JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Although specific data regarding the presence of the delta variant here in Jacksonville is unclear, what is clear is that COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, along with healthcare leaders, hosted a virtual news conference to address the recent increase in cases and to advocate for the vaccine.
"The data shows that nearly all patients suffering severe symptoms from this virus in our hospitals, right now, are not vaccinated," said Curry. "The results are clear. The shots work."
This is the first news conference of this kind that Mayor Curry has hosted in months. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, the mayor hosted weekly, if not daily, updates on the virus and how the city was planning to keep people safe.
During the news conference, Dr. Ken Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, encouraged people to continue to practice healthy habits, such as mask wearing and social distancing, in order to help reduce the impact of COVID-19.
"...I want to re-emphasize the importance of taking advantage of simple things like masking, handwashing and social distancing, particularly during this time of increasing COVID positivity in our community," he said. "They're simple and highly effective, and they really do reduce the chances of becoming infected with COVID."
Timothy Groover, Chief Medical Officer for Baptist Health, also spoke about the importance of masking up.
"...We know that people who are unvaccinated carry a higher load of the virus, making them more contagious, without them even being aware of it," said Groover. "That's why masking remains important."
Even so, with cases on the rise and local hospitals scrambling to accommodate record high hospitalizations, Curry said he does not plan on implementing a mask order.
"I'm not imposing mandates but people need to make their own decisions," he said. "If businesses choose to mask, that's a business decision that they make... people need to make personal decisions right now. In the interest of their health, but the answer is in the vaccine"
He said there are significant economic and health risks associated with shutting down the economy and locking people in their homes.
"We have a vaccine now that's effective, hospitals are full and busy because of unvaccinated people, so the solution here is to get the vaccine," said Curry.
Curry said the easiest way to find a vaccination near you if to go to www.vaccines.gov and find a location based on your zip code.
Most experts also agreed that not only has there been an increase in unvaccinated individuals requiring hospitalization, there has been a downward shift regarding the average age of individuals being hospitalized.
"Today, our median age of our hospitalized patients is 49, it was in the mid 60s in prior waves of this pandemic," said Tom VanOsdol, President and CEO of Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast. "So it's a younger demographic who are not getting vaccinated and unfortunately are attracting COVID And those cases are requiring hospitalization for treatment."
He followed with a recommendation to continue masking and social distancing.