© 2024 Central Florida Public Media. All Rights Reserved.
90.7 FM Orlando • 89.5 FM Ocala
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sumter takes 'measured' approach as COVID-19 cases rise in The Villages

Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold (at table on the left) takes part in a County Commission meeting in The Villages Tuesday. Photo: Joe Byrnes
Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold (at table on the left) takes part in a County Commission meeting in The Villages Tuesday. Photo: Joe Byrnes

As COVID-19 cases increase in The Villages, Sumter County has taken a measured approach.

The positive tests for coronavirus had risen sharply to 10 cases in Sumter by Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, the cases totaled 13, with five people hospitalized.

The County Commission held a regular meeting Tuesday evening while trying to maintain social distancing. They have followed the lead of the governor and health department.

Sumter health officials are advising people over 65 and younger people with heart, lung and immune system conditions to stay home.

But unlike some counties, Sumter has not issued a stay-at-home order.

After the meeting, County Administrator Bradley Arnold spoke with 90.7's Joe Byrnes about the approach he's taking.

WMFE: Is the county looking at any stay-at-home type measures or anything like that, in addition, obviously, to the social distancing and recommendations by the governor?

ARNOLD: So, the governor made some, some very serious comments today related to he's trying to avoid a shelter-in-place order for the state. And so, again, as we make our measured processes over our services. I think it's been clear that numbers will go up as the testing kits become more readily available and people are tested, and the health department is actually the lead emergency service function for this particular activity to where they will actually do the trace activity for anyone that is determined to be positive, to try to find out what was the origin of the  exposure, where they might have been to provide exposure. And so we really turn to our emergency, sorry, our medical director with the health department for guidance, locally, while he looks to the Department of Health, the surgeon general, and the governor for guidance from the state,

WMFE: What is the thing that concerns you most with COVID-19? What keeps you up at night or wakes you up in the middle of the night thinking about that here in Sumter County?

ARNOLD: Clearly, it is that balance. We know that there are many people that still need the services that we're providing. And try not to make any type of decision related to elimination of the service or postponement of service that could actually impact someone's livelihood, someone's actual business activity. Those have serious ramifications as well. So that's what keeps me up is trying to balance between that service provision versus not being overly reactive also related to simply closing down just out of fear.

WMFE: So you're hearing from critics. You're getting response from the public. What are you hearing? What are people telling you?

ARNOLD: Sure, I had concern related to the board meeting this evening, to have canceled it. Well, there were people that, for example, we had one person that was relying on a decision by the board, so that they could actually move forward and actually having the residence, to be able to live in it. We also had other type of business that had moved forward, as well as the extension of the local declaration of emergency. And so although we recognize that people don't want us to have a meeting, we made measures within this meeting, to have adequate spacing, social distancing of the chairs. We had a hand sanitizer available. We wiped down the podium and the microphone for any of the public that wanted to speak. So we're taking all those, again, balanced measures to still be able to move forward with the services.

So that was one criticism. We have when other counties react and make a decision some people think that our county should follow immediately suit. Alachua County issued a local shelter-in-place order. That is not something -- I've already answered that particular question. The governor also made a comment about that. That may have been right for Alachua County. They will make that determination at their debrief at the end of the emergency. And so that's where some of the criticism comes in because somebody sees what one county is doing, and we may not have moved at that point yet. And again, I understand where they're coming from. But again, that balance is the issue that keeps me up at night and trying to make sure that we've made the right decisions.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.