Last Updated: 11:11 a.m.
The Flagler County School District will launch daily, free food distribution at four county schools for all children 18 and younger starting Monday (March 23) and for the duration of the coronavirus emergency, Superintendent Jim Tager announced this morning.
The county will also apply new guidelines requiring that all gatherings of 10 or more people be scrapped. Flagler County’s Emergency Operations Center was partially activated this morning–as it would, say, on the approach of a hurricane emergency, but at a lower level–“to further enhance this service delivery,” Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord said.
“Please do not panic, but also do not ignore this threat,” Lord said. “Please stay connected and monitor the latest guidance, and do your part to protect yourself, your family and our entire community.”
For the first time today, Flagler Health Department Chief Bob Snyder revealed the number of “persons that are under investigation” in Flagler County. “Three of the six have been tested. The three that have are negative for Covid-19.”
The school district is also preparing to launch distance education for all students starting March 30, should schools’ physical campuses not reopen on that day. The state Department of Education’s current order applies until March 30, but Tager is at least signaling the possibility that the return to school may be extended further.
Calling it “this unprecedented health crisis,” Tager presented the two initiatives during a brief news conference at the Emergency Operations Center midmorning today, where Lord, Snyder and Sheriff Rick Staly also provided updates and explanations about current protocols–all of which are constantly in a fluid state.
The Food distributions will consist of free lunch for that day, and a free breakfast for the following day, for each child who shows up. The children must be present to qualify for their lunch and breakfast. The distributions will take place from 10 a.m. to noon. This does not mean that meals will be served at each school site, to be consumed there; the meals must be collected and taken home for consumption at home.
The distribution sites are Bunnell Elementary, Indian Trails Middle School, Buddy Taylor Middle School/Wadsworth Elementary (on the Wadsworth side) and Flagler Palm Coast High School. “We will provide a lunch for that day and a breakfast for the following morning at no cost to children 18 years and younger,” Tager said.
There is to be no distinction between students who are on free or reduced lunch, and children who are not. But in accordance with federal regulations, adults accompanying the children will not qualify for any food distribution–at least not in that framework. The district has been in contact with local food banks to help bridge that gap as well, but those plans have not been announced. Grace Community Food Pantry has offered to expand its services in partnership with the district to provide meals to the needy.
“We want to make sure we get this right,” District spokesman Jason Wheeler said. School resource deputies will be at the four sites regulating traffic flow and ensuring orderly distributions.
Lord said that later today the county will adjust its guidance regarding social distancing, to be with federal guidelines. “We will most likely say,” Lord said, “that any gatherings of 10 or more people should not occur.” He said that doesn’t mean restaurants should close, but they should “modify their service delivery process,” which means take-out only, and “which we implore all of our local businesses to adopt immediately,” Lord said.
The new guidelines, he said, means “avoid eating in restaurants and bars.” They also mean avoidance of “discretionary travel.”
The county has modified its elderly meal programs to delivery only. The county’s libraries in Palm Coast and Bunnell have closed.
Staly described new guidelines in place at the 911 dispatch center and with deputies in the field. The 911 operators will be asking a series of questions to callers to determine whether responders must don protective gear before entering homes. Deputies will be speaking with residents from a 6-foot distance and may ask residents to step outside their home to speak.
“We’re not slowing down,” the sheriff said. “If you are a criminal and need to be arrested and go to the jail, you’re still going to be arrested and go to the jail.” New inmates are to be screened by the arresting officer and are again screened by the medical staff at the jail, where “it’s important for us to keep the virus out of the jail.”
Snyder says testing protocols are changing, with more testing about to take place and yielding what is almost certain to be an uptick in the number of Covid–19 cases. Once a person tests positive, he said, the department of health’s epidemiological team kicks in, tracing the origin of the infection. “I want to ensure the community that you are surrounded by a wonderful department of health in every single county, especially here in Flagler County. We know what to do,” he said, again stressing the need to pay attention to hygiene guidelines, from hand washing to sneezing the correct way (“let’s imitate Dracula.”)
[This is a developing story. More soon.]