Mayor, healthcare leaders give update as new COVID-19 cases surge in Duval County

DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and healthcare leaders are urging people once again to get vaccinated.

This comes as Duval County is seeing a surge in new COVID-19 cases and record numbers of hospitalizations with the virus, overloading hospitals.

RELATED: Doctors call highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 worst yet

Curry, alongside numerous Jacksonville medical leaders, held a virtual news conference on Wednesday to discuss how the city plans to respond to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and the local vaccination rate.

STORY: Local mother is asking others to reconsider getting vaccinated after her near-death experience

Below is a list of the healthcare leaders who were in attendance virtually:

  • Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO – UF Health Jacksonville
  • Dr. Kent Thielen, CEO – Mayo Clinic in Florida
  • Michael Mayo, President & CEO – Baptist Health
  • Dr. Timothy Groover, Chief Medical Officer – Baptist Health
  • Tom VanOsdol, President & CEO, Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast
  • Doug Baer, President & CEO – Brooks Rehabilitation
  • Dr. Sunil Joshi, President – Duval County Medical Society Foundation
  • Capt. David Barrows, Executive Officer – Naval Hospital Jacksonville
  • Steven Woodard, Director – Emergency Preparedness Division

Groover is asking people to keep an open mind when it comes to getting vaccinated because of the COVID-19 trends they are seeing at Baptist Health hospitals.

He said they’ve noticed the COVID-19 patients they’re seeing are younger and getting sicker from the virus quicker.

READ: Unvaccinated Jacksonville dad hospitalized for COVID-19, warns others to take virus seriously

Groover provided the numbers to back that up; at Baptist, he said, 44 percent of cases are now in people 40 years or younger and 69 percent of the COVID-19 cases they’re seeing are from the Delta variant.

“We are seeing hospitalizations for this virus here in Jacksonville at a level we have not seen since the height of the pandemic last year. We have a better solution is go around, a solution that prevents severe illness and death, and that is the vaccine,” Curry said.

READ: Study suggests Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be less effective against Delta variant

Curry said Wednesday nothing is more important than saving lives. Some may think that means a mask mandate needs to be reinstated, but Curry said “restricting people’s freedom” is not the answer.

Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole: “For all of the citizens of Jacksonville watching now, can you tell them, at least three things that you are going to do to keep citizens safe? If there are not going to be any restrictions put in place?”

Curry: “We have, I believe, 800 people hospitalized right now in our city. And that’s a heavy load, with COVID that is, and that’s a heavy load on doctors, nurses, all of our healthcare workers. There’s 1 million people in the city though and a number of those million people have been vaccinated. So the answer to keeping people safe, to alleviating and mitigating the workload at our hospitals, is to get the vaccine.”

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While Curry made it clear he has no plans to put a mask mandate in place again, leaders from local hospitals are still recommending that you mask up and keep hand sanitizer handy.

“The data shows that nearly all patients are suffering severe symptoms from this virus, in our hospitals, right now, are not vaccinated,” Curry said.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the level of transmission of the virus is high. Cases in Duval County are up to 4,438 and new hospital admissions countywide are also up by 52%.

READ: Looking for a COVID vaccine? “Wellness on Wheels” offers free shots in Jacksonville communities

“In the United States, more than 609,000 people have died due to COVID-19. Think about that. I don’t mean to be morbid, but if you line up that many people from head to toe, they were stretch from Jacksonville to Miami and halfway back,” Groover said.

Cole asked the mayor if kids should be required to wear masks when they go back to school, he said he doesn’t want to see kids masked up for another year.

UF Health, Baptist, Ascension and the Naval Hospital have all put visitation restrictions in place. When it comes to elective surgeries, UF Health, Baptist and Naval Hospital Jacksonville are determining if they need to be canceled on a case-by-case basis.

READ: Surge in new cases of COVID-19 in Duval prompts urgent message from Florida Blue Medical Director

Ascension said they are not canceling elective procedures.

Cole: “Do you think that there’s another lockdown that could come in the future if we see this spike continue in the way that it is?”

Mayor Curry: “I don’t want to see our economy shut down and I don’t want to have to see kids be masked for another year. We have an answer, we have a solution and it’s called get vaccinated.”

Watch video from the news conference below:

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