A Florida Health Department tally of Covid-related deaths in Flagler County, affecting just Flagler residents, places the total number of fatalities at 50, two more than the tally publicized by the department’s public dashboard.
The internal spreadsheet, provided to FlaglerLive by Flagler County’s health department director, includes 49 “confirmed” Covid-related deaths and one “probable,” that of a 74-year-old white man who died on Sept. 13, though the tally also specifies that the death is not unrelated to Covid. The man’s death was tied to attendance of events at the Social Club of Palm Coast, according to the department’s internal tally, which also indicates that four deaths, not two, were tied to the late August superspreader events at the Social Club, as had been previously reported.
It isn’t clear why a discrepancy persist between the internal tally and the public dashboard, though the discrepancy is limited. The internal document does not reveal private information about the individuals, only epidemiologically relevant information that traces the history of individuals who died. It indicates, for example, whether they were in group homes such as nursing homes or assisted living facilities (seven were: at Magnolia Manor, Tuscan Gardens, two from Flagler Health and Rehabilitation, and three from Grand Oaks). It indicates whether they had been at the same related events (the Social Club), whether they had been interviewed by contact-tracers (most were), whether they had been symptomatic (most were, at least one wasn’t, and several were “unknown.”) All but four were hospitalized, and the four were listed as “unknown” under the hospitalization category.
Age, gender, race and pother commonly published categories are also included in the spreadsheet. Flagler’s oldest victim of Covid-19 was 96, and was one of four nonagenarians. Thirteen people in their 80s have died, 19 people in their 70s and eight in their 60s have died. Three were in their 50s (including a 50 year old). The youngest victim was a 48-year-old black man. Blacks and Hispanics have borne a disproportionate cost of the disease across the country, though less so in Flagler County.
The very first death affecting a Flagler County resident was on April 1, though the cruelest month so far was September, when 14 residents died of the disease, following the summer surge, which was itself amplified in late May when Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted many restrictions. In September he lifted all restrictions on businesses and forbade localities from enforcing fines related to mask mandates. The internal tally lists four deaths in December, a number that does not yet reflect a surge in local hospitalizations that reached 20 on two consecutive days in the past few weeks.
It can take several weeks for a Covid-related death to be confirmed, a process that must go through medical examiners, whose reports are not immediately available. The delay has enabled the state Health Department to visually downplay daily deaths on its public dashboard, since its graph shows deaths confirmed by day, naturally showing a downward, but deceptive, slope the more recent the date. The overall number of deaths confirmed across dates on any given day, however, has been far higher. The current seven-day average is around 100 per day in the state, with 20,753 deaths overall since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Flagler Health Department today reported what would have been the confirmation of the 48th Covid-related death, that of an 82-year-old Hispanic man, who died on November 14. That was before the internal tally came to light. That’s the second reported death this week–a 71-year-old white man’s death, also on Nov. 14, was not reported until this week–and the fifth in the past two weeks as the coronavirus continues to exact a grievous toll even in counties like Flagler where local officials occasionally boast of lower case loads and death counts, but only relative to other counties in the state.
After setting a new record of 220 cases in a single week last week, the county has continued to tally record-setting numbers, with 73 new cases in the first two days of the week and a seven-day average of 34 cases a day. New case totals have averaged over 11,000 a day in Florida for the past seven days.
“There’s been heightened testing going on since October, still continues,” Bob Snyder, director of the Flagler County Health Department, said late this afternoon. “Today for example we tested 89 individuals at Cattleman’s Hall at the Fairgrounds, and as of your writing we will have tested 100-plus at the airport, and it’s still continuing today, tonight.”
The three main reasons people are getting tested, Snyder said, are fear of having been exposed, tests requested following contact-tracing of individuals who may not have known that they’d been in the presence of a coronavirus-positive individual, and this third factor–the bane of public health officials: individuals preparing to travel for the holidays, essentially giving the virus a thoroughfare across the continent.
“We still implore folks to be careful and to keep holiday gatherings to small groups, household family members,” Snyder said. But the requests have had limited effect, as travel is not just brisk, but breaking pandemic records: “Pre-Christmas air travel surpassed 1 million daily passengers nationwide for three consecutive days this weekend — breaking the record for most weekend travelers of the pandemic and outpacing Thanksgiving numbers that assumed that title and worried health experts last month,” the Washington Post reported Monday. “The 3.2 million passengers screened Friday, Saturday and Sunday mark the only time during the pandemic that over 1 million air travelers were seen three days in a row.
In an interview on Monday, Dr. Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler and Volusia County health departments, said the last weeks’ 150-plus counts of coronavirus cases are attributable at least in part to cooler weather and holiday gatherings bringing people in closer contact.
The higher case count parallels a continuing surge ac ross the country, where the seven-day average of new cases is 216,000 per day currently, and the daily average for deaths in the past seven days is 2,680, just shy of a daily toll equivalent to that of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The reaction is more jaded.
The surge is occurring as a new strain of the virus has emerged in Europe. Starting with a case in Kent in the southeast of England, the United Kingdom in September began reporting a new strain of the coronavirus that began spreading over the island. By November, a quarter of cases in London were the result of infection by the new variant. It was two-thirds of new cases by December.
“While it is known and expected that viruses constantly change through mutation leading to the emergence of new variants,” The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control–the European equivalent of the American Centers for Disease Control–reported on Sunday, “preliminary analysis in the UK suggests that this variant is significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater with an estimated increased transmissibility of up to 70%.” The European CDC noted “no indication at this point of increased infection severity associated with the new variant,” though if the virus is in fact 70 percent more transmissible, an increaser in hospitalizations and deaths would follow simply based on the severity of the current strain.
The revelation of a new coronavirus mutation is causing a scramble of reactions, starting with broad and severe lockdowns in and around London, though by then the mutation had traveled well beyond that zone. European nations imposed, then somewhat walked back, travel restrictions targeting Britain.
Bickel is pausing, skeptically, rather than panicking or recommending different protocols in response to reports of the new coronavirus variant. He said the pandemic has periodically and frequently flared with alarming reports, whether about scares of reinfections among those who’d previously been infected, concerns about side effects of antibodies or mutations of the virus itself. The alarm over the new mutation may take its place along that same trend. “I’m kind of surprised that they’re making such an issue about it. It could turn out to be true, I’m still pretty skeptical about it,” Bickel said.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect vaccines,” he said on Monday, a day before he received his own Covid-19 vaccine. (Being a front-line physician, he was eligible.) “I’m kind of surprised that they’re making such an issue about it. It could turn out to be true, I’m still pretty skeptical about it.”
David S. says
The social club owners should be held accountable…
The numbers will continue to climb. There are a lot of people with little or no common sense. You really do not have to look far. All the vacation rentals are book. Go into Publix on the beach side during Saturday afternoon. This is the typical day of check in’s. Or stall by The Club at Hammock Beach on a sunny warm day. Yes people are gathering for the holidays. St Augustine is pack with visitors along with the restaurants along A1A. Our County officials refuse to take this virus seriously in addition to our State leaders. So go ahead an gather. Why not go to the Holiday POP’s in Jacksonville. Keep poking the bear. The bear will infect you sooner then later.