Greater Jacksonville driving Florida’s COVID-19 surge

Florida had 20% of new infections in nation last week; Northeast Florida sees highest per-capita infection rate

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are rising and a majority of the patients aren't vaccinated.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s number of coronavirus cases diagnosed last week -- 45,449 -- is nearing the increases seen in last summer’s spike. That week-to-week growth rate of infections is the highest the state has seen since June 2020.

Nearly one-in-five of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections is from Florida, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing.

The rate in Jacksonville and three nearby counties are even higher, leading the state in new infections per capita and surpassing the increases seen in Florida’s first spike last summer.

Jacksonville had 4,328 cases reported in the week ending Thursday, 19% more than its July 2020 peak and the largest weekly increase since the middle of January, as the city and the country were coming off the winter surge.

For perspective, Duval County had more cases in the pervious seven days than Orange County (Orlando), Hillsborough County (Tampa) and Palm Beach County even though they each have a population half-again larger.

According to the Florida Department of Health data, Baker and Nassau counties had the largest increases per 100,000 population in the state last week (see interactive map below). Bradford and Duval counties were the only other counties in the state with infection rates above 400 per 100,000.

While Baker and Bradford counties have among the lowest vaccination rates in Florida (29% and 35% respectively), Nassau County’s 50% and Duval County’s 49% vaccination rates are not far below the state’s average of 59%.

Weekly cases per 100,000 population

Point to county for data

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: County-by-county case and vaccination rates | Latest updates

Nassau County Emergency Management posted Saturday on Facebook about the “significant increase.”

“Case numbers are fast approaching the highest numbers seen since before vaccine became widely available in Florida,” the post read, then outlined all the places where the Department of Health is giving free, no-appointment vaccines this week.

“We’re over the virus, but the virus is not over with us,” Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty told our sister station, WKMG-TV.

Charts from the state health department illustrate that while COVID-19 cases have been rising in the past four weeks, vaccination numbers are falling.

The number of people getting a COVID-19 shot in Florida has dropped roughly 80% from its peak in April.

COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and number of vaccines given over last 10 weeks (Florida Department of Health)

“This is not going in the right direction. We’ve been noticing that for four weeks, and it just keeps going that way,” Husty said.

While the slow-down in vaccinations and many communities -- including most of Northeast Florida -- with half or more of the population still unpopulated, troubles health officials, it comes as the more-infections delta variant spreading fast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates delta accounted for 31.1% of infections last week and it will become the dominant strain soon.

We asked people in our News4Nassau Facebook Group if they’ll go back to wearing masks in public. Most of the responses were no.

One person told us they never stopped wearing masks because of the risk.

On This Week in Jacksonville, Dr. Sunil Joshi of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation told Kent Justice what could lie ahead.

“So there is a concern that we might start to go backward. If we don’t see these numbers start to come down again, we have to be concerned about hospitalizations here in Northeast Florida because they, the hospitalization numbers are going up, and we have to do whatever we can to mitigate those numbers,” Joshi said.

Right now in Florida, 3,200 people are in the hospital with COVID. That’s a 73% increase since June 14.

Earlier in the pandemic, state officials posted a dashboard tracking the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and available hospital beds.

Last month, the state stopped publishing the data because hospitalizations were falling.

Over the last week, with a rise of hospitalizations in Jacksonville, News4Jax asked state officials if they’ll publish this information again, but they haven’t answered.

For some, seeing the data doesn’t change their response to the increase in cases.

“I know it’s real. I know it’s out there. But I’m personally not worried about it. I’m pretty healthy. People do need to be careful but I do think it’s being over-exaggerated,” said Northeast Florida resident Jeanie Watts.

This week – Nassau County officials were getting the word out on Facebook about upcoming vaccination opportunities – - reminding people shots are widely available.

In Nassau County – only 50 percent of the age 12 and up population has at least one dose of a vaccine.

“So the virus is affecting the younger groups of people who are not vaccinated, and this delta variant is much, much more transmissible, and leading to much more severe disease so please get vaccinated because we do know that over 90% or 99% of the patients that are in the hospital right now with COVID are unvaccinated,” said Joshi.

For some, seeing the data doesn’t change their response to the increase in cases.

“I’m actually just going to take the precautions of keeping myself clean, you know, taking my vitamins, exercising, that’s what I basically did the entire time of the pandemic,” said resident Nichole Brumme.

We’re also hearing from News4Jax viewers – who have had loved ones go to the hospital for other reasons – and have faced lengthy wait times.

One woman told us on Facebook her mom went to an emergency room – and waited for more than five hours.

About the Authors:

Digital election producer in 2022. He created in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.