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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Aug. 4, 202103:45 PM EST

Leaders: Get the COVID-19 vaccine

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Mayor Lenny Curry says he will not resume a mask mandate or require city workers to get the shot amid the virus surge.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, mayors of Duval County’s three Beaches communities and area health representatives held a joint virtual news conference Aug. 4 urging people to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

The messaging comes as Northeast Florida has become a COVID-19 hotspot in recent weeks caused by what health officials call the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.

The conference included Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown; Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser; Jacksonville Beach Mayor Chris Hoffman; 4th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Charlie Cofer; and Avecina Medical President and CEO Dr. Saman Soleymani. 

Curry said area health care CEOs and medical professionals are reporting nearly 99% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 since the Delta surge are unvaccinated.

“The recent increase in hospitalizations that’s causing strain on our healthcare systems is almost exclusively among unvaccinated individuals,” Curry said. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point.”

Curry said more than 15,000 people in Duval County have received COVID-19 shots since his July 21 news conference with local health care leaders and called the vaccines “the best tool” to relieve strain on the hospitals and end the pandemic.

He cited federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that 50% of those eligible in Duval County are fully vaccinated.

Glasser urged any unvaccinated first responders to get their shot. 

Hoffman said she respects people’s personal freedoms, but her choice to get vaccinated was for her own health and the health of others. 

“I chose to make sure that I was not going to be the cause of a hospital bed, ventilator or oxygen tank being taken away from someone who did not have that choice and I encourage you to do the same,” Hoffman said.

Curry said he has no plans for economic shutdowns or to reinstitute the countywide face mask mandate he had in place from June 29, 2020 through mid-March before all people over the age of 12 were eligible for the vaccine.

“People need to be able to go to work, people need to be able to go to school, they need to be able to live their lives,” Curry said. “And in my opinion, they ought to be vaccinated.” 

Curry also said he does not plan to mandate the city’s roughly 8,000 employees get vaccinated and does not know how many city workers have received it.

Rules return 

Some local government agencies are resurrecting COVID-19 protocols. 

Officials at the city-owned electric and water utility JEA announced July 28 it reimplemented its face mask mandate for employees and customers entering its Downtown offices. 

The utility also plans a free community COVID-19 vaccine clinic Aug. 5 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to honor its board member and UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr. who died July 24 in a personal watercraft accident.

Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com reported that the Duval County School Board voted 5-2 on Aug. 3 to require face masks for students to start the 2021-22 school year with an option for parents to opt out of the policy.

The district’s decision came after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order to prohibit Florida public school districts from requiring students to wear masks.

Cofer said, despite COVID-19 safety measures to keep local courts operating in the past 17 months, there are more than 51% more felony cases pending than before the start of the pandemic.

On July 29, officials in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties courthouses also returned to requiring face masks and practicing social distancing. 

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Chief Judge Timothy Corrigan amended the COVID-19 rules regarding federal courthouses in the district July 30 to require mandatory health screening before entry and use of face masks while inside the building.

The numbers

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 11,515 statewide were confirmed hospitalized on Aug. 3 with COVID-19 and confirmed 17,001 cases. 

The organization, which represents more than 200 hospitals and health systems in Florida, says that’s 113% of the previous pandemic hospitalization peak on July 23, 2020. 

According to News4Jax.com, the state Agency for Health Care Administration no longer provides data on COVID-19 hospitalizations to the public.

The hospital association reports Florida hospitals had 84% of inpatient beds and 86.5% of ICU beds full on Aug. 3.

In Northeast Florida, Baptist Health reported Aug. 4 that 518 patients are admitted with COVID-19 throughout its health system with 102 in the ICU; 15 of those are at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. 

In a tweet, Baptist reports 86 new COVID-19 positive patients admitted Aug.3. Of those, six were children.

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