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.
At the May 20 virtual town hall, Mayor Milissa Holland, City Manager Matthew Morton, Flagler County Emergency Manager Jonathan Lord, Fire Chief Jerry Forte, FDOH-Flagler Administrator Bob Snyder, FDOH-Flagler Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel, and Diagnostic Solutions Labs CEO Tony Hoffman. This is the largest panel of experts to date!
*We are working to continue to answer more submitted questions.
WATCH THE VIRTUAL TOWN HALL HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr80o23cmtU
Mr. Snyder provided an update from the Flagler County Health Department. (From 3:00-5:45)
Mr. Lord then provided an update from the Flagler County Emergency Management department. He spoke about testing, reopening guidance, and also mentioned vacation rentals. Mr. Lord said that currently, per the Governor's Executive Order, vacation rentals are not permitted at this current time. Local governments, counties specifically, have the option to request an exclusion from that by submitting a safety plan. Mr. Lord said Flagler County did submit one on May 19, on behalf of the county and all its municipalities and they are waiting to hear back from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Flagler County anticipates hearing back as soon as Thursday, May 21. As soon as they hear back, they will let the public know. Mr. Lord also said that private rental owners could have stricter rules than government, to keep in mind if the county is allowed to have vacation rentals. Mr. Lord also added that they are looking into how to reopen additional services. He also provided some details about their planning for hurricane season. He mentioned that residents living in an evacuation zone, should now consider where they may go in the event of that, whether it's staying with friends, family, or staying in a hotel somewhere inland. The County is looking at school sheltering and is increasing space for evacuees and providing masks those who stay there that don't have one. (From 6:14-13:56)
VACATION RENTAL UPDATE FROM FLAGLER COUNTY ON MAY 22 HERE: https://www.palmcoastconnect.com/s/article/Vacation-rentals-to-reopen-plan-approved-by-state
Chief Forte added some information about evacuation zones in preparation for hurricane season. As the drought index is climbing, Chief Forte mentioned they are considering extra staffing for wildfire season. He said the City has made strides in its plan for reopening City government departments and where they fit in the phases. He said it will be a staggered approach. (From 14:15-18:00)
Mr. Morton added that the City is monitoring updates daily and having conversations often as it pertains to reopening. The process is involves changes every day and keeping state and federal guidance in mind.
Mr. Hoffman provided an update from Diagnostic Solutions Lab. He said they are doing testing prior to surgery at hospitals. He said they are still seeing the same volume of tests, but a drop in positive rate.
Questions Answered During the Town Hall
Mayor Holland directed the following questions toward Dr. Bickel. His answers can be heard from 27:46-31:57.
Question 1: How does a lay person, wishing to "protect themselves," obtain an N95 mask when I myself, being a registered nurse, has to have mine rationed out and cleaned many times before I am issued a new one? And, I am taking care of patients in a hospital? Seems to me, all spare N95's need to go to front-line workers.
Dr. Bickel said lay people do not need N95 masks, unless maybe you are quarantined with someone who has it and you're taking care of them. He said there is a lot of effort among public and private groups to get these kinds of masks to healthcare workers.
I read where a doctor said the SARS and MERS viruses went completely away after two years. He predicts the COVID-19 virus will also disappear after two years. I'd appreciate your comments on this prediction.
Dr. Bickel said SARS and MERS are different types of viruses. The epidemiology is totally different. The transmission rate is different. It doesn't transmit asymptomatically. It doesn't spread well, but it's lethal. As for the prediction COVID-19 be gone in 2 years, Dr. Bickel said he hopes that's right but there's no real reason to think it will. He said it could mutate and then evolve into one of the flu viruses and cold viruses that we have every year. He said they are hoping for herd immunity which will take time, but he's skeptical it will be gone in two years.
Since last week's subject matter expert Dr. DeGennaro recommended it and since there is a growing trend making mask wearing in public a requirement rather than just a recommendation and since a significant number of our residents are not complying, why shouldn't we enact a public mask wearing mandate in Palm Coast, especially as it applies to essential businesses where social distancing is difficult?
Dr. Bickel said city and county officials they've talked to is promoting mask use, but they are trying to figure out the best way to do it. He said they are trying to encourage people to wear masks as a civic responsibility.
I think everyone understands you need to wear a mask in enclosed areas like supermarkets (although not everyone is doing it). But there was no discussion about the need to wear masks outside in your community when you're taking a walk or riding a bike. As long as people practice proper social distancing while doing these outside activities, a mask should not be necessary. The same applies to playing golf - I doubt that golfers will wear a mask while they are on the course, but they will practice social distancing.
Dr. Bickel addressed wearing masks outside and said that there's a spectrum of risk. He said the highest risk is 15 minutes or more exposure of someone who has it within six feet. This is what they use for contact tracing criteria for who needs to be traced. Beyond that, there's no limit where there's no risk unless you stay inside your home, don't let anybody in and don't except packages. He said they are trying to minimize risk. He said for the most part six feet number is a good guideline. He discussed some studies and circumstances of some cases.
Mayor Holland directed the following questions (5-9) to Mr. Snyder. His explanation is from 40:21-45:33. Mr. Lord also added some insight.
It seems there is more testing going on in Orange County than here in Flagler County. Plus, you can go get tested regardless if you feel you have the virus or not. Why don't we have that here in Flagler County?
Mr. Snyder said in the beginning they were looking for people with clinical symptoms. Then, it changed to people who may have been exposed or are concerned. He said restrictions have loosened. They said to get tested at the Daytona State College site, you can call the county 386-313-4200 or the health department at 386-437-7500. Mr. Snyder mentioned additional sites that are testing.
Why has it taken the county weeks to address the confusing and far too lengthy testing process? What will the restrictions look like for Memorial Day weekend?
Mr. Snyder addressed testing in his response to the questions surrounding this topic. Please listen to his and Mr. Lord's comments in the video from 40:21-45:33.
Why is it taking 14 days or more to get COVID test results back taken at Daytona State College Palm Coast? No excuse for this. Why are we opening anything, over 900 then over 400 new cases two days this week?
As of last night, Mr. Lord said at this site, they had tested 1,674 people. He and Mr. Snyder both said they are getting good turnaround times on labs.
How many actual people have been tested in Flagler County? The FL Health Department Dashboard does not give how many people are tested by county that I noticed, only the total state.
In Flagler County to date, Mr. Snyder said they have received 3,193 lab test results for residents. He said they have surpassed the surgeon general goal for each county in terms of testing.
When will we have access to accurate antibody tests?
Right now, these kits have been shipped out to hospital systems and universities in Florida. It is not for broad distribution yet in the community testing site setting. There are only a few labs nationally that have been approved by the FDA for this testing.
How can you open schools back in August with students and staff and there is no cure for the virus?
The City does not govern the school district. Please listen to the discussion on the lack of a cure and vaccine from 45:30-49:44.
The following questions (11-15) were directed to Mr. Morton and Chief Forte as they pertain to reopening. Please listen to their explanation from 52:32-1:00:54. They also discussed fireworks.
Question 11: Why were golf courses allowed to remain open, while parks which serve countless more taxpayers were closed? Please clarify your rationale.
Question 12: Why is the Palm Coast Aquatics Center not opening this year? Would someone please explain the rationale for NOT opening the Palm Coast Aquatic Center for summer 2020?
Question 13: Why can't Indian Trails Sports Complex be used for walking?
Question 14: When are our playgrounds going to open? Our children need somewhere to play. Given that our COVID-19 rate for Flagler County is 1/6 of 1%, it is paranoia to keep our facilities closed! Please open everything including the bathrooms!
Question 15: There has been an increase of 7 people testing positive for COVID. On May 19, there are 167 positive cases in Flagler but mostly in Palm Coast. Do you think we opened too early?
*For questions 11-15, please listen to the experts discussion from 52:32-1:00:54.
Any idea on when the DMV-Tax office will be opening? I have to renew my driver's license. I can't do it online because I have to bring certain Items of information in person for this one.
Mr. Lord said the county DMV/Tax Collector office is open with modified services. They recommend people call 386-313-4160 to access the driver's license service.
The following questions pertain to vacation rentals. Please listen to Mr. Lord's comments at the beginning of the town hall for his explanation on this topic as they will be releasing details in the coming days.
Question 17: What is the status of short-term rentals?
Question 18: We have been planning on retiring to Palm Coast and are having a house built. We are closing on our house here in Maryland much sooner than anticipated. Are there any allowances for people moving to FL, who need temporary housing, who will be living there permanently?
Question 19: Can we open vacation rentals for in-state rentals or for renters from non-hotspot locations? I work in the industry and it has been crippled by this executive order. We have cleaning crews that have proper cleaning procedures and inspections to verify the homes are cleaned appropriately.
*Please listen to Mr. Lord's comments at the beginning of the town hall for his explanation on this topic relating to questions 17-19 as they will be releasing details in the coming days.
When is Flagler Beach pier going to allowed to open to fishing? Also when is the surrounding area going to open (ie parking spaces and food places)?
Please reach out to Flagler County or the City of Flagler Beach for this question, as the city of Palm Coast does not control the pier.
During the pandemic, many companies have been issuing credits or refunds to the customers. The FP & L had issued credits along with some insurance companies during these hard times. Will the Palm Coast Utility follow the same? The residents have been using their water quite a bit more often than usual to remain safe and clean to disinfect. It would be greatly appreciated if the Palm Coast Utility Bills reduce, refund or take into consideration the above normal usage of water and reimburse customers.
The City had previously announced it had suspended water service shut-offs for non-payment of City utility bills back in March. Additionally, the City created a new 'PLAN' to help folks called 'People Lending Assistance to Neighbors' which gives every Utility customer the opportunity to donate dollars to assist other residents in need with paying a Utility bill. See more here: https://www.palmcoastconnect.com/s/utility-bill-pay
Are there any plans regarding hurricane shelters and COVID, that is, how that will be handled in the event of a hurricane(s) with many people seeking shelter crowded into one space for a long period of time?
Please listen to Mr. Lord's comments at the beginning of the virtual town hall as he addresses what plans are being discussed.