Note: Flagler Health Department Chief Bob Snyder will be discussing local measures live on Free For All Friday on WNZF, a little after 9 a.m.
The Florida Department of Health late Tuesday announced eight new positive cases of the novel coronavirus, with seven of the cases described as “travel-related” and involving Florida residents. In all, 21 Florida residents have been diagnosed in Florida with the respiratory disease known as COVID-19, a Department of Health news release said. Two have died. In the nation, more than a quarter of the country’s cases, which surpassed 1,000, were announced just in the past 24 hours.
“The good thing is we still do not have a case in Flagler,” Flagler Emergency Chief Jonathan Lord said this morning. None of the 319 Floridians being monitored are in Flagler, either. “We are preparing as if there will be cases at some point.”
In essence, the county is preparing for the coronavirus emergency as it would for a natural disaster like a hurricane, eyeing a different, less precise but far more pervasive kind of probability cone that now encompasses most of the state and the nation: by midday Wednesday, the World Health Organization had designated the coronavirus crisis a global pandemic.
Three of the new cases involved residents of Collier County, according to the health department. The eighth case involves a Georgia resident who is in Florida, with the Georgia Department of Public Health leading the epidemiological investigation into the person.
But Emergency Management, and Department of Health officials in Flagler have continued to be on the alert, setting up protocols within government’s ranks, speaking with the Chamber of Commerce and, next week, with assisted living facilities’ administrators, to ensure that the right plans and the right knowledge base is in place should cases begin to develop in Flagler. Lord–who just last week predicted that the crisis would soon be designated a pandemic–says that eventuality is more likely than not, considering the rapid progression of the virus in the state and the nation.
In schools, “our custodial teams out of an abundance of caution are going to be cleaning touch points three times a day,” district spokesman Jason Wheeler said this morning. “Fortunately we have spring break next week, that’s going to enable them to do a real deep clean at our schools.” While there are no immediate plans to limit travel, gatherings, after-school athletics or events, Wheeler said, discussions are ongoing regarding how the district would respond and what measures it would put in place should the virus make inroads in Flagler.
One of those measures would be remote education, should schools have to physically close their doors. But Flagler is well positioned to handle a stretch of time with remote instruction, now that every single student is equipped with a school computer or a tablet. “We’re going to see what that looks like, if that’s a viable alternative,” Wheeler said, noting that the state is ramping up Florida Virtual School, also to prepare if need be: that’ll give districts the option of either going that route or sticking with local, remote instruction.But the district is also keenly aware of the immense disruptions to households should schools physically close: many parents don’t have the luxury of affording extra child care, many poorer students only get their heartiest meals of the day at school. “Closing schools would have a community wide effect,” Wheeler said.
As with the school district, county officials are developing plans to ensure that measures are in place to allow business to continue should certain “social distancing” be required between county staff and the public it serves, and to enact remote-work measures as well when possible. “we’re working through all of that to make sure we can protect our staff as well as to protect the public,” Lord said.
The message from Emergency Management for now is: “Be prepared, but don’t let it control your life either unless you have unique medical conditions that you should worry about,” Lord said. In general people should continue to go to work, school, the store, keeping in mind that “it may all change in a matter of minutes.”
The virus, which started in China late last year and has spread around the world, is particularly dangerous to seniors and people with underlying health conditions. Of the 21 Floridians diagnosed in the state, for example, 18 are at least 60 years. Seven of the new eight cases involve people who range in age between 64 and 73. One person who tested positive is a 46-year old male.
On March 19 at 11 a.m., the Flagler Department of Health and Emergency Management are holding an informational session where all administrators of assisted living facilities, nursing homes and long-term care agencies are strongly encouraged to attend (at the county Emergency Operations Center, 1769 East Moody Boulevard, behind the Government Services Building.)
Lord said he was satisfied with the recent false alarm of a possible coronavirus case on the campus of AdventHealth Palm Coast, where he said all those involved followed the right steps and quickly resolved the issue. From a larger perspective, “I’m very happy with preparedness should we have a case in Flagler,” Lord said. But should matters deteriorate further, he said the authority of the Health Department will ramp up: it will be Health Department Chief Bob Snyder’s call as to where and when to impose certain restrictions, including enforceable quarantines.
“The Health Department does have the statutory authority to quarantine folks, if need be, as public protection,” Lord said. “Unlike a hurricane where I can’t force somebody to leave.” Right now it’s all about self-compliance, and the likely next steps would involve self-quarantines in homes. But “nothing will truly be triggered until there’s a case in our county,” Lord said.
The level of cooperation between county, municipal and health department agencies locally has been particularly strong, as has the candor of local officials, who have not displayed the sort of caginess or confusion with information that state and federal officials have at various points. That could change, of course, if and when cases begin to appear in Flagler.
“I really truly appreciate his openness and candor and partnership in helping us make sure our responders and others are ready,” Lord said of Snyder. “I dont know that every community has the same candor and interaction, but knock on wood we have the interaction and candor.”
According to the Department of Health, the eight new cases in the state are a 46-year old male in Pasco County; a 73-year old male in Collier County; a 68-year old female in Collier County; a 64-year old female in Collier County; a 67-year old male in Pinellas County; a 64-year old male in Pinellas County; a 68-year-old male in Nassau County. and a 68-year old female Georgia resident who is in Alachua County.
All eight are isolated and will remain in isolation until cleared by public-health officials.
The announcement of the new cases came a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency that broadened his powers to respond to COVID-19. Also, the Department of Health said three coronavirus cases have been associated with Port Everglades in Broward County, with all of the cases linked to Metro Cruise Services, a company that operates at the port.
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. But there are precautions that people can take, including washing hands with soap and water.
COVID-19 can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, including when people cough or sneeze. Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.
During a news conference Monday to announce the declaration of the state of emergency, DeSantis encouraged people to take precautions.
“If you’re elderly or you have a serious, underlying medical condition, don’t get on a cruise ship right now. Don’t get on a long flight where you could be exposed to the virus. Take certain steps to do what they call social distancing,” DeSantis said.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida
The following is from Flagler Emergency Management’s new page on Covid-19, or coronavirus:
What is COVID-19?
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
How is the Coronavirus transmitted?
What can I do to prevent from getting COVID-19?
- US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Florida Health Department
- Click here for a COVID-19 prevention PDF Download
How many people are sick with, or have died from COVID-19?
Where can I find specific guidance for businesses and workplaces?
Where can I get more information on COVID-19?
- Florida Department of Health:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
- World Health Organization:
- Travel Advisories:
Who can I call to discuss my specific health concerns and circumstances related to COVID-19?
- Your regular healthcare provider
- Florida Health – Flagler County:
- To report COVID-19 exposure and symptoms 386-986-7749
- All other related inquiries: 386-437-7350
Has a State of Emergency been declared?
- January 31, 2020: US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary declares Public Health Emergency
- March 1, 2020: Florida Governor DeSantis signs Executive Order 20-51
- March 1, 2020: Florida Surgeon General Rivkees declares a Public Health Emergency.
What else is being done in Flagler County?