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Clay County leaders: Prepare for another six to eight weeks of physical distancing

As of 11:30 a.m. Monday, Clay County had 79 cases of COVID-19, with six deaths.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — Be prepared for six to eight more weeks of social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

That was the message from Clay County leaders Monday, at a news conference streamed live on the Clay County Emergency Management Facebook page.

Clay County Emergency Mangement director John Ward announced the county now has 79 positive cases of COVID-19, with six deaths. He said the community's efforts to help to stop the spread by "physical distancing" are working.

"We just ask that you continue to do this over this next six to eight weeks -- maintaining groups of less than 10, and then also keeping that physical distance of six feet or more," Ward said.

Monday marked day 25 of the county operating under unified command, partnering the Board of County Commissioners, Department of Health, sheriff's office, school district, municipalities, hospitals and utilities together. 

The county is also working with state and federal leaders to access resources and commodities needed to help fight the spread. Some of those resources are "very slow coming in," Ward said, so they're working with those partners to try to expedite the process.

"Again, the physical distancing is what we need to continue on," Ward said. "We're starting to see a lot of folks that are really taking this seriously, which is good. And then we saw good turnouts at our parks where people were keeping those small groups and the physical distancing there."

Law enforcement officers in the county have been working to monitor Gov. Ron DeSantis' Executive Order 20-91, the safer-at-home order, at businesses. Ward reminded everyone that those 65 or older with any underlying medical condition "shall stay at home."

"And then all of our persons, all of our citizens here in the county need to limit their movement, except for essential services," Ward said. "Going to the store, getting those groceries, going to work, whatever it may be. It's just really trying to limit that movement to stop the spread."

The Clay County Sheriff's Office is working to patrol the county's parks, which remain open, with guidance of groups of no more than 10 people, spread six feet apart. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is monitoring the county's waterways to make sure boats follow the 50-foot distance mandate.

Emergency dispatchers are also following new guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered 911 dispatchers to ask a series of questions before sending first responders to help those in need, which will allow first responders to prepare with appropriate personal protective equipment as needed.

"So please don't hesitate to answer those questions, whether it's temperature, travel, anything along those lines," Ward said. "It's truly going to help us be able to respond appropriately and protect our first responders also."

The county is working with its six food banks to ensure the community continues to receive needed food during the safer-at-home orders.

Clay County Department of Health director Heather Huffman said of the 1,097 tests conducted in the county, 1,014 were negative. She said the best way to get testing data is at floridahealth.gov, where you can access both positive and negative test results county-by-county and even by zip code.

Huffman said the DOH is not using rapid testing, due to concerns with the accuracy and reliability of those tests. 

County Manager Howard Wanamaker said the county is leaving it up to the leadership of individual churches to decide how to proceed with services. The county is "highly encouraging" them to follow the CDC's guidelines of no more than 10 people in a group.

"I do know that there are many churches out there that are conducting services in parking lots, and their parishioners are remaining within their vehicles," Wanamaker said. "I think no longer than about 45 minutes to an hour, so that no one needs to use the facilities or get out of their car, and then they can return home. That is a viable option to take for Sunday, coming up."

Wanamaker thanked first responders, doctors, nurses and health department workers for caring for those infected, and said it has been a long month, with many weeks ahead. 

"Please, stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to venture out to fulfill essential services or conduct essential activities," Wanamaker said. "We will all get through this together, and most importantly, recover faster, if we all practice physical distancing. Let's stop the spread of this virus together."

There is a call center open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer any questions county residents might have. The number is 1-877-252-9362.

There is also a website with COVID-19 data available at alert.claycountygov.com.

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