'I'm asking the community to just comply. Give us a few more weeks, and hopefully this will be gone and we can come back to normal,' Sheriff Rick Staly said.
People violating Flagler County's emergency orders on COVID-19 could face fines and jail time, Flagler County officials warned in a press conference broadcast over Zoom and Facebook Live on March 30.
"As individuals or groups continue to ignore government health guidance and government orders, we are put in the uncomfortable position of having to increases restrictions in order to protect our community."
— JONATHAN LORD, Flagler County Emergency Management director
"We are concerned that we do have people call here and say they’re not going to go by the provisions we’ve put out. We have some asking what the penalty will be," County Administrator Jerry Cameron said. "This is totally irresponsible, and the irresponsibility puts not only their own lives but the lives of innocent people in jeopardy. This virus, if you contract it, it can be deadly in a very short period of time. So we’re going to have no choice but to — in cases where education didn’t work — to start citing."
The potential penalty is a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
"That is pretty strong," Cameron said. "But if you’re going to intentionally cause this virus to carry on in our county, and you’re going to intentionally expose other people to it because you think you’re somehow beyond these provisions that we put out, then we're going to have to take those measures."
Residents can also limit the virus' spread by following CDC guidance, Flagler County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord said.
That means staying at least 6 feet away from others — including while shopping, and in store checkout lines — cleaning hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, and covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or the inside of your elbow, then immediately washing your hands, he said.
Staly warns violators
Sheriff Rick Staly, in a Facebook Live video briefing earlier in the day, said some people had posted on social media about violating the emergency order closing the beaches. He showed two such Facebook posts. "We see you, and we don't appreciate it," he said. "Your actions cause others to not take this pandemic seriously, and requires our deputies to respond to citizen complaints on your behavior."
"You don’t know where it is; you don’t know who has it; you don’t know what surface it’s on. So we must do the social distancing; we must comply with these orders."
— RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff
He noted during the press conference that the agency has now been educating people for more than three weeks, and still is seeing some violators, although most people are following the orders.
"We want this community to get well soon, like you do, and COVID-19 to be gone out of this state and out of this country," Staly said. "And that can not happen if you think this invisible enemy won’t get you. You don’t know where it is; you don’t know who has it; you don’t know what surface it’s on. So we must do the social distancing; we must comply with these orders. And I'm asking the community to just comply. Give us a few more weeks, and hopefully this will be gone and we can come back to normal."
Testing, health precautions emphasized
As of the afternoon of March 30, Florida had 5,473 known cases fo COVID-19, with 654 people hospitalized and 63 deaths, and the virus' known mortality rate in the state was about 1.5%, Florida Department of Health in Flagler County Administrator Bob Snyder said during the press conference.
Flagler County had 13 known positive cases, including one non-county resident, and 178 people under investigation (165 had tested negative). One person has been hospitalized. The percentage of people tested who were found to be positive is 7% in Flagler County, lower than the state's average of 10%, he said. The state tracks cases on its website, HERE.
"So Flagler County residents, our goal still remains the same: To stifle the virus spread from person to person," Snyder said.
That means containment and mitigation, Snyder said. "The next weapon in our fight is testing, testing and testing, to determine the extent of community spread and the action required," he said.
With the number of tests limited, the Department of Health has prioritized people who meet certain criteria: a fever of 100.4, fever, coughing and shortness of breath; people who are hospitalized, in a nursing home, or in a longterm care facility; health care workers; first responders; people over 65 with certain underlying conditions; people who are immunosuppressed; and people who have clinical symptoms and were exposed to someone who tested positive.
Snyder noted that one lab has developed a test that produces results in minutes, and is manufacturing 50,000 a day.
"This will be a game-changer, nationally and locally," he said. Antiviral medications are also in trial, including hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin, and Gov. Ron DeDantis has asked that those medications be made available to hard-hit counties in South Florida, Snyder said.
For now, Lord said, people who believe they have COVID-19 symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — should contact their regular health care provider, and, if they don't have one, an urgent care center or the Florida Department of Health for assistance and possible testing. They should also immediately self-isolate, should wear a face mask when interacting with others, and should disinfect frequently touched surfaces like phones, countertops and doorknobs at least daily, he said.
Executive orders address travelers
Flagler County on March 30 passed two emergency orders mirroring recent executive orders by the state that require visitors from COVID-19 hot spots — including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana — to self-quarantine for 14 days if they come to Florida, and to notify people in Florida that they had traveled from an area with major community spread, Lord said.
The county emergency order also suspends vacation rentals and requires other lodging facilities, like hotels and timeshares, to maintain a record of visitors from those areas and to provide all guests from those locations with a copy of the emergency order.
"We are well aware that all of these restrictions are having direct economic impacts on our businesses and workforce, and are working with our partners to share available local state and federal resources to those impacted," Lord said. "We are also encouraging open businesses, including restaurants, to share their statuses though our Flagler Open 4 Biz website so that residents can see that they are open for business." (See http://flagleropen4.biz.)
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the orders issued by the county are emergency orders, while the ones issued by the state are executive orders.