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'We're not out of the woods yet': Jacksonville hospitals see 20% rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations

UF Health Jacksonville's Director of Infection Prevention says Duval County is seeing a rise in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and they expect it to get worse.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — "We're not out of the woods yet", says Chad Neilsen, the Director of Infection Prevention for UF Health Jacksonville.

That’s the message ahead of New Year’s Eve with coronavirus cases on the rise. This only exacerbated by the fact that experts predict people will ignore CDC guidelines and attend large gatherings for celebrations. 

Home is the safest place to be for the holidays, but according to the numbers we’re seeing that’s just not where people are staying. Neilsen says they’re seeing a 20% spike in hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Duval County over the last two weeks.

“Health authorities right now – we’ve been banging the alarm sign for a while now that we could see a potential explosion of cases after the holidays," Neilsen said. 

He says to avoid ending up here, you should stay home.

“In the name of trying to protect all of ourselves, that would be the safest way to proceed," said Baptist Health Jacksonville Epidemiologist and Director of Employee Health Dr. Vincy Samuel. She says if you do go to a party over the holidays, you should wait five days after exposure to get tested.

"A negative result does not mean that you are not infected. It could just mean you tested too soon," Samuel said. 

“If you test too early you get that false negative and all of a sudden they go back to work, they go back out to their friends and they are actually positive," explained Neilsen. "They have that false sense of security.”

While you wait for that test, you need to isolate just in case you do test positive. You should also isolate while you wait for results. 

What about asymptomatic people?

“If somebody goes to a party or a family gathering and nobody has symptoms and everybody walks away and four, five, six days later everybody seems to be fine, there’s not necessarily a reason to get tested there, likely there is not an active infection," Neilsen explains. 

He says the vaccine has made people more relaxed, but this is not the time to let your guard down.

Over the past two days, more than 6,000 people have been tested at the Regency Mall testing site in Jacksonville with lines wrapping around the corner.  

Neilsen says we could be facing at least another 20% rise in hospitalizations come the new year.