Please Note: Due to the nature of information being released frequently regarding COVID-19, changes at the local, state and federal level may have occurred since answers were provided.
*This town hall occurred prior to Gov. Ron DeSantis's press conference on April 29 at 5 p.m.*
VIDEO of the April 29, 2020 town hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkJPRmSXmrw)
At the City of Palm Coast Virtual Town Hall that occurred on April 29, 2020, in attendance were Mayor Milissa Holland, City Manager Matthew Morton, AdventHealth Palm Coast COO Wally De Aquino, FDOH-Flagler Dr. Stephen Bickel, President and CEO of Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory Tony Hoffman, FDOH-Flagler Administrator Bob Snyder, and Fire Chief Jerry Forte.
Mr. Snyder gave an update from the health department on the numbers of cases, testing options, and current concerns.
Chief Forte then explained (starting at 13:24) that this week the emergency management plan - in terms of reopening - is being worked on to reflect some changes coming from the state and what that means for City departments. When the plan was created last week, there were unknowns such as distancing, how many people can be in a group, etc, and once that information is known, it can be applied to the plan when the Governor releases phase 1 of the state's plan. Chief Forte also said soon they will have to go out into the community to see how reopening will proceed. For the City, each department will act differently from the others. What has to be considered is outward services such as inspections, code enforcement, and how these are done on a grander scale.
Mayor Holland then reiterates that it was the Governor's Executive Order for non-essential businesses to close that occurred a few weeks back. The city has to comply with that order. So the rollout plan developed by city leaders came from professionals who manage crisis. Phases of the rollout plan will be adjusted accordingly along with benchmarks to ensure safety.
Town Hall questions in order as discussed in the video-
Can you explain why your chart for reopening Palm Coast maintains some restrictions into the winter? Shouldn't you wait to see the data over the next few months?
Answer 1: (20:04)
Chief Forte explained that the team cannot predict what will happen 2-5 months from now. All they can do is plan according to what the phases represent. So with many unknowns, and there are no plans for a specific date, the reopening is generally tied to what the recommendations are going to be from the Governor and CDC. We can't put dates to it, but by putting it seasonally, that provides latitude for flexibility. So if the City plans for something to occur in the winter months, but then conditions with phasing accelerate, then the planning will be in place. So the homework will have been done and it's a matter of sliding up plans.
Can you tell us the demographics of the known cases in Palm Coast? Patient ages? Assisted living or private home?
Please visit the Florida Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard for that data: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429.
When it designates the case is travel related, does that mean internationally or with the U.S., too?
Mr. Snyder said this could be internationally or high-impacted states, such as New York.
Regarding testing, there are so many kinds: antibody, surveillance etc. Can you identify and explain each and corresponding users or patients of these tests? Do these tests pertain to different stage of the virus effect? Also, are we looking for testing of asymptomatic people, eventually all people of Flagler County?
Dr. Bickel explained for the tests, there are two types - a test for the virus and a test for antibodies. Surveillance testing is a strategy. It's not a test. It's a way of using the test. There are also two types of asymptomatic people. People who are pre-symptomatic - meaning a day or two before they have symptoms - and are fairly contagious. Then, there are people who have low levels of the virus with no symptoms and are less contagious. As more testing occurs, it will provide a better idea of how prevalent it is. Mr. Snyder said the Governor is a making antibody tests available the first week of May. It's not clear which counties will get them. So stay tuned to the health department for that.
Mr. Hoffman then explains the importance of the validity of antibody tests. There are two main test types. He provides details on how that works with sensitivity and specificity. Please listen to his full detailed discussion on this at (27:00-30:28).
*Wally De Aquino then provides an update on AdventHealth and what reopening means for the hospital system. (30:45) They will follow state and federal guidance. They also want the process to be safe for their staff, patients and to be able to educate the community on that process in the future.
I rent my home in Palm Coast weekly during the summer months. I've had a few inquiries about renting. I understand the rental business has been shut down because of the virus. Will I be able to rent starting in June again?
As Chief Forte mentioned earlier in the town hall, our reopening criteria are based more on seasons versus dates. Per the Governor's Executive Order 20-87 - which put a cessation on those kinds of rentals - is still in effect. This was done to stop the community spread. The City is continuing to monitor this and is expecting guidance today on this and what phased approaches look like, including travel. So there is no date yet. It depends on what the Governor's recommendation will be.
With almost a 100% increase in COVID cases in Flagler County for April, why are we opening up non-essential services? If you plan to open up non-essential businesses will you also be opening up city offices and other government entities at the same time to allow the public to conduct business as usual? If not, why?
Chief Forte explains this answer starting at 36:00. He mentioned that about eight weeks ago, the impact on the population was estimated to be much greater than what the actual numbers are showing today. Although the numbers are rising, the anticipation is much lower. So with reopening, he said we are reopening at a reduced rate of risk versus eight weeks ago. So now we have more information and more data, but the contagion rate is not as bad as other areas.
Mr. Snyder said they'd like to see 14-day downward trend in positivity rate in our community. He goes into further detail on that. He also said when reopening, things like social distancing, hand washing and telecommunication will be part of the future.
Dr. Bickel said that with reopening, it's a balancing act. He said increased testing is needed and they need to ramp up contact tracing. He also said it's important to understand this is not an easy process.
What's going to happen with the 65 and older and high-risk people with reopening?
The vulnerable will have to consider how they interact with other people in the population and take extra steps to protect themselves. Please hear Chief Forte's answer at 43:00.
How does the city feel about the 'herd immunity methodology' and directing quarantine restrictions more towards the demographic that this virus targets vs. quarantining the rest of its population?
Mr. Snyder says with her immunity it can happen in one of two ways. Number one is when you have a vaccine. The other way is to have 70-80 percent of the population to have the virus, recover from it, and then be immune and therefore you'd have herd immunity. But you'd have a lot of people sick. So thus, the balancing act. This is the importance of testing and contact tracing - all at the same time of reopening the economy in a strategic way.
Dr. Bickel says the idea of herd immunity is better if from a vaccine. Please listen to his comments at 45:50.
How many positive coronavirus patients are currently admitted to AdventHealth Palm Coast?
The hospital doesn't share exact numbers to prevent speculation and protect patients. But he did say they have been treating patients and are ensuring everyone's safety through their protocols.
Are people required to wear masks while shopping in grocery stores or is it optional? Why is it not mandatory?
Chief Forte said at this point it's a recommendation. So there is no requirement. But, there is guidance on advising certain people to wear them for their own protection. Please refer to the CDC's guidance on masks.
Dr. Bickel then said (51:30) from the health department, if someone who is asymptomatic wears a mask it keeps it from spreading to others. He elaborates more on masks, other countries that have done it, and aerosol transmission.
Explain Diagnostic Solutions role in testing, testing turnaround time, and what's been the demand from the state of Florida?
Mr. Hoffman (53:00) said as far as scaling up, they have consistently added the ability to run a thousand -plus a week. They keep excess capacity as well to manage increases at various locations. In Florida, they have added a few more areas to serve. He also said they are doing some antibody testing. The turnaround time for that is 1-2 days. The current turnaround on the swab test is 24 hours, but sometimes a day and a half.
A business can contact Diagnostic Solutions at diagnosticsolutionslab.com or call 877-485-5336.
We are an essential business looking to reopen in May. Our small bicycle shop in Palm Coast makes it difficult to maintain safe distancing. We are having an extraordinarily hard time finding hand sanitizer and aerosol disinfectants in order to keep the facility clean. We understand and support the need for these products for first responders and medical facilities, though we are also on the front line, in that it is absolutely vital we maintain a clean, sanitized facility in between customer visits, or we could create a source of infection spread. Can the city or county help us in any way in acquisition of these disinfectant items? We will pay for the product, and do NOT want a hand out. Without a solution to this, we may not be able to reopen in a safe way. I am sure we are not the only business in this position.
Mr. Morton said this was part of conversations this week. They will look into seeing how to source this and try to work on a solution. Stay tuned to Palm Coast Connect for updates if available.
Can't we do something as a community to show our appreciation not only for the hospital staff, but for our first responders, essential workers, etc - like they do in other places. For example, ringing a bell from 7-7:01 pm, or simply clapping at a certain time each night?
Please follow guidance and measures to prevent the spread as set forth by local, state and federal leaders.
Additional questions not addressed in town hall video-
Contact tracing - to clarify, these are only for positive patients, right?
Please see the CDC literature on that here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/principles-contact-tracing.html
And here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/php/principles-contact-tracing-booklet.pdf
What factors go into the re-opening of the City of Palm Coast? What is the date timeline for opening small businesses, restaurants, and all other businesses? Do we have an idea of when fitness centers/gyms will re-open? Will they be one of the first businesses allowed to re-open under the phase one part of the plan? When will restaurants open to normal hours or at least at half capacity?
This was addressed in opening remarks by Chief Forte. It was also discussed in the answers of questions one and six. Please view the video to hear the full explanation.
When will Palm Harbor Golf Club, the Tennis Center and City trails open? What biking areas are open for use?
The City is regularly evaluating and monitoring the closures. Changes are made based off guidance from our local, state and federal partners. Stay tuned.
When do you anticipate being able to test for past exposure to the coronavirus? Many of us were pretty ill back in December/January for about 3 weeks, maybe not all of the symptoms, but many of them. Can the tests pick up if we had the virus back then? Would it be helpful to know? When is it going to be safe to have our patient procedures done at AdventHealth?
Please refer to question four and the information provided from the experts then. It may also help to view the video when that question was being answered as AdventHealth Palm Coast COO Wally De Aquino provided an update on AdventHealth at that time.
Will there be any additional testing locations to come to Flagler County?
The most up-to-date listing on testing locations can be found here:
With the approach of hurricane season and the fact we will not have a COVID-19 vaccine, what plans are being made for emergency shelters if the situation arises?
According to Flagler County, all viable options are being considered at this time for sheltering.