Aside from a community update Thursday in which Sheriff Rick Staly informed residents about covid and vaccines rather than explicitly called on them get either, Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston today was the first elected official in the county or from municipal boards directly to call on residents to wear masks and get vaccinated.
The mayor was acting on her own, representing herself rather than the city of Flagler Beach, though she issued her two-minute video statement from the dais at City Hall, with her nameplate (“Suzie Johnston Mayor”) prominent in front of her. The statement was issued within hours of Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing an executive order banning masking requirements in public schools, and as he has continued to counter efforts by communities to institute more restrictive safety measures in the face of Florida’s (and Flagler’s ) unprecedented surge in covid cases.
“I want to give a community Call to Action regard regarding the recent surge of the Covid-19 Delta variant virus, and how it’s impacting our community,” Johnston started. “At this point the politics of the pandemic are irrelevant. Currently, the Covid-19 conditions continue to get worse. The critical situation we find ourselves in, after three waves and going into four, demand decisive action before we find ourselves in a general emergency with irreversible damage to our economy and death.”
She cited the record-breaking numbers of hospitalizations of the last few days. According to Bob Snyder, director of the Flagler Health Department, today AdventHealth Palm Coast recorded 61 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of covid019, up from 60 on Thursday, and a total of 665 infections for the week, breaking the previous record of 400 for a single week, set in January. But the response from the community has been largely indifferent, even though hospitals have been pleading for help, and signaling that staffing may become an issue.
Speaking at a media briefing this afternoon, Linnette Johnson, a chief nursing officer with AdventHealth Central Florida, was nothing short of pleading: “We are asking our community to help us,” Johnson said. “Our health system – not just AdventHealth, but all health systems – need this pandemic to end.” She said nurses are routinely forced to watch patients decline and express regret over their choice to not receive the vaccine. “We see families shattered by seeing their son or daughter intubated and clinging to life,” she said. “We see the goodbyes. And at that point, it’s too late for them to get a vaccine or wear a mask.”
Johnston stopped short of calling for a mask mandate. Flagler Beach, like Palm Coast and Bunnell, had approved an unenforceable one last year. It has since lapsed.
“I am not recommending mandates, but I am asking for a call to action,” Johnston said. “Be diligent in the transmission of germs, increase hand washing, wear masks, social distance and get vaccinated.” Other public officials have stopped short of calling for a vaccine, saying only, in some cases, that they had gotten one themselves–as Staly did, and as Flagler School Board member Colleen Conklin announced this morning on her Facebook page–but not going as far as urging others to get it. Conklin’s announcement was significant, however: she had been resisting the vaccine, and had, in her role as a board member, joined a majority of three a few years ago in halting the Health Department from expanding vaccine choices in schools.
Conklin’s decision today was couched in caveats: “Not happy about it at all! But then again I didn’t do it for me but for those I love 💗💗💗 #Pfizer.”
Johnston said the facts were clear: “The vaccinated, account for only 5 percent of new cases versus 95 percent of individuals who are unvaccinated,” somewhat of a misrepresentation of the numbers: the 5 percent–actually 6 percent as of today, according to Dr. Neil J. Finkler, Advent’s chief clinical officer–are those hospitalized in spite of having been fully vaccinated. Numbers have not been released as to the larger population with infections but no need for hospitalizations. The state has curtailed data releases to just one day a week, and it does not break down numbers by vaccinated-versus-unvaccinated.
“Protect yourself, protect your neighbor, because we are at the point that we need to act,” Johnston said. “We must act on a community level and not wait for the state or national government to act at this point. At this time, there is no change to regularly scheduled events here in Flagler Beach. But I do encourage you to refocus and stay vigilant.”
The full video is below.