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Palm Coast Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 1 month ago

In 'Uncomfortable Conversations' forum, experts urge masking, community vaccination to protect school students

One local doctor urged the district to reconsider remote learning and a temporary mask requirement.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

This fourth local surge of COVID-19, health department Health Officer Bob Snyder said in a live-streamed forum Aug. 31, isn’t like the three that came before it. 

He gave some numbers: In early July, the county had 60 positive COVID-19 cases. Last Friday, it had 936. Two months ago, it had nine COVID-19 related hospitalizations at AdventHealth Palm Coast. Now, it has 77. Five patients died over the weekend.

"Let's all put aside our personal and our political beliefs and put the group first that we're here for, which is our children."


— PAUL MUCCIOLO, local doctor, urging a reconsideration of remote learning and a temporary school mask requirement

Of the 77 hospitalized now, 64 were unvaccinated — “People whose hospitalizations and cases all could have been prevented,” Snyder said. 

Much of that transmission has been linked to the return of in-person learning at local schools: From July 2 to July 13, Flagler had five pediatric cases. From July 22 to Aug. 31, it had 120.

To protect children — especially those under 12, who can’t be vaccinated — community members should get a vaccine and wear a mask in crowded places where social distancing is not possible, Snyder said. 

“Masks are 80% effective ... in stopping the transmission of the virus,” he said. “The data is quite clear that, yes, wearing a mask is important — such an unobtrusive, less-costly mitigation strategy.”

Snyder had joined local doctors Dr. Paul Mucciolo and Dr. Anthony Tucker, Florida Department of Health Executive Community Health Nursing Director Mark Linde, Flagler Schools Safety Specialist David Bossardet and Flagler County School Board Vice Chairwoman Colleen Conklin for a live-streamed forum about COVID-19 protocols and best practices for limiting the spread of the virus in schools (watch it HERE).

The School Board, with Conklin and board member Cheryl Massaro dissenting, had voted against a proposed school mask requirement in a recent meeting marred by outbursts from the audience.

The state has banned school mask mandates, but that ban has been defied by some districts — including several of Florida’s largest, in South Florida — that have imposed them anyway. That conflict is working through the legal system.

Conklin had organized the Aug. 31 forum as part of a series of events that she’s hosted over Facebook Live, titled “Uncomfortable Conversations.”

Mucciolo had been her opponent in the latest School Board election. But he joined her in emphasizing the importance of masking and vaccination.

As a parent, he said, he’d like to see “a re-exploration of a remote learning option and a temporary mask mandate” at the school district.

“Let’s all put aside our personal and our political beliefs and put the group first that we’re here for, which is our children,” he said. 

He noted that AdventHealth Palm Coast has been at capacity for weeks.

“The last time I was in a hospital that was at capacity was when we had the forest fires and we had to evacuate the nursing homes,” he said. “This is highly unusual, and a tremendous strain on the system.”

The best way to prevent COIVD-19, he said, “is to keep yourself healthy, but also to get your shot, wear your mask … stay away from people.”

Tucker warned of a wave of resignations and early retirements among health care workers, saying he’d considered it himself. 

“The stress of seeing a positive COVID patient who has high viral load in an intensive care unit is intense, and I’m not prepared to leave my children because of that,” he said.

He pushed back on social media misinformation that deems masks useless because the virus is smaller than the gaps between the masks’ fibers. 

“Yes, the viral particles can go straight through — that’s 100% accurate — however, the viral particles are not floating free in the air, they’re floating in your respiratory droplets, and the droplets are larger,” he said.

It’s those droplets that masks are designed to catch. He compared masks to seatbelts: Not 100%, but much better than nothing.  

He also addressed concerns about supposed dangers from vaccines: Yes, it’s possible for people to have reactions, but serious ones are rare, he said. He pointed out that there are 77 patients in the hospital now from COVID-19. Then he asked Snyder how many are hospitalized from the vaccine. 

“Nobody,” Snyder said. 

“Exactly,” Tucker replied.

Without the ability to require masks, the school district has relied on disinfection and attempts to promote social distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. 

The district is improving schools’ HVAC systems so that there’s greater air flow and more air changes per day in school buildings, and using machines to disinfect classrooms and high-touch areas, Bossardet said. 

Contaminated surfaces are a particular risk for young children, who are more likely than adults to touch their faces and stick their fingers in their mouths, Mucciolo noted. 

Conklin noted that vaccinations and mask requirements have been used by the U.S. military, health care industry, airlines, and legislative bodies to protect people from COVID-19, while, meanwhile, parents are demanding “choice and freedom” for their children.

“I would just ask you, if you’re a parent: Are you an epidemiologist? Are you a physician?” Conklin said. “I’m not. I’m a parent, but I’m not an expert in those areas. I’m going to rely on folks like those who joined us on our panel tonight, and those making decisions for the greater good.”

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