The fourth and gravest wave of the Covid pandemic has crested in Flagler County, with case loads in schools, at the hospital and in the community falling sharply, but at a heavy price: deaths from Covid-19 in Flagler have reached 201, according to the Centers for Disease Control (207, according to the Flagler Health Department). That’s up from 114 in June.
To date, Robert Snyder, who heads the Flagler County Health Department, he has not gotten the report of a death of a patient who had been vaccinated, a fact that underscores the extent to which the fourth wave was the pandemic of the unvaccinated.
“When we look at the data starting from January on since the vaccination started,” Wally de Aquino, the chief operating officer at AdventHealth Palm Coast said this morning on WNZF, “about 90 percent, 91 percent of our patients that have been hospitalized here, they were not vaccinated.”
Snyder specified that those with breakthrough infections–infections despite vaccination–who were hospitalized did not face critical illness. “These are individuals who do not have a severe form of Covid but more of a mild to moderate form that did result in them seeking hospital care,” Snyder said, “because of the respiratory issues associated with their disease. And then the remaining patients were unvaccinated.” Vaccination, he said, remains “the sure way to prevent death, and severe disease, and an ICU stay in the hospital.”
Deaths trend behind other indicators. So as long as all those other indicators continue to decline as sharply as they have, the number of fatalities will also be declining in proportion.
According to the Health Department’s weekly report issued this morning, Flagler County registered 483 confirmed cases of Covid in the week ending today, down from 789 the previous week, and 936 the week before that.
In schools, there were 27 confirmed infections reported on Thursday, none among employees, for a total of 1,017 infections so far this school year. The past seven days have totaled 183 infections, compared with 329 infections in the previous seven days. The decline in cases is likely to diminish pressure on the school board to enact a mask mandate–and likewise diminish tensions that the masking debate has wrought on the district even as lawsuit challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order banning mask mandates continues to wend its way through the justice system. A Leon County ruled the order illegal. The DeSantis administration immediately appealed, resulting in a stay of the decision. On Wednesday, the judge lifted the stay, making mandates legal again.
But speaking in Palm Coast that day, DeSantis said he was confident he would win on appeal, suggesting that his administration is running out the clock: by then, the fourth wave’s effects locally and across Florida may well be significantly diminished, making the decisions moot. The lifting of the stay is already on appeal at the 1st District Court of Appeal.
At AdventHealth Palm Coast, “we’re experiencing a lot of discharges from our Covid patients and less of an influx,” de Aquino said. Hospitalizations on a primary diagnosis of Covid had fallen to 57 by Wednesday, down almost by half two weeks ago, when the hospital, along with all AdventHealth hospitals in Central Florida, were on so-called “black status,” with certain surgeries and procedures restricted so the staff could focus on Covid response.
Flagler Health+’s Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine reports similar declines, with 46 patients admitted with Covid-19 as of today, 75 percent of whom are unvaccinated. Eleven patients are in the hospital’s ICU, seven on ventilators. In comparison, three weeks ago the hospital had 98 in-patients with a Covid diagnosis, 78 percent of them unvaccinated, with 23 in the ICU and 18 on ventilators, according to Flagler Health+’s Erin Wallner.
One of those hospitalized at AdventHealth Palm Coast recently was Charles Silano, the pastor and head of Flagler’s Grace Community Food Pantry. He was hospitalized for six days. “It was pretty rough I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” he said on Free For All this morning. “And what hospital we have right here at Advent Flagler and I have to tell you, I’ve been thinking in my heart–what can I do for these people, maybe I’ll send like 50 pizzas over there. I don’t really know what to do. So this is a great opportunity to give them a shout out.”
As of Thursday morning, there were 1,120 Covid patients in AdventHealth’s Central Florida division, down from a peak of 1,700. “We’ve effectively dropped about 30 to 40 percent,” said Dr. Sanjay Pattani, associate chief medical officer of AdventHealth Orlando and executive medical director of the health care system’s Mission Control. He spoke during AdventHealth’s weekly briefing. “We’re on the backend of the peak.”
The network went from black to red to yellow status in the past few days. “What that means and translates to is basically we escalate and de escalate so we are now de escalating,” Pattani said. “Now we’re seeing our ability to free up resources that we had to mobilize initially to go back to taking care of patients in other directions. So we are now resuming operations as far as outpatient surgeries, we’re slowly trickling back into the inpatient elective businesses while they’re not time sensitive.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis was at Daytona State College’s Palm Coast campus to announce the opening of the federally-funded monoclonal therapy treatment center, now open seven days a week and providing free treatment to walk-ins.
Snyder was not at the opening–he has been recovering from a medical condition unrelated to Covid, though he had a breakthrough infection weeks ago, and took the monoclonal treatment at AdventHealth. “We are very, very pleased that monoclonal antibody site has been developed or operational now in our community for people who test positive for Covid,” Snyder said in an interview. “Especially those who are symptomatic. The monoclonal antibody treatment is very effective in reducing symptoms quickly. In my case, you know, within 72 hours. However, I want to make the point that in no way does this treatment substitute or replace vaccinations, that the only way to prevent the Covid-19 is through our vaccination efforts, and through getting vaccinated. So, no way is that a replacement, is the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment a replacement for vaccinations. It is just a treatment. A very effective treatment. The only way to stop this suffering and disease and hospitalizations and breakthrough cases is through vaccination.”
But vaccinations are still declining in the county. While nearly 70,000 of the county’s population of 115,000 is vaccinated, that still leaves over 30,000 eligible individuals unvaccinated. Last week the number of vaccinations again was lower than the number of people testing positive for Covid.
In the past few weeks Flagler County Administrator Heidi Petito and the county’s marketing media manager, Lacy Martin, coordinated a cross-county, cross-city campaign to broaden and present a unified covid-safety message. Martin collected every city manager or mayor in the county, along with police and fire chiefs and a school board member, for a two-minute video. “We’re all on board and ready to roll,” says William Whitson, the Flagler Beach city manager.
“We’re in this together Flagler County, Thank you all for coming to help,” Petito tells her colleagues in zoomland, with Jorge Salinas, the deputy county manager, at her side. “Together we can protect our friends, family and neighbors. And together, we can put this behind us. For good,” Salinas says. Every frame then shows the officials giving the thumbs up.
Snyder then appears with the central message: “It is so very important to remember that we are indeed in this together Flagler County. The Covid virus doesn’t discriminate by age, gender or personal belief, it attacks indiscriminately. And it’s for that very reason that we must come together as a united front to put this behind us for good. If you haven’t already done so, please consider getting vaccinated, not just for yourself, but for your community.”
Petito had been speaking about mental health initiatives with Snyder when she asked him what the county could do “to help strengthen our messaging for Covid response to the community,” Petito said in an interview last week, after she appeared in a segment of the filming of the AdventHealth Palm Coast groundbreaking on Palm Coast Parkway. “Really it’s just trying to get the message out as a community that you know we are all in it together,” Petito said. “It’s not just the significance of Covid itself but I think that we as a community are in a good place when we’re all together.”
See the public service announcement below.