The Flagler County Health Department today reported the deaths of two more people for covid-related reasons: a 66-year-old man and a 69-year-old man, bringing the total number of deaths in the county to 12 residents and two non-residents since the beginning of the coronavirus emergency in late February.
In Florida, the disease has claimed 7,157 lives so far, 73 reported today, with almost half a million people in the state testing positive since the beginning of the pandemic. In the nation, the disease has claimed 155,500 lives so far, including 421 reported today.
Assisted living or group home facilities in Flagler have reported seven new positive cases: Gentle Care Assisted Living on Blare Castle Drive in Palm Coast is reporting two new cases of staffers being infected with the disease, and East Coast Habilitation Options, which runs group homes for disabled individuals, is reporting five staffers infected.
The 66-year-old man who died over the weekend was Bruce Garrison, a long-time supervisor in Flagler Beach’s sanitation department.
“I didn’t just lose an employee, I lost a friend,” Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom said. “He’s been a very loyal employee to the city even before I got here. One thing about Bruce is, he woke up every morning and looked at what he could do to make this city better as far as Flagler Beach. He could give you the shirt off his back. I considered Bruce a friend, kind of like I consider all my managers a friend, we’re like a family here in Flagler Beach. It’s a big loss. My wife an I have been very very upset about it. So the biggest thing I can say is, you know, he’s going to ba better place and he’s going to be missed. There’s no doubt about it. The city of Flagler Beach couldn’t ask for a better civil servant than Bruce Garrison.”
The city made sure everyone at the sanitation department was tested, Newsom said. “I’ve been through the screen process four times, a lot of the employees have as well,” he said. “We haven’t had a whole lot of employees that have tested positive, so it’s not like the virus has had a major impact on Flagler Beach by any means, we’re all following the rules, we’re wearing masks in common areas. I think staff is doing a great job.”
In late July, Liz Mathis, the human resources manager at the city, said in response to a FlaglerLive question about city staff and covid that since the onset of the pandemic, Flagler Beach had had two employees that tested positive. “Our City follows the recommendations of the CDC by notify all employees at the location/department that they may have been exposed,” Mathis said. “This procedure is accomplished without releasing any of the affected employees’ confidential information (HIPPA). As far as notifying the public, contact tracing is conducted through and is the responsibility of the local Department of Health-Flagler. The City of Flagler Beach reviews each case to determine if there has been direct exposure to the public. When one of our Police Officers tested positive in late March 2020, a media release was issued to alert the public.”
On Monday, the Florida Health Department reported the lowest number of new infections since June 23–just under 5,000, after 7,000 cases were reported the day before, bringing Florida’s seven-day average below 9,000 for the first time in nearly a month. But today’s decline was also driven by a sharp drop in testing caused by the disruptions of Hurricane Isaias, which shut down all state testing sites during the storm emergency. The storm cleared the state today.
The state’s R-naught value, which points to the infectious capacity of covid-19, has remained at 0.99, which is a good sign: anything over 1 means that infections will spread more widely. But an R value of 0.99 also means that the decline will be more of a flattening out at relatively high numbers, with new infections continuing th add to the tally.
Flagler County ended last week with 143 new positive cases out of 1,284 total tests reported by the state health department, a positivity rate of 11.1 percent for the week, and a cumulative positivity rate of 7 percent since the pandemic began in the county. (The local health department continues to report a lower positivity rate by including testing that counts antigen tests and counts negative tests to the same person over and over, while counting positive tests only once: that inaccurately deflates the actual positivity rate.)
“Here in Flagler, we’re up to 930 cases,” Jonathan Lord, the county’s emergency management chief, told the county commission this week, just before the state released the morning’s figures raising Flagler’s total to 145. The new positive cases included a 6-year-old girl and, over the weekend, a 14-year-old boy.
Cumulatively, 70 children 17 and younger have been infected in Flagler County, an increase of 31 cases just since July 17.
Flagler County’s numbers have nearly tripled in July: there were 323 cases on July 1. By this week’s end, cases are expected to pass the 1,000 mark.
“That’s about 437 since your last meeting,” Lord told county commissioners, who last met on July 13. “So as you can see the numbers are exponentially increasing on the positive side, 76 have been hospitalized, which is about 8 percent. It’s about 2 percent higher than the state average, on the hospitalization side. Ten, unfortunately have died, so it’s doubled since your last meeting, and all of these other cases of course had other conditions as well that covid obviously exacerbated and created conditions with.” He said the cumulative positive rate remains half the state’s, by population.
As of Monday afternoon, the Agency for Health Care Administration was reporting a bed capacity of 12 percent at AdventHealth Palm Coast, and of 22 percent (or four beds) in the intensive care unit, with 17 people hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of covid, a decline from last week, when the number was around 22 and 23.
“Locally the number of emergency department visits for covid-19-like illnesses has been decreasing over the last week or so, but other related indicators like influenza-like illnesses, things like that, have increased,” Lord said. “The hospital is still running at a high occupancy rate, not necessarily all because of covid-19. However we are in constant communication with the hospital and they are very comfortable that they’re able to handle the demand and even increases in demand at this time.”
An unusually subdued Commissioner Joe Mullins addressed Garrison’s death this morning during a county commission meeting, speaking as if he’d been chastened by the news. “I first bought out here in Flagler Beach and I met a man that was a staple for that city, and he passed away yesterday, Bruce Garrison,” Mullins said, “it was complications from covid, but he had some other underlying health factors that probably really created the problem, that’s really between medical and him, but the point of everybody trying to make is, we don’t know who we’re standing by that could have one of those underlying health factors.
“Everyone thinks I’m very healthy,” he continued, “I have a weak ejection fracture in my heart, it was from a virus, and anyone could be standing by you, and they look healthy, and you don’t think that they’re a risk. So just always be conscientious of that, respectful, because we’ve lost 10 people. That doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s not a lot when you compare it nationally, but if one of those 10 is somebody you know, it’s one too many.” He added: “This virus is bigger than anything we’ve ever dealt with, and we’re in the learning stage of it, and we need to be willing to try and do anything.”
He noted moments later Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood testing positive. Chitwood was one of at least five people who attended a Florida Sheriffs Association meeting last week at a Bonita Springs hotel. The meeting included 60 people from across the state, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Corrections Secretary Mark Inch, incoming House Speaker Chris Sprowls and sheriffs from various parts of Florida, according to the News Service of Florida. The association “exceeded” social distancing guidelines at the event, Nanette Schimpf, a spokeswoman for the association, told The News Service today. Face masks were required at the meeting, each table sat a single person and they were 10 feet apart, and hotel staff cleaned the area every hour, she said.
By Friday, Inch, Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon and Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood all disclosed that they too had tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz tested positive for the deadly respiratory illness.
Sheriff Rick Staly, who was at this morning’s county commission meeting, was also at the sheriffs’ association conference. Sheriff’s spokesperson Brittany Kershaw this evening said Staly was tested last Thursday, and tested negative. The sheriff was tested again the next day: he traveled to Tampa to briefly meet with President Trump, along with a few other law enforcement chiefs. All those who meet the president are required to be tested. The test returned negative.
On the other hand, a reporter who covered the event at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, revealed that his test came back positive. Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, state Sen. Wilton Simpson, Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, and state Rep. Danny Perez were all in the same room.
“Everyone who participated in Friday’s events — elected officials, law enforcement, media — were tested earlier in the day,” the Tampa Bay Times reported. “However, a newly infected person can test negative for the disease because it often takes days for the body to accumulate enough viral particles for a test to detect.”
DeSantis had attended the sheriffs’ association conference before the president’s visit and addressed the gathering, without wearing a face mask.
None of the Flagler County commissioners wore a face mask during the meeting today. Most people who addressed commissioners removed their face mask while doing so, which defeats the purpose of the mask in large measure since it’s when people speak that they’re likelier to emit aerosols and droplets.