Last Updated: 4:35 p.m.
Flagler County Health Department Chief Bob Snyder and Dr. Stephen Bickel, the department’s medical director, cautioned today against suggestions that Flagler County has reached herd immunity regarding covid-19.
Herd immunity, or community immunity, are terms applied to a population that has become relatively immune to a disease because enough people have been immunized against it. Flagler County, like the nation–and the world–is working toward herd immunity against covid-19, generally believed to be reached when roughly 80 percent of the population has been immunized. But neither the county nor the state or the nation have reached that threshold yet: infections continue, especially through new variants, deaths from the disease continue to accumulate, and resistance to the vaccine among some groups is making reaching the threshold more difficult.
The health officials’ caution, delivered in a written statement early this afternoon, was in response to a Facebook statement by Flagler County Commissioner Joe Mullins, who often writes or speaks falsehoods or makes misleading statements about covid-19 and numerous other matters. “I will be calling for the end of Mask requirements and bring back events all over the county at next meeting,” Mullins wrote this morning, referring to the next County Commission meeting. “We appreciate what some have done to protect us. We are now at herd immunity; if the (experts are right and true to what they say) it’s time!” He then characteristically added an insult seemingly directed at the very colleagues on the commission whose support he will be seeking: “Leaders need to lead like one and not like sheep.” (After this article appeared, Mullins edited his Facebook post to read, “We are approaching herd immunity.”)
Snyder and Bickel, who have been the architect of the county’s response, from a public health perspective, to the pandemic, were quick to dispute the statement. The county’s response has enabled Flagler to cumulatively keep its rate of infection the lowest in the state, out of 67 counties, and its rate of vaccination in the top 10 in the state. The health officials are seeking to build on those numbers rather than undermine them, so close to the goal.
“Yes, we hear that when 80 percent of the population is immune through the combination of vaccines or having the virus, herd immunity has been reached,” they wrote. “We wish it was that clear cut but herd immunity is a journey and we’ll know when it is reached. The data will inform and tell us. For instance, when hospitalizations related to C-19 is minimal, the positivity rate is below 3 percent, the R factor that measures transmissibility is below 1, deaths related to C-19 are not occurring and emergency room visits for virus like symptoms are minimal.
“Are we at this point today? The data does not indicate we are,” Bickel and Snyder wrote. They say that the indicators are improving, certainly in comparison with last summer, with steady progress. But the pandemic continues to exact a toll, starting with new infections: there were 238 new infections in Flagler County in the last 14 days, a rate that far exceeds that of the first wave in 2020.
The positivity rate among those tested is at 6.5 percent, with far fewer people being tested–an average of just 233 people in the past 14 days–than in earlier phases of the pandemic, which suggests that the actual number of infections is below that reported by the health department.
As of today, 11 people were hospitalized at AdventHealth Palm Coast with a primary diagnosis of Covid-19. The county continues to tally new deaths from the disease at an alarming rate, with eight more deaths in the last 12 days, for a total of 113.
On the more positive end, 50,784 of Flagler county residents are vaccinated, representing 44 percent of the population–or just over half where that figure needs to be if herd immunity of 80 percent is to be considered reached. It is also accurate that the nearly 7,000 Flagler residents who have had covid and recovered have a measure of immunity, but that is not assured: reinfections are possible.
Among people 65 and over, 79 percent have been vaccinated, granting that group–as long as it socializes within its own–the distinction of having reached immunity. But that does not apply, say, to a non-immunized older person who ambles about across the community–at the grocery store, in social clubs, at government meetings.
“We are approaching the place referred to as herd immunity,” the public health officials wrote. But approaching it is signally different from having reached it.
Local governments are loosening their covid restrictions in measured approaches, and with the health department’s support. Palm Coast government this afternoon announced that it had lifted all masking requirements on city properties while still welcoming anyone who chooses to keep a mask on. The city council is expected to rescind its citywide mask mandate, or resolution, at its May 4 meeting.
“After consulting with the City of Palm Coast Emergency Management Team, Our City Manager, Fire Chief and our Community Health Partners,” Mayor Milissa Holland said in a statement, “it is time to continue the long planned return to normalcy, to support vaccine efforts in Flagler County, and to recognize the hard work our community did in caring enough to mask up. The mask resolution has fulfilled its intended purpose and now our energy should now be shifted toward encouraging vaccine efforts and awareness”.
Last month the Flagler Beach City Commission opened the way for small public gatherings outdoors. Last Thursday, the commission approved clearing the way for outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people, such as a small surfing contest. The commission will reconsider the issue in a month, possibly expand the allowance by an equal increment, depending on the covid figures at that time, with an eye to resuming First Friday possibly later this year.
City Commission Chairman Eric Cooley even attempted to “sunset” the citywide mask mandate. “I think this has served its purpose. But as far as legislating this to our citizens, I think it’s at the end of its shelf-life,” Cooley said. But Cooley was not advocating an end to the masking requirement in city buildings and stressed that he was not intending to lift the recommendation for mask-wearing. But he said he wanted to leave that choice up to residents. That mandate (officially, a resolution that has no enforcement mechanism) is still in place. But the commission has agreed to reconsider the citywide resolution in two weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control meanwhile today relaxed some masking guidelines outdoors, saying mask-wearing outdoors in some, but not all, circumstances is no longer necessary for those who have been vaccinated. Notably, dining outdoors with groups of friends from multiple households is still considered less safe for unvaccinated people, though vaccinated individuals may do so. But crowded events like outdoor concerts, parades or sports events where social distancing is not in effect remains less safe and still requires masking:
“Now for this item which is the face-mask requirement in City Hall,” Cooley said, “I’m all for that, because that’s easy, we’re all in a closed space and we’re all thrown, tied in here for a long period of time.” That mandate was renewed unanimously. At the Government Services Building in Bunnell, in contrast–where county meetings are held, along with school board meetings and numerous advisory panel’s sessions–masking has become all but voluntary anyway, with the meeting chambers recently drew upwards of 100 residents and staffers for a school board workshop, where half the audience was maskless. But gatherings of the sort, especially as they lengthen in time in an enclosed space, may also be contributing to the persistently high number of weekly infections in the county.
Herd immunity, Snyder and Bickel wrote, “is a gradual transition in a community’s susceptibility towards getting the virus and its spread throughout the local population. Herd immunity involves the constant interplay among four factors:
- Vaccination rates and the immunity that follows;
- Number of folks who have gotten the virus, recovered and thus possess a level of immunity;
- Extent to which public health protective measures are practiced by residents; and
- Presence of variants penetrating the local population.
The interchange among these four factors and data about the number of cases, hospitalizations, positivity rate, the R value or indicator that measures community transmission and deaths will help determine how close we are to herd immunity.”
A definition by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health puts it this way: “For example, if 80% of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 50% to 90% of a population needs immunity before infection rates start to decline. But this percentage isn’t a “magic threshold” that we need to cross—especially for a novel virus. Both viral evolution and changes in how people interact with each other can bring this number up or down. Below any “herd immunity threshold,” immunity in the population (for example, from vaccination) can still have a positive effect. And above the threshold, infections can still occur.”
Herd immunity, in other words, is understood (and understandable) as a nuanced concept with numerous factors to consider, not a black and white demarcation line.
“The key to our success in getting back to normal, keeping the economy open and robust and socializing with friends and family as we did prior to the pandemic, hinges on getting vaccinated,” Bickel and Snyder wrote. “This is the focus for public health staff and our partners going forward. Our goal is for Flagler County to be number 1 in the State for percent of residents vaccinated. Let’s not declare victory in the war against Covid-19 until the war has actually been won.”
David Schaefer says
Why can’t we get rid of this idiot please..
Susan Adams says
Because he has an R by his name. That sums it up in Flagler County.
Susan s says
Joe Mullins shouldn’t be in this position. Starting months ago he wrote on next door that he’ll pay any democrat wishing to move out of the area. He helped getting the buses going to DC for the January 6 insurrection and proud of it. . Nobody should be saying we’ve reached herd immunity. It’s not fair to those who are being careful as more and more people are going into the stores here with no mask. Can’t understand why they want to kill their constituent by simply wearing a mask
I think Mullins and Trump both received a Vaccine labeled “Stupid. Both awaiting indictments and hopefully end up sharing a prison cell.
Not surprising that Mullins is spouting b.s. Only half-wits would take him seriously, especially about the virus.
As for those unmasked people at that school board meeting — shame on them.
Roy Longo says
Mullins came to mind the second I read the headline. We can only hope his two minions on the board have some balls and don’t rubber stamp this asshole’s requests. And isn’t it amusing, Mullins statement comes on the same day Biden announces he is relaxing the mask wearing guidelines.
Disgusted in Flagler County says
Most of what Mullins says is absolute fantasy. I’m truly not sure what universe he lives in. Perhaps we could remove his little tinfoil hat and probe him and ask him? He continually promotes mountains of BS to his lemminglike followers (the rest of us know BS when we hear it.) It would appear that neither Mullins nor his ragtag band of followers knows how to read, or failed at reading comprehension in school. However, like his god trump, his followers are dwindling as well, and we can only hope that sooner rather than later Mullins will be yesterday’s news. We can remember him by a catchphrase, perhaps when someone spins a really big stupid lie we can call it a Mullins: Our own little private and sad, joke here in Flagler County.
Willy James says
Why does anybody listen to this anal opening? This guy has the morals of a snake and the intellect of a fly’s ass. By the way, I really got a kick out of reading the Editorial in today’s News Journal! Pat Rice got it “spot on” with his comments on Mullins. I’m rooting for the FBI to investigate and arrest Joe. Just a matter of time.
Joe Gotta Go says
Commissioner Clownshoes speaks again. Anybody who takes scientific advice from someone who posted the words “heard immunity,” deserves what they get.
Do you think that there is some kind of moron bat signal that lights up the district where he supposedly resides to tell him when to post stupid crap?
Mary Fusco says
This guy is on some kind of power trip. He is ONE of five commissioners and has one vote. I must have missed the memo on when he obtained total ownership of Flagler County. One of the great things about living in America is the ability to have differing opinions. What gives him the right to tell anyone to get out of town because their beliefs or opinions are different from his? He doesn’t want others lifestyle shoved down his throat yet, he shoves his down their’s. That is not how it works. I don’t agree with everything that is going on in this world but, someone else think’s it’s just fine. And. the world keeps turning. No need to leave town. LOL.
Why, are 75% of these people not wearing masks?…..I know why! It starts with a M.
Ask Fraudi Fauci what “herd immunity” is and he doesn’t have a number. Is 80% vaccination of 90+ % of the deaths of the age groups most susceptible ? Is that “herd immunity”. When the experts don’t know what “herd immunity” is, it’s a buzz phrase for experts & politicians. “Herd Immunity” for Flagler county might be a different concept than other locations based upon the demographics of the area. Would they move the goal posts if their definitions change ? Mullins spouted the term loosely, he’s a politician in that regard. Part of it is pride in a rollout, other parts a spin to take credit for performance that hasn’t been accomplished. Cases counts, Covid is like dirt on the planet earth, it’s going to exist. Where they test for it doesn’t mean there is any less “dirt” in one location vs another when they find this gold mine that healthcare has profited from. Masks, how much money has been dropped to create another unsolved problem of littering the environment ? The Covid Government grant continues.
OHYeah cuz I had alot of Faith in what Dr. Atlas’ opinion of C19 was lol Where do you people come from?
Mike Cocchiola says
Mullins is a complete jerk. Now he’s giving medical advice to Flagler? What’d he do… sleep in a Holiday Inn? Look folks… you should not believe a thing that Mullins says. He spews nonsense with every breath he takes. He’s a congenital liar and con man. He’s also a dictator wannabe like his god… The Former Guy.
We have not reached herd immunity, and when we do we’ll be told by Bob Snyder and Real Dr. Steve Bickle when it’s safe for us to dispense with masks. Meantime, mask up for the safety of your family, friends, neighbors and the people you get close to at the market, stores, and restaurants you frequent. Let’s do it right and beat this thing.
Oh… and beat Mullins in 2022.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Mullins, in my opinion, is the second worse virus in Flagler County. Don’t we need a Herd Immunity vaccine to protect us from him?
Lil Joe and His heard err herd mentality I mean Immunity. Hes coming down off a Power grab trip amongst other things IMO wink wink and is compelled to spout irresponsible rhetoric upon sobriety to pleasure himself and confound his detractors because he can get away with it.
I ask 80% of what! Does that include the total population or 80% of the population that can get the shot? Kids under the age of 16 are not even able to get the shot. The county is probably playing games with the 80% number. I need to know 80% of what!
No one is playing games. The 80 percent figure refers to the general population. Children are carriers too.
The man and we all know its Mullins, is clearly delusional. Its now come to the point, that when Mullins speaks, nobody listens.
Percy's mother says
Joe Mullins and Sharon Demers, Flagler Republican Committeewoman, (among others in the fringe Flagler Republican group) are advocating boycotting any business which advertises on this website (FlaglerLive).
On Tuesday, Mullins posted three or four more vile Facebook posts regarding FlaglerLive replete with disgusting caricatures.
How’s that for supporting business in Flagler County?
Mullins is untrained and unqualified for the Job of Countu Commissioner.
Electing him was a bit like acquiring a pit bull to herd sheep. Instead of shepherding the flock he rhetorically runs around stirs them up and creates panic while savaging some, apparently at random.