Grand Oaks Health and Rehabilitation Center in Palm Coast is the epicenter of a significant spike in coronavirus cases, with a total of 31 current cases–18 residents and 13 staffers, according to the Florida Health Department’s latest figures.
Tuscan Gardens has also been battling a spike, but one not nearly as pronounced as Grand Oaks’s, with seven current cases, all of them residents. Four of them have been transferred out, which usually means they’ve been transported either to a hospital or to hospice. Four Grand Oaks residents have also been transferred out.
The Florida Department of Health today reported the covid-related deaths of two more Flagler County residents, a 71-year-old man and a 91-year-old woman.
“One was a hospice patient coming from a nursing home,” Flagler Health Department Chieg Bob Snyder said today.
The two deaths bring the total covid-related deaths in the county to 21 residents and three non-residents.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have accounted for a disproportionate share of covid-related deaths, which disproportionately affect the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.
“Regarding Grand Oaks, I feel we’re on top of it, we’ve been in communication with the executive at Grand Oaks, we have what we call the IP assessment team was out there at Grand Oaks just yesterday” to conduct an assessment, Snyder said, and “testing is still occurring there on a ramped up basis.” (IP stands for infection prevention.)
Cases in Flagler County are spiking again despite significantly less testing. Testing over the past five weeks has been less than half its July peak, yet the county added 91 new cases the week ending Sept. 5, and 139 new cases last week, approaching the July peak in new cases. With just four days counted this week, the county has added 64 new cases, an average of 16 cases a day in the last two and a half week.
Aside from assisted living facilities, the spike has also been fed by positive cases in schools, which resumed in-person classes on Aug. 24 and are in their fourth week. As of today, the district had tallied 38 cases in that time span–11 staffers and 27 students. Eighteen of the cases are at Old Kings Elementary, nine at Flagler Palm Coast High School, whose principal, Tom Russell, was among those who had to quarantine after his administrative assistant tested positive. (“I feel fine and I am on target to reach 15,000 steps today,” he wrote his staff last week. “My intentions are to serve you from DeLand We can email, speak on the phone, or I can be a zoomie.”)
Since Friday, the district has added seven cases–two students at Old Kings Elementary, Rymfire Elementary’s first case (a student), two staffers at Flagler Palm Coast High School, and a student at Matanzas High School, according to Rogue Flagler Schools, a twitter account set up to keep track of district cases in real time. The district releases total figures only once a week, on Fridays, and does not break them down by schools. (FlaglerLive has verified Rogue’s original documentation of each case and continues to do so.)
Snyder says there’s a third factor that accounts for the spike: social clubs. Since Labor Day, the health department’s contact-tracing investigators have traced several cases back to social club activities, where “compliance with mask-wearing is shoddy,” Snyder said. He would not mention actual names of clubs, but said several have been linked to the spike. “When we let our guard down and we’re not careful and private social clubs as an example, this is the way to transmit the virus,” he said. “We see what happens, and that is, cases spread.”
In an indirect way, social club infections have fed into infections among schoolchildren.
“We have examples of grandparents who, because of being not compliant or being complacent, they have passed the virus onto their grandchildren and to their children,” Snyder said. “Household spread is the most common way to spread the virus among people, so here we have grandparents affecting their grandchildren in school.”
Snyder said the decrease in testing is driven by a decrease in the number of people seeking tests, especially at testing locations that have remained in place for several weeks. To address that, the health department looks for new locations where testing has not been as prevalent. But nationally, the Centers for Disease Control has issued a directive no longer to test [people who are asymptomatic–a directive that has puzzled local health department chiefs, including Snyder. Unquestionably, testing has fallen significantly across the country. Deaths have not.
The Health Department today also reported 153 deaths statewide today alone, or 343 since Sunday, for a total of 13,100 since the pandemic began in March. On March 16, Florida had registered five deaths from the disease. In the 200 intervening days, the state has averaged 65 deaths a day, a pace that does not appear to be abating. The nation will record its 200,000 covid death by this weekend as the disease continues to claim an average of 1,000 lives a day (and almost 1,300 today).
The local hospital has again seen a rise over two successive weeks of patients reporting covid-like illnesses at the emergency room, a number that had fallen to around 35 the week of Aug. 23. The number rose to 50 the week of Aug. 30, and past 60 the week of Sept. 6. As of today, the Agency for Health Care Administration was reporting 13 patients at AdventHealth Palm Coast admitted with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19.
Florida is no longer the epicenter of the pandemic in the country. That has shifted to the Midwest and other parts of the South, with Florida’s case rate in the last seven days ranking it almost halfway down among the list of states, though the state’s daily total number of cases has flattened out at more than double the peak rate last April.
Flagler County had for weeks maintained one distinction: that of having the lowest rate of cases, per 100,000, among 67 counties in Fl;orida. Flagler lost that distinction to Broward County this week. And because of its recent spike, the county has a higher rate of infection in the last seven days than 41 other Florida counties.
Hopes for a vaccine fix in the immediate future are also fading. CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield today told a Senate panel today that while some vaccines may be ready on a limited basis in November and December, it won’t be available to make a substantial difference until months later. “If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at third … late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” Redfield said.
“We’re going to be dealing with this for much longer than we had thought,” Snyder said.