Last Updated: 3:29 p.m.
Confirmed Florida cases of coronavirus rise to 155, according to figures released by the Florida Department of Health shortly after noon Monday, with Flagler continuing to show no confirmed cases nor an uptick in unusual activity among first responders. But Palm Coast was taking a more aggressive approach to prevention of gatherings of more than 50 people by cancelling all city-run activities through the end of April.
The Bunnell and Flagler Beach City Commissions have scheduled special meetings Wednesday at 8 a.m. and Thursday at 5:30 p.m. for each city to formalize its own emergency declaration. Palm Coast did so over the weekend. The county Commission is doing so this evening at 5.
The measures are intended to give the governments broader latitude with contracting and certain decisions as communities seek to stay ahead of a potential increase in coronavirus cases. For now, that overt evidence remains at bay.
“No firefighters have been quarantined for any reason and nobody is on self-isolation,” Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said of his 93 firefighters. “We have not seen an uptick in calls at this time, and we haven’t seen an uptick in that particular type of call, so we haven’t changed anything whatsoever.” Regular schedules apply. No leaves or vacations have been cancelled or shifts altered.
The department has sufficient protective gear, including latex cloves, N95 face masks, required eye protection and splash proof gowns. “In fact we ordered those N-95 masks probably two months ago before we even started getting cases in the U.S. I saw it coming,” Petito said.
Flagler County Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord says he’s “behaving as if it is out there in the community,” meaning that coronavirus cases will be detected before long as testing ramps up. He said should widespread testing be enacted in the community, he would recommend going a different route than that suggested by the president. Rather than provide testing in the parking lot of Target or Walmart. Lord said, testing would be provided at select locations just as hurricane emergency supplies would be during those emergencies, away from stores. “We would work very hard to find other locations here locally. To my mind it doesn’t make sense to do testing out in a store parking lot and then have a person walk into a store.”
Lord and Flagler Health Department Chief Bob Snyder will present a brief update on local measures to the County Commission at the Government Services Building at 5 this evening. But no significantly new information is expected, other than the increasingly stringent recommendations for social distancing.
“The biggest thing that matters to us the most is the fact that the mass gathering guidance continues to shrink,” Lord said. The guidance is issued by the Centers for Disease Control. Merely a week ago, the guidance was for limiting gatherings of 1,000 people or more. The guidance fell to 250 late last week. It is now at 50, though it does not apply to schools and businesses. “It’s more aimed to the general public as an audience versus schools,” Lord said.
Palm Coast had previously cancelled many activities but opted to keep the Palm Coast Tennis Center and Palm Harbor Golf Course open. That’s no longer the case. And all activities at the Palm Coast Community Center, aside from Election Day Tuesday, have been scrapped at least until May. All non-essential meetings are also cancelled. The Palm Coast Aquatics Center is also closed. But city parks and trails will remain open for now. (The city is encouraging residents to keep up with coronavirus-related issues through palmcoastconnect.com.)
This afternoon, the Flagler Auditorium announced it was suspending all events at least through April 4. “Most of our shows have been postponed for next season. We are monitoring the situation to determine the rest of the season and we will keep you informed,” the auditorium said in a statement. The auditorium was giving patrons the choice of refunds or credit for future shows, with all queries answered through calls or email (386-437-7547 or [email protected]).
The Department of Health on Monday unveiled a new website that tracks confirmed cases nationally, in the state and by county. Broward is leading the state with 38 cases, followed by Dade with 23, Palm Beach with 8, and Volusia with 6. The national figure, at 4,138 as of 2:30 p.m. Monday, was being updated almost in real time.
But there is a caveat: the numbers reflect only those of actual Florida residents who have a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. It does not reflect the number of non-Florida residents who are in the state, or have been diagnosed in the state, with the illness. That’s creating some confusion. While the total number of cases affecting residents is 137, the total number of cases in Florida is 155.
An AdventHealth Palm Coast employee who asked not to be identified said a patient who tested positive for the virus was in the hospital’s intensive care unit, in an air-controlled room, and that the physician who tested him, along with three employees, were on quarantine. “We will not be providing confirmation of individual cases or potential cases at AdventHealth facilities,” an AdventHealth spokesperson said Friday. “Those inquiries should go to the Florida Department of Health.”
“We don’t have a confirmed Flagler County case,” a Flagler Department of Health spokesperson said today, while also noting–without confirming it–that the AdventHealth case “may not be a Florida resident.” Pressed for clarity, the spokesperson said: “I’m going to leave it at that.”
Petito said he’d “heard rumors” about the AdventHealth case. “Everybody is talking about it but nobody’s confirmed it.”
Nevertheless, it has been confirmed, through an email to local health officials and first responders, from the management company that runs AdventHealth’s emergency room, that the assistant medical director and several others, including hospital employees, were placed on quarantine over the weekend subsequent co contact with at least one potential case of coronavirus. Two sheriff’s deputies were placed on self-isolation following contact with a potential case in the Hammock.
“My concern is if there’d be somebody in the community,” Lord said, differing between potential cases in a hospital, where they would be isolated, as opposed to cases at large where continuing infection is possible.
On Sunday, the Department of Health issued new criteria for identifying people under investigation for Covid-19, as the coronavirus disease itself is known. “Several improvements have been made for it to be more useful to clinical staff,” Scott Pritchard, the Florida Health Department’s interim director of the Infectious Disease Prevention and Investigations Section, said.
The six-step screening criteria for testing calls for persons to be exhibiting symptoms of “acute lower respiratory illness” such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, and must meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. Persons who have had a close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case.
2. Persons hospitalized with acute lower respiratory illness of unknown origin.
3. History of travel to or from an affected geographic area with widespread community transmission.
4. History of international travel or a cruise.
5. Persons who are 65 or older, with chronic health conditions.
6. Persons who have a compromised immune system.
If an individual meets the criteria, the health care provider is responsible for collecting a specimen within guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control, processing the test either at the facility itself or shipping it to LabCorp, Quest Labs or a Florida Bureau of Public Health Laboratory (of which there are three, in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville). The providers are required to notify the local Department of Health before shipping the sample.
Pritchard said non-priority specimens should be sent to the private labs, while priority specimens should be sent to the state’s labs.
On Sunday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that there would be drive-through testing for coronavirus in Broward County, with further steps likely as the week wears on. Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County was to conduct the testing. DeSantis acknowledged that there could be more drive-through testing sites made available in the coming days and weeks as Florida fights what health-care experts now acknowledge is “community spread,” the News Service of Florida reports. The governor also announced that he would ask the U.S. Small Business Association to “turn on” loans for small businesses that are suffering.