A 72-year-old Flagler County woman has tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Department of Health’s latest tally of coronavirus cases, with Florida cases reaching 1,007, doubling since Friday.
“What we expected has occurred. We’ve been waiting for the positive cases to be processed so we have our first Flagler County resident positive case,” Department of Health Director Bob Snyder said early this evening.
The case of the 72-year-old woman technically qualifies as Flagler County’s first, even though a 48-year-old woman has been in treatment at AdventHealth Palm Coast since last week. But the 48 year old is a Volusia County resident, so her case registers as one of Volusia County’s 14 cases.
Ironically, the Flagler County case just confirmed may not itself be within the county at the moment. The case of a Flagler Beach woman in the same age range was confirmed at a health care facility in Jacksonville, and is being treated there. Snyder could not confirm if that is, in fact, the case that is now registering as a Flagler resident.
“I don’t know which case this is because we’re following a couple of presumptive cases,” Snyder said, with the number of confirmed cases likely to increase soon. “Our surveillance system is the database that’s used to monitor and includes lab results and all of that, because we’re going to get to the point that more cases will develop and be followed. We do not know which cases get into the dashboard, when.”
Snyder said he will be able to tell within 24 to 36 hours whether the new case is a Flagler resident currently in-county or out of county.
Until late last week, the Department of Health would not disclose the difference, and for days would neither confirm nor deny what it finally confirmed on Friday–that the 48-year-old woman from Volusia was being treated locally. But Snyder said that after he implored state officials allow the distinction to be released, the department started doing so Friday.
“I will share the count so that it’s accurate, so if a person has been diagnosed in our county and lives in another county I will let the community know,” Snyder said. “I don’t want to have a repeat of what occurred this past week with Cynthia, from the hospital.” He was referring to Cynthia Corventino, who volunteered her information on social media and was subsequently interviewed on WNZF. “I spent hours on the phone getting the approval to share such circumstances, so even though it might not be counted as such in the larger database I will make sure to let folks know if we have such a case again, so that we have a very accurate count for Flagler County.”
Nevertheless, the reverse is still not applicable: a Flagler resident testing positive out of the county is not immediately being confirmed as such, even though the number might show up in the official tally as a Flagler case. But that distinction will be forthcoming. Snyder also noted that for a local resident who would be found positive for Covid-19 in another state, that case would not show up in either the local or state tally, either. The reason for that is to prevent double-counting cases.
Whatever the real number of cases in the county, Flagler Department of Health and county emergency management officials have been saying for days that residents must act as if the virus is in the county and has affected a number of people. Officials are urging residents to act accordingly, maintaining social distances and following guidelines regarding hygiene and minimal social contact.
Earlier today, Snyder and Flagler Beach officials agreed to shut down the beach starting Monday morning, and county officials will do likewise, so the county’s 18 miles of beaches will be off limits. Parking will also be restricted in certain areas.
Flagler County government late this afternoon decided to let employees know that only essential employees would be reporting to work, with much of the Government Services Building shutting down, with severely restricted or no public access allowed.
Palm Coast government this evening announced that all open-air parks and trails, which had remained open until now, will close to the public. The city had shuttered its parks and recreation facilities and its City Hall, but in a lingeringly hopeful effort to give residents some open air, had kept parks and trails open. No longer.
The rapid changes have taken over the state as they have the nation, in line with the increasing urgency of addressing a pandemic that remains ferociously out of control.
Snyder said the continuing, sharp increase in Florida cases overall “is clearly related to the increased testing capacity and capability statewide especially in our hard-hit counties like Broward, Miami Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough.” It’s only since Friday that the state finally increased testing capabilities, and for now, those capabilities remain relatively restrained to certain areas, with a shortage of testing kits continuing.
“It’s been very well communicated at the federal and state level that there’s a significant shortage that’s being addressed but a shortage nonetheless,” Snyder said. Labs that are able to the testing are also constrained by a lack of testing agents they need to complete the test. “The reagents are back ordered. That’s what’s causing this significant shortage of lab capability,” Snyder said.
“At the health department we have about 200 collection kits for testing,” he said, but those tests will still be reserved for diagnostic purposes–people meeting certain criteria. There is no at-will, or on-demand, testing in Flagler at the moment. And it’s not clear to what extent health care providers are testing. “I do not know how many collection kits are out there in the community. I think that’s something others are trying to determine, so that we have a good sense of the inventory here locally.”
Starting next week, the state health department is setting up testing sites in Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando, but again, the priority at those testing sites will be for first responders and health care workers, people who are 65 and older, and people whose immune systems are compromised. A fourth testing site is already operating in Broward County, the hardest-hit county in the state. But while only a few days ago the majority of Florida counties had not registered a confirmed Covid-19 case, that’s now been reversed, with only about 20 counties left, out of 67, without a confirmed case.