Using some of the strongest language he’s used yet during the coronavirus pandemic, Flagler County Health Department Chief Bob Snyder this morning blasted the Social Club of Palm Coast for recklessly seeding the county’s only covid-19 superspreader event to date, leading to “dozens of positive cases, two deaths, numerous hospitalizations, including some patients who were in critical condition.”
“This was a classic example of how a virus spreads in your community,” Snyder told the Flagler County Commission, “and all the suffering, all the illness and tragedy could have been prevented through two simple, innocuous practices when indoors: social distancing and mask-wearing.” Two measures that the Social Club of Palm Coast failed to adequately enforce at several events in late September, Snyder said.
“Simply put, the virus knows no boundaries regardless of political leanings or personal beliefs. Period,” he said, defending his decision to broadly and loudly alert local media about the outbreak. “Our health department performed well. It was incumbent upon us to alert the community about superspreading events tied to the Social Club of Palm Coast to avoid future transmission, sickness, and distress caused by covid-19. I personally believe that it is our civic and our patriotic responsibility to do the right thing, to mask up and social distance. Gosh darn it, do this for yourselves and the ones you care about. That’s what it’s all about.”
Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said Snyder had been asked to appear before the commission to explain the superspreader event in his terms “to clear the air as to what exactly happened at that event.”
Social Club of Palm Coast patrons and the club’s secretary, Gloria April, have sought to downplay the superspreader even as April apologized for it, either blaming media for playing up the outbreak or making inaccurate statements that diminish the club’s exceptional role in the superspreader. April did so again as she addressed the commission this morning.
“We are extremely sorry that it happened at our club. It could have happened anywhere, but it was our club,” she said, inaccurately: the superspreader did not strike at the Social Club of Palm Coast by chance, but because large numbers of people gathered without abiding by social distancing and masking requirements there, and because the club itself did not enforce the requirements, as Snyder himself put it. He has repeatedly said that there had been no such large outbreaks connected to any other social club in town. “Well, it doesn’t happen anywhere, where precautions are taken,” Snyder said later, “because the transmission of the virus is preventable by doing the smallest things.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins also commended the health department while blaming media, “coming out like it’s doing, because it seems to stir people up, and then of course the bloggers,” while himself mischaracterizing the mask issue and downplaying the importance of mask-wearing. “None of us on this commission has made it mandatory, none of us in this county has,” he said. “The city has some confusing stuff coming out. But we have been very clear.” He was alluding to Palm Coast, whose mask mandate resolution was no less clear than Flagler Beach’s and Bunnell’s. It’s not clear what “confusing stuff” he was referring to. Only the county has refused to adopt a mandate, dovetailing the sheriff’s declaration that he would not enforce mandates either way. (All the commissioners wore masks during today’s meeting. Mullins wore his improperly for most of the meeting, its rim below his nose.)
In his summary of the September spike in Flagler’s covid numbers, Snyder spoke of outbreaks in schools, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, all of which have seen numbers decline in the last two weeks, then described specifically how a surge of cases was traced back to superspreader events at the Social Club of Palm Coast.
Following contact tracing investigations, including “several conversations with infected persons, and the secretary of the club, who was keeping her own log of members infected,” Snyder said, “the Social Club of Palm Coast surfaced as the nexus of exposure. Early in the investigation, infected folks and witnesses mentioned their attendance at an event on August 28, and they identified it originally as a karaoke night. As our investigation proceeded, we obtained the list of positive cases that the secretary of the club was tracking. It showed 23 individuals who tested positive, with their exposure dates linked to social events at the club on Aug. 21, Aug. 29, and 78 percent of cases connected to the evening of Aug. 28, which featured a singer-performer who routinely headlined at the club.” He was referring to Mike Kohn, who also hosted three-hour karaoke nights every Tuesday, according to the club’s September calendars. All references to karaoke night have been removed from the club’s October calendar, though Mike Kohn continues to appear at his regular Tuesday night slot.
“So not a karaoke night, as our investigator was originally told, but several events at the club the preceding days, including the 28th,” Snyder said. “When we interviewed the secretary of the club about their board policy regarding social distancing and mask wearing, she indicated for sure that these measures were mandated by their board. But they were not followed by members of the club or enforced. This was corroborated by several folks that our disease investigators spoke to.”
In her remarks to the commission, April said “we had tried everything, we mandated the masks, we took temperatures, we made sure that the club was sanitized,” but the outbreak still happened. She said the club took “immediate measures,” closing down for a month. She never referred to the sick or offer sympathy for the dead, but she spoke defensively against the reporting about her club. “I went back at the cameras we have, looked at the number of people in the room, they were not 200 in the room, as FlaglerLive has stated.” The figure did not refer to the evening of the 28th (as April implied), where most infections originated, but to a previous evening, on Aug. 21, and had been quoted in the account of an eyewitness who was there as “maybe 200 people, almost no masks, although people were required to wear them into the building,” in the eyewitness’ words. “As soon as they came in, they took them off. I and two other people asked the titular head of the DAV to ask that the organizers make an announcement to keep masks on. A woman refused to do that.” It’s not clear who that woman was.
April has also made an issue that the night was not billed as karaoke night, as previously reported, a complaint Snyder had little patience for. “Many of their members indicated it was their karaoke night. We discovered later this week that instead of a machine that people sang along with it was their singer performer,” he said in a text, confirming that people were singing with Kohn. “The bottom line is the same: their negligence in caring for others and complacent has led to numerous cases and suffering for many families.” He added: “Gloria kept making a big deal about the Karaoke reference but that is what we were told by members…such petty point given the horrible outcome of what they failed to do in protecting fellow human beings.”
Now, April said, apparently in a change of approach, “we make people put their mask on. If they don’t like it, they have to leave. We have also mandated that we’re staying at 50 percent. Some of our members do not like that, but we will be staying at 50 percent. We are very sorry that any of this happened. I don’t know what else we can do to prevent.”
Meanwhile after the latest spike in September, Flagler County ended last week with 58 new infections, the lowest number of new infections in a seven-day period going back to the week ending June 27, when the summer surge was just beginning. It was also the week with the lowest number of covid-19 tests since the week of June 20.
The number of covid-related deaths in Flagler has risen to 28, with a 48-year-old man confirmed to have died on Sept. 28, according to the Florida Health Department, making him the youngest person to have died of the disease in the county to date. AdventHealth Palm Coast today was reporting 10 individuals at the hospital with a primary diagnosis of covid-19, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.