NEW PORT RICHEY – Jack Mariano, the most vocal skeptic of COVID-19 regulations and mask mandates on the Pasco County Board of Commissioners, revealed during the Dec. 8 regular meeting that he tested positive for the virus.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve had minimal symptoms,” the board’s longest-serving member said over a video conference connection. The other four commissioners were present at the West Pasco Government Center Board Room in New Port Richey.
“My highest temperature has been, like, 99.1,” Mariano said. “I’ve had some pain in my back, which I think is just from regular back problems that I have. I took some aspirin and haven’t had any symptoms since. So, for me, this virus has had a minimal effect.”
Mariano also reported that his father and father’s girlfriend are also dealing with positive COVID-19 test results. “They spent Thanksgiving with us and they had it before, but their doctor recommended to them to take zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D. They’re not sick enough to go into the hospital.”
While he said he feels fine, Mariano did add that he’s primarily concerned with how it can affect other people until he fully recovers and tests negative.
Mariano provided an update on his health following the board’s periodic COVID-19 update from Mike Napier, Health Officer with the Florida Department of Health in Pasco County.
Similar to other surrounding counties and the state of Florida, positivity rates and total case numbers continue to creep upward, Napier reported.
"We’re now in an environment where we have what’s considered a high case rate and no end in sight at the moment,” he said. “Pasco County has the highest positivity rate in the region and at this rate of 200 cases per day we could double our total cases from 16,000 to 32,000 in the next three months if we don’t do anything else. That’s startling. And that means 400 cases a day instead of 200 cases a day.”
Based on data from Dec. 7, more than 16,500 total positive cases were reported in Pasco County since the beginning of the pandemic and there was a 9.5 percent increase in positive cases during the first week of December compared to the week prior. The rolling seven-day average of cases at that moment was 207, which represented a nearly 100 percent increase compared to the previous 30 days.
As for the county’s recommendation on face coverings, Napier said now is not the time to relax the protocols.
“Back in September when we were looking at 29 cases per day, that was considered a very low case rate and where we would consider having the mask ordinance removed. However, we’ve gone in the wrong direction.”
During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, multiple individuals submitted videos that suggested face coverings are inefficient and advocated for the lifting of mask mandates. Mariano, who has played similar videos for the board, asked Napier and Marissa Levine about the submissions. Levine is a professor of public health practice and family medicine at the University of South Florida and has been working with health officials and local governments throughout the Tampa Bay area and participated in last week’s meeting via video conference.
“The masks aren’t designed to be perfect barriers,” Levine said. “In terms of how they help other people, they minimize the projection of those respiratory droplets and aerosols. They do make a difference.
“Wearing an appropriately layered mask, preferably a multi-layered cotton mask, and having an adequate fit is really important.”
Citing modeling and research conducted by colleagues at USF, Levine said protocols enacted by municipal and county governments are believed to have had a significant effect on positivity rates.
“We’ve probably prevented somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million cases since July,” she said.
Chairman Mike Moore commented that the board’s reliance on medical experts to make decisions should continue moving forward.
“That’s what we’re doing here, and we continue to do as a board, is listen to the actual medical experts,” he said. “We aren’t just elected officials doing things just because we want to do them.”
Napier provided an update on vaccine production, as well, stating that local and regional rates likely won’t slow down “until a vaccine is widely available in the spring.”
Vaccines being tested and produced by Pfizer and Moderna are in the process of being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Two others from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson are in earlier stages of development.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis provided the state’s plan once vaccines become available, recently, and Napier explained the three-phased process.
Phase 1 doses will go toward critical infrastructure individuals, such as healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents and first responders.
Individuals in Phase 2 are those considered at-risk and include people 65 and older, individuals in group congregate settings like group homes and jails, school employees and students, and racial and ethnic minority groups.
Phase 3 is when vaccines will be available for the general population.