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Curry Says No To Mask Mandate; Duval Averaging Over 190 COVID-Cases Daily Since Last Week

Mayor Lenny Curry is pictured wearing a mask recently at the Main Library branch in Downtown Jacksonville.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Duval County, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is still against mandating mask-wearing.

“We do not need to have law enforcement out in public enforcing this,” Curry said. “It’s not an efficient use of resources and we’re not gonna start prosecuting people, ticketing people and arresting people because they choose not to wear a mask.” 

Curry attributed the rise in cases to more testing, and people who are not wearing masks and are ignoring social distancing at “crowded bars and walking on crowded streets.” 

Duval County is averaging over 190 cases per day over the past five days. Saturday saw a county-high of 264 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

Curry, who usually starts his media conferences with a look at the percent of positive compared to people being tested, instead waited until a question was asked about it. He said the rate is currently at 3.7%, which is up from the low of 2.7% in weeks prior. 

“Cumulative percentage positives remains below 4%,” Curry said. Curry also said outlets who are reporting on the daily positivity rate are giving out what is ultimately inaccurate information since results from one day might be coming from multiple days of testing. 

The mayor called out local media outlets for reporting on low hospital bed availability, saying that the reporting is “without full context” and “irresponsible.” 

Data from the Agency For Health Care Administration shows Duval County has 30.1% of it’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds available as of Monday morning.

Out of 438 ICU beds across nine medical centers in the county, 306 are occupied. 

The intensive care units at area hospitals are where the most serious COVID-19 cases are treated. Those units are also needed for other critical care such as heart attacks, traffic injuries and other life threatening ailments or injuries. The publicly available data doesn’t include a breakdown of what beds are being used for COVID-19 cases versus other serious medical conditions. 

However, Curry said there are currently only 14 ICU beds that are occupied with COVID-19 patients. 

Overall in Duval County, close to 37% of hospital beds are available. 2,408 of the county’s 3,820 hospital beds are taken. 

The breakdown for the hospitals at the time of this story’s publication were as follows: 

  • UF Health Jacksonville - 106 out of 124 ICU beds occupied, 14.5% availability 
  • Ascension St. Vincent’s - 37 out of 86 ICU beds occupied, 56.9% availability
  • Baptist Medical Center - 93 out of 138 ICU beds occupied, 32.6% availability 
  • Mayo Clinic - 41 out of 52 ICU beds occupied, 21.1% availability 
  • Memorial Hospital - 29 out of 42 ICU beds occupied, 30.9% availability

UF Health Jacksonville issued a statement to WJCT News, saying that ICU bed availability is a “tricky thing” because the numbers can change hourly.

“At a specific moment in time it’s possible that we show no beds available, but an hour later we have some open. Since we’re a trauma hospital the vast majority of ICU beds are taken up by trauma, cardio and surgical patients (so not COVID, which are just a handful at most anytime),” the statement read. 

The hospital also said there are back-up plans in place in case there are no more beds available. 

For comparison, St. Johns County has 61.3% of its ICU beds available, although it only has 44 units total. Five out of 8 of Nassau County’s ICU beds are taken, and Baker County has no ICU beds. 

Meanwhile, Clay County has  28.5% of its ICU beds open, as 30 of its 42 already have patients. 

Duval County has seen more than 140 positive cases of COVID-19 over the past five days, averaging 195.4 positive cases daily since Thursday. 31.6% of the county’s total COVID cases have been found in that span.

At the statewide level, 27% of ICU beds are available, and overall hospital bed availability is at 27.7% as the state continues seeing some of the highest daily confirmed cases across the nation.  

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said Monday that 66 personnel and 13 firefighters were quarantining due to potential exposure after three firefighters tested positive. 

Since June 19, 20 inmates at Duval County jails have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Pat Ivey. Only 1% of employees at the correctional facilities have either had to quarantine or tested positive themselves.

He said all inmates will now be tested, and so far, over 100 of the county’s 2,706 inmates have been tested. 

“All new arrestees or inmates coming into the facilities will all be tested, and we are taking appropriate quarantine protocols,” Ivey said. 

Ivey said much like the city, there is no requirement for employees to wear masks at the jails. 

“We are encouraging the wearing of masks, and we have provided masks and other sanitary PPE equipment to our employees, but we don't have a blanket policy that every minute that they're working they're going to have to wear a mask.”

The FDOH announced an additional public health advisory Monday afternoon, urging Floridians to wear masks wherever social distancing is not possible, unless: 

  • A child is under two years of age.
  • An individual has one or more medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing a face covering.
  • An individual is obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.
  • An individual works in a profession where use of a face covering will not be compatible with the duties of the profession.
  • An individual is engaged in outdoor work or recreation with appropriate social distancing in place.

The advisory also spoke on a purchase of 20 million cloth masks, which will be distributed statewide. 

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.