A staffer at Grand Oaks Health and Rehabilitation, the nursing home in Palm Coast, has tested positive for Covid-19, the Florida Department of Health reports, and a resident at Tuscan Gardens off Colbert Lane has also tested positive, Flagler Health Department Chief Bob Snyder said today.
Today’s revelations coincide with yet another day of record-breaking totals for new cases in Florida: 3,822 reported today, as of June 18. It is the fourth time a daily total has broken records in the last nine days. Cases have totaled 20,673 in that nine-day span, or almost a quarter of the entire total number of cases–89,748–since the department of health began tabulating cases in March.
South Carolina also reported a record number of new cases today, with new cases at or near records in California, Texas, Arizona Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia and Oregon, and cases rising in 20 states overall, pushing the nation’s rolling seven-day average again on an upswing, after it had been falling since late April. The rise is taking place mostly in states that pushed for sharp reopenings. Deaths are still on the downswing nationally, but the current spike is almost certain to reverse that trend within two weeks once Covid’s lethal lag takes its toll.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has inaccurately attributed the spike to an increase in testing. Increased testing plays a role, but does not account for the size of the spike and the sharp increase in the positivity rate–the percentage of people who test positive out of all of those tested, which has been in double digits for the last three days, up from 3 to 5 percent 14 days ago. Rather, the spike tracks with warnings that public health experts and epidemiologists across the country have been issuing since late April: that with more openings, the incidence of positive cases will rise again.
The vertiginous spike of the last nine days dwarfs Florida’s April peak and has local officials concerned, especially about a sense that residents are interpreting reopening as relaxation from social-distancing and other measures to prevent a resurgence. But there are no indications from the state of any change of pace in the broad and rapid reopening of the economy and society, nor is the state issuing more rigorous mandates within a reopened economy, as some local governments have. Orlando and Osceola counties and Gainesville are now making mask-wearing in public mandatory.
“The cities getting ready to launch something more definitive about that,” Bob Snyder Flagler County’s public health director, said in an interview today. “I don’t think it’s in the form of a mandate, but it’s probably as close as they can come.”
“At the end of the day, freedom doesn’t mean anything if you’re dead.”
The county and the health department are focusing on a series of preventive initiatives launching now: the county is disseminating a series of public service messages emphasizing the importance of social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing. The county’s tourism department is launching a “Pledge to Prevent” campaign that encourages employees at local hospitality businesses, including restaurants, and tourism retailers to wear masks (“many of whom are not,” Snyder said) and follow safety guidelines in exchange for a certificate of approval, and the health department will continue to distribute free masks. It distributed 55,000 masks in seven days, and has ordered 100,000 more. “We are making a big deal about this,” Snyder said. “We’re going to keep preaching, pleading and pushing.”
The case at Tuscan Gardens breaks what had been a streak of negative tests at Flagler County’s 72 assisted living facilities, nursing and group homes, where the Health Department’s so-called “strike teams” conducted some 1,500 tests starting last month. The department and the facilities, some of them contracting with their own testing labs, are now under a state mandate to test all long-term care staffers–but not necessarily residents–every two weeks, a move supported by the Florida Health Care Association, which represents health care providers.
The incidence of Covid-19 in long-term care facilities draws critical attention because more than half the 3,104 Covid-related deaths recorded in Florida so far (1,637) have affected either staffers or residents of long-term care facilities.
Previously, two staffers at two other long-term care facilities–Princeton Village and Brookdale Palm Coast–had tested positive, but have since recovered. Those two cases have been removed from the state’s report of current positive cases among residents and staffers in long-term care facilities. In a further indication of reduced transparency, the state’s reports on long-term care incidences of the coronavirus now lists the facilities that have had deaths, but not cumulative cases among staffers or residents that have not resulted in death.
At Tuscan Gardens, Snyder said the infected person is in quarantine in a private room, screened and monitored carefully, kept away from other residents, and cared for by the same staff members throughout the day in shifts, so the exposure is contained. The caregivers wear head-to-toe personal protective equipment. The segregation unit is separate from the rest at the facility. No visitors are allowed.
After the positive case was detected, “we did a case investigation through our public health nursing teams and investigators and we went ahead and interviewed the residents,” Snyder said, “and the residents identified several prolonged close contacts over the last 14 days. We are now interviewing those individuals further and guiding them on what symptoms to look for.” Some were “definitely in that category of prolonged close contact, so those individuals have been tested already,” with results to be known in three or four days.
Flagler County has recorded a cumulative total of 216 Covid cases so far, including five in the last two days, and five deaths overall. The county has done better relative to other Florida counties, but it falls in the middle of the pack according to a New York Times continuous analysis of the state’s numbers.
In an appearance on WNZF’s Free For All Friday this morning, County Administrator Jerry Cameron recognized the county’s success in containing the disease, giving residents much of the credit. But in stark language, he went on at much longer length to warn of the diminishing vigilance he is concerned about and its potentially serious consequences.
“The great news is, and I believe it’s strictly the responsible behavior of the citizens of Flagler County, that we were able to reopen a lot of things very quickly without having the consequences of a spike,” Cameron said. “That was truly because people really did adhere to the handwashing, the social distancing, and the mask wearing. I am concerned that when we did reopening as a state, as a nation, that we did not emphasize enough that that is not a signal that this is over. In fact, this may be just beginning. And we need to make sure that we protect people’s health. But we need to protect the economy, and if the consequences of reopening get severe enough, the economy will shut down again, and nobody wants to see that.
“Every single person out there has a responsibility, not only for his own health, but a responsibility to others for their health, to others to keep be able to keep their jobs, to be able to pay their bills. And if we don’t continue to act responsibility, we will lose that freedom that we have, because at the end of the day, freedom doesn’t mean anything if you’re dead. That’s the first goal of government, is to protect people. I am concerned that even though our numbers are really good, and we haven’t seen a spike, I am concerned with what I see in the community, that people are relaxing their guard.”
Cameron specified: “There’s no longer the emphasis on social distancing that we had at one point, people are not wearing masks in indoor environments, and people are crowding. And that is the number one way that this is transmitted, is when you get people in crowds, particularly indoors. There is an inevitable transmission of the disease. No way around it, it just happens. I’ve been compelled to look at history in other pandemics, and this tracks very closely to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. And if you look at that, it came in waves, and it had a spring wave, it had a fall wave, and it had a winter wave. The fall wave was the most deadly. We can prevent that from happening by following the rules: social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding crowds, either indoors or outdoors. If you go into a business and you feel like it’s crowded, it is, leave. There’s no point in subjecting yourself and a host of other people to a resurgence of this disease.”