With schools scheduled to reopen in less than two weeks, Florida Health Department figures show that children in Flagler County are testing positive for covid-19 at a rate even higher, and accelerating, rate than adults.
As of July 17, the state’s report on children and covid indicated that 39 Flagler County residents 17 or younger had tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic in February, out of a total of 430 tested, for a cumulative positivity rate of 9.1 percent. Since then, 306 children have been tested, and 52 of them have tested positive, for a positivity rate of 17 percent in a span of less than a month. The cumulative positivity rate has risen to 12.4 percent. (See the July 17 pediatric report here, and the Aug. 11 report here.)
Compared with the county’s overall figures (which include children and adults), Flagler has a cumulative positivity rate of 7 percent since February. Since July 17, it has added 495 positive cases out of 4,072 people tested–according to the state Department of Health–for a positivity rate in that time span of 12.1 percent.
The district is keeping mum about a series of positive cases within its ranks. A district staffer who visited Rymfire Elementary before the weekend and turned out to have been positive for covid caused that school to be disinfected over the weekend. It’s not clear who or what designation the district staffer had. The district did not issue any public notice about the case. Two Flagler Palm Coast High School employees, one of them a teacher, have tested positive, and at least one new case has emerged in the Matanzas High School community.
The district is not disclosing publicly which schools have what number of positive cases, whether among faculty, staff or students. “Those who are affected will be notified,” a district spokesman said today. “We don’t determine who’s quarantined.” That’s left up to the county department of health to determine. (The spokesman later specified that since March, the department of health notified the district of 10 school employees who have tested positive. The district has over 1,700 employees.)
The district’s Return to School Guide outlines the district’s approach on notification, but in contradictory terms. In one bullet point, it states: “Flagler schools will communicate with families and staff only about positive cases among students and staff in its schools. If a student or staff member has tested positive, Flagler Schools will communicate its next steps with families and staff who may be directly impacted and how it impacts regular school operations as soon as the district is able.”
In the very next bullet point, it states, in direct contradiction to the first: “The district will NOT communicate if a family member of a student or staff member has tested positive, but will still take appropriate quarantining steps for the impacted student or staff, per CDC guidelines.”
When it is notifying anyone, the district would send a letter much like the one Matanzas High School Principal Jeff Reaves sent some parents after a student-athlete in the football program there tested positive earlier this summer. But even the health department’s notifications are restricted to those who considered to have been at risk of exposure. It is by no means a comprehensive list. It depends on contact tracers’ ability to determine who the positive carrier has been in contact with, on the carrier’s memory, and on the tracers’ perspicacity. The system is by no means fail safe, absent broader, general awareness about a case.
For example, a restaurant would not disclose who among its staffers has contracted the disease, but several restaurants in Flagler have publicly informed the community that they’ve had a positive case or more, enabling patrons to decide on their own whether and how to visit the establishments, and to know whether they’d been there around the time when the positive cases were announced. Based on its current approach, the district intends to deny the public that sort of information regarding its own buildings, limiting announcements only to those directly impacted by a case.
The Return to School Guide cites “laws protecting student and staff privacy,” but no such laws are being broken when the district reveals facts limited to whether a faculty member or service employee at any given school has tested positive, or the number of students at any given schools who have. In essence, by so strictly limiting the information the district intends to disseminate publicly, it is preventing members of a school’s community–even those not necessarily directly impacted by positive cases–from being adequately and transparently informed about that school’s conditions.
School Board member Colleen Conklin is uncomfortable with the say the information is being shared–or not shared: information occasionally is disseminated on Facebook by parents, but the community doesn’t have an exact sense of where the cases are, with regards to schools. “I just worry about building trust with the community when we don’t share, even when it’s an isolated case, because it’s going to be shared, but it’s not going to be shared with us,” Conklin said at a workshop last month.
“We have to be careful of what we’re discussing,” Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt said. “I understand that there’s a social media component to it, that there’s a lot of liberties for those conversations, but I think as a school district and what our messaging is, we have to walk that balance being confidential when we need to be, but also informing with a small pocket of students in isolated situations. There will be cases–there are experiences all over this country right now, the states–where it might be that a school building could be shut down, and I absolutely think that messaging will be much different in that regard. But I think as we learn on how we respond to our situations, we walk slow, full disclosure, I always want the community to be well informed, but I think we need top also honor the process a little bit, try to keep our circle smaller, from our perspective of how we share. So it’s a balance.”
“The bottom line is we do have people that are very nervous,” Conklin said, “whether anybody likes it or not, the reality is, people are nervous, they’re worried, and so all I’m simply saying is when you’re trying to build trust and maintain trust, that instead of chasing a story, and trying to explain it, that you are being transparent, and you’re sharing that information.”
Flagler County’s cumulative total of covid cases is up to 1,095 as of today (Aug. 11), an increase of 17 cases since Monday.
The Florida Department of Health today announced 276 news deaths in Florida related to covid-19, yet another record, exceeding by 19 the previous record set 12 days ago as the pandemic continues to claim more lives in Florida than in any other state but Texas since mid-July. Florida has lost at least 8,553 people to covid, including 13 in Flagler County.
Tuesday’s announcement by the health department included the deaths of at least 21 people 55 or younger, among them a 29-year-old woman in Volusia County, a 27-year-old woman in Okaloosa, and a 33-year-old man in Manatee. The tally also included a 100-year-old Collier County man and a 100-year-old Duval County woman.
The number of new cases is falling in the state and in Flagler, at least compared to the July surge, though the numbers remain significantly above those of the April surge, and covid-related hospitalizations at AdventHealth Palm Coast remain at the same level they’ve been for a week and a half–at 15 as of this afternoon. Volusia hospitals total 132 such hospitalizations, and 24 in St. Johns currently. Statewide, close to 6,800 people are hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of covid, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Concerns about covid infections among the young are driven by increasing reports of the different ways the coronavirus may be attacking younger people, even if not fatally.
Florida Today on Aug. 7 reported on Spencer Rollyson, a 21-year-old Canaveral Grovbes resident who “bounced back from mild covid-19 symptoms in May,” only to subsequently develop an array of new and severe symptoms that brought him near death.
“Doctors diagnosed Rollyson with multi-organ failure with heart failure, acute respiratory failure, and severe sepsis with septic shock,” the paper reports. He recovered again after a five-day hospital stay but has been advised against raising his heart rate for the next year to reduce the chance of heart failure.
Rollyson’s case is illustrative of an aspect of the pandemic that’s been affecting hundreds of thousands of people who develop complications, survive, then contend with weeks and months of fitful recoveries, unexpected, often severe symptoms, and a sense that they are not healing. Many need physical therapy.
“Many Italians have grown painfully familiar with the way the infection can hang on for weeks, the symptoms can linger for weeks more, and full recovery can take longer still — if it ever arrives,” The New York Times reported in May, when Italy was still among the worst-hit regions. “Any pneumonia damages the lungs, which can take months to heal, and doctors warn that the harm might not be completely reversible. Studies also point to kidney, heart, liver and neurological damage, often from secondary infections, and no one knows what the long-term prospects are for those patients.”
By the time the pandemic was ravaging the United States, the same had become apparent here, though the patients in recovery typically get far less attention than the daily numbers of new infections, positivity rate and deaths. “But many other coronavirus patients — not just those who are older or who have other medical conditions — are spending weeks on ventilators and weeks more in the hospital after their breathing tubes are removed, making their recovery hills steeper to climb,” The Times reported on July 1.
Rollyson’s case is notable because of his age, and in a state whose governor has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the current surge because it affects younger people in general, though as the South Florida press reported last month, a family in Lauderhill lost two siblings, Byron Francis, 20, and Mychaela Francis, 21, died in a span of 11 days from covid.
Today the Times reported that while those older than 90 accounted for more deaths than all deaths of those under 65 combined, that’s no longer the case. “Deaths were greater in July for residents under 65 than for those over 90,” the paper reported. “Additionally, more Floridians in the 25-44 age group died in July than had died in the previous four months of the pandemic combined, a review of Florida Department of Health data shows. More than 200 have died in all.”
“Two weeks after I tested negative for the virus is when I went into the ICU and was on the verge of death,” Rollyson wrote on his Facebook page. “I had heart failure, respiratory failure and many other things. I was put on a breathing machine because I was not able to breathe on my own.”