Until a few days ago Flagler County could point to its coronavirus numbers and claim that the spike that’s been overtaking Florida as it has reopened had not spread locally.
That’s no longer the case. After rising by 20 cases last week, the highest total since the end of May, Flagler County has recorded another 26 Covid-19 infections in the first four days of this week. It’s done so even though testing has slowed significantly.
“A lot of it is because it’s spreading more rapidly, some folks have gotten less serious or less concerned about it,” Jonathan Lord, Flagler County’s emergency management chief, said today. “There seems to be more people that are not wearing a mask than there had been a few weeks ago, and there seems to be less people concerned about lining up next to the next person, social distancing.”
While the spread of Covid-19 has accelerated, Lord said, “the big concern we would have is tied to health care impacts, which have not been horrible to this point.” As of today, AdventHealth Palm Coast was reporting through the Agency for Health Care Administration that it had six of 112 beds available, and three ICU beds available, out of 18, though Lord cautions that bed capacity can change at the hospital based on the way it can reclassify them: a hospital executive earlier in the emergency described plans that could readily expand the hospital’s ICU capacity if needed.
Florida today reported its single-highest one-day total for Tuesday, with 5,500 new cases, again breaking a record for the seventh or eighth time in the last two weeks. Well over a third of Florida’s total cases since the pandemic began in late February have been recorded in the last two weeks. Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly blamed the spike on increased testing. But Florida is still testing far fewer people than, say, New York, yet Florida has recorded 20,000 new cases in five days, while New York recorded 3,200.
“Our state seems to be the banner holder currently right now,” Lord said.
Just as Florida had imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement on all visitors from hot spots such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut earlier in the pandemic, today New York, New Jersey and Connecticut reversed roles and announced 14-day quarantine requirements on all visitors from Florida, along with visitors from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, Texas and Washington.
“Our state seems to be the banner holder currently right now.”
In a reflection of concern over the latest numbers, Palm Coast government has reversed its decision to open City Hall and resume in-person government meetings. “We will postpone in-person meetings until August and we will keep City Hall closed until August,” City Manager Matt Morton said this morning. “Right now it would be August 1.” The governor just extended an executive order permitting government meetings to be held by electronic means such as Zoom.
No such changes are envisioned for now at county government, at the school district or in Flagler Beach, where in-person meetings have resumed, with varying degrees of restrictions. “I’m OK with the meetings being with the way it is if it’s set up with the way it was set up last time,” Flagler Beach Commission Chair Jane Mealy said. “People were far away from each other and everybody wore a mask. I’m good with that. I hope people as cooperative tomorrow.” The commission holds a regularly scheduled meeting at City Hall Thursday evening.
Florida’s latest record parallels a massive spike across several parts of the country that had reopened their economies swiftly at the beginning of May, and where the reopenings had been interpreted as relaxing rules on social distancing, mask-wearing and other precautions against the spread of a promiscuously infectious disease. Today, the United States recorded its third-highest single-day total of new cases of the pandemic, with more than 35,000 new cases.
Spikes are occurring in 20 states, with Florida, Texas and Arizona–three states whose governors had boasted of dodging the brunt of the pandemic as they announced reopenings–leading the way. Gov. Ron DeSantis since last week has continued to be bullish on reopenings while refusing to mandate precautions such as mask-wearing, leaving it up to local governments to decide for themselves. Some have. Most have not. None in Flagler have, where mask-wearing remains a recommendation.
DeSantis has agreed to more seriously crack down on restaurants where social distancing rules are not respected, but the policing would be up to the Department of Professional and Business Regulation, the state agency that licenses restaurants, which has few inspectors. And mask-wearing would still not be part of the mandate in restaurants.
On Tuesday, High Jackers Restaurant at the county airport announced a week-long closure following the positive test of a staffer. The restaurant was to be sanitized and would reopen June 30. Finn’s Beachside Pub in Flagler Beach, which remains open, posted on its Facebook page a message from Harry Smith, the owner of harryoke.com who manages shows at the restaurant, and who took a Covid test on June 15, which returned positive. “I want to get the word out to any who may have been at my June shows at Finns to be aware of the situation and hear it from me first,” Smith wrote. “If you are concerned at all, do not hesitate to get a test to be sure, and in the meantime, self isolate and social distance proactively.” He has been in isolation since.
On Monday, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued a new public health advisory stating that “All individuals in Florida should wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible,” with few exceptions.
The county recorded six new infections in the last 24 hours according to this morning’s report by the Department of Health. The positivity rate in the county–the percentage of those testing positive out of the total of those tested–has also risen sharply, as it has in the rest of the state. In Flagler, where the positivity rate was between 1 and 2 percent two and three weeks ago, it’s risen above 7 percent in three of the last five days.
The median age of those testing positive for the virus has been lower in the last four weeks, falling to the mid-30s (it’s 32 this week), compared to much higher median ages in previous weeks.
Flagler County, Lord said, is “doubling down on messaging,” with renewed efforts at stressing the need for mask-wearing and social distancing. “These are not civil right violations, they’re behaviors that are so simple and don’t impact someone else’s ability to enjoy life,” Lord said. “Until shown otherwise I know that mask wearing and social distancing does make a difference in the spread, and obviously our lockdown proved that.”