Flagler County and Florida both set new records for coronavirus infections this week as the state Health Department today reported 11,458 new infections in the state, shattering a record set two days earlier and pointing to 200,000 infections by the end of the weekend. Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s not changing course on Phase 2 reopening, which began June 5.
Infections in Flagler totaled 90 in the past seven days, breaking the previous record of 61 set at the end of April, with almost half the county’s cumulative total infections occurring since Phase 2 reopening. The county’s positivity rate–the rate at which those being tested are testing positive has risen sharply in the last two weeks, suggesting significant community spread. About 1,000 people were tested in the past seven days.
Flagler had been among the more successful of Florida counties to contain the spread of the disease, its recorded infection rate among the 10 lowest in the state, but that success is now at risk of erosion.
Holland and the chairpersons of the Flagler Beach and county commissions on Thursday all said they would seek mask mandates through their respective governments. But on Friday the Observer reported that a meeting of administrative, non-elected leaders in the county, along with Sheriff Rick Staly, elected not to pursue a mask mandate.
The proposed mandate is still on Flagler Beach’s commission meeting agenda next week, and Holland said today she still intends to pursue a mandate proposal when the Palm Coast City Council meets Tuesday.
“At the very least this needs to be discussed and vetted as a policy decision from the policy makers,” Holland said today. “I understand that the sheriff doesn’t want to put his limited resources to an enforcement of masks but I think we can strike a good balance between the guidelines proposed and an educational campaign. Our residents did an outstanding job when the governor shut the state down and I know that they want to help. ”
Alachua, Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Indian, Leon, Martin, Miami Dade, Monroe, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas and Seminole all have mask mandates in some form, most of the mandates applying to all people in indoor public places, including businesses. Numerous cities have also adopted mandates, among them St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, according to a count by floridapolitics.com. DeLand, New Smyrna Beach and Ormond Beach have also adopted mandates.
Flagler County Health Department Chief Bob Snyder and Stephen Bickel, a physician and the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia health departments, have both called for a mask mandate locally.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday was still boasting that Florida’s death rate from Covid-19 was lower than that of many other states. While acknowledging the surge in cases, he’s interpreted the rise as less concerning than in April because a much larger number of younger people less susceptible to hospitalizations have been testing positive while deaths have not been increasing.
Neither claim is entirely accurate. While the median age of those infected has unquestionably fallen down to the 30s–it averaged 35 over the past 14 days–it still means that half the people getting infected are older than 35, and because the number of those getting infected is 10 times higher than it was in April, the number of elderly people most at risk of complications has risen in comparison to April.
The rise has been accompanied by an alarming increase in emergency room admissions related either to flu-like symptoms or Covid-like symptoms both across the state and in Flagler. In the state, Covid-like visits to emergency rooms have risen from just over 2,000 the week of May 17 to 10,000 the week of June 21–even before the bulk of the surge in new cases developed. The number of visits related to influenza-like symptoms rose from about 1,500 the week of May 17 to 5,000 the week of June 21.
Total hospital bed capacity in the state is at 25 percent as of today, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and at 19 percent at Flagler’s AdventHealth Palm Coast hospital. Intensive Care bed capacity is at 20 percent statewide, 27 percent in Flagler.
On June 6, the day after Phase 2 reopening, cumulative hospitalizations in Flagler had stood at 22, with four deaths. Today’s report by the health department places cumulative hospitalizations at 34 (with one additional deaths), which means that a third of all hospitalizations have occurred since Phase 2 reopening.
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said on Thursday that an AdventHealth Palm Coast official was reporting Covid-19 hospitalizations “higher than April.”
The health department’s report shows a doubling in the number of people going to the emergency room with either influenza-like or Covid-like symptoms in Flagler, and a sharp jump of 8 percent in cough-related emergency room visits resulting in admissions in the last reported week (compared to 3 percent or less since early April). Those numbers corroborate what the hospital official told Holland.
Across the state, cough-associated admission had risen to 1.6 percent in early April, fallen to under 0.6 percent by late May, and have now been steadily rising again, standing at 1 percent in the last reported week.
Deaths are also increasing again in the state. When Phase 2 began, the state had recorded 2,660 deaths. The total today was 3,803, an increase of 43 percent in that time span. Gov. Ron DeSantis has been claiming that the surge has not been accompanied by an increase in deaths. That’s not accurate. The seven-day average of Covid-19 related deaths has risen back to nearly where it was at the previous peak of the pandemic in Florida, with an average of 49 deaths reported in the last two week-span.
Public health officials have warned that even though a larger number of younger people is getting infected, those younger carriers, many of them asymptomatic, are carrying and spreading the disease to older, at-risk people, with a lag between infection s and complications.
In Flagler, where infections have also been affecting younger people, a still-large number of older people are getting infected, and for the 10 cases confirmed on July 3, the median age was 69.
Nationally, new coronavirus cases have increased by 89 percent over the past 14 days, with daily records being set (53,340 on Friday), though the number of deaths have fallen by 19 percent in that time span. The numbers have fallen, but are still high: there were 582 Covid-related deaths on Friday, for a total of 129,400 since the pandemic began. The total in Florida is 3,683, placing the state’s per-100,000 death rate of 17 in 27th place among the 50 states, but 9th worst in net number of people who have lost their lives. Florida’s infection rate per 100,000 had been low until the June outbreak, but the state has been climbing the national chart since, standing in 15th place today. Florida, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina and California are among the worst hot spots at the moment, with Florida by far leading the way in new daily cases.