Florida shattered the record for single-day covid deaths for the second straight day today as the state health department reported 216 deaths, after reporting 186 the day before.
Flagler County added 12 confirmed cases of covid-19 for a total of 74 in the first four days of the week, out of 601 tests reported by the state department of health–a positivity rate of 12.3 percent (far higher than the 7 percent Flagler Health Department chief Bob Snyder reported at today’s Palm Coast Town Hall on the virus, using a different set of data that mixes in antibody tests.)
Florida’s numbers have leveled off just below 10,000 a day–the state reported 9,446 new cases today. But the state is still leading the nation in new cases, and the case load remains extremely heavy on hospitals and predictive of a continued catastrophic death toll ahead.
“It’s kind of a mixed message,” Stephen Bickel, a physician and the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia health departments, said today at the town hall, with the rate of spread declining slightly. “It looks like Flagler County has plateaued and Florida is coming down.”
But Bickel toward the end of the hour sought to address continued misinformation about the disease’s seriousness. Though he did not refer to her, he spoke a day after Janet McDonald, the chairman of the Flagler County School Board, urged people at a public board meeting to watch a video denying the seriousness of the disease and peddling claims that have been discredited or termed dangerous (one of the people in the video espouses beliefs about extra-terrestrial DNA in medicines and attributes certain conditions to demons having sex with women as they sleep, among other strange claims).
McDonald has repeatedly emailed Bob Snyder, the head of the Flagler Health Department, as well as school officials, links to videos or articles denying the gravity of the pandemic while she herself has spoken at board meetings of undue fear and exaggerations. Last week she emailed the superintendent and others a link to such claims by Scott Atlas, a physician who earlier this month said “there is zero science for having children wear masks or have spacing when they have zero risk from the disease”–a false claim: children 9 and younger are at far smaller risk of contracting the disease or dying, but the risk is not zero.
Children 10 and older have risks of infection that parallel those of adults, while still having minimal risks of death, but nowhere near zero risk of hospitalization or death. In Flagler, 55 children 17 or younger have contracted the disease out of 545 tested. In Florida, according to the health department’s latest report, 31,100 have contracted it, 303 have been hospitalized and five have died, including a 9-year-old Putnam County girl this month. At least 166 children 10 and younger have been hospitalized. Those numbers accumulated while students were away from school, since the April lockdown.
“This group I call ‘covid minimizers,’ people who think it’s not so bad, and they kind of use every little piece of data to support that,” Bickel said. “One of these pieces was, the death rate wasn’t going to be so bad this surge, because it was going to be younger people infected, so that even though the case number is going up, the death rate wasn’t going to go up. Well, that turned out to be wrong. Yesterday I think we set an all-time record in Florida. All the experts predicted this. So for those of you who think this isn’t a serious infection, keep in mind, Flagler County, our local hospital is as full of covid patients as it’s ever been, our level is about 10 times what they were a couple of months ago, and the death rate in Florida is as high as it’s ever been. So this is a serious situation we’re in. We are making some progress. But there’s no reason for relaxing our vigilance.”
Twelve people have died of the disease in Flagler, including two non-residents. The total in Florida since March is 6,333 deaths. The nation today surpassed the 150,000 mark in deaths, and after a decline in the last few months, the death rate has risen sharply this month nationwide.
Bed capacity at AdventHealth Palm Coast was at 4 percent today, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, and ICU capacity was at 11 percent, with 24 patients at the hospital with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19–several more than the end of last week.
Wally de Aquino, AdventHealth Palm Coast’s chief operating officer, addressed conditions at the hospital in the same mixed terms Bickel used. “The current status for our hospital, the word is steady,” de Aquino said. “The good news is that we’re not seeing any significant increase in covid hospitalizations for the past 10 days, I would say. But we continue to have a steady hospitalization number for the past 10 days. In other words, it’s not increasing, but it’s not decreasing as well.” He said there was again an increase in patients in the last two days.
But another problem has become apparent, as it was in April: Palm Coast’s and Flagler County’s residents experiencing medical issues are reluctant to go to the hospital. When they do, they’re doing so too late. “I connected with our medical director from our emergency room this morning and he confirmed that many of our patients that we’re seeing for the past few days could have been in a less acuity situation if they were seeking health earlier,” de Aquino said. “So I invite all of our community not to wait, even if it takes a phone call with your primary care or urgent care, please take the necessary steps to take care of your health and allow us to help you.” (DeAquino also urged residents seeking covid testing without experiencing symptoms, not to do so at the emergency room. Symptomatic people may still go to the emergency room, however. The hospital is continuing to provide elective procedures.)
Meanwhile, the county’s challenges with the spread of the disease continue. “I regret that we have to still share some sobering statistics with respect to the transmission of the virus and its impact on all of us,” Snyder said today. “Because the percent of positive cases is high, the community spread of the virus is still a major issue and we are just not catching those with infections quick enough to guide and to isolate them and begin that important contact tracing function. So we can expect additional community testing suits in the future, especially if outbreaks occur.”
A continuing problem that has plagued communities across the country: labs have been slow to return test results, often making testing pointless. “We’re still experiencing slow turnaround times of up to 10-plus days with the major labs,” Snyder said. “The demand for diagnostic PCR testing is just so great nationwide and in our state. To address this dilemma, the state department of health is contracting with two new labs that have committed to turnaround times of two to three days.” (The state has made similar promises before that have not always panned out.)
Snyder talked of some hopeful indicators trending in the right direction: The number of people going to the hospital with covid-like illnesses peaked at 60 for the week of July 12. It has since fallen to just under 50–still high, but Snyder is encouraged by the trend. The more recent number of positive cases has also slowed just a bit, though it’s not declining.
“That gives me encouragement. It also says, hey, you know, as a community, it takes a village, that with all of us together taking part and embracing concepts like facial coverings, mask wearing, especially when indoors, it is going to make a difference,” Snyder said. “The science, the research and the studies that have been peer-reviewed have shown this. So that is the number one tool that we have in our tool box. So thank you all for complying.”
The local health department has recently trained and added 18 new staff members to conduct case investigations and contact tracing. The department is also working with Palm Coast government to develop a system that will be able to track hot spots in the city. Beyond that, every official appearing on today’s town hall again urged the wearing of masks as one measure residents can execute easily and simply to fight the disease.
“I’ve been to Publix a few times and I’ve certainly seen way more of our residents putting on the mask,” Mayor Milissa Holland said, referring to the city’s mask mandate, passed earlier this month. “They step inside, which is encouraging, it sends the message that our residents are really taking this equally as seriously and care about their neighbors.”
At the hospital, draconian rules are in place for mask-wearing–not just any mask, but “the proper mask, also. Bandannas are not allowed in the hospital,” de Aquino said. Even patients wear a mask as long as someone else is in the room.
“And it works,” de Aquino said categorically. “I’m going to give the community an example. We had a patient that arrived here asymptomatic, and came to the hospital for a different complaint. A few days later, started showing symptoms. Well, we were treating that patient already, but we were following all the proper protocols, including both the patient and staff wearing masks. We tested the patient right away. After they were showing symptoms, they showed to be positive with covid. The good story about this, not one staff that was taking care of that patient became positive with covid. Why? Because of hygiene, wearing a mask, and hygiene, washing their hands, and both patients and staff wearing their masks. So it does work.”
He added: “I’d like to invite our community to continue wearing their masks, not only for themselves, but for their loved ones and for our health care workers as well. By doing so, we continue to control the surge at least in our community. And also remember: if anybody is feeling any symptoms, do not delay your treatment or your visit with your own physician or urgent care or the hospital. Take your health serious, allow us to help you at the right time.”
Video of the full town hall meeting is below.
|Covid Testing in Flagler:
The Flagler County Community testing site at Cattleman’s Hall at the Flagler County Fairgrounds, 650 County Road 13, Bunnell, operates 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, by appointment, which may be set up by calling 386-313-4200.
The Department of Health on Dr. Carter Boulevard, open weekdays from 8 to 9:30 a.m., but by appointment only, and only for first responders such as cops and firefighters, health care workers, and people who are at higher risk for Covid-19, such as the elderly or those with serious underlying conditions. Call 386-437-7350.
The following Flagler Beach and Bunnell testing sites will also be available Through Aug. 1:
First United Methodist Church of Bunnell, 205 N. Pine Street, Bunnell, Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. by Appointment.
Santa Maria Del Mar Church, 915 North Central Avenue, Flagler Beach, Mondays 4:30 to 6 p.m., by appointment. Flagler Pharmacy, 200 Moody Blvd, Flagler Beach, Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 a.m., by appointment. Church on the Rock, 2200 North State Street, Bunnell, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. by appointment. Testing is limited to 60 people per “event,” or to each day's segment. Appointments are necessary. Results will be available in 10 days. Free washable cotton masks will also be distributed at these locations while supplies last.
Flagler Pharmacy, 200 Moody Blvd, Flagler Beach, Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 a.m., by appointment.
Church on the Rock, 2200 North State Street, Bunnell, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. by appointment.
Testing is limited to 60 people per “event,” or to each day's segment. Appointments are necessary. Results will be available in 10 days. Free washable cotton masks will also be distributed at these locations while supplies last.