Flagler County’s health department chief Bob Snyder said two more Flagler County residents have died of covid-related causes. A 77-year-old Black man died on Oct. 7, and a 63-year-old white man died on Sunday (Oct. 11).
The two deaths bring the total number of Flagler County residents confirmed to have died of covid-19 to 34, starting on April 1 with the death of Dorothy Strickland of Flagler Beach. The number doesn’t include two or three other people who have died of covid in Flagler but were not county residents.
In that time span–just over seven months–more Flagler County residents have died of covid than have died in vehicle crashes in any year in the county’s history. The highest number of deaths on Flagler’s roads is 33 in 2017, and 31 in 2008.
The number of confirmed covid deaths so far means that the disease is the eighth leading cause of death in the county, ahead of suicide and Parkinson’s, and about even with deaths from Alzheimer’s (based on complete 2019 figures). At the current rate, covid is on pace to become the sixth leading cause of death this year, ahead of diabetes.
The numbers underscore the severity and reach of the disease, amplifying public health efforts to contain covid through largely self-policing means as social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing, and the avoidance of large crowds anywhere.
“For me it just epitomizes how serious the virus is despite the fact that we compare favorably to other counties,” Snyder said this morning of the covid numbers compared to other causes of death. “It just presses home still the public health measures we have been talking about since early march, the social distancing, the mask wearing and the hand washing and just doing what is right to protect ourselves and the people we care about. This comparison brings home the point that this is a deadly virus, and it is still out there in the community.”
County officials have frequently touted Flagler’s position as having the lowest or next-to-lowest overall infection rate, when compared to Florida’s 66 other counties, a deceptive number for various reasons: the cumulative number doesn’t reflect the current situation, and according to the latest seven-day average, Flagler’s rate of infection is 25th from the bottom, and worse than Volusia County’s, Putnam’s, Palm Beach’s or Seminole’s, for example. And either Florida’s or Flagler’s figures, when compared to most other nations, continue to be on the dismal side. Florida’s seven-day average of new infections has remained stubbornly around 2,500 since early September. Covid-related deaths in the state now total 15,500.
The county has recorded eight deaths in October so far, with both new covid infections and hospitalizations remaining relatively high, even if lower than the summer’s peak. The county’s new infections continue to exceed an average of 10 a day, with 82 infections last week, after a brief one-week dip to 58, and 38 new infections just since Sunday. Eight people are hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of covid-19 at AdventHealth Palm Coast as of today.
While the racial breakdown of those infected in the earlier months of the pandemic had tracked closely with the county’s demographic breakdown, Flagler County is now beginning to reflect some of the same alarming disparities that other, generally more urban regions are seeing: minorities are suffering disproportionately from covid’s effects. In Flagler, Blacks have constituted 20 percent of hospitalizations, almost twice the proportion of the Black population in the county, and 18 percent of deaths.
For now, Flagler’s indicators are holding steady, at lower rates than in summer. People reporting to the emergency room with covid-like symptoms are averaging about 30 per week, down by more than half in early September, though the number of people reporting to the ER with influenza-like symptoms is ticking up slightly. But there is a more concerning number on the horizon: Florida’s Rt value, which reflects the speed at which covid infections are spreading, is again in positive territory for the first time since early July. An Rt value of 1 means that infections are steady. A number below 1 means infections are falling. A number above 1 means infections are spreading. At the height of the June surge, the Rt value had reached 1.37.
The Rt value today is 1.03–not yet alarming, but no longer in negative territory, and not where health officials want to see the number as the state enters cooler weather and the holiday season, with other regions of the country already surging and areas in Europe experiencing a second wave.
“We’re going to be on the lookout for large events that could result in unintended spread of the virus, especially due to the holidays that are soon upon us,” Snyder said. “That’s what I’m most concerned about, so it’s just another reason why people need to be really vigilant as the holidays approach and cooler weather surfaces and we do more things indoors. Mask wearing couldn’t be more important at the moment.”
Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia County health departments, has maintained a database of covid-related resources at the Palm Coast government’s website since early in the pandemic and stays abreast of the latest medical literature related to the disease. In an email this morning he pointed to new research that, as in previous months, again concludes that current covid-related deaths appear to be an undercount. Two factors are masking the true number: one is that some people who die of the disease do so at home without having been diagnosed as having it. Another, which was a concern even in Flagler, is that people reluctant to go to the hospital end up developing complications from other issues that result in death that might otherwise have been prevented, had they sought care.
A study released Monday found that between March and July, the nation saw a 20 percent increase in excess deaths, 67 percent of which are attributed directly to covid-19. “States that experienced acute surges in April (and reopened later) had shorter epidemics that returned to baseline in May, whereas states that reopened earlier experienced more protracted increases in excess deaths that extended into the summer,” the study found.