MANATEE COUNTY, Fla — The Manatee County Administrative Building was abruptly closed to the public Friday afternoon after a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 was reported in five staff members.
According to Manatee County officials, there were five cases of COVID-19 reported in staff members on one floor of the building. Of those five cases, four people were hospitalized. Two people died, one of which wasn't hospitalized.
Dr. Scott Hopes, Manatee County Administrator, said the infections happened in the IT department of the building and all of the cases were in younger workers, Hopes estimating in their 50's and late 30's. County officials immediately restored COVID-19 protocols in the building through next week including social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, and temperature checks. Contact tracing is also underway.
"It’s been a shock to the organization. People were just beginning to get back to what the new normal was like and then this. So it’s devastating and my heart goes out to the families," Hopes said.
Dr. Hopes said the initial symptom was a sore throat. The first death from the COVID cases was on Monday and the county became aware of the death Tuesday, Dr. Hopes said. Manatee County Human Resources began gathering data and it was discovered Friday that a second COVID-19 death was reported in the IT department. Dr. Hopes said that person had gone to the doctor just the day prior. The additional cases weren't discovered until Friday when all the data was collected, Dr. Hopes said.
"I think when you have a large number of people who are working closely together and who are not vaccinated; that can be a recipe for disaster," Hopes said.
Manatee County voted to repeal COVID-19 protocols in May, a move which Hopes said left him, "quite concerned."
"(It) should be a lesson to others out there. There is still a disease in the community, affecting younger people, and killing younger people," Hopes warned.
Hopes explained those impacted were not believed to have been vaccinated. He said he's encouraging employees and their families to take advantage of vaccine clinics. Recently the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County hired a vaccine hesitancy consultant.