Like most communities across the country, Flagler County this week shattered its weekly covid-infection total, with 1,469, exceeding last week’s record of 1,166, though emergency-care clinics’ numbers suggest that the region is near or at its peak of this latest wave, driven mostly by the astonishingly infectious but less lethal omicron variant.
If delta packed the power of an assault weapon for those it gravely infected, omicron is closer to a small-caliber handgun, with vaccines and boosters continuing not so much to prevent infection as to substantially limit its virulence. Still, local, state and national numbers are sobering. Omicron’s math is such that while chances of grave infection or death are much lower than its predecessors (53 percent lower, compared to delta), the advantage is diminished at least to some extent because two or three times as many people are getting infected.
On Thursday, there were 34 people hospitalized on a primary diagnosis of Covid at AdventHealth Palm Coast. Today, the number had risen to 38. Just two were in the intensive care unit, according to the Flagler Health Department’s Gretchen Smith. At Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, 52 patients were admitted on a primary diagnosis of Covid as of this morning, 10 of them in ICU, four on ventilators. A week ago, the hospital had 33 patients, 2 in intensive care and two on ventilators. If the region has peaked, it is not yet apparent in the hospital numbers, which always lag infection numbers in the community.
Flagler County has also recorded three more deaths from Covid in the past week, for a total of 288.
AdventHealth Centra Care’s daily Covid positivity rates, a predicter of future hospitalizations, has slightly declined over the last several days and is now around 38 percent, Neil Finkler, AdventHealth Central Florida Division’s Chief Clinical Office, wrote staff in an internal email on Thursday. “While this indicates we may have peaked, our experience from previous waves leads us to anticipate another week or so of increasing hospitalizations within the AdventHealth Central Florida Division.”
The Flagler County school district had seen its covid-positive numbers dwindle to one, two or three cases per week just before Christmas. The numbers surged after New Year’s. On Thursday alone, 23 cases were reported among students district-wide, and three among staffers. A week ago, on Jan. 7, 16 cases were reported among students and six among staffers.
Quarantine rules are again confusing parents and students, for good reason: the rules are contradictory. The Flagler County school district is not following Centers for Disease Control guidelines, but a blend of CDC guidelines and state rules, which forbid mask mandates, whereas the CDC assumes masking is not an issue.
Take the case of Anne Johnson. Her granddaughter is an A student at one of the local high schools. She tested positive for Covid a week ago, though she was not symptomatic, and has not been symptomatic. She was seen by a physician at CentraCare. The physician told her she had to quarantine at home for five days, but that she could go back to school next week, and wear a mask for five days. Today, Johnson got a call from the Flagler County Health Department telling her that no, her granddaughter may not go back to school for 10 days. She told the Health Department caller that that was not the guidelines she’d received from her doctor. The Health Department told her she had to follow school rules.
The Health Department was not entirely correct. True, the 10-day quarantine is in effect, at variance with CDC allowances, because students can’t be told to wear a mask if they return after five days, District spokesman Jason Wheeler said. However, students may return after five days if they have a doctor’s note, clearing them to return. If the doctor says the student must wear a mask, that’s between the doctor and the student, and the district may not interfere (and may certainly not make an issue of the student wearing a mask, as even a school board member tried to do at a recent SAT testing site). Johnson’s granddaughter has a doctor’s note clearing her to return next week.
The district’s Covid quarantine protocols are outlined in a visual “decision tree” issued last fall, and still in effect now:
Even AdventHealth’s hospitals are not mandating mask-weari8ng in all its facilities in central Florida. “Our current SOP provides guidance that aligns with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recent emergency temporary standards (ETS). AdventHealth supplied surgical masks, when worn properly, provide adequate protection against the spread of the virus,” the company states.
The local hospital continues to urge residents not to go to the emergency room to get tested. The Flagler County Health Department has continued testing five days a week from 8 a.m. to noon at the Flagler County Airport. Testing is by appointment only, though Smith, the department’s spokesperson, said on Thursday 60 of the people who made an appointment did not show up. The slots were filled anyway. Some 700 people had been tested as of Thursday this week, with an additional 150 expected today.
Nationally, the number of hospitalized patients also doubled in three weeks, hitting an all-time high of over 132,000 people. The previous record was a year ago, when the number peaked at 132,051. Reuters reports that Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin have all reported record levels of hospitalized Covid patients.
Today, according to data posted by the federal government, Florida’s hospitalizations on covid diagnoses exceeded 11,500, up from 8,914 a week ago, with 1,451 Floridians in intensive care units, up from 1,015 a week ago. Last Monday, 1.35 million coronavirus infections were reported in a single day in the United States, by far the highest total in the world. But nationally, as in the state, there are strong indicators that case loads are beginning to decline. Experts have suggested that omicron’s decline may end up being as rapid as its surge.