‘Our greatest tool in battling this virus’: City leaders encourage COVID-19 vaccines as cases rise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing. The community is hoping there’s a plan in place to stop what they say feels like a free-for-all.

“A lot of people are not wearing their mask, I don’t see as many people taking it that serious,” Jacksonville neighbor Ebony Springs said. “I do think we need to go back to a mask mandate.”

Mayor Lenny Curry held a news conference at the Jacksonville Icemen Igloo Groundbreaking on Monday morning. Action News Jax went to ask about a strategic plan to combat the most recent surge, but he didn’t take any questions. The mayor wrapped up his speech, immediately got off stage and left.

Action News Jax sent the city an email asking, among many things, what the actual plan is moving forward, if there’s a possibility of another mask mandate in Duval County or for City of Jacksonville employees and COJ owned and leased buildings.

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The mayor’s Chief of Staff sent over the following statement:

“Mayor Curry and his administration continue to work with hospital leaders as we navigate through this surge. According to these medical facilities, nearly 98% of those being treated for COVID-19 in our area hospitals did not receive the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine continues to be our greatest tool in battling this virus. If you are eligible to receive this vaccine, we strongly encourage you to do so.”

Local health care experts say vaccinations are extremely important, but to slow down the drastic spike, they follow what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say about wearing masks.

“A barrier that will prevent respiratory droplets that will keep from getting into your nose or mouth is extremely important in keeping you from getting sick,” said Dr. Chirag Patel, Assistant Chief Medical Officer at UF Health Jacksonville.

The most recent CDC guidance recommends wearing masks indoors for hot spot areas, which Jacksonville is, regardless of vaccination status. Action News Jax followed up with the Chief of Staff’s statement response with that information but has not received a response since.

According to the health department, from June 3 to July 29, Duval County’s vaccination rate has gone from 44% to 52%. Other community members like Bill Healy think precautions are too light right now.

“They should be doing everything they can, they should be pushing for a mask mandate if they can do it,” Healy said. “They should be pushing for vaccinations, they should be speaking out at every possible chance they can to get it done.”

Duval County’s mask mandate ended on March 26.

Action News Jax also asked surrounding counties, St. Johns County and Clay County public affairs offices, the same questions asked of the city.

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The St. Johns County spokesperson said in an emailed response:

“St. Johns County will continue to follow guidance given to us by the state, if anything changes I’ll let you know.”

The Clay County spokesperson said in an emailed response:

“At this point masks are not required only strongly recommended inside buildings. Mask mandates are very hard to enforce. Individuals are also advised to physically distance 6 feet from others and hold to meetings virtually if possible.”