Jenkins: Need better Covid statistics

Martin County Commission Chair Harold Jenkins offers solution

After six hours of public comment during last week’s Covid-19 meeting, Martin County Commission Chair Harold Jenkins’ call for more accurate statistics got buried under the commission’s own face-mask debate on July 2.

Prior to adjourning the meeting at 8 p.m., however, Jenkins again insisted that local hospital officials provide daily Covid-19 data to the county, either voluntarily or through an emergency order.

“In order to make good decisions,” he said, “we need good statistics, and, right now, we don’t have them.”

Jenkins’ demand for an expanded source of data likely will dominate the special commission meeting Tuesday afternoon, July 7, at 1:30 p.m. in the Blake Library, since the commissioners already seem close to a decision on a county mandate to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible.

Their own multi-hour debate last week was less about a potential face-mask mandate than it was the punishment – or non-punishment – for not complying with a face-mask order, as well as assignment of enforcement responsibility.

A county ordinance that will add a separate face-mask enforcement component to its emergency operations code will eliminate the possibility of a criminal conviction, which will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting. A criminal misdemeanor charge is required for non-compliance of local emergency orders under the governor’ emergency order, which could result in a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days’ jail time.

Three commissioners were adamantly opposed to a criminal charge – Commissioners Doug Smith, Stacey Hetherington and Jenkins – thus the vote to approve a face-mask mandate was defeated. In order to approve a rewrite of the county’s emergency operations ordinance at Tuesday’s vote, four of the five commissioners will need to approve it.

Jenkins’ frustration with the way both the state Health Department and the Cleveland Clinic Martin Health System report Covid statistics was evident during last week’s meeting.

The health department’s statistics give cumulative numbers that lag about two weeks behind real-time data, Jenkins observed. They also do not identify repeat testing by individuals, although a doctor often will order repeat testing to verify either positive or negative results.

The hospital’s test results of admitted patients are logged, so repeat testing does not result in repetitive reports; however, their drive-thru testing results are not logged and their numbers include the Tradition campus in St. Lucie County.

“I just don’t feel comfortable making decisions that affect everyone in Martin County without a better sense of what’s actually happening here,” Jenkins said.

He characterized the medical community’s call for an immediate face-mask mandate a “hair-on-fire” approach to the commission at the same time the hospital still is performing elective surgeries, which he questioned as an apparent dichotomy.

He suggested to the commission, prior to the face-mask discussion, that it adopt an order similar to Miami-Dade County’s requiring daily data from local hospitals. The Miami-Dade emergency order includes a daily hospital report at 10:15 a.m. and 7:15 p.m. of the following:

1. An inventory of general acute care beds (excluding obstetrics, pediatrics, or special/rehabilitation).
2. An inventory of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.
3. Total number of unused beds that could be converted to ICU beds.
4. Total number of ventilators on standby.
5. Total number of respirators and/or anesthesia machines that can be converted to ventilators.
6. Total Covid-19 patients admitted.
7. Covid-19 positive patients in ICU beds.
8. Covid-19 positive patients in non-ICU beds.
9. Covid-19 patients currently on a ventilator.
10. New Covid-19 patients admitted since the prior day’s reporting.
11. Covid-19 patients discharged since the prior day’s reporting.
12. No individual patient information will be disclosed, and the hospital’s trade secrets will be protected, according to state law.

After reading Miami-Dade’s order aloud, Jenkins added, “I don’t think this is too much to ask.”

Since no discussion followed, however, Jenkins asked that the county attorney prepare an order for the commission’s July 7 meeting. County staff will meet with hospital officials in the meantime possibly to preclude the necessity for an order.

The morning portion of the July 7 meeting is a workshop devoted to options for addressing flood issues in Hobe Heights in Hobe Sound, including the possible purchase of 11 homes. The commission also will consider an ordinance requiring landlords to inform tenants of flood risks to their properties.

The workshop begins at 9 a.m. in the Blake Library and will be live-streamed. Public comment is available in person or on Zoom, but emails will no longer be read. They will, however, become part of the permanent record.