Florida’s bars, restaurants and other businesses reopened in early June, and COVID-19 cases began to spike shortly after. With daily totals reaching new highs, some are asking if officials began the reopening too hastily for the sake of the economy.
Florida officially reached 100,000 total cases, according to state data released early June 22, while Volusia County had 1,263 cases as of the same report.
Most concerning, in recent days, is that Volusia County has seen dozens of new cases each day, compared to a dozen or fewer over the preceding few weeks.
Volusia County reported 68 new cases June 18, a two-week high, followed by 56, 65 and 44 cases in the three days following. Those beefy totals pushed the county over the 1,000-case mark.
During the week of June 8-14, the county averaged about 17.6 new cases per day, while in the following seven days, June 15-21, the daily average spiked to 43.
Crucially, the percentage of tests coming back positive has also been moving in the wrong direction, proving that more testing isn’t the only thing making the numbers rise.
On most days, the county was seeing between 1 percent and 3 percent positive test results, but for the past week, that number has stayed above 5 percent. The percentage of positive tests reached 13.3 percent on June 18 before settling down slightly.
Still, despite the increase in overall numbers, public-health officials with the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County aren’t sounding the alarm quite yet.
“An increase in the number of positive cases is not unexpected as things begin to open back up. We continue to monitor the metrics outlined in Governor DeSantis’ Plan for Florida’s Recovery,” said Holly Smith, a spokeswoman for the Health Department. “One of the key metrics is the availability of our health care systems to handle the number of cases presented. At this time, the systems are in a good position in Volusia County.”
Smith said the agency is continuing to practice contact-tracing on all cases, as it has done since Volusia County’s first case was reported in March.
A significant share of the increase is coming among younger people.
“While more tests are being conducted in the county and as a result more cases are found, the increased positivity rate along with the increase in cases indicates Volusia County is experiencing community spread,” Smith said. “More than 40 percent of the new cases over the past two weeks have been in people aged 25-34.”
Some business owners in West Volusia, like Bill Budzinski of The Elusive Grape, are already preparing to possibly have to change — once again — how they do business.
“I am 100 percent not confident that we’ve seen the worst of it, because just from the news we’ve heard the last couple of days, we just have businesses locally that aren’t following the recommended guidelines, and I think it’s going to come bite us in the butt,” Budzinski said.
Under the state’s reopening plans, bars like The Grape are allowed to operate at 50-percent capacity. Budzinski said the interior of his wine bar is set up so that people are as socially distanced as possible. He also uses hospital-quality sanitizer in an air mister that covers and disinfects every exposed surface each night.
What more can he do?
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he said.
Some of the things Budzinski is pondering include making people reserve specific seating areas of the restaurant before coming in, for example.
A few West Volusia businesses have posted temporary closings on social media, because employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
So far, that’s not the case for the popular Downtown DeLand nightspot Cafe DaVinci, owner Dan Reed said. Despite hosting crowds of unmasked patrons, and a few known cases among recent customers, no employees have become sick, Reed said.
Cafe DaVinci’s dozen workers are being tested every week, at no charge to the employees, he said.
Reed’s and Budzinski’s conundrums mirror those of business owners across West Volusia, the state and even the nation.
While he doesn’t want to cause a community problem, Reed said, guidance on what’s the right thing to do has been ever-changing, and he wants his employees to have a chance to work — and to give his business a chance to pay its obligations, without government help.
Reed gave all of his workers the opportunity to continue to stay home if they felt the need.
“I don’t want to put anybody in a position where they don’t feel comfortable,” he said.
Reed has added seating and instructed his staff at Cafe DaVinci to discourage customers from congregating around the bar.
Currently, patrons seem to be regulating themselves, he noted.
“Our crowds have diminished since the numbers started spiking, which means more people are staying home, which is great,” Reed said. “That will definitely help.”