The state Health Department has imposed a striking gag order on the Flagler County health department, forbidding it from releasing covid-19 numbers affecting schools either to the public or to the press. The order falls as a drizzle of covid cases continues to affect Flagler schools, with a few classrooms, individual faculty and students required to quarantine.
The Flagler department has been forthcoming with the information, discussing it in public meetings, in media appearances, in press interviews and whenever requested, deeming the information necessary as part of the department’s strategy in containing the coronavirus. But the state, acting on orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration, which has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and sidelined the health department’s role, ordered health departments across the state not to give guidance to school districts on re-openings, and now has restricted the role of departments further in the dissemination of information. The Orange County Health Department fell under the same gag order Thursday, after that department’s chief got the same phone call from the state as did Bob Snyder, Flagler’s chief.
Snyder’s management of the pandemic Flagler has maintained the lowest per-capita number of covid cases out of any of Florida’s 67 counties. (The number is good within Florida, but Flagler’s numbers remain poor relative to much of the rest of the country; there were 155 cases in the county in the last 14 days.) Snyder was clearly uncomfortable this morning as he explained the reversal in an interview. “I was in that mode, transparency, and wanting to be open about sharing basic information,” Snyder said, “and I take responsibility for this, I just didn’t think it was an issue. I felt it was information the public had the right to know, but the department of health has gotten back to us and indicated that no, that is something I cannot share.”
The state health department’s claim that the information about school cases is confidential is highly dubious and does not appear to be backed up by an exemption in the state’s public record law, since the information in question is purely statistical, not identifying, and not much different than the pediatric report the state health department is routinely issuing about cases affecting children. That report is broken down by county and by age groups, but it does not go further into a school-by-school breakdown.
Snyder earlier this week said he would be preparing a daily report that would sum up each day’s covid numbers in schools, in conjunction with the Flagler County school district. He then said the report would be produced every Friday, to minimize the mixed messages that daily numbers can send out when certain cases haven’t been confirmed. As late as Thursday he was gathering the numbers and preparing to release the numbers. He was doing so just as his colleague in Orange County, Dr. Raul Pino, who heads that county’s health department, had been doing. Then Pino got a call from the state office Thursday afternoon. The call to Snyder followed shortly after that.
“This was obviously a big surprise to us as well,” Gretchen Smith, the public information officer at the Flagler health department, said this morning.
“Similar to Dr. Pino we felt it was important for the community to have information like this, about confirmed cases and just what the status is in our school system,” Snyder said. “We’re not having any names, addresses or phone numbers or conditions of the patients and people impacted, so I felt that was playing it safe and very appropriate. But obviously I need to seek clarification from the department of health because they called Dr. Pino and they called me last night saying we need to keep this information confidential. And yeah that’s it. The school district can certainly relay information.”
The school district relies on Snyder’s information. It had initially decided not to disclose case numbers or locations except to those affected, though it released numbers to the press whenever asked for them. The district issues official letters either to staff or to parents, depending on who’s infected, informing them of any one or more case. But only those directly impacted by the case–say, a particular department, a classroom, sometimes an entire school–receive the letter. The letters have swiftly appeared on social media and been acquired by news organizations, including FlaglerLive, through public record requests. But as yet there’s been no systematic way of keeping track of outbreaks on a consistent basis. The health department gag order leaves it up to school districts to release what they wish.
Volusia County schools earlier this week had said they would not release any covid information to the public or the press. After a backlash, the district reversed course and publish numbers twice a week.
Snyder said the plan to issue a weekly report in Flagler through the district is still a go. But that’s assuming the state Department of Education doesn’t issue a gag order to school district in turn–as appears possible, given the state Health Department’s directive.
“In terms of what Jason will be sharing,” he said of Jason Wheeler, the district’s chief spokesman, Snyder said he wasn’t yet completely certain about the scope, but said it would likely include the “number of positive students, positive staff, schools impacted, numbers of people quarantined–those are just examples of what I believe Jason will be putting together for public consumption.”
Wheeler, who was struggling to begin a few days off over the Labor Day holiday today, said this morning that he was working on the information system but was still devising its scope with Kristy Gavin, the school board attorney. Wheeler said he favored the release of the information. “I would like to just because it’s what we’ve said, and we’ve released numbers in the past,” he said.
Still, even with the district’s pending weekly report–which would be released every Friday at 3 p.m.–Snyder had been confirming school cases on a daily basis, when asked about them specifically. He said he is now barred from doing so.
A little after 3 p.m. today. Wheeler issued a brief report summarizing the case load in schools since Aug. 24: three staff members and 11 students at Old Kings Elementary, Buddy Taylor Middle, and the two high schools, though the list appears to be missing some cases, such as Bunnell Elementary, where a class is quarantined. Just as he released the report, FPC issued yet another letter on a student testing positive. Now, that could not be verified with the health department.
The district and the health department have been working very closely, both in preparation for the reopening of campuses to students on Aug. 24 and on tracing outbreaks since, which have hit various campuses steadily since reopening. Today alone Flagler Palm Coast High School was the subject of numerous investigations and likely new positive cases, with at least one student confirmed positive (with a letter issued) on Sept. 3 and several others quarantined, including a dean, three teachers and a student who’d worked at the front desk.
Once the health department is alerted to a case, its contact tracers get to work, tracing the individual’s circle of contacts to the extent that those within the circle are deemed to have been at risk of infection. Those most at risk are required to quarantine and possibly tested, though the Centers for Disease Control, in another perplexing order the health department has been required to follow, now says asymptomatic people should not be tested. That’s created a new quandary for local health officials, though individual families and employees who want to get tested are free to do so. (The health department opened a testing site just for students and school employees at Buddy Taylor Middle School, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)
Despite the retrenchment on testing, the county saw a spike of 25 confirmed cases on Thursday. Snyder said that was driven largely by new cases in schools, at Grand Oaks rehabilitation (the nursing home on Palm Coast Parkway) and at Tuscan Gardens, another assisted living facility in Palm Coast. After weathering much of the pandemic with very few cases, local nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been experiencing a mini-surge in cases in the past two weeks–just as DeSantis reopened nursing homes to visitors. The health department is listing four current staff members having tested positive at Grand Oaks, and nine residents at Tuscan Gardens. Cases have been confirmed at both the county’s high schools and in at least three of its elementary schools.
“I cannot say enough about Bob Snyder and his contact-tracing team,” Wheeler said today, describing the health department’s “spectacular job” in the schools. Snyder, for his part, noted the irony of having the district rely on (and release) the very same information the health department had been releasing publicly previously. “On a daily basis we’re exchanging information with the school district if we have to, so the numbers that Jason will share will be numbers that are confirmed, verified by us,” Snyder said, “because that’s where the information comes from. But we just can’t at this point in time communicate it ourselves.”
If we are releasing numbers for nursing homes and colleges, why not for schools? Clearly something to hide. The move is obviously an attempt to hide the numbers to make parents less panicky. Too late! I have multiple relatives who are teachers and there is at least one case in each school they teach at… and this is in three different states! The information will get out on Facebook and on other social media anyway. The state is missing the opportunity to put out correct information instead of fanning the rumor mill and allowing individuals to spread possibly erroneous information. But once again they blew it!!! It is no violation of HIPPA to say the numbers of COVID at any publicly funded school — just as it never was in the recent past when letters would go out if a child contracted measles or chicken pox. So why should it be any different now?
This is because DeSantis is a Trumpee lacky.
But only partially for colleges. Students from out of state are not reported
Flagler Rogue says
A group of concerned stakeholders has created an anonymous Twitter page that will accept tips and information about positive cases, exposures and quarantines occurring within our school district among students, teachers and staff. Please visit https://twitter.com/FlaglerRogue for instructions on how to submit information and the parameters required for us to disseminate.
All sources of valid information are guaranteed anonymity.
Desantis is just like Trump. Don’t test. Don’t report cases. Hide information from the public. And just like that—the virus will disappear. Except it will not, and more people will become infected, and, unfortunately, more people will die.
Parents who are sending their children to school have a right to know from the health department how many children/staff members have been infected at each school.
The real JB says
So, JB answer this riddle—
If masks work then why are we not open everything up enforcing mask wearing? If masks don’t work then why are we wearing them??
The media will soon find something else to whine about, just wait. The media has the patience of a two year old and the attention span of a gnat.
Your question assumes mask either work perfectly or not at all.
But what if a mask reduces the spread of infection by, say, 40%? And a vigorous policy of limited social contact further reduces the number of people contracting COVID by perhaps 40%? Both measures in conjunction work better than either would alone.
DeSantis is the scum on top of the Swamp water with you know who. Just cover it up it will go away Remember this enabli g boitlicker when hes on the ballot again. There is no reason to holdback information.?In this C19 more info is better. He should Resign from office. He is not qualified for this job.
Keeping those school covid numbers a secret is a bad thing to do! It gives the parents and kids a false sense of security that all is well when it isn’t, and the numbers will keep rising. The same thing with “keeping the numbers low” as Trump wants done. People start getting careless and the covid umber start rising again. Of course Trump wants them low so it will make him look better and it makes me wonder if it isn’t the same reason the state (DeSantis) didn’t do it for the same reason. Besides, isn’t that restraining freedom of speech by forbidding them to release the numbers?
The Voice Of Reason says
Impeach Desantis! He is a spineless pawn in trumps incompetent response to covid. Needless death is blood on both of these republicans hands.
Stephen Ward says
HE is a groveling order taker with no spine swilling the koolaid whilst Committing Political suicide. Here he is Flaglers finest cowtowing to his Master in plain sight for all to see. Even looking like him at the waistline. Disgusting hypocrite
Edith Campins says
We are living in a dictatorship. This is the type of thing that happens in third world countries, under dictators.
Desantis doesn’t care if children get sick and die. Don’t forget this is the government that still has hundreds of children in cages. They only care about children before they are born.
Old Guy says
The Trumplicans have botched the Covid emergency in numerous ways from the get go. They were hell bent on reopening classrooms no matter the risk as communicated by the medical experts. It will only get worse as they work to muzzle anyone who has factual information to report to the public. Kudos to Flagler Live and other responsible news organization who are doing their best to ensure the public is informed.
Silent majority says
Not really sure why everyone is concerned with the amount of positive cases? Think its more important to focus on the amount of negative results as well as the number of “actual” deaths. Not those clumped in and counted as just cause… Think we are need to shine the light the pertinent facts not fear mongering. Let the kids get back to being kids
I’m about to pull our children out of school at the rate they’re going. Not even two weeks into school and they pull this?! Zero transparency equals zero confidence, plain and simple.
Our kids bus driver was out several days last week. Combined two bus routes together, over capacity three to every row but a couple, no a/c. What happened to 50% max capacity…or wait was it supposed to be 200%?!
First day of school Flagler School Board Chairman Janet McDonald welcomes students in car rider line without a mask as she doesn’t believe in them?!
The poor teachers. It’s like the state could care less about them. Unreal. Way to go FL.
This is, and always has been, Trump’s policy. He treats the American public like mushrooms… keep them in the dark and feed them bulls–t
the imbecile’s water boy.
don’t worry about the numbers, it will go away on its own.
just put your head in the sand and you won’t even know its there.
Pam P says
Flagler Health Dept and School District are doing a great job keeping parents informed.
I trust them in order for me to make intelligent decisions concerning my child’s education. Shameful we don’t have a governor that makes prudent, responsible decisions. VOTE GOVERNOR OUT!!! IDIOT!!
I thought Desantis was doing an okay job – UNTIL he met with Trump in April (Big write-up about him being in the Oval Office). He came back to Florida with an immediate agenda to “reopen” EVERYTHING….except bars/nightclubs! We had such low numbers of Covid-19 cases back then. Ever since, he has done nothing to protect the citizens of Florida. And now, our children, parents, grandparents, teachers, school staff are ALL at risk and he is desperately trying to cover it up!! Isn’t this the Sunshine State, with the Sunshine Laws?? Don’t we have a right to know the number(s) in respect to our school systems? Isn’t public health supposed to be public information? No one is asking for personal information – just statistical…and DeathSantis has put a “gag order” into effect??I’m afraid to ask what next!
Make America great again? It was great to begin with, just needed tweaking as always. We are now living in an autocracy with authoritarians like Desantis, Scott, Rubio and Gaetz bowing to and swearing loyalty to their cult supreme leader. Kids separated from their mothers or kids suffering/dying because they returned to school too early is not important, they are disposable in this regime. Just like war heroes children and school staff may just be suckers and losers.
This is ALL about making numbers good for the election!
trump is correctly defined as:
The “billionaire” who hides his tax returns.
The “genius” who hides his college grades.
The “businessman” who bankrupted 3 casinos and lost over $1B in 10 yrs.
The “playboy” who pays for sех.
The “Christian” who doesn’t go to church.
The “philanthropist” who defrauds charity.
The “patriot” who dodged the draft.
The “innocent man” who refuses to testify.
The “President” who takes no responsibility.
The “tough, strong man“ who wears makeup, hairspray, but never a mask.
The “deal maker” who has yet to close a deal.
The ‘Law and Order’ liar … who encourages Americans to break the law while becoming the most corrupt and malevolent POTUS in American History.
The “Commander In Chief” who mocks and disparages his own military.
You nailed Trump brilliantly. As a former New Yorker, we all knew what a phony he was. He is vulgar, ignorant and a fear monger. He is tearing this country apart. I am terrified he will be in office another 4 years!
Carl Lewis says
Absolutely agree. Having moved here from New Jersey I can affirm that we also knew about Trump and especially his bankruptcies in Atlantic City1,2. How he managed to get away with it all is astonishing.
Are we in Russia? says
This is just such a flagrant misuse of power on the part of DeSantis. Did he explain his rationale? Maybe i missed it. We, as citizens have to demand transparency. We don’t need to be given names but parents must be given the truth in numbers so as to make informed decisions. Why is it that trump and cronies are allowed to get away with these fascist tactics? We’re having to skulk around and get the truth anonymously. Every day there’s some new evidence of the trump regime evil. I feel like I live in the Kremlin. This country is being destroyed. We can’t just sit back and take it. Impeach DeSantis and vote blue.
Only Me says
DeSantis takes orders from Trump. DeSantis can’t think on his own what is best for the State of Florida. A one term governor for sure.
This is a disgrace to parents with children in schools and teachers. I have no idea how DeSantis can live with himself when he is hiding the truth to the people of Florida. He sure isn’t a governor for the people.
Just remember he doesn’t have children in public schools so he could careless about telling the truth to taxpayers.
When DeSantis did do his television reporting it was obvious then he was lying to the people of Florida, so this gag order is no surprise to any of us.
As I said a one term governor.
When there is an out break in Florida’s public schools and children and staff are being rushed to hospitals because of the virus you know who to thank.
For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
John 3: 19-20
Mike Cocchiola says
I would have to say that DeSantis is as dispicable as his boss. I wonder if Floridians will remember this in 2022.
This is public information, parents, students, teachers, and communities all have the right to know what is going on in their schools and communities! I fully understand PHI and HIPPA laws and as long as numbers are reported, no PHI OR HIPPA LAWS ARE BROKEN. This is simply an attempt by a governor to hide and misconstrue the numbers in an attempt to hold on to his re-election and win back the trust of the Florida people after he has followed his friend Trump’s failed footsteps! I am a parent of a volusia county middle school student who has chosen to keep my son at home until the pandemic has slowed or is better controlled, I made this decision based on, what I believed the right thing to do to limit the exposure of this virus to my child who does suffer from breathing problems, and public information based on the area that I reside. Anyone or any organization that wants to hide information from someone else, only has one thing in mind, COVER UP! Parents, students, teachers and the community, all have the right to know about about the daily exposure numbers, so that a informed daily decision can be made with the health interest of all involved! In this upcoming election, we all need our voices to be heard that the american people will not tolerate a president and governor who want to withhold vital public information so the the american public can make a informed decision about their lives and the lives of their family! We are a free information and free speech society, as long no laws are broken, people who dont want that public information know are undermining our society!
If I had a child receiving in school instruction, they would not be returning on Tuesday.
Jeff Sica says
Isn’t this a clear violation of either The Florida Sunshine Law or the State Public Records Law? If Florida’s AG Ashley Moody allows the DeSantis’ administration to get away with this, she’ll prove to be just another spineless, corrupt mouthpiece for both DeSantis and his handler, Trump. These are not individually identifying statistics and therefore, by definition, are open public records. If this squelching of public information is allowed, there should (and will) be hell to pay. It’s clear that on a Federal level that the rule of law has no place in Trump’s America and if AG Moody allows it to further infiltrate our State government, she’s as guilty as the Trump Administration and the Trumplican leaders in Congress in the dismantling of our Constitutional Republic. It is the rule of law that has allowed our still great nation to be the standard bearer of democracy (as flawed and in need of true equality as it is). It is the rule of law that has kept extremists and ideologues (from both the Left and the Right) from turning this country into an Authoritarian state, as the Trump Administration is blatantly attempting to do. Now, to all the Trump supporters already scoffing at my words, take a breath and step back for a second. As far as his policies and demeanor are concerned, at this point I highly doubt anyone or anything could change you mind, and I respect that. But in the USA, no one is above the law, even the President. That’s what’s kept us from being in this precarious position before. Even the Republicans in Congress knew when Nixon had crossed enough lines. Trump is violating laws and longstanding Federal regulations in plain sight and those who can put a stop to it, are willfully enabling it. AG Barr claims he doesn’t know what the Federal election law is in North Carolina? He surely does, because it’s a FEDERAL law to only vote once. Barr, however, is Trumps most dangerous enabler. If you really want Trump’s America, take a close look at Brazil, Turkey, North Korea, China and Russia…these are the governments and leaders Trump admires, openly and adoringly. Trump used the phrase “American carnage” during his inauguration speech, and has done his best to foment it ever since. As bad as things may have been in the past, under administrations of both political parties, we have never been this close to ending the American Experiment. As flawed as our democracy is, it’s what made the United States of America great to begin with. We shouldn’t flush it and hand our still great country over to an Authoritarian wannabe. We need to fix it, and can only accomplish that together…to return to mutual respect with the ability to agree to disagree, yet still find mutual ground, to achieve what the Founders truly envisioned, for ALL Americans to be equal under the law. We need to learn from some of the wisdom found in my generation’s rock lyrics. We need to stop being “born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past” (Springsteen) and always heed the Rolling Stones timeless mantra, “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, you get what you need”.
This is just what is done by totalitarian regimes! We have one right now.
It’s all about the ELECTION! In addition to “Gag Orders” like this, the GOP and the trump administration are blatantly putting forth FALSE THEORIES by ANON members about official Covid death toll numbers. Even some cult members commenting here have repeated such garbage:
The discredited theory in question points to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage stating the coronavirus was listed as the sole cause for only 6 percent of deaths from the virus. However, that does not mean the other 94 percent of people did not die from coronavirus. Instead, it means that either another factor directly caused by coronavirus was also listed, like respiratory failure, or that there was an underlying condition like obesity or diabetes that is not necessarily fatal on its own but that heightens the risks from coronavirus.
The 6 percent figure has been seized on, however, to minimize the death toll. Last weekend, Trump retweeted a post from the user Mel Q, who is also a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory, saying only about 9,000 people had “actually” died from coronavirus. Twitter later removed the tweet for violating its rules.
me to says
Sherry are you talking about Obama??/
Carl Lewis says
I would be very interested to hear from Governor DeSantis and President Trump supporters on the following:
• What do you see as the reason for issuing this gag order?
• How do you see this gag order benefiting the people of Flagler County or the people of Florida?
• What good do you see coming out of issuing this gag order?
Come on, folks, let’s hear your opinions!
Carl Lewis says
The silence is deafening! What amazes me is that even though there is no defense for these actions, there are still people that support these politicians that threaten our very democracy!
The next step is to garner support with the parents and teachers…and make sure DeSantis gets A LOT of calls from Flagler County! Contact number for Ron DeSantis (850) 717-9337.