The importance of getting information to the public on the exponential increase in positive COVID-19 virus cases and helping the public understand the many issues involved was addressed Wednesday.
Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, director of the county health department, began a meeting of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners by directing them, and the public, to data at floridahealthcovid19.gov, which is updated daily.
The “Summary for Nassau County,” as of July 7, showed 19 cases reported for that day, and 346 total cases made up of 331 Nassau County residents and 15 non-residents. The median age of the victims testing positive for the COVID-19 virus was 40 years old. Also displayed were the age and sex of those reported. The hospitalizations from the beginning of the pandemic to the present day is 26. As of July 7, there were eight individuals hospitalized, seven in Baptist Medical Center Nassau and one in a Jacksonville hospital.
The number of novel coronavirus tests reported was listed along with the number of negative and positive results and the calculation of the percentage of positivity. The county’s positivity rate has increased from the beginning of monitoring statistics to over 9% currently.
Ngo-Seidel then went to the page entitled “Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard” (from the same website) giving the Florida’s statewide results. There is a separate page dedicated to testing and another page that gives information based on ZIP codes. Ngo-Seidel noted that there is a lag in identifying cases after an action is taken such as the city and county requiring the use of facemasks or coverings when people cannot social distance. Those orders went into effect last week.
Contract tracing was the next topic discussed. Ngo-Seidel displayed a web page from the Florida Department of Health entitled “Contract Tracing Can Contain COVID-19”: https://bit.ly/2ZSryfM.
“What contract tracing tries to do is limit the spread of disease, but by itself it cannot control the spread,” she said. “We have to do the other things, (like) the phased reopening. That is what we are under right now. As our cases increase, the effectiveness of contract tracing goes down. A lot of people have different misperceptions of what it is. It is a way to find and control the disease spread, to identify who has been exposed, and who was ill, and who needs to be isolated because they can spread the disease.”
Referring to the chart, Ngo-Seidel continued: “The chart illustrates that home isolation and at-home care for 14 days is what most people need. The method is to isolate in one room and have sole use of a bathroom, if possible. Keep track of your symptoms. Get rest and stay hydrated. Ask your health care provider about pain and fever medication. Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for at home care. ... A contact tracer will ask, ‘Who have you been in contact with over the last 2 weeks?’ If these contacts show symptoms, they must self-isolate at home for 14 days. If their symptoms get worse, they will probably be tested. These contacts may be asked about their contacts. Any missed contacts could spread COVID-19 to other people. To slow the spread of COVID-19, contact tracers will try to find these contacts.
“Some people with COVID-19 have no apparent symptoms; however, this contact will also be asked to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet between themselves and others, and keeping track of possible symptoms such as fever cough and shortness of breath.
“Not everybody can stay home for 14 days without a paycheck,” Ngo-Seidel said. “We have had some situations where we’ve had help and we have some great partners. Our program has provided concrete needs, food delivery, and helped people get the resources that they may need. Meals have been delivered for people as well.
“If you are told that you have COVID, you need to identify your contacts; however, it may take us a while to follow up, so be proactive. If you are told that you have COVID, please contact your contacts and let them know they need to start to quarantine. Additionally, if you’re told that you’re a contact, don’t wait for the public health department to reach you. It may take a while because of the massive workload that we are under right now. Be proactive and do the things that you need to do – staying
home, social distancing and practicing all the things that we talked about.
“It is not about the places you have been. It is about who you’ve been around, and most of the exposures that we’re seeing are at work and at home settings and rarely in gatherings.
“One in five people do not have any idea where they got infected, but a good number of people say, ‘I know how I was exposed,’ and it’s usually a work or home setting. At this time, we have 12 staff trained to do contact tracing. We also have four or five additional people that are under contract through the state and we’re expecting to get more personnel. The recommendation for our population is approximately 25 contact tracers.”
In relation to testing, Ngo-Seidel said her department uses Nassau County Emergency Management as a single point of contact and they distribute the information on testing.
County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin asked about the antigen and antibody tests.
“The antibody test tells you whether you may have had it in the past; however, the problem is (that) it’s not specific, as there may be other viruses involved that cross react with it. We will count the PCR test as a COVID case and the antigen test as a COVID case,” Ngo-Seidel responded.
A question came up about follow-up monitoring. Ngo-Seidel said if her contact tracers are concerned about not hearing from a person, they might make a home visit, and if a person is non-compliant, we then “may have to move into a non-voluntary situation.”
Ngo-Seidel said the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which can cause a disease called COVID-19, can be spread two days prior to getting symptoms. But many people who have the virus develop no symptoms at all, referred to as “asymptomatic,” and spread the virus without realizing they are infected. Others may have a mild case.
Asked about how close contact is defined, she said being within six feet for 15 to 20 minutes and oftentimes in an enclosed space. Ngo-Seidel added there are different kinds of masks for different situations. There may be some people who cannot wear a mask, but for the vast majority, this is a protective measure, mostly for the people around us. She suggests caution.
The board unanimously approved extending the local state of emergency for another week, rescheduling their Monday, Aug. 10 meeting, and rescheduling a beach ordinance meeting from July 27 to July 28. The proposed beach ordinance would be the sole item on the agenda.
BOCC Chairman Danny Leeper stated there has been a lot of discussion about the closed grass parking lot at American Beach. He asked Mullin if he could look at possibly opening the lot on weekdays. Mullin stated he would look into it.
Leeper then reported a Nassau County employee has teamed up with a group of veterans who are going to be rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. He said he would like to bring the group in for a proclamation and help get the word out for donations. The four men involved are Billy Cimino, Cameron Hansen, A.M. “Hupp” Huppmann, and Paul Lore.
Leeper asked if Mullin would want to go along with them. Mullin then suggested that some of the commissioners might want to row with them.
Leeper called on Gil Langley, president and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, to share news on the tourist front.
Langley said they are continuing daily surveys of more than 300 lodging properties and turning the information over to the county and the local health department. They have also distributed more than 2,000 facemasks and developed employee and public education materials. Langley said they have completed over 200 social separation kits for small businesses that include floor stickers, a tape measure and instructions on how to enforce social separation within their businesses.
Langley then spoke about Amelia Island tourism marketing and advertising programs, saying he understands commissioners are getting “calls about why we are still promoting our destination when we still have the pandemic going on.” He said that on March 12 all advertising that could be pulled was pulled, but “on May 25, right before the Memorial Day weekend, we lost some social marketing and then began to ramp up our program as restaurants and bars were allowed open and the beach had more access.
“On June 22nd, we could tell that we were going to have some issues, so we stopped all social media paid advertising and continued to monitor Facebook and Instagram and respond to
questions from people, but we pulled all our advertising at that point.
“On July 3rd, we knew that the Fourth of July weekend was going to be difficult.” Langley reported that over the July 4 weekend there was a 60% occupancy rate at area hotels. “We ordered all advertising pulled in any shape, form or fashion. The only thing that has continued to run, because it was contracted, was some of the TV ads that have been running in the Jacksonville market and that should be done by (July 8).
“The result is that we pulled over $525,000 out of the market and as we explained to you in April, our plan was to segment our buys so we could cancel at any point in time. We thought it was in the best interest of the county that we pull that advertising and continue to interact with our customers if they have questions, but not be out there actively soliciting additional business.
“We think the next three quarters are going to be difficult and we are now seeing that we don’t see recovery in the tourism industry until the second quarter of next year. It will be a difficult time. We’ve revised our projections on budget bed tax collections for the year. “As you know, our original budget was $7.5 million. We now expect collections to come to about $4.5 million, so it will be $3 million less than what was budgeted. Our hotels are having challenging times, as well as restaurants and bars. We had 19 restaurants closed over the Fourth of July weekend. We started to see some layoffs in the hospitality industry. I want to make sure you have the latest information: That we are not advertising, we have pulled all the advertising, and plan not to do any advertising until the next fiscal year.”