It’s been a rough two weeks in Flagler County’s duel with the coronavirus as the tally of infections hit its highest two-week total since the beginning of the pandemic in March, with at least 333 new infections, the highest two-week total in schools, and several high-profile leaders affected. The surge reflects significant increases in the state, where total cases crossed the 1 million mark today, and across the nation, where a third wave is raging out of control in some localities, hampering contact tracing and case investigation efforts.
record was set on
Today, the number of people confirmed to have died of the disease reached 2,216, the highest single-day total since June 26. (The record was set on April 15 with 2,752 deaths.) The pandemic has claimed 270,000 lives in the nation so far. In Florida, 97 deaths were reported on Monday, 82 on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 18,679.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and health officials say vaccines are on the way that offer hope for curbing the pandemic. In the meantime, thousands of new cases and dozens of deaths are reported every day in Florida, continuing to upend the lives of families throughout the state.
“It is everywhere,” Bob Snyder, who heads the Flagler County Health Department, said this afternoon, “but no, we’ve not given up on case investigations and contact tracing by an means.”
There were 12 hospitalizations for a primary diagnosis of Covid-19 at AdventHealth Palm Coast today, up from 10 on Monday and seven just before Thanksgiving.
In the school district, there were 32 new cases in each of the past two weeks, with a concentration of 28 cases at Flagler Palm Coast High School, 11 of the cases affecting staffers. Food service staffers at Wadsworth Elementary, Buddy Taylor Middle School and Flagler Palm Coast High School have been especially hard hit either by actual confirmed infections or by required quarantines. The numbers don’t include an additional seven cases reported in four schools today, four of the cases at FPC. FPC Principal Tom Russell was diagnosed with the disease late last month and has since been hospitalized, authorities confirmed today.
Other local leaders who are currently quarantined with a covid diagnosis include Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton and Flagler County Fire Rescue Acting Chief Joe King. It isn’t clear who is leading the county’s fire department at the moment, especially after the retirement this week of two of its longest-serving veterans, who were part of the department’s leadership–Richard Bennett and Jamie Burnsed, reportedly leaving the department adrift. In response to a question about the total number of county employees currently in quarantine or affected by covid, Pamela Wu, the county’s human resources director, wrote in an email: “We do not have a document that tabulates this information.”
Morton was expected to take part in this evening’s City Council meeting remotely. On Nov. 19, he’d reported that 29 city employees were on sick leave, the number reflecting those who were out sick, those who were out caring for someone who was sick, those suspected of being positive and were on quarantine, and those who were actually confirmed positive.
The school district offers three options for schooling: in-person attendance at the individual schools, live-remote attendance through streaming classes, and by way of iFlagler, the district’s online alternative. Some 38 percent of Flagler Palm Coast High School students are currently attending class remotely. Percentages vary according to schools, with more students attending in person in the lower grades: 26 percent at Rymfire Elementary, 21 percent at Bunnel and Wadsworth Elementary, 20 percent at Belle Terre Elementary, 18 percent at Old Kings Elementary, 34 percent at Indian Trails and Matanzas High School, 29 percent attend remotely at Buddy Taylor Middle School, 31 percent at Imagine School at Town Center. In all, 3,444 students are attending remotely, or 26 percent of the district’s enrollment of 13,000. With just over 1,000 students are enrolled in iFlagler, a total of 34 percent of students are attending school from home.
That system will stay in place come January.
“All three lanes are staying open,” district spokesman Jason Wheeler said today. “We’re now talking with our school leadership to find out exactly how we’re going to support those who are in the remote option who may be struggling and may need extra help, which is what the governor and school leaders said yesterday schools need to do. It’s obviously working for some students but not all of them.” That’s an issue across the state, not just in =Flagler. Districts have until Dec. 15 to submit their plans for next semester, outlining the learning options.
As for the higher infection numbers, “We expected ups and down, ebbs and flows with this,” Wheeler said. “we’re in constant contact with the health department. We’re confident in the steps we’re taking, we’re not seeing spread in our schools, it’s more of cases being contracted outside of our campuses.” Wheeler noted CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield’s remarks to reporters two weeks ago: “The truth is, for kids K through 12, one of the safest places they can be from our perspective is to remain in school,” Redfield said. “Today, there’s extensive data that we’ve gathered over the last two to three months to confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly.”
“We can only watch the children while they’re on our campuses, we can’t control what they’re doing off our campuses,” Wheeler said, which is why the district is stressing to families that they must abide by safety guidelines at all times.
Snyder said there are no indications of clusters or super-spreaders in the community or in schools. “Nothing has been shared with me that is over-concerning or like a red flag that went up,” Snyder said. He’d had a conversation with Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and her deputy, David Bossardet, on Monday. “They just wanted to know about any changes in protocol or policy related to what we’ve ben doing the last several months since school has been open. The answer to that question was no, other than more of it, because we anticipated, we expected this, we’ve been talking about the fall and winter months and holiday time as being a challenging time to control the virus.”
DeSantis said this week he is focused on plans for vaccines and reiterated his view that government-imposed mandates such as requiring people to wear face masks and shutting down businesses won’t prevent the spread of the disease.
“I’m opposed to mandates, period,” DeSantis said during a news conference Monday about continuing to allow public-school students to attend classes in person or online. “I don’t think they work. People in Florida wear them (masks) when you go out. I mean, they don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it. Fining people, I think, is totally overboard.”
DeSantis, however, drew fire from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who said he “refuses to show leadership” by requiring masks. She said masks slow the spread of the virus.
“This is not something that goes against your personal liberties,” Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, told The News Service of Florida. “You have to put on a seatbelt in the car. You have got to put your kids in a car seat. You can’t text and drive. This is something that is going to protect not just you but your loved ones and the people around you.”