Flagler’s public health and emergency management officials at the end of the week warned that the days and weeks ahead would be difficult. “It’s going to be a rough four to six weeks, and I’m not the only one who said that,” Bob Snyder, the county’s health department chief, said on Thursday evening, when the county had 25 covid-19 cases, and Florida had 9,000, with 144 deaths. By this evening, Flagler’s cases had risen to 31, Florida’s to 12,350, and the state counted 221 deaths attributed to the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned on Face the Nation today that “this is going to be a bad week,” and that it would be “shocking to some. It certainly is really disturbing to see that, but that’s what’s going to happen before it turns around.” He said that stay-in place orders are showing good results. But he refused to say that the contagion is under control. “That would be a false statement. We are struggling to get it under control,” he said.
Different states were expected to see the peak of the pandemic at different times. Washington State, for example, is past its peak. New Jersey and Louisiana are, like New York, hot spots now, and Illinois is expected to peak in late April.
The total number of new cases Sunday was slightly lower than the number of new cases on Saturday. On Saturday, 13,208 people were tested across the state, down from the peak on Thursday of 13,802 tests but double the rate of testing from a week earlier.
Flagler’s number of cases is almost certainly an undercount, because of a dearth of testing. As of this evening, just 409 people had been tested in the county, according to health department figures, including 68 at AdventHealth Palm Coast, where four have been confirmed to have tested positive. The department’s 5 p.m. figures for Sunday don’t account for lags between testing, results and confirmation.
On Sunday, a 33-year-old Flagler man with no known travels or contacts with people who have traveled, or people who were infected, tested positive, according to the health department. On Friday, a 54-year-old man who had traveled to Haiti and Mexico was confirmed to have tested positive.
But Flagler officials were expecting some 550 additional tests sometime this week, and were planning on setting up a drive-through testing location that would prioretize first responders and health care workers such as hospital and clinical personnel, paramedics, and people over 65. The specifics on the location and the delivery date have not been set.
Flagler continues so far to avoid what 34 other counties have not: infections in nursing homes, assisted living or other long-term care facilities. Sixteen counties have at least one such case in one of their long-term facilities, where containing the contagion, once declared, has been found to be difficult. Volusia has four such cases, St. Johns has one. The health department is not disclosing which long-term care facilities are affected.
There are also increasing indications that official counts are understating the death toll. The number of Americans who have died of Covid-19 reached 9,600 on Sunday, and was expected to exceed 10,000 by Monday, but it was only last week that the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines on how to certify a death from coronavirus.
“Doctors now believe that some deaths in February and early March, before the coronavirus reached epidemic levels in the United States, were likely misidentified as influenza or only described as pneumonia,” the New York Times reported Sunday. “With no uniform system for reporting coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, and a continued shortage of tests, some states and counties have improvised, obfuscated and, at times, backtracked in counting the dead.”
Meanwhile, while the rest of the state remains largely limited to diagnostic testing–meaning testing for the virus only if the individual meets certain criteria–Miami-Dade County has launched a multi-week surveillance project to measure the rate of coronavirus exposure in the community and better direct resources to respond to the pandemic, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Friday.
“Our goal is to be able to get a snapshot of where the virus is going and how many people are reacting to it,” Gimenez said during a virtual press conference Friday. Miami-Dade County, one of three communities that are conducting the surveillance, is “the largest by far that’s taken this endeavor on,” the mayor said. The Florida Department of Health reported Wednesday that Miami-Dade County, with 3,029 cases of COVID-19, leads the state in the number of cases of the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Disaster Management Group, the South Florida-based business that developed the rapid blood test for the coronavirus that will be used in the study, partnered with the county on the project. The surveillance may allow the county to identify “clusters” of the virus, and could identify people who are infected but do not know it, Gimenez said. “Having that information will allow us to get ahead of what’s happening on COVID-19 and can guide us as to how to best use our resources to stop the spread of this virus,” the mayor said.
Disaster Management Group is charging the county $17 per test for 20,000 tests, but the company agreed to kick in an additional 2,000 tests for free. The surveillance will track 750 test subjects, who will meet weekly over the course of the surveillance. A separate surveillance of first responders also will be conducted. “All of us are moving in the dark somewhat in terms of understanding the true burden of coronavirus infection in our community,” University of Miami School of Medicine researcher Erin Kobetz said. The surveillance will allow the county to estimate the burden of the disease, including among individuals who are asymptomatic. “It will also help us understand how some of the initiatives that were put in place are affecting our curve of infection,” she added.
In the prison system, 20 corrections employees in 12 prison facilities and three probation offices have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Florida Department of Corrections said Friday, up from 16 cases Thursday. The latest cases involve employees who work at Community Corrections Region 2, a probation office in Union County, Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Santa Rosa County, Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County and Blackwater Correctional Facility, a prison in Santa Rosa County run by The Geo Group, a prison contractor.
Blackwater Correctional Facility has a total of four positive cases, the most in a single prison, followed by Apalachee Correctional Institution with three cases. Prison officials said Friday they have not had any confirmed cases of inmates with COVID-19. But it is unclear how many prisoners have been tested. The Department of Corrections and the Department of Health have not provided a tally of inmates who have been tested after numerous requests from The News Service of Florida. Inmates who experience symptoms indicative of COVID-19 are placed in medical isolation, pending Department of Health tests, according to a news release from the corrections department.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida