On a day that brought an unexpected quirk in the county’s coronavirus numbers–a decline by two cases–in addition to a three-day stretch without a new, confirmed case of Covid-19 locally, Flagler County Emergency Management announced a big food drop for the needy on Tuesday at Flagler Palm Coast High School, and the beginning of Covid-19 testing at the Pam Coast Campus of Daytona State College.
The day brought one development the county had staved off so far: the first infection in a long-term care or nursing home facility. The case may affect either a staffer or a resident: the department of health does not say, nor does it say which facility is affected. The state has recorded 1,090 such cases in 53 counties.
The testing site and the food drop, which the county hopes to make a weekly event during the emergency, are the latest reflections of a local landscape changed by the coronavirus and emergency and public health officials’ efforts to keep up or anticipate its various consequences.
The food drop is for anyone in need, though county officials are urging residents to turn up only if, in fact, they are in need. The testing will be limited to 50 tests at first, and will be focused on first responders such as cops, paramedics and health workers.
And with hurricane season just seven weeks away–and a more active-than-usual season in the forecast–emergency management is, on top of everything else, now developing plans for how to manage a hurricane or tropical storm emergency in the age of social distancing–from re-configuring shelters to calculating the needs for masks and other personal protective equipment to virtually redesigning the Emergency Operations Center, so that certain officials who would normally be there during an emergency can remain at remote locations instead. The one near certainty is that there will not be a Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the year, which also means that social distancing rules will have to remain in effect, despite flattening or even diminishing numbers of infections.
The rate of increase has been flattening out, while Flagler County saw an unusual drop in its own confirmed Covid-19 cases Monday, from 46 to 44, Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord said. The reason: one of the cases had been counted twice after the patient had been tested–and recorded as positive–by two different agencies. The other confirmation belongs to a person who has left the county. But by later Monday, the number was back up to 45, with the confirmed diagnosis of a 26-year-old woman who had traveled to New York, and who is in Flagler but is not a Flagler resident.
As of Monday afternoon, Florida had 21,000 cases, over 2,700 hospitalizations and 499 deaths, two of them Flagler residents. The second death, confirmed Sunday morning, was that of a 77-year-old man who, the health department found, had traveled to New Jersey before falling ill. New Jersey is among the nation’s hot spots for the disease.
Florida is still adding, on average, more than 1,000 positive cases of Covid-19 per day, and has been doing so for the last two weeks or so. But the daily numbers are no longer spiking beyond that average, which officials are seeing as a very good sign. The numbers have flattened, in that sense, despite testing continuing to increase.
“So I think it’s showing that whatever is being done statewide is starting to make a difference on the spread of the virus,” Lord said. But if communities start pulling back from social distancing rules and behavior too soon, he said, “then all of those gains that resulted in the reduction of new cases statewide per day, I think we’ll lose those gains and we’ll start seeing a rapid increase in cases again. So this is the time to stay the course.”
In two weeks, he said, with numbers continuing their current path or better, officials may be in a better position to decide whether, and how, to enable the resumption of certain functions and work. By then, officials may also be more certain regarding how well the health care system can manage new cases–which, Lord cautions, will continue regardless, as long as there is no vaccine. Covid-19, he said, “is not going away.”
As of this morning, nearly 200,000 Floridians had been tested, just over 700 of them in Flagler County, though Flagler’s numbers are expected to rise faster with the new testing location.
Testing had been slow or unavailable in many parts of the state weeks ago. That is no longer the case in most regards, with Quest Diagnostics, the private lab, having now provided over 13,000 tests by itself, AdventHealth’s labs providing nearly 13,000, Bio Reference Lab providing 15,000 and the Mayo Clinic providing 9,000, among others doing high-volume testing. Flagler County Emergency Management had secured 500 test kits. It has them in hand. But it has yet to get clearance from the state to start using the m. Those were the kits that were to be used at the DSC testing location. So as not to keep that delayed, the EOC will launch the testing location with kits already approved at the local health department, Lord said.
He described Tuesday’s testing day as an experiment. The site will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who wish to be tested must call 313-4200 to go through the screening process. If the response from first responders is low, then testing will be opened up to the broader population, starting with older residents.
“I am ecstatic that our community infection rate is below that of other communities. We are still below the percentage of residents tested when compared to the state average,” Lord said. That’s not unusual with some counties. But he said with new testing sites popping up, inclouding the one at DSC, “we will quickly solve that gap.”
The economic consequences of society’s shut-down have been dire, and quite visible in Flagler County, where all but one of the major food banks have had to close because of the distancing rules. With that in mind, Flagler County will open two drive-through food drops Tuesday. The food drop at Flagler Palm Coast High School will open at noon. The Hidden Trails Community Center food drop will open at 1 p.m.
“We are doing this because many of our community’s food pantries are unable to operate due to COVID-19,” Lord said. “Given that there are so many people newly out of work, there is an even greater need.”
Upwards of 80 percent of the goods to be distributed are fresh fruits and vegetables. The remainder will be non-perishables. Food growers across the country have been discarding fresh milk, eggs, and fresh produce by the ton as the closing of restaurants, theme parks and schools has left them without customers, forcing them to destroy the food.
Feeding Northeast Florida is bringing the truck to Flagler. The actual quantity of food will not be known until the truck gets to the county. The effort is in addition to the one food bank that continues to operate–Grace Community Food Pantry at Education Way, off of U.S. 1, which has seen its activity spike in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen a very significant spike of about 500 families a week, but we’re handling it,” Pastor Charles Silano, who runs Grace Community in partnership with numerous volunteers and the school district, said this afternoon. “Most of it is produce these days.” Frozen protein have been accessible, but in smaller amounts, and Silano has had to drop his typical quantities from 8 pounds a bag to 5 pounds a bag.
Before the coronavirus emergency, Grace Community on Saturday and Sunday would feed over 800 families. Two weeks ago it served 1,317 families. Last week it served almost as many, and that was after Thursday’s drop at Parkview Baptist Church, where 536 families were served. “There’s a lot of people out there who are food-insecure at this time, you know, losing their jobs,” Silano said.
The dairy surplus that’s not making it to restaurants and schools has not yet materialized in food-pantry deliveries, but there’s talk of that now, Silano said.
The county’s two food drops on Tuesday are not connected to Silano’s efforts. And the county’s food drop at FPC will be in a separate location from the district’s daily food distribution for children, which also takes place at FPC, among four locations. The county’s drop will take place through the entrance to the high school grounds via Transportation Way, off of State Road 100 (by the old school board building, what’s now Flagler Technical Institute). All the food drops are organized in such a way as to minimize contact with people driving in.
Silano’s operation depends on volunteers, and some of his volunteers who work in health care have not been coming as mnuch, because of their duties at work. He’s made up the shortage through Flagler Volunteer Services and churches that have put teams together.
The county’s food drop will be open to Flagler County residents only, who will be asked to answer a couple of questions to assess need.
“We appreciate all of our wonderful partners,” Lord said. “Everything takes coordination and cooperation, and it’s wonderful how well everyone works together.”
In addition to the food drop, the Flagler Humane Society has limited availability of dry cat and dog food, for those unable to purchase those items. Please contact the Flagler Humane Society at 386-445-1814 for more information.