Last Updated: 7:30 p.m.
Flagler County recorded at least 151 new coronavirus infections in the last seven-day period, ending Saturday, the county’s second-highest number of infections for a single week since the beginning of the pandemic, and the highest since a July peak, when the highest weekly total was 164.
The 42nd covid-related death of a Flagler County resident was reported today–a 58-year-old woman.
Last week’s totals included at least 32 confirmed cases in Flagler County schools, 21 of them students according to Rogue Flagler Schools, the documented tally verified by FlaglerLive. Sixteen of the cases (six staff, 10 students) were at Flagler Palm Coast High School, the single-highest spike for any one school in a seven-day stretch since school resumed in August. The tally, based on letters issued by the district and a statement by the Flagler Health Department director on Friday, appears to be an undercount.
“We have had a significant increase in cases among our students and teachers,” Bob Snyder, the health department chief, said on WNZF’s Free For All Friday, “23 students this week and eight different schools, numerous locations, so no clusters so to speak, but activity larger than usual.” That would bring the weekly total to at least 34. “The majority are asymptomatic,” Snyder said, but not all.
The latest surge in Flagler is paralleling a surge of cases in the state and an even steeper surge in other parts of the country, where single-day case loads continue to break records, the latest just under 200,000 for a single day, though the national surge may be cresting. Florida’s seven-day average is still in the lower third among the 50 stats, but rising, while Flagler, despite the high local numbers, has the 10th-lowest average in the last seven days among Florida’s 67 counties. But those are relative and deceptive numbers: local numbers may look better only in relation to much worse numbers elsewhere, while in the absolute local numbers remain dismal–and dangerous–by any measure. And by standards in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, where the disease has been almost entirely brought under control, even Flagler’s numbers make it a red zone.
The numbers are especially concerning to public health officials both because the current surge began from an already high baseline, and because this is the week that starts holiday activities from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s when people travel more, socialize more and spend more time indoors, super-charging the virus’s promiscuity.
Florida’s statewide, seven-day average topped 8,000 on Saturday. The state accounts for over 18,000 deaths due to covid. The nation has lost more than 256,000 people to the disease.
Seven people were at AdventHealth Palm Coast with a primary diagnosis of covid-19 on Monday afternoon, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration, down from nine over the weekend.
“The vaccines are coming but people need to stay uninfected until they get vaccinated,” Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia health departments, said Friday. “So keep up those safe practices. It’s really important.”
Bickel was speaking in response to the description by Roy Sieger, Flagler County’s airport director, of his recent experience with Covid. Sieger, who less than wo weeks ago was named the year’s Veteran of the Year award, presented by the county. Roseanne Stocker of Flagler Beach Rotary had nominated him for his work through the civic organization. He is a 20-year Marine Corps veteran. But as he spoke on WNZF Friday, he described a harrowing experience with the virus. “You hear different people talk about it, different people have different symptoms and how it’s affected them,” he said. “I want to be the new poster child for this.”
“I’m in good shape, I would say, I never smoked in my life, I run, I walk, I’m very active, and let me tell you folks,” Sieger said, “that Covid kicked my butt. It knocked me out for three weeks, and it was no joke. I got to the point where I couldn’t breathe. The biggest thing to me was the breathing and the coughing was so bad.”
Bickel and others have frequently referred to “covid minimizers” or covid deniers, some of whom have been appearing before local government boards, including the County Commission (for whom Sieger works), to minimize or deny the severity of the pandemic and argue against mask-wearing.
“It’s no joke, you hear some people say, oh, the covid is going to disappear, it’s not that big a deal,” Sieger said. “You know what? We don’t know. What we do know, it’s real, and it does affect people differently. I’ll tell you, one night that I was sitting there and I was coughing so bad, I said to myself, Roy, you’d better take your butt to the hospital or you may not wake up in the morning. That’s how bad my breathing was. Of course my hard-headedness, I didn’t go to the hospital and I’m still here today, thank God. But I started actually feeling better that next day. So I really had it for about eight days, really feeling bad. Then injury to insult, I called my doctor, and she said you’re still not sounding great.” She ordered a chest X-0ray. He had pneumonia. He returned to work last Monday and feels “much better.”
“What made me angry about the whole thing was I had been very diligent about always wearing my mask. I really don’t go anywhere–go to the grocery store, I get take-out from restaurants, I don’t go to restaurants. So I was very diligent about that. I won’t say on the air where I got it from, but from where I think I got it from really ticked me off, because thinking they would be a very clean facility.” He believes he got it at a doctor’s office, where he’d worn his mask the entire time.
Bickel said Sieger’s experience is “what people need to hear, that you could be in good shape, think you’re invulnerable and get really nailed by this thing. It’s hard to predict. We’re not being alarmists. We just see the people who get really sick and try to help other people prevent that from happening to themselves.”
The discussion locally is beginning to shift to vaccine awareness and preparations for the covid vaccine, expected next year. The vaccine, predicted by two companies, is 95 percent effective, a much higher rate than anticipated when the race for it began, though numerous questions remain unanswered. Among those: the span of immunity it provides, the degree to which vaccinated people may (or may not) still infect others, and side effects. Still, as vaccines go, the covid vaccine as currently understood is considered a remarkable success.
“This vaccine is a homerun,” Bickel said. “There might turn out to be–unlikely–but there might turn out to be some rare serious side effects, we won’t know that till there’s hundreds of thousands or millions of people who’ve gotten it and you’ve watched them for a year. But for the most part we were hoping for 50 percent, 75 percent success rate. This is on the order of the best vaccines. It’s a major accomplishment.”
In late October and since, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert has been cautioning against imagining a mask-free world as soon as vaccines beginning to be administered. That’s not how it works: about three quarters of the nation would have had to be immunized or been infected ad survived before that point is reached. Until then, even those who are immunized may be carriers, and therefore at risk of infecting others who have not been immunized–and therefore could get sick. (The vaccine doesn’t prevent a viral load from entering the body, but it prevents sickness from developing.)
“The different between infection and disease is whether you’re symptomatic, whether you have results of the infection in terms of an illness,” Bickel said. “So if 95 percent of the people getting this vaccine are protected from getting ill, who of us would care if we got covid and we were asymptomatic for two weeks. We’d have to isolate, but other than that, we wouldn’t worry about it. It’s the serious illness, it’s being sick in general and especially being seriously ill.” Still, he said, the vaccine “doesn’t necessarily protect the spread. So what [Fauci] is advising is that people should stay careful in terms of masking, social distancing and all that. We won’t have herd immunity and we won’t know that we have herd immunity until we find that it’s actually protecting people from getting [the] virus. But it still means that somebody who’s gotten the vaccine is protected.”