“Our house is on fire”: Jacksonville medical experts address rise in COVID-19 cases

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A surge in COVID-19 cases is striking major concern from Jacksonville’s local health, city and faith leaders.

A virtual town hall meeting was held Thursday evening, with medical experts urging the community to know the virus has not gone away, saying the delta variant is the initial COVID-19 “on steroids.”

“The truth is, Jacksonville, our house is on fire,” Dr. Nancy Staats said.

The town hall started off with the grim message, as patients shared their stories.

“I said, ‘Oh I’m fine, I’m healthy, I’m young, it only affects elderly and people with health issues’ and no, it’s not the case, it’s not the case at all,” Donald “Frue” McAvoy said.

A Mayo Clinic study shows a 7-day rolling average of 605 cases in Duval County. Local doctors like Mohammad Reza say those infected with the delta variant produce 1000x more viral particles in the lungs.

“Patients coming into the hospital now are younger and they get sicker faster, that’s what we’re seeing,” Reza said.

The town hall revealed 97 percent of Baptist Health patients are not vaccinated and 44 percent of patients this month are age 40 or younger, with hospital capacity running thin.

“Hospitals are getting very full, hospitals across the area are limiting visitations,” Dr. Jennifer Coward with Mayo Clinic Jacksonville said.

New numbers from Baptist Health show 298 total COVID patients in all five hospitals and 67 of those patients are in ICU.

At UF Health, there’s 144 COVID patients and 28 in the ICU. Action News Jax asked specifically how many of those cases are the delta variant and was told UF Health doesn’t genetically sequence all the cases but estimates about 90 percent are delta variants based on sampling and other hospitals.

Medical experts in the town hall say one dose of the vaccine isn’t enough for the delta variant,” Scott Silvers with Mayo Clinic Jacksonville said.

“The effectiveness is very small, 20 or 30 percent effectiveness so you really need two shots,” Silvers said.

While they say vaccinations work, it’ll take group efforts all around to put out the fire.

“Taking the actions to social distance, avoid crowds, mask wearing, which is so important and so effective and getting tested whenever someone is early in symptoms,” Silvers said.

It’s important to note, medical experts say masking up does not mean shutting down, adding they want to see Jacksonville and its businesses thrive, but by doing so safely.