Covid-19 cases in Flagler spiked in the last 24 hours by 18 cases, going from 392 cumulative cases in Monday’s report to 410 in today’s report by the Florida Department of Health, one of the largest single-day increases since the pandemic began in late February. The state added 7,300 new cases for a cumulative total of 213,800 as the surge that began roughly two weeks after June 5’s Phase 2 reopening continues.
Staffers at two more long-term care facilities have tested positive for thecoronavirus–at Flagler Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home, and at Magnolia Manor of Palm Coast, an assisted living facility, the department’s report indicates.
While the median age of those affected in the June-July surge has been lower than in April, it has steadily been rising statewide, from 33 two weeks ago to 40 in the latest report, about the same as it’s averaged in Flagler over the last two weeks. Flagler has not seen a death from the virus in over a month, but the state reported 63 deaths today and 47 yesterday, as the seven-day average of deaths has continued to rise and is now approaching its previous peak. The death tally discredits recurring assumptions that because the median age of those affected is lower, the number of deaths will be lower. The assumption is not taking into account the massively larger number of infections in this round, compared to April, with the net result being that more older people are being infected, not less, even though the proportion of older people infected is lower.
This evening the Palm Coast City Council will be the first local government in the county to formally consider a mandatory mask mandate. Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said she intends to raise the issue. She has the backing of City Manager Matt Morton, while most members of the council have previously spoken as advocates of masks.
Morton said that with the discussion ahead, the administration took the initiative to have a resolution prepared as a basis for discussion. The resolution mandates that “Every person living, working, visiting or doing business in the City of Palm Coast shall wear a face covering in any indoor location, other than home or residence,” while businesses will be “encouraged to prohibit entry of any person who is not wearing a face covering,” with exceptions.
The wording applying to businesses is carefully tailored not to require businesses to enforce mask-wearing by patrons. The 10 exceptions are similar to those put forth in a county proposal for a mandate that County Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan sought, but that was shot down by County Administrator Jerry Cameron after Sheriff Rick Staly said that he was adamantly opposed to having his deputies turned into the mask police. Staly considers a mask mandate unenforceable, though he’s proposing alternative routes for local governments to take with such mandates–through trespassing or code enforcement measures.
Palm Coast’s mandate is tailored almost word for word after that of New Smyrna Beach, whose city commission approved a mandate last week. New Smyrna Beach’s commission had started with a resolution that would merely recommend mask-wearing (as local governments do in Flagler), but “instead, in a 3-2 vote, they mandated masks,” WESH’s Claire Metz reported. “But there are no penalties for non-compliance.”
Palm Coast’s version of the measure–which could, of course, change or be discarded by the time council members are done discussing it tonight–also carries no penalties for infractions, so there’d be nothing there for the sheriff to police. Palm Coast contracts with the sheriff for policing. But Staly said a mandate would spur people to call for law enforcement anyway when they see violators. He worries that the 911 center would be overwhelmed by calls.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Morton said today. He was to have further discussions with STaly to get clarification about the sheriff’s proposal, disclosed in an interview with FlaglerLive on Monday. “If I’m consistent with my beliefs and what I’ve espoused for how many weeks at the virtual town halls? I agree with the health professionals, I agree with the CDC.”
Palm Coast is the first of three city governments to take up the mask mandate as policy this week. Bunnell and Flagler Beach’s commissions do so on Thursday. There is no indication that the county commission is interested yet.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking in Miami earlier this afternoon, focused less on rationalizing the higher infection numbers than on urging precautions, though he refrained, as he has in the past, from encouraging people to wear masks. For the past two weeks he had inaccurately attributed the state’s rise in cases to increased testing. More testing does account for some of the increase, but the sharp increase in the positivity rate–the rate at which people test positive for Covid-19–means that the virus is spreading, and that the state is not doing enough testing to trace it and contain it. Today, DeSantis acknowledged those higher positivity rates, which have also been seen in Flagler, though not as high as in South Florida and in Duval.
The positivity rate statewide has been above 14 percent for the past nine days, and above 16 percent in the latest report. That suggests considerable community spread.
“We’re seeing positivity in Miami-Dade, some of the other places maybe not as high, but higher than they would be, so now is the time to continue to be very cautious and continue to limit that close contact so that you can avoid being infected while this virus is out,” DeSantis said. “A lot of this is being driven by younger people. Look, they’re much less at risk, if you look at the statistics, if you’re under 40 and you don’t have a significant underlying condition, the fatality rate is incredibly, incredibly low, which is a good thing.”
DeSantis was downplaying the numbers. The rate is low, but the numbers are still stark: 100 Floridians ages 44 and younger have been killed by the disease, and more than 3,000 in that age group have been hospitalized. Hospitalizations for Covid-19 can be grueling, unpredictable ordeals, sometimes lasting months and leaving the patient with physical and psychological scars, and facing long recoveries.
At the same time, those folks interact with people who may be in vulnerable groups, so that’s definitely a concern, not only with staff in a nursing home but just things like multi-generational living, visiting parents and grandparents. Now is the time to exercise that caution.”