Questions about RNC linger as health officials prepare for ‘a bigger COVID wave'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the numbers on new COVID-19 not going down, questions remain about upcoming events coming to Jacksonville, like the Republican National Convention next month.

On Thursday, the head of UF Health spoke with City Council members and state elected officials about what is happening in North Florida and why it could have a significant effect on what’s happening in Jacksonville next month.

CEO of UF Health, Dr. Leon Haley, said in a teleconference Thursday that Jacksonville is not even out of stage one of the pandemic, and it’s going to get worse.

“There’s also the possibility of even a bigger COVID wave, so we will continue to look at that and we will continue to look at that in the next couple of months,” he said.

Looking at the latest numbers from UF Health and Baptist Health, we see that happening.

At Baptist Health on Thursday, there were 99 COVID-19 patients and nine are in intensive care units, an increase of 10% when compared to Wednesday.

At UF Health, it’s a similar story with a 15% increase in patients. There are now 38 total COVID-19 cases and 11 people in the ICU.

The numbers have not been going down, but the patients have not been as sick.

There is also concern about the staff at UF Health contracting the virus.

UF Health said Thursday that there are possibly two employees that were positive for the virus and that it was contracted on the outside of the hospital and not inside. Officials couldn’t say much about tests, and the union declined to comment.

Dr. Haley told those on the call today that next month could present a real problem. His concern is the RNC, and it’s not just the virus that worries him.

“But if [the RNC] occurs, there’s a potential for COVID, but there’s also things we worry about at the trauma center in terms of trauma,” he said. “Could this be a terrorist event? Could the protest, if there are any, get out of hand? Those are things we are pairing with the other hospitals to make sure that the hospitals are ready for changes in volume.”

News4Jax learned from sources that RNC officials were in Jacksonville on Thursday to review sites.

Vanity Fair on Thursday reported that, according to a Republican working on the convention, “the campaign is now preparing to cancel the event so that Trump doesn’t suffer another Tulsa–like humiliation.”

“They probably won’t have it,” the source told Vanity Fair. “It’s not going to be the soft landing Trump wanted.”

But after reviewing the sites, Republican officials expect to have an announcement soon that will reassure convention-goers about safety, according to News4Jax sources.

Speaking in Tampa on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence sounded confident that the event will happen.

“We’re excited about coming to Jacksonville,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a news conference in Tampa on Thursday. “I was in a meeting not long ago when I hear about some very sophisticated plans to make sure it a safe and healthy environment.”

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