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Palm Coast Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2020 4 weeks ago

The latest on COVID-19: A Q+A with Bob Snyder, DOH-Flagler health officer

The current spike has been traced to school reopenings, long term care facilities, and the county's first 'super-spreader' event — a karaoke night at a local social club.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

After months of a dropping COVID-19 positivity rate, Flagler County has experienced a spike that the Health Department has traced to three sources: School reopenings, an increase in cases at long term care facilities, and the county's first super-spreader event — a karaoke night at the Social Club of Palm Coast on Aug. 28 that was the source of dozens COVID-19 infections including two deaths and a few hospitalizations.

Bob Snyder, health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County, shared with the Palm Coast Observer his thoughts on how Flagler County is faring and what we can expect as more rapid testing kits make their way into the community.

I understand we've been having a spike. How is Flagler County doing right now in terms of COVID-19?

"This is what happens when individuals are complacent and not careful about social distancing and wearing masks: The result is passing on the virus from one person to another."


— BOB SNYDER, health officer, Florida Department of Health-Flagler

So, I did report some sobering news, but at the same time positive news, two weeks ago at the County Commission meeting when I reported the National Geographic analysis stating that of all the counties in the state of Florida, we had the lowest case rate per 10,000 people. 

Now we have the second lowest case rate per 10,000, with Brevard County being below us. Comparatively speaking, we are doing well in contrast to other counties in the state.

It is true that for the last three or four weeks, we have experienced a spike in the county ... by the results of about seven or eight indicators we have been tracking. The positivity rate, the increase in cases, the increase in COVID-like symptoms for ER visits, hospitalizations — these things have been tracking higher than usual for the last three, four weeks.

Can you talk about the reasons for the spike?

We have identified three reasons for that. We have experienced positive cases related to students and staff in school, and that has resulted in individuals being isolated and classrooms being quarantined for a 14-day period. Things seem to have settled down a bit last week at school compared to the first three weeks.

The second reason for the spike has to do with an uptick in our long term care facilities, particularly ... Grand Oaks and Tuscan Gardens. As of today, Tuscan Gardens has four residents who have tested positive and are in isolation, but zero staff. At Grand Oaks, the number has decreased from 18 residents to zero residents who are positive and 13 staff that are positive as of today. ... Things seem to be under control there at the moment.

The third reason for the uptick that we experienced relates to private social clubs in Flagler County. Numerous positive cases, including two deaths, traced back to a super-spreader event that occurred at the [Social Club of Palm Coast] on Aug. 28. 

... When we sing, shout, scream, talk — the virus is carried by airborne droplets and aerosol, and our mouths and our noses are not covered with a mask, that is how it is spread. The science is very clear on this from studies emanating from Europe, Asia and the United States. 

From what I can tell, this is our very first super-spreader event.

So, this is what happens when individuals are complacent and not careful about social distancing and wearing masks: The result is passing on the virus from one person to another. 

What about the changes in policies at nursing homes and long term care facilities?

It is still federal regulation that nursing homes continue to test their staff members, but the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration did announce that assisted living facilities would no longer need to test their staff every two weeks. 

But what is happening with both nursing homes and assisted living facilities is that they are going to be receiving the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid point of care diagnostic test. 

We know now that our two nursing homes in town — Flagler Rehabilitation and Grand Oaks, and four of our assisted living facilities — have received their shipment of rapid tests. 

The change in policy regarding visitation —  I’m expecting that visitors will be screened and will be asked to don a mask and to social distance, but the main issue is making sure that everyone adheres to wearing a mask. 

And you mentioned that schools are trending down again. Do you know why that might be?

I believe that everyone has gotten the message about the importance of social distancing and mask wearing. People are taking this very seriously, so I would imagine that that has a lot to do with it.

Is it true that when there's a COVID-19 case in the younger grades, the whole class has to quarantine?

It totally depends on our contact tracing, which classes get quarantined, and which ones don’t. It depends on the level of exposure, the number of people exposed. 

But we can say that the younger classes — kindergarten, first grade, second grade — those are more likely to be quarantined because it’s harder for the younger classes to keep the masks one. So to play it safe, it's the younger classes that usually get sent home to quarantine. 

And you've also mentioned that rapid tests are starting to become available?

Two of our nursing homes and four of our assisted living facilities have received, or soon will receive, the Abbott rapid testing kits, which will provide COVID-19 results in 20 minutes. 

This is welcome technology. This is great for community testing. ... Getting test results so quickly can result in intervention that can be taken quickly — such as isolation, quarantining, infection control, assessment, review and identifying opportunities for improvement.

And also, 150 million Abbott rapid testing kits are being manufactured and will be ready for distribution by Oct. 1, and the state of Florida does anticipate distributing hundreds of the rapid test devices to health departments and others in the state. So we can not wait to start using this technology in a very broad way.

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