July 4th concert likely spread COVID among vaccinated residents at Florida retirement village

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A group of mostly vaccinated residents at a South Florida retirement village tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a crowded Fourth of July concert.

The Department of Health in Broward arrived at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach this week to test residents and staff at the community after some residents began showing symptoms and tested positive.

Some who tested positive did not display any symptoms; others had coughs and shortness of breath, according to management. Many had received both doses of COVID vaccines.

Bill Pickhardt, chief operating officer of John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, would not say how many people at John Knox are COVID-positive, nor would he provide a breakdown of residents and staff. Residents, including one with COVID, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel as many as 30 have the virus.

“Their symptoms, by and large, are not severe,” Pickhardt said. “That’s not to say some are worse than others.”

John Knox Village in Pompano Beach, with 1,759 people on campus, became one of the first senior communities in the nation to receive the coronavirus vaccine in December 2020. Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news briefing on the campus — with independent, assisted living and skilled nursing sections — to launch the vaccine rollout for seniors first.

Pickhardt said 95% of the nearly 2,000 residents are vaccinated with either Pfizer or Moderna’s two-doses regimen. However, only about 40% of the John Knox staff is vaccinated despite at least six on-site clinics.

Now, with vaccinated residents testing positive, all specimens from John Knox are being sequenced to learn whether they are infected with the Delta variant, Pickhardt said. “We brought testing on to campus through the Department of Health and while it’s not mandatory, it’s encouraged,” he said.

The concert took place indoors, where attendees waved flags and sang to the tunes of the Rambling Street Band. Photos of the event on the facility’s Facebook account show rows of residents sitting close together without socially distancing and without masks.

New COVID cases are on the rise in Florida, with the Sunshine State fueling the nationwide surge. Florida now accounts for 20% of all new COVID infections. On Friday, the Florida health officials announced more than 45,000 new cases for the week, double that of the prior week.

While this is the first report of an outbreak in a long-term care center in Florida since the vaccine rollout, an Oregon senior care facility recently saw rare breakthrough cases of COVID-19 despite widespread vaccination. Of the 15 positive cases between residents and staff at the Oregon center, nine were among people who were fully vaccinated. Only the two unvaccinated residents were hospitalized.

Data suggests despite their rarity, breakthrough cases may be more common in seniors, an age group in which COVID has posed the greatest threat.

Pickhardt said he has asked health officials to come back next week and do another round of COVID testing to catch any more of the asymptomatic cases and confine the spread. “We have always been prudent and mindful of how we manage during the pandemic. We are following standard protocol just in case of the possibility of one or two further being identified,” he said.

Pickhardt said because there is no booster shot available, his only recourse is testing. The plan, Pickhardt said, is to increase testing, reduce programming and suspend indoor dining.

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