Nov. 3 update: As of this morning, hospitalizations at AdventHealth Palm Coast jumped to nine, from six on Sunday.
Like Florida or the nation, Flagler County is not rounding the corner on covid: the county recorded its 40th covid-related death over the weekend, registered 103 new cases in the week ending Saturday, for a total of 227 over the past 14 days.
Covid-related hospitalizations have also been again climbing steadily at AdventHealth Palm Coast after bottoming out at just two toward the end of the week ending on Oct. 24. Since then, the number climbed to four at the beginning of last week, then five, then seven by Monday. It fell by one today–presumably accounting for the latest death.
Hospitalizations have been rising across the state, if not as steeply as in northern parts of the nation, where the pandemic is breaking new daily records (with nearly 100,000 in a single day over the weekend), its third wave ravaging thousands of communities.
More than 231,000 Americans have died of covid in the last eight months–more than the American death tolls of World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. In Florida, 4,865 have died of covid-19 as of today.
Nearly 2,500 people were hospitalized Monday in Florida with a primary diagnoses of Covid-19, as the total has increased in recent weeks, according to numbers posted on the state Agency for Health Care Administration website. While hospitalization numbers fluctuate daily, the number reported Monday was more than 200 higher than on any of the four previous Mondays. On Oct. 26, the total was 2,252; on Oct. 19, it was 2,052; on Oct. 12, it was 2,206; and on Oct. 5, it was 2,106, according to numbers compiled each day by The News Service of Florida from the state website.
“At the local hospital we are seeing a small increase compared to last week,” Wally de Aquino, AdventHealth Palm Coast’s chief operating officer, said on WNZF Friday morning, when the covid hospitalizations were at five. The previous week he had texted Flagler Health Department Chief Bob Snider an emoji to signal his satisfaction with numbers that had fallen as low as two, the lowest number since the end of May.
“Now we’re seeing across AdventHealth in Florida, we are seeing an uptick. We don’t know if that’s really a trend or not, that’s way too early. But the reason I mention that is when we saw an increase back in April, then July, now we call it a second wave, we’re waiting for a third wave,” de Aquino continued. “It started up north, then it started in larger cities like Orlando, then we saw it traveling clearly through Volusia County, and then it got to Flagler County. So we need to keep an eye on the trend overall that AdventHealth is experiencing because that could tell us something. Right now we saw a small increase since last week for hospitalizations, but in our emergency room, we’re seeing the numbers aren’t that bad.”
The third wave in the nation–if that’s what it’s called–is the gravest yet, with uncontrolled community spread. “I look at it more as an elongated exacerbation of the original first wave,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was quoted as saying last week. “It’s kind of semantics. You want to call it the third wave or an extended first wave, no matter how you look at it, it’s not good news.” The worry this time is that when the summer surge started, it did so at a time when cases were averaging 20,000 a day. The latest wave started as cases were averaging 40,000 a day in the nation.
The same principle applies to Florida: case loads never went down below an average of 2,000 a day after the summer surge waned, remaining well above the spring surge. In Flagler, weekly case loads never fell back to spring’s numbers, when for 12 of 13 weeks, the load averaged less than 20 new cases per week. Rather, Flagler’s weekly load fell a bit in late August, but never below 50, climbed again to triple digits, fell some in early October, only to rise again since.
“Some days we’ll have case counts in the single digits, other days it’ll be double that,” Snyder said Friday. Flagler has seen certain days with a total case load of two, other days with 35. “Like a rollercoaster. Flagler County overall is doing better than most counties in the state, we’ve got the second-lowest case rate per capita, so that’s good. We like the ER trend especially, because that will lead to less hospitalizations. Let’s hope that continues.” The lowest case rate per capital Snyder referred to is based on the cumulative numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. Flagler is not in as good a position when the last seven- or 14-day average is calculated, and is in a far less flattering position when compared to communities in most of the globe–outside of Europe and the Americas–where the pandemic has been brought under control.
“There are other hospitals in our nation that are feeling something a lot different,” de Aquino said, “and in fact we had some hospitals already reaching out to AdventHealth asking for assistance with staffing for nursing, because they’re getting a much different type of surge up north.”
If there is a silver lining these days, it is this: “We haven’t seen a lot of the flu yet, and usually by this time of the year, we should be experiencing seeing it in the ER and talking to the physicians, they don’t feel that we have much going on out in the community because they’re not showing up really in our ED. Hopefully that’s also a result of wearing our mask and washing our hands a lot. That’s another benefit our community can get out of this.”
The health department has been providing flu shots to those who turn up for covid testing. “We had 500 people in just in that process alone, many who have not ever gotten a flu shot,” Snyder said. The department continues to provide covid testing six days a week. Later this month the department will offer flu shots to students and employees in the district’s schools.
Parental consent forms went home in October, and health department staff plan to visit all schools November 9 through 20, the department announced today.
The department may face stiffer headwinds than usual in its administration of vaccines this year. Though unfounded–the science unequivocally certifies vaccines to be safe and a far better way to improve one’s odds of good health or survival–anti-vaccine skepticism, already steep in Flagler, is on the rise. According to the health department, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. Each year, the Centers for Disease Control works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other partners to ensure the highest safety standards.
The response rate this year in Flagler schools may prove to be a strong indicator of receptivity or resistance to an eventual covid vaccine.
Because protection from flu vaccine declines over time and flu viruses are constantly changing, yearly vaccination is best. Flu vaccine is evaluated every year and often updated to address the viruses that will be common during an upcoming flu season. This year, the CDC underscores that flu vaccine is more important than ever to protect yourself and the people around you, and to help reduce the strain on health care systems responding to Covid-19.
“In 2019, our first year offering in-school flu vaccines, we administered more than 1,200 doses to students and another 100 to faculty and staff,” Snyder said. “We had hoped to exceed these numbers in 2020 but, given the number of students attending school remotely and COVID-19, this may not be possible. However, the good news is there are many nearby locations where you can get a flu vaccine for free, including pharmacies, grocery stores, doctor’s offices and some of our covid-19 testing sites. Students who miss getting a shot at school can also get one at the health department.”
“Studies show that vaccination can reduce the severity of illness in people who get sick,” says Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia health departments. “This means less flu-associated hospitalizations and fewer missed days from school or work. It’s very important for people who are at higher risk of flu complications — children under age 5, pregnant women, people 65 and older and those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease – to get flu shots every year. The same applies for those in close contact with these individuals.”
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop protection against the flu. Healthy habits like proper and frequent handwashing can help flu, and any other virus from spreading. Similarly, the health department reminds residents to:
· Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
· Regularly clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces in your home, school or office.
· And if you’re sick, contain those germs and stay home.
In other words, apply the same habits developed during the coronavirus pandemic. And don’t let down your guard against the coronavirus, especially as the seduction of holiday gatherings approaches. “Be careful with these social events,” Bickel said. “They’re some of the biggest temptations to be in large groups and de-mask. Just, people, stay vigilant.”