At his show at the St Augustine Amphitheatre Thursday evening, comedian Sebastian Maniscalco recognized a few mask-wearing patrons in the sold-out audience, sneered that he respected them with just enough condescension to suggest that he might not, made a little fun of “mask necklaces,” then turned to the unmasked mass. To describe how that group felt about masks, he grabbed his crotch, thrust it crowd-wise a-la-Michael Jackson, flipped off the mask-wearers and spat out a “you’re-not-telling-me-what-to-do” obscenity.
The crowd erupted in joy.
Maniscalco wasn’t just pandering to a decidedly conservative audience: it wasn’t clear whether he was laughing with them or at them, just as when he said he didn’t get vaccinated to protect anyone or anything but his sense of taste for Italian cooking. But he was clearly riding the pent-up energy of an anti-pandemic tide crashing over the nation since the last covid wave receded. Comedian and crowd could afford it. If at a staggering price.
“We are in a good place,” Bob Snyder, director of the Flagler County Health Department, said this morning after summarizing the county’s covid profile for the week with one number that may say it all: the 28 positive cases for the week ending today–an average of four a day–is the lowest weekly total since the week of June 20, 2020.
The April 2020 lockdown that year had done its job, quickly bringing a local spike back down to a few cases a week. But by June, the county and the state were again relaxing their ways, beating the drums of “reopening” and normalization, thus unleashing the waves to come, and the confirmed 22,285 cases of covid infections among the county’s population–one fifth of the population, and 355 deaths so far–and over 73,000 deaths statewide.
Covid in 2020 was the third-leading cause of death in the state, after heart disease and cancer, and though the official numbers aren’t out yet at the Health Department’s mortality tracker, Covid may be the second-leading cause of death in 2021. In Flagler, it was the seventh-leading cause of death in 2020. Based on current figures, it is likely to be ranked the third-leading cause of death for 2021. The figures underscore the price paid for keeping society open, especially in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis all but ridiculed any form of covid restriction despite successive waves. The pandemic in essence burned through a population that attained a degree of herd immunity through significant rates of infection and through vaccines.
As of today, 78,285 people in the county ages 5 and older have had at least one vaccine shot. The weekly totals for the past four weeks in a row have not exceeded 36 confirmed cases. “The hospital,” Snyder said of AdventHealth Palm Coast, “they’re not reporting out daily, because there’s zero to minimal patients with covid. They only had one covid diagnosis this week.” The school district is no longer tracking daily cases since it, too, is not seeing infections to report. “Two months ago, we had 11 long-term care facilities with outbreaks. That included nursing homes and small and large ALS,” Snyder said, referring to assisted living facilities. “And all have reported no new cases the last 28 days. So, when that occurs, we take them off their outbreak status.” There’s been just one covid case at an assisted living this week. Daycare centers, too, have been covid-free.
The state meanwhile, which stopped issuing daily reports months ago, has now stopped issuing weekly report, restricting itself to bi-weekly reports. Snyder said the local health department is “going to keep the information flowing” and provide number as needed, on a weekly basis.
“It’s all positive at the moment, that’s for sure,” Snyder said.
Should individuals get a second booster? It’s available to any adult who wants one. But it may not be necessary. “There’s not much Covid around right now, so is it really worth people getting it when there’s very little chance” of infection, Dr. Steven Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler County Health Department, said this morning in an interview on WNZF. Cases per day are one-fortieth what they were three months ago. The booster, whose effects last about four months, decreases the chance of an infection’s severity, but the benefit of the original vaccine to decrease the chance of hospitalization of death is still in effect, so a booster may not be necessary. Those whose immune system is suppressed may not even respond to the vaccine. Those 75 and older may consider getting the booster. As for the average adult, ” there’s a lot of controversy whether you should get or not. It’s kind of almost a personal decision, not a huge benefit right now without much covid,” Bickel said.
As for the resurgence of yet another omicron variant, it’s happening in Europe, it’s happening in Quebec–up to 32,000 cases a day reported there–and the variant now is the dominant strain in the United States. Even though it is considerably more infectious than the previous omicron strain, which was the most infectious yet (but not as virulent), the new variant has yet to cause a surge either in the United States or in Florida, and there are no indications of it locally.
Snyder and Bickel have discussed the eventuality of another surge in Flagler. Even if it does, there may not be as much to be concerned about as in previous waves. “Sure that it will arrive at some time because of travel restrictions that have been loosened, and people love traveling to the US from other countries,” Snyder said, “but the fact that so many people here have gotten vaccinated and the fact that the Omicron first variant was so transmissible, many people had it and didn’t even know or follow up or reacted to it. So we believe that there are a lot more people than we know that have received natural immunity from just getting the infection and recovering well. You take that group, plus the group that’s been vaccinated, it’s quite a lot of people. With that being said, We may be in better shape than we think.”