-of-every five people getting COVID tests are positive for the virus. But only less than 50% of Walton County residents are vaccinated. So, officials are urging people to consider getting the shot.

“That is one of the main things we are trying to get across to people, the vaccinations do work,” said Walton County Emergency Management Director Jeff Goldberg. “As well as social distancing, hand washing, using hand sanitizer, everything we have been talking about for over a year and a half.”

Goldberg has been working with his team diligently since the beginning of the pandemic. And more recently, he said they have seen an increase in hospitalizations.

“Only about 6% of the people that are in the hospital, on average, are vaccinated,” said Goldberg. “Most of the people that do contract COVID that aren’t vaccinated are experiencing much less severe symptoms.”

In response to the increase in patients, Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast administrators have decided to add covered- space outside.

The idea behind the air-conditioned tent is for patients that have COVID-19 symptoms but do not necessarily need to go into the emergency room.

“What they are doing is they are using it to take the lower acuity level potential COVID patients and see them outside of the emergency department,” said Goldberg.

By limiting the number of COVID patients inside the emergency room, wait times will be decreased.

“If we see that we are starting to see pockets of areas that need vaccinations then we will try to send folks into those areas,” he said. 

Soon vaccine sites will be moving around the county for more access since only 49% of residents have been vaccinated.  

“We are right at about the state average, which in my opinion, and health officer holly holts opinion, is not nearly enough,” said Goldberg.

Walton County Emergency Management and the Health Department workers are offering COVID testing and vaccinations every Tuesday at the DeFuniak Springs fairgrounds, and every Friday at the Coastal Branch Health Department in South Walton. You do not need an appointment for vaccines, but you do need one for COVID tests.

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