Northeast Florida agencies unable to provide local coronavirus updates

Jacksonville mayor says the moment he gets new information from health officials, he will pass that on

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Information about the new coronavirus seems to change hourly.

At News4Jax, we work to bring you the most updated information, but there seems to be a snag in getting local updates. City officials say they are not allowed to talk about conditions in Jacksonville. It’s the same for surrounding counties. News4Jax was told all information related to the coronavirus must come from the Florida Department of Health.

Local agencies referred us to various websites to get answers. The city of Jacksonville pointed to a webpage launched by Jacksonville’s Emergency Preparedness Division that outlines symptoms and provides daily updates about the coronavirus situation. But the webpage does not mention specific information about any incidents.

A Clay County public information officer told News4Jax that emergency management and Clay County health officials have been “planning for an event since January,” and the Public Safety Department has been stocking up on personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies for emergency responders. The public information officer said all coronavirus information will be shared with the community through the Clay County Emergency Management Facebook and Twitter pages.

When asked about preparations for the threat of the coronavirus in St. Johns County, a spokesperson said, “Right now we are meeting with our local partner agencies and all inquiries are being handled by the Department of Health.” The spokesperson added the following information was shared on St. Johns County’s website and social media pages:

“The Florida Department of Health has opened a call center and launched a dedicated COVID-19 webpage for those who would like more information or have questions about the illness. The COVID-19 Call Center can be reached at 1.866.779.6121 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The website can be visited at www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/index.html. In addition, questions can be submitted via email to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.”

Those employed to speak on behalf of cities and counties in Northeast Florida admit it’s frustrating. The problem is, they say, if too many officials are talking publicly, misinformation gets out.

We saw an example of that during a Jacksonville City Council committee meeting Monday when a coronavirus update was given by the Duval County health department. It said there were no suspected cases here. Later that day, a city official said something completely different: People were being monitored locally for the virus. No one could explain the real situation in Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry called us after our story aired, saying he has been forthcoming with information. He said the moment he gets new information from health officials, he will pass that on. He added the city plans to start talking Thursday about everything except suspected cases, which would have to come from the state Department of Health.

News4Jax has submitted the following questions to the Florida Department of Health:

  • How many people are being monitored?
  • What is the procedure if a case is found?
  • How will people be notified?
  • Why can’t local officials talk about local procedures?

Northeast Florida hospitals have been upfront, with many releasing statements about how they’re taking action against the threat of the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, there were three coronavirus cases reported in Florida -- two in the Tampa Bay area and one in Sarasota.

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