A drive-in location for coronavirus testing is coming to Flagler County, with some 500 tests at the ready, and public health officials have moved up the peak of the epidemic in Florida to April 21, according to the latest modeling, on a day when statewide cases reached 13,626 and Flagler cases reached 34, with six hospitalizations locally. In Florida, at least 254 people have died of Covid-19.
The number of new cases fell for the second day in a row, and sharply on Monday, growing by just 788, compared to 1,300 new cases on Friday. But that may be an indication testing, which also fell sharply, with just 7,641 tests completed on April 5–the last day for which numbers are available, according to the Florida Health Department–compared to 13,200 a day before.
The county has so far incurred $30,000 in supplemental personnel costs and $175,000 in expenses directly related to the emergency, according to Flagler County Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord. The numbers are expected to increase, but the county also expects to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Two Flagler County employees are on emergency family and medical leave, three are on sick leave, nine are on paid administrative leave and 20 are working from home, according to county officials.
Summarizing his afternoon call with the Florida Surgeon General and other public health chiefs around the state, Bob Snyder, who heads Flagler County’s public health department, said the latest modeling “shows the peak in Florida to not be the first week in May,” as had been previously estimated, “but looking more like April 21, that week, the week of April 21. Our statewide mitigation efforts have been taken into account, and it’s action like that that was a variable included in the modeling. This could result in 3,000 less hospitalizations statewide, and a few hundred less ICU level patients, if this modeling holds for the state of Florida.”
Those are the first glimmers of better developments in what had been, until now, a picture getting more grim by the day. But Snyder said the glimmers should not be misinterpreted. “We have to stay vigilant because this is just a model that may not come true,” he said in an interview late this afternoon. “So no, we can’t let up at all, plus once the apex is reached we still have to deal with the decline just as we dealt with the ascent of the virus. Oh no, we’re not out of the woods for a while yet. So I interpret this as more of an encouragement to keep vigilant, do the right thing and support each other in this endeavor.”
Snyder added: “We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing, the social distancing to the extreme, keep the beach closed, like we discussed before, maintain mitigation efforts through the executive orders statewide and locally, and good hygiene, disinfecting our used surfaces.”
In the immediate, he said the public health department and Flagler County’s division of emergency management, which have been working in tandem through the emergency, are both expected to get shipments of tests this week. Emergency Management is getting 500 tests, Snyder said. The health department is getting a batch in addition to that, though the actual number and the date of delivery are not yet clear, nor is the testing location.
As of today, Flagler County had conducted just 420 tests, according to the health department, not counting tests that may have been conducted by private physicians’ offices. Once emergency management gets its 500 tests, the division, working with the health department, will set up Flagler County’s first drive-in testing site. “It’s not something communities our size typically would get permission to do, but we’ve worked through that process,” Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord said.
Department of Health personnel and volunteers-retired medical personnel–will team up with emergency management to provide the tests. The partnership includes AdventHealth. “We’ll be leading the team of department of health staff and paramedics and volunteers, retired nurses, medical people, working currently, volunteers and our staff,” Snyder said. The priority will be to test health care workers and first responders suc h as cops and paramedics and, “depending on the amounts of available kits, we’ll open it up to symptomatic people as well,” Lord said.
“You may see other sites popping up in some of our neighboring counties,” Lord said. Nothing is stopping a private entity from starting a private site as long as it’s licensed. Lord cautions that testing figures for any particular county are “artificially low” because of the lack of reporting mandates.
Whatever the outcome of more testing, passing the apex, even an eventual return to work, Snyder said the absence of a vaccine means that “social distancing, appropriate mitigation efforts, staying vigilant with our monitoring, all that will need to continue.”
For how long?
“I’m going to wait for the appropriate CDC guidelines to answer that question, so let’s take one week, one day at a time here,” Snyder said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control, adding: “We’re going to be dealing with this, scientists, researchers and epidemiologists say for the next nine months.” He said there is also a real possibility of a resurgence of the virus in the fall, especially in the absence of a vaccine.
Conditions at AdventHealth Palm Coast haven’t changed early this week, with sufficient bed capacity, Snyder said. Asked if the hospital had the antimalarial chloroquine to treat patients with Covid-19, Snyder said the hospital was not using the drug for that purpose. The drug is common for people who are immuno-suppressed “but in terms of it being here, for this, no,” he said. “It’s just not available yet for Covid-19, it’s still in clinical trial, it’s anecdotal right now, that’s straight from Dr. Fauci.” Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a presidential adviser. “The governor has asked for its availability down in the hardest hit areas for the physicians that want to prescribe it, but it’s not here in our community.”
As of this evening, 26 of Flagler County’s confirmed Covid-19 cases are in Palm Coast, with Bunnell and Flagler Beach still with one each. The latest case affects a 55-year-old man with no known recent history of travel or contact with a person who had tested positive. That means it’s another case of community transmission. Epidemiologists are especially concerned with community transmission now that more evidence indicates that up to 30 percent of people with the coronavirus are asymptomatic–they have no fever, no cough, no other symptom of illness, but they carry the virus, and they spread it easily.