Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron in an April 20 County Commission meeting accused local online news service FlaglerLive.com and its editor, Pierre Tristam, of "misrepresentation" for criticizing a county news release that — misleadingly, according to FlaglerLive — had touted a significant increase in COVID-19 testing without a significant increase in positive cases.
"For people to be irresponsible enough to try to destroy trust in the people that are managing this crisis is just unconscionable."
— JERRY CAMERON, Flagler County administrator
The April 17 county news release was headlined, “Local test increases significantly, number of positive cases does not,” and stated, “Testing has increased by 75% over the past week. The positive number of cases increased from 45 on Monday to 52 on Friday.”
The FlaglerLive story said that the county had “falsely” claimed a significant testing increase. The story called the news release’s headline “misleading at best, and its contents outright false in some regards.”
“What’s inexplicable is why the county would feel compelled to even go down the road of triumphal claims like that, which have nothing to do with crisis management and everything to do with inappropriate chest-thumping,” Tristam said in an email to the Observer after the meeting.
COVID TESTS, COVID CASES
There’s often a multi-day lag between when COVID-19 tests are conducted and when the results come back. That means a county might perform a big batch of tests between Monday and Friday of a given week and report only a few more positive cases that week, because the results of that big batch of recent tests haven’t been received yet.
"The only person being irresponsible if not slanderous here is Cameron, and the only person to blame for the county’s shoddy credibility—and boy, is it getting shoddier with its latest responses—is Cameron."
— PIERRE TRISTAM, FlaglerLive editor
That, the FlaglerLive story noted, appeared to be what happened in Flagler: Over the weekend following the county news release, the number of positive cases rose in Flagler from 52 to 75.
Cameron, speaking during the meeting, didn’t address the increase in positive cases.
He didn’t name FlaglerLive or Tristam, but in response to comments by Commissioner Charlie Ericksen and Emergency Manager Jonathan Lord about the FlaglerLive story, he criticized “pseudo-media outlets, bloggers,” saying that the numbers the county had released were “immediately from the state’s health department website.”
He added, “For people to be irresponsible enough to try to destroy trust in the people that are managing this crisis is just unconscionable.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins — who insults FlaglerLive and its editor multiple times a week, and sometimes multiple times a day, on Facebook — said, “When this settles down, we need to probably have some conversation what we consider media or not.”
But Cameron’s statement that the county had simply been releasing numbers from the Health Department website didn’t match up with what was stated in the news release, which used figures at odds with the Health Department website’s.
The county’s news release had also confusingly mixed time frames. For the news release, the county had used the time frame of April 13-17 to calculate its increase in positive test results — from 45 to 52, which would be approximately a 16% increase.
But, county Public Information Officer Julie Murphy clarified when asked, the county had used the time frame of April 9-17 to calculate the 75% increase in testing. (On April 9, according to Murphy, the county knew of 36 positive COVID-19 cases — so had the April 9-17 time frame been used for positive test results, the increase in positive cases would have been approximately 44%, not 16%.)
There were also other inconsistencies. The county had used a starting number of 495 people tested as of April 9, and an ending number of 871 people tested as of April 17, to calculate the testing increase. But the state had reported — in numbers the county had reposted on its official Facebook page — the completion of 495 tests on the morning of April 8. As of the morning of April 9, the state was reporting that 532 tests had already been performed in Flagler County.
Those details weren’t discussed during the commission meeting.
“The Monday response was pathetic,” Tristam said. “It reasserts their willingness to be deceptive and not correct mistakes.”