JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday he was “cautiously optimistic” about local coronavirus numbers as the Florida Department of Health reported 191 additional COVID-19 deaths, the most the state has announced in a day since the start of the pandemic.
Duval County added 137 cases on Tuesday -- the first time since June 23 the daily number dropped below 200. The county has recorded a total of 146 deaths, three of which were reported Tuesday.
“The recent surge seems to be stabilizing and even trending downward in some hospitals, some facilities,” Curry said during a virtual news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The rate of positive tests that came back Monday in Duval County was 7.2% -- down from 8.6% on Sunday. Curry said the state Department of Health reported, as of Tuesday morning, Duval County had an overall positive percentage of 10.76%. He said that Jacksonville’s declining positivity rate could signal the virus is slowing down.
“COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable and have been for several days. They are not declining readily and they are also not rising. What is declining is the daily number of positive cases. These factors make us cautiously optimistic,” Curry said.
The mayor said local hospitals are reporting 481 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and 106 people are in intensive care.
Sheltering residents during pandemic
The mayor and other city officials also addressed planning for a hurricane and sheltering residents during the pandemic.
With the threat of a tropical system impacting Jacksonville in the coming days, the mayor and other leaders are looking ahead. Steve Woodard, director of the city’s Emergency Preparedness Division, was asked how his division would handle sheltering residents.
“That will likely require us to open more shelters, but we have that excess capacity. Generally, we open anywhere from eight to 12 shelters. We have 29 shelters in our inventory, so we have good capacity. Also, [we’re] looking at doing screening of people who would be coming to a shelter,” Woodard said. “But we’ve also found that during COVID we can do a lot of our operations virtually, so we’re also going to include as part of our planning.”
The mayor also spoke about returning to school and the importance of parents, teachers and staff having the choice to decide their own education option.
“When school opens -- assuming we’re going to have the option and the opportunity for in-school learning, knowing what we know today -- my family and I will be sending our kids back to school. And, by the way, for those in the public that are wondering, I’ve got three kids,” Curry said. “One going into 10th grade, one going into eighth grade, one going into sixth. One is in private school. Two are in public schools. Our plan is for all three of them to be back in school.”
He said he understands the Duval County School Board’s decision to push back the start of the school year.
RNC in Jacksonville canceled
Curry was also asked about President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville.
“I think, given these current trends, it was the right decision. But we still had weeks,” Curry said. “To go back to last week, had the president not made that decision, I probably would have made some sort of a decision somewhere between seven to 10 to 12 days.”
He was also asked whether the city could handle such an event without the virus.
“I don’t think this says anything about the ability of Jacksonville to host a convention. We are in uncertain times, times like we’ve never seen, unpredictable times. We’ve learned a lot about the virus from the beginning -- each day and each week. Our positivity rates were 3% when we started looking at the convention. They dropped to 2.8% in the week thereafter. And we were looking to pull off a large event with economic impact in short order,” Curry said.
“And then the virus began to spread communitywide, not only in Jacksonville, but throughout the state and, frankly, through other parts of our country, as well. And that’s unpredictable. So in normal times, I’m confident that we would have been able to pull this off, although I don’t that know in normal times if we’d been able to potentially pull an event from another city in short order.”
The mayor said he sympathizes with local businesses who were planning on the economic impact of the RNC in Jacksonville. As for the optimism that Curry expressed about the percentage of positive cases being reported, doctors say it’s too soon to tell whether Florida is truly moving in the right direction when it comes to cases.