Unvaccinated Florida Port Staff Get COVID After Deadly Outbreak in Building

Three unvaccinated employees at a port in Manatee County, Florida, have contracted COVID-19, according to officials.

County administrator Scott Hopes, who is also an epidemiologist, said three security personnel at Port Manatee, none of whom have been vaccinated, tested positive for the virus over the weekend, the Bradenton Herald reported on Monday.

A spokesperson for Port Manatee, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, said it "encourages staff and visitors who are not fully vaccinated to practice COVID-19 measures, including the use of N95 or equivalent masks and social distancing. The port provides masks for those wanting to use them."

The news comes soon after an outbreak at the Manatee County government administration building in downtown Bradenton led to the deaths of two people last week and to its temporary shutdown of the facility.

Five people in the building's IT department tested positive for the virus, four of whom were hospitalized.

"As you know, we had an urgent situation last Friday following the death of a second employee," Hopes told reporters at a press conference on Monday, according to the Herald.

"Since that time, the health department has conducted their preliminary epidemiological investigation. In addition to that, we had the entire building over the weekend vacated, sanitized and disinfected, including fogging and wiping down every surface in every office."

All of the five employees who tested positive as a result of the outbreak in the nine-storey building—where an estimated 700 people work—were not vaccinated. A sixth employee in the IT department who had been in close contact with the other five did not catch the virus, Hopes said.

This individual had been vaccinated, something which Hopes believes shows that the COVID-19 vaccines are effective.

"This particular outbreak demonstrates the effectiveness, I believe, with the vaccine," Hopes said. "All of the cases were non-vaccinated. We know individuals in these departments who did not contract the infection from their co-workers."

Epidemiologists and the Manatee County Health Department are investigating whether a new variant of the virus may have been to blame for the outbreak in the building.

"My suspicion as an epidemiologist is that we're dealing with a variant unlike what we had last year," Hopes said, according to Bay News 9. "This appeared to behave like the delta variant, they're waiting on confirmation on what variant they're dealing with."

Newsweek has contacted Port Manatee for a statement.

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A coronavirus particle
Stock image showing a coronavirus particle. Three employees at Port Manatee in Florida have tested positive for COVID-19. iStock