“This was not a good week for Flagler County as far as covid was concerned,” the Flagler Health Department’s Gretchen Smith said this morning, citing the latest numbers as she described a line nearing 100-car long of residents waiting to be tested at the health department.
The county recorded 936 confirmed cases of covid in the week ending today, according to the report released this morning by the state Health Department. That breaks last week’s record by 205 cases. On Wednesday alone, the Health Department recorded 245 cases, a single-day record since the pandemic spread to Flagler in the spring of 2020.
On Thursday, the Flagler County school district announced that on that day alone, 43 students were confirmed positive, with cases in every single school, bringing the total number of student infections to 399. The district has accumulated more cases in two weeks and three days since school resumed on Aug. 10 than it had all of last year: 376. Cases among school district staffers have totaled 55 so far this year, compared to a total of 182 all of last school-year.
Keep in mind: the numbers reflect student and staff infections, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the infections were the result of exposure at school. Factually, the Centers for Disease Control points to evidence that school cases are more a reflection of community transmission than the reverse. “Neither increases in case incidence among school-aged children nor school reopenings for in-person learning appear to pre-date increases in community transmission,” the CDC reports, though school outbreaks are also happening–and leading to school closures in different parts of the state. (In Palm Coast, the 250-some Palm Coast Community school, a private school, shut down on Monday because its staff was widely infected.)
The 399 school cases only reflect those confirmed to have had covid, but when close contacts are included–the close contacts that would be required to quarantine–the number jumps to 1,600, Bob Snyder director of the Flagler County Health Department, said. The two numbers combine represent at least 15 percent of the total student population of the district, assuming that population is, in fact, around the 13,000 that the district is counting.
But it does not mean that all 1,600 have quarantined (and those that have certainly haven’t done so simultaneously, but over the course of the last three weeks, some as little as four days). Alarmingly, the department is no longer conducting contact tracing as systematically as it did previously, because it does not have the staff to do so. The department is leaving it to some individuals to conduct their own contact tracing. “But definitely the confirmed cases have been contacted, because our goal is to get case investigations going for those who are confirmed cases, within 24 hours,” Snyder said, “and we’re struggling trying to do that just because the volume is so great.”
No major changes are expected in the Flagler district’s ongoing response to the covid surge, with in-person learning prioritized and remote learning only an option waiting in the wings, if it becomes necessary. That point has not been reached. “We look at the numbers on both the student side and the staff side and we do have the plan in place to continue the learning we unveiled last Friday, so that covers the students who are out,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s chief spokesman, said of the district’s off-campus instruction guide for those quarantined. “Every district is concerned about the staffing numbers, not only those who are positive bout if we have a teacher who has a child who’s been quarantined.” In such cases, a teacher who is not infected may have to stay home anyway to care for the child. “At some point you’re playing a numbers game and you may well be at the wrong end of a number. That’s what every district is dealing with right now.”
There’s been no consistency across the state, Wheeler said. “The message is not clear.” The superintendent issues a weekly letter to the community Friday afternoon in which significant protocol updates or changes are announced. No significant changes are expected today, pending the release–expected this morning or in early afternoon–of a Leon County judge’s decision in a case about masking in schools. Parents are challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’s order banning mask mandates in schools. Ten districts have defied the governor. Flagler County has not. Today’s decision may provide some guidance to districts, though whichever way the judge rules, it is certain to be appealed, thus likely staying the decision and leaving the governor’s current order in place.
Vaccines have been approved only for people 12 and older, leaving the younger population vulnerable and raising questions among parents about vaccinating their younger children anyway. But Dr. Neil Finkler, chief clinical officer of AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, strongly urged parents not to take that so-called “off-label” route. He echoed guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They strongly urged against off label use of any vaccine in the under 12,” Finkler said. “The studies are underway and I think the big question is the dosing. And so until we know that data and until that data gets reviewed by the FDA, the Academy–and we believe in the Academy as well–to not take off label use vaccination.”
And the health department today is pausing most of its normal, non-covid related services–prenatal visits, the HIV clinic, non-covid immunizations, women’s health, environmental health–to focus on testing, vaccination and contact tracing. Dental services continue only on an emergency basis, and the Women Infant and Children program known as WIC continues as normal. “It’s all hands on deck,” Snyder said, at least for Friday, and continuing into next week if necessary. “We’re just gonna kind of take each week at a time.”
For the first time since the vaccine has been available in December, the number of Flagler residents testing positive for the virus exceeded the number of people getting a vaccine shot–any vaccine shot: 785. “I wish the number of people that are wanting to get tested. Want to get the vaccination. But that’s just the reality that we’re dealing with,” Snyder said Thursday evening.
As of Thursday, 155 Flagler County residents had died of covid since the beginning of the pandemic, 41 of them in the last four weeks. There were 82 people admitted with a primary diagnosis of covid at AdventHealth Palm Coast as of Thursday, down from 97 earlier this week. “Of the 82, nine were breakthrough cases,” Snyder said, referring to hospitalizations of people despite having been vaccinated. That’s a higher proportion (11 percent) than a few weeks ago, when public health officials and hospitals were reporting that breakthrough cases requiring hospitalization were more rare, and it is another indication that the delta variant is not only greatly more infectious than its predecessors, but also more virulent. The breakthrough infections are emphasizing recommendations for booster shots.
In the week ending today, Florida accounted for 1,727 deaths, up from 1,486 last week. In the last five weeks, 5,300 Floridians have died of the disease statewide, by far the highest proportionate tally in the nation.
Sheriff Rick Staly spoke of the surge’s impact on his department this morning on WNZF. “I have probably dozens of people that have gotten sick with covid,” he said. “I’ve got three currently in the hospital and one is on a ventilator, and obviously we’re concerned about the ones in the hospital. So you know, your listeners, everybody, keep these first responders in thoughts and prayers because they can’t social distance in many cases. It’s pretty serious with the ones in hospital. Then I’ll tell you across the state of Florida. it’s probably almost one a day, law enforcement officers that are dying from complications of Covid.”
Health Department’s Covid Testing and Vaccination Schedule and Information for Today Through Labor Day:
Due to a special event at the Flagler County Fairgrounds this weekend, the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County will offer Covid-19 testing at its main office at 301 Dr. Carter Blvd. in Bunnell.
The modified weekend schedule follows:
Friday, 8AM to 12PM
Saturday, 9AM to 11AM
Sunday, 9AM to 11AM
Starting Monday, August 30, testing will resume at the Flagler County Fairgrounds (150 Sawgrass Road, Bunnell) weekdays from 8AM to 12 noon and weekends from 9AM to 11AM.
Priority will be given to any students, faculty and school staff of public or private schools in Flagler County, followed by the general public, who need testing appointments by calling 386-437-7350 ext. 0.
All individuals and families should consider the following when testing with DOH-Flagler.
- Testing should take place at least 3 to 5 days after exposure. Testing sooner than this may result in false negatives.
- Plan ahead and expect long lines. Bring snacks and drinks in the car, as well as books or toys to keep kids entertained while waiting for your turn.
- Wear a mask inside the testing facility. Should you test positive, you may be asked to exit the facility and wait for the rest of your party outside to avoid transmission.
- DOH employees and volunteers have been working extended hours to keep pace with the exponential demand for testing and the record-breaking number of positive COVID cases we are experiencing. We are expanding our team to help with testing, contact tracing and case investigation, and appreciate your patience during this challenging time.
- Since it may take some time for case investigators and contact tracers to reach you when/if you or your child tests positive for COVID-19, you should take initiative to protect your loved ones. You or your child will need to isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms. Talk with close contacts like family members on your own to ask them to get tested and watch for symptoms.
- If you are identified as a close contact to a person who tests positive, there is a possibility the health department may not connect with you if resources are not available.
- If you have been vaccinated (two weeks after your final dose) you will not need to quarantine if you do not have symptoms.
- If you have symptoms, you should get tested three to five days after exposure.
The weekday testing schedule for August 30 through September 6 follows:
Monday, August 30 8AM to 12 noon Flagler County Fairgrounds
Tuesday, August 31 8AM to 12 noon Flagler County Fairgrounds
Wednesday, September 1 8AM to 12 noon Flagler County Fairgrounds
Thursday, September 2 8AM to 12 noon Flagler County Fairgrounds
Friday, September 3 8AM to 12 noon Flagler County Fairgrounds
Saturday, September 4 9AM to 11AM Flagler County Fairgrounds
Sunday, September 5 9AM to 11AM Flagler County Fairgrounds
Monday, September 6 CLOSED for Labor Day Holiday
As a reminder, the health department does not offer testing for travel verification.
Vaccinations continue to be offered at 301 Dr. Carter Blvd three afternoons a week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3:30 to 6:00PM well into September. Appointments are preferred; Walk-ins are welcome.
The health department is awaiting additional guidance for the administration of booster doses and expects to add vaccinations to its operation at the Flagler County Fairgrounds next month. Details will be shared when plans are finalized. Currently, CVS, Walgreens, Publix and Walmart offer boosters to immuno-compromised individuals.
For more information about Covid-19 vaccination and testing locally, please visit flagler.floridahealth.gov. For testing and vaccine appointments, please call 386-437-7350 ext. 0 weekdays between 8AM and 4:30PM.