Concerns raised over public holiday events as Florida passes 1 million coronavirus cases

As Florida passed 1 million COVID-19 cases on Monday, questions are being raised as to whether there will be new spikes in cases in Northeast Florida following recent public events.

News4Jax spoke with two doctors who said there’s a reason why we continue to see new cases months after the start of the pandemic in March.

“People are exhausted. They’re exhausted over this,” said Dr. Michael Koren, with First Coast Heart and Vascular Center.

“We are all so tired of this. It’s been going on for so long now, and people just want a little bit of normalcy back,” said Dr. Elizabeth Ransom, Baptist Health executive vice president.

There was evidence of normalcy over the weekend when large crowds of people closely gathered along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville to enjoy the annual Light Boat Parade. Video shows many people were wearing a mask, but a lot of people who were not wearing a mask could also be seen. Both Koren and Ransom said the footage raises concerns.

“You can have someone who is minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic that is passing the virus because of the close contact,” Koren said.

“At least it was outside. Still, without wearing masks and without social distancing, it’s worrisome,” Ransom said.

When asked whether said it could be an example of what a superspreader event would look like, Ransom said: “It could be. It certainly could be. We’ve seen superspreader events that have occurred outdoors.”

In St. Johns County, public holiday events have been canceled because of the pandemic -- except for the annual Nights of Lights.

During Nights of Lights, thousands of people go to St. Augustine to see the lights wrapped around buildings and trees. Some gather in groups and some keep their distance. Some wear masks and some don’t.

Florida reached the grim milestone Monday as Koren said percentages of positive tests have gone up statewide within the last several days.

“We’re seeing an uptick in cases, but, most importantly, we’re seeing a higher percentage of positive tests,” Koren said. “That’s a bad sign. And what we’re seeing is that we’ve gone up from 6.2% to about 8.7% during the past week.”

Koren said there is one positive aspect of what’s happening in Duval County compared to other areas of the state and even the country.

“We’re not seeing the huge drain on hospital resources,” Koren said. “But there are other parts of the country that are in very bad shape.’”

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There are multiple major hospitals in Duval County that are equipped with intensive care units to handle severe COVID-19 cases, but as of Tuesday night, only 21% of the county’s ICU rooms were being occupied.

And even though we are getting closer to administering a COVID-19 vaccine, doctors say that we still must take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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