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Palm Coast Monday, Jul. 27, 2020 7 months ago

As COVID cases climb, DOH and AdventHealth Palm Coast work to handle logistics

The Agency for Health Care Administration reports one available ICU bed in Palm Coast.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Flagler County’s two highest daily totals for COVID-19 cases occurred in the past two weeks, as cases continue to climb. Meanwhile, AdventHealth Palm Coast is nearly at capacity, after accepting COVID-19 patients from nearby hospitals.

Flagler County had 31 positive cases on July 23, Department of Health-Flagler Public Information Officer Gretchen Smith said on July 24’s “Free For All Friday” on WNZF That number has since been adjusted to 30, according to, but it’s still the second highest total since the pandemic began, after the 40 that were reported on July 18.

The total of cases remains the best measurement for how well the community is doing at slowing the spread, according to DOH Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel.

“We’re not controlling the infection,” he said. “Those 30-40 numbers are not good.”

Bickel also praised the hospital’s work during the pandemic.

“I don’t know if people appreciate what an unbelievable logistical problem this is for our hospital,” he said. “This is beyond a perfect storm.”

Smith said the DOH-Flagler is tracing 500 people who were close with individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. Additional staff is being added, and some staff could be moving out of the DOH building on Dr. Carter Boulevard in Bunnell and relocating to a county building at the Flagler Executive Airport.

Meanwhile, DOH-Flagler has already distributed 130,000 masks funded by the state, and there is another shipment of 67,000 on its way.


Hospital capacity

The hospital has had to retrain staff members, deal with financial stresses and manage personal protective equipment.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” Bickel said. “We need to take the pressure off them, basically,” by doing what we can to stop the spread: wash hands, social distance, wear masks.

Wally D’Aquino, chief operating officer for AdventHealth Palm Coast, shared some good news, which is that the number of hospitalized patients seems to have hit a “plateau.”

He declined to say how many patients are on ventilators or are being treated for COVID-19, but the Agency for Health Care Administration reports that as of July 27, there was just one available bed in the adult intensive care unit, out of 18 total ICU beds.

D’Aquino said AdventHealth Palm Coast has other rooms that can be used as ICU rooms, so the capacity is actually higher than 18.

“In preparation for the surge back in March and April, we did some intensive work internally, so that we have more capacity,” D’Aquino said.

AHCA also reported that there were eight beds available out of 99 total in the hospital, or 8%. Meanwhile, Volusia County hospitals in aggregate have 550 beds available out of 1,572, or 35%.

Still, D’Aquino said some patients were transferred to Palm Coast from Volusia County hospitals because “we felt it would be safer and would make it easier for staffing purposes, or to have capacity in rooms.” The goal is to stay ahead of the problem so “patients didn’t have to be held in the [Emergency Department] for too many hours.”

D’Aquino added that there are more than 30 ventilators not being used in Palm Coast, so capacity is sufficient.


Average age

The average age for COVID-19 infections has been going down. Statewide, the average age is in the low 40s. In Flagler County, the average age has been between 38 and 45 in five of the past seven days.


Rapid test

Bickel is hopeful that a rapid test for COVID-19 can be developed in the next few months. It would test “some saliva on a strip,” he said, and if it’s positive for COVID-19, the strip would change color, similar to the concept of a pregnancy test.

Although the test would be less accurate at catching mild cases than current tests, the test would still be useful if used widely because more cases would be identified due to the ease of testing. That means more close contacts of positive patients would be identified as well, and they could be screened.

The new tests could be “potentially a real game-changer,” Bickel said.

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