'What about the rights of the rest of us, who you’re putting at risk?' Health Officer Bob Snyder says to those who can be vaccinated but refuse.
Editor's Note: This story has been changed to reflect the time frame of the seven deaths. The original story was unclear but suggested that the deaths occurred on Aug. 17.
Ninety-two people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Aug. 17, and seven have died since Aug. 12, according to Department of Health-Flagler Health Officer Bob Snyder. The previous afternoon, more than 200 people arrived at the DOH to be tested for COVID-19 — double the average daily tests of the previous week, thanks to the beginning of school.
In short, the coronavirus is continuing to run rampant in Flagler County. The testing operation will likely be moving back to Cattleman’s Hall at the fairgrounds soon.
The demand for more testing is frustrating for Snyder; he would rather be vaccinating people than merely testing them.
He gets emails regularly from people who say they want the freedom to not get vaccinated.
“What about the rights of the rest of us, who you’re putting at risk?” Snyder said in an interview in his office, next to a window that gave a view of the crowded parking lot. “Your decision is negatively impacting mankind and the rest of society. You don’t have a right to do that. Sorry.”
Despite the DOH increasing staff from 56 before the pandemic to 120 now, Snyder is still understaffed. He is paying retired nurses $35 per hour on a per diem basis and is looking for more; he’s also asking the state for 10 additional employees.
Among the employees are eight who are assigned to contact tracing, or investigating where the virus is spreading. They are busy with cases from Flagler Schools.
Contact tracing at schools
The protocol for contact tracing among students is as follows:
When a student tests positive, contact tracers interview the patient and identify others who have been in close contact with the positive patient. Those close contacts — including friends or staff members — are then told that they need to quarantine for seven days. If they get tested — for free — at the health department after four days, and they test negative, the close contacts can go back to normal life. If they prefer not to get tested, they must wait the full seven days before returning to school. Those who test positive must quarantine for 10 days.
For the schools to recognize COVID tests, they must be performed by the health department, Snyder said, because that way the cases and tests can be documented properly. The health department uses rapid tests, with results in 15 minutes.
Students or staff who are informed they need to quarantine are not told the identity of the infected person, due to patient privacy laws.
One parent, Jessica Bowman, recently objected to that process at Indian Trails Middle School. Her son was told to quarantine due to close contact with a positive case.
Bowman wrote to the school district: “There is no legal precedent for my son to be refused his public school in-person education. My son was falsely placed on some list of unknown and unconfirmed origin by the bureaucracy in the health department that refuses to tell me when or where my son was exposed to covid.”
Bowman threatened to take legal action.
Assisted living employees
Most health care facilities — including the health department, which answers to Gov. Ron DeSantis — have no vaccine mandate for employees. That puts patients and the most vulnerable populations at risk, Snyder said.
At assisted living facilities in particular, "staff and contracted staff are bringing the virus into the facility, into memory care units," he said. "There is an oath: 'Do no harm.' You chose health care as a field, and to me, 'do no harm' means, if you're passing medications to the elderly, turning them, feeding them, transporting them, you're nose to nose with them — you're putting them in jeopardy."