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Palm Coast Thursday, Apr. 23, 2020 2 years ago

COVID-19 cases climb — but without straining hospital, Flagler emergency chief says

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Q+A with Jonathan Lord: Will there be demand for more testing in the community as more tests become available?
by: Brian McMillan Contributing Writer

Out of the 79 people who were tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday, April 21, at the Flagler County testing site at Daytona State College, about 23 tested positive, according to Flagler County Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord. Statistically, more like 7 or 8 positives would be expected out of 79 tests, so 23 is a large number, he said, but he is encouraged by the fact that relatively few people who are testing positive also need hospitalization in Flagler County.

"I truly believe that there are hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, in Flagler County who have had or have COVID-19. ... But we’re going to see numbers go up without a corresponding dire strain on our health care system."

JONATHAN LORD, emergency management chief

The 23 positive tests won’t show up in the state’s numbers immediately because the state gathers data from other sources, as well, including AdventHealth’s drive-thru testing at the Daytona International Speedway, the Department of Health-Flagler and other private medical offices that offer testing.

Lord spoke with the Palm Coast Observer on April 23 to talk testing, social distancing and whether, in hindsight, officials have overreacted to COVID-19.

 

What is the significance of the 23 positive tests on Tuesday?

I think it gives us a better reflection that COVID-19 is more readily out there in our community, and it’s not having as much an impact on the health care system. I truly believe that there are hundreds, if not thousands upon thousands, in Flagler County who have had or have COVID-19, and if it’s someone who is healthy, they might have had a cough or had nothing — asymptomatic. But we’re going to see numbers go up without a corresponding dire strain on our health care system.

 

Did we, in hindsight, overreact by shutting down society so severely?

Absolutely not. At that moment in time, emergency managers and public health folks only knew so many things, and we only had so many tools in our toolbox. I wouldn’t have changed my recommendation. I think we did the right thing based on the information up to that point, and we’re going to keep learning more.

The concern initially was that COVID-19 was going to have a horrendous impact on our health care system. In a county that only has one hospital — and some have none, so we are fortunate, but we rely heavily on that single facility — to have that core health care facility be overwhelmed was extremely concerning to us. And that’s why we locked down beaches and parks.

 

How is testing going at the Daytona State College site?

Our site at DSC was set up to test up to 50 people a day. We doubled up on Tuesday because had to cancel for weather on Monday. We decided to cancel tomorrow (April 24) because of the weather.

We have a conglomeration of players to make it possible: Fire Rescue, Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office, DSC staffing and nursing students, Department of Health-Flagler, AdventHealth, a whole host of volunteers from Flagler Volunteer Services. If we any one wasn’t a part fit, we couldn’t pull this off.

I’m so proud of all those players. That was unique to our community. I don’t know of any county that has a systems set up in that fashion. It’s the neatest thing in the world. 

 

Who can be tested at the DSC site?

We officially opened up to any age as of yesterday morning (April 22), with a symptom: cough, fever, shortness of breath. So far, everybody who has asked for an appointment has gotten an appointment.

 

How urgent is to test more people?

We need to keep pushing for more testing. Next week, we’re shutting down on Monday and Tuesday to reconfigure the site. We’re working on an enhanced public private partnership to increase testing. I want to be able to handle at least double what we’re doing now. 

I don’t know that the community has demand for that, but we’ll never know until we offer it and market it and see if they will take us up on it.

 

What can we be doing now?

Those most at risk need to protect themselves. They need to stay at home and access services to get them food and groceries, and everyone else needs to help limit the spread. When they go to a store, customers need to help contain the spread. Everyone should assume that the person next to you has it. Even if you’re young and healthy, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t have a reaction.

 

How long will restrictions stay in place as we become comfortable enough to open businesses?

"You see stores that say, 'No shirt, no shoes, no service.' In my utopian world, we would have the same thing with a clothing face covering: 'Please don’t come in without a cloth face covering.'"

JONATHAN LORD, on safety precautions when the economy reopens

It’s going to be many, many months of maintaining social distancing and wearing cloth face coverings. But if we do that, we can start going to Disney and rebuilding our economy. The private sector can provide handing wash stations and sanitizer.

You see stores that say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” In my utopian world, we would have the same thing with a clothing face covering: “Please don’t come in without a cloth face covering.” 

A month ago it would be odd to ever say anything like that, but I think it’s going to be pervasive throughout the world society for an unknown amount of time.

 

Are you worried that people will too relaxed as the economy reopens?

I really want to drill into our residents and businesses: If you have a weakened immune system, or if you’re 65 and older, you need to be staying home. 

For those that are going out, and as we open up in the coming weeks, we need to make sure that everybody continues to wear face masks and stay at least 6 feet away from people, even with a face mask. It is proven to make a difference. We need to take care of our ourselves but also to take care of everybody.

Brian McMillan was editor of the Palm Coast Observer from 2010 to 2022. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children....

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