JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — JEA has brought back a mask requirement for employees and visitors at its buildings, marking the first government agency in Jacksonville to take that step since a summertime surge of the COVID-19 virus.
The utility also is urging workers to get vaccinated, a message that JEA board members drove home Tuesday during grief-tinged tributes to Dr. Leon Haley, who was CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and served on the JEA board until his unexpected death Saturday.
Before Haley died in a jet ski accident in South Florida, one of his last acts at UF Health Jacksonville was to walk through the medical center Friday for one-on-one talks with employees about the vaccine while a pharmacist stood ready to give them the shot.
"I don't want to politicise this, but in memory of him, please get vaccinated," said JEA board member Zachary Faison Jr., who described Haley as someone who went out of his way to support Faison's work as president of Edward Waters University.
JEA board member Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida, echoed those comments and said the pandemic brought hospital executives together on a daily basis.
He said Haley "was an absolute gift to the health system and the broader community in Jacksonville" and recalled how Haley was among the hospital executives who joined Mayor Lenny Curry last week for a news conference on vaccinations.
"I can tell you across the city, our hospitals are quite full and over 96 percent of the (COVID-19) patients that we're caring for are unvaccinated, so in his memory and in his honor, please get vaccinated," VanOsdol said.
The spike in infections has added another layer to JEA's preparation for hurricane season because when a major storm hits, it triggers an all-hands-on-deck response by utility employees. Some of those workers would be sidelined if they are infected by the virus or in quarantine.
"We are taking COVID-19 seriously at JEA, and we continue to monitor cases locally and within the company," utility spokeswoman Karen McAllister said.
Fifty JEA employees were in quarantine Tuesday because of the virus, the highest number since December and January. Those able to work remotely from home could continue doing their JEA jobs.
McAllister said JEA does not have plans to require vaccinations for employees.
The mask policy, which JEA put in place Friday, will run through Sept. 30 when JEA will re-evaluate it.
The requirement for wearing masks applies upon entering JEA buildings and when people are in shared spaces such as breakrooms, conference rooms and hallways. They also must wear masks in offices that have floor-to-ceiling walls and are occupied by two or more people.
JEA employees who are outdoors must wear masks if they are not able to practice social distancing.
JEA CEO Jay Stowe said the utility is working with Agape Family Health to schedule a mobile vaccination site for JEA workers, contractors and the community.
"I'm done with the politics of this, too," Stowe said, referring to Faison's earlier comments at the board meeting. "I think Dr. Haley was every day imploring you, and we now implore you all in the community and the employees and contractors of JEA to get the vaccine and take care of each other."
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