City of Palm Coast
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.
In attendance of the Sept. 2 COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall were Mayor Milissa Holland, City Manager Matthew Morton, Fire Chief Jerry Forte, FDOH-Flagler Administrator Bob Snyder, FDOH-Flagler Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel, AdventHealth COO Wally De Aquino and Flagler Schools Supt. Cathy Mittelstadt.
WATCH THE VIRTUAL TOWN HALL HERE: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y1ekr8mC2Y]
The Health Department (Bob Snyder & Dr. Bickel) gave a short update related to COVID-19 at the beginning of the VTH.
Mr. Snyder indicated that positive tests and cases are down in Flagler County. We now have 1,329 total cases, 15 deaths and a 14 day positivity rate of 4.4% (lower than the 5.1% rate in Florida). We are still not out of the woods and we won't be until an approved vaccine is distributed. Also, 17,529 Flagler residents have been tested for COVID-19 (16% of the population).
Flagler Schools were re-opened this week. We had 5 public/private school students/staff test positive. We are currently investigating each case to find out who interacted with each of these cases; contact tracing and going down the line to trace all contacts; working on a weekly summary to identify every occurrence to be completely transparent about all that is happening. 12:04-12:08
Mr. De Aquino emphasized the decrease in COVID-19 cases at AdventHealth Palm Coast. He believes this is a result of the community wearing masks, social distancing, and DOH's contract tracing. He also stated that the ER is experiencing lower numbers of possible COVID-19 cases as fewer people are coming in with symptoms. But we must not let down our guard. Staff is preparing for dealing with the upcoming flu season along with the coronavirus pandemic, so this is just possibly a slow period. 12:08 -12:12
Flagler School Superintendent Mittelstadt talked about the excellent partnership with local agencies that has been developed between the schools and government agencies regarding decision-making for COVID-19. This school year is SO different from others, obviously because of all of the safety protocols and the choices for in home or in school classes. Our newest model is entitled, "Remote Live Model" where students are staying home and receiving instruction directly from their teachers online, in real time. Our parents and students are being very patient, learning how to adjust to this new offering. Everyone is learning to adjust each day. Presently, there are 6,500 students taking face to face classes in school; 3,227 children doing Remote Live Model learning; 1,400 students doing iFlagler Virtual School with specific lessons taught by computer. Everyone is being very flexible, as new students come and go from each offered section. 12:12-12:18
Chief Forte also noted that numbers are trending down locally and regionally and believes we will see a spike now that schools are open. Our City response to COVID is long term. Responders continue to respond to emergency calls wearing masks, social distancing and following strict safety protocols.
City Hall and other facilities will still open Monday, October 5th and employees are now acclimating to their new surroundings and protocols. Residents will see different activities when they visit facilities, including temperature taking, mask wearing, adhering to social distancing with new glass partitions and directions straight to various departments. 12:19-12:22
City Manager Morton followed up by saying that City facility openings were coordinated with Flagler Schools opening because many of our employees have children who are attending school. He reminded residents that re-opening facilities will be a project in motion and that the community should please remain flexible. 12:23-12:25
The Superintendent responded that deep cleaning occurs every night at all of the school with electrostatic sprayers. During the day, staff frequently cleans touched areas. Teachers wipe tables and children use hand sanitizer everywhere. Students continue to face forward in the same direction at their desks every day. Everyone wears masks when social distancing is impossible. Buses are also cleaned daily. Children wear masks on the bus and seating is more spread out. 12:26-12:29
Mr. Snyder and Dr. Bickel both answered, noting that surface contact spread is less prevalent than previously thought. Respiratory spread seems to be stronger.
Mr. Snyder says that 122 Flagler County children have tested positive for Covid 19, a positivity rate of 13%. This is less than the State average of 15%.
Also regarding children, Snyder and Bickel commented that new studies have shown that children are thought to be susceptible to getting Covid 19, but that have half the risk for infection than adults. Also, 80% are asymptomatic. They don't spread the disease as much, especially children under 10 years of age. Therefore, the risks for opening schools are less than what we all once previously may have determined. Experts are indeed promoting that schools stay open, siting this precise new data.
DOH will continue to be transparent and accurate in disseminating information to the entire community. Along with the School District, they are working together on a weekly update procedure to disseminate information every Friday. Plans are now being determined. 12:30-12:34
Mr. Snyder noted that CDC has submitted new guidelines to the public, stating that only those people who have symptoms should be tested for coronavirus. We're not sure locally if this is a good or bad strategy. It's being debated nationwide and we are going to probably need the approval of paper strip testing in the coming months to overcome this challenge of who and who should not be tested.
Mr. Snyder added that once the 14 day quarantine has expired for an individual, DOH continues to follow up with phone calls to determine where and what is happening with the specific person.
Testing is still available to all who wish to be tested. These are the times and locations:
Test sites through Sept. 5:
Flagler County Fairgrounds - M/T/W/Thurs, 9-11:45am. Must have appointment, so call 386-313-4200.
First United Method Church of Bunnell - Wed, 4:30-6pm
Italian American Club - Thurs, 9-10:30am
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church - Fri., 9:30-11am
Church on the Rock - Sat., 9-10:30am
Students and teachers who wish to be tested will have access to tests every Tuesday and Thursday at Buddy Taylor Middle School
According to Dr. Bickel, it is easier to spread COVID-19 indoors rather than outdoors. But this is not an absolute statement. Every situation is different, depending on how many people, whether they are following correct protocols, whether there is shouting, singing or risky behaviors involved. 12:35-12:41
WASTEWATER TESTING DISCUSSION
Via a PowerPoint presentation, City Manager Morton discussed the City's new wastewater testing intiative to help DOH and the Flagler Schools make data driven decisions for enhanced public health and education. Palm Coast's Wastewater division has tested 6 designated geographic areas across the City, targeting sewers in testing zones to find where possible outbreaks for the coronavirus may be found in specific areas that house schools, assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
Mr. Snyder and Dr. Bickel both noted that the DOH uses this information to see if they've missed any cases or possible growing infections in any area. They compare time periods of testing for specific areas and watch trend numbers to get a complete pictures of how we're doing as a whole community. They also target areas where they see trends moving up or down.
Here are some of the results that residents should know: Tests analyzed growing cases of COVID-19 in the F and C sections of the City. Therefore, DOH opened a new testing site at the Italian American Club, located closer to these residential sections. Also, wastewater testing detected positive cases in parts of the W, R & B sections in the City. Thus, an additional testing site will open next week at the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. These are all very useful and encouraging results from our innovative wastewater testing strategy.
Mayor Holland noted that because the City owns our utility department, we were able to swiftly put together this innovative new program, helping our DOH and Flagler Schools isolate areas where the pandemic may be silently spreading. She thanked the entire Utility team for the hard work they've done to implement this program. 12:42-12:55
In closing remarks, Mr. Snyder and Superintendent Mittelstadt stated that all information about COVID-19 will soon be posted every Friday in order to be completely transparent with the community. They also asked for everyone to remain flexible because it is the goal for all stakeholders to keep our workforce and students healthy while we continue to provide a quality education for our children.
Mayor Holland added that the Virtual Town Halls have been a very good resource for our residents to stay updated on COVID 19-related issues. As time goes on, the City will continue with these Town Hall presentations, possibly adding information from all City departments in an altered format.
Finally, Dr. Bickel noted that he wants to add a couple of new references to his reference list each week-to go along with his presentations-so residents will have some new reference material each week to keep them engaged. This will be available on Palm Coast Connect on the Virtual Town Hall page here: https://www.palmcoastconnect.com/s/covid-19-additional-resources. 12:55-1pm