Jacksonville-area leaders, health experts address surge in COVID cases during town hall

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hoping to increase awareness about a spike in Northeast Florida hospitalizations due to COVID-19, Jacksonville-area leaders and infectious disease experts came together Thursday evening for a town hall to address the recent surge in cases.

The key concern during the meeting was what’s known as the delta variant -- a highly contagious strain of the virus.

“Jacksonville, our house is on fire,” said Dr. Nancy Staats, an anesthesiologist. “And we need everybody out there to help put it out.”

The wrath of the delta variant hits close to home for people from all walks of life, including Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown.

“The fact that we almost lost our son last year, and recently, we’ve had COVID positive and very sick people in our family,” Brown said. “This is so contagious and I think that is the point that is not getting through to people.”

Health experts say the delta variant is 200% more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus. They say roughly 90% of hospitalized COVID patients aren’t vaccinated.

“These COVID patients are taking up 20%, and at times, more of the hospital capacity,” said Dr. Scott Silvers with Mayo Clinic. “And that’s making it hard to render care to all of the other patients.”

News4Jax asked Silvers how effective the vaccines are at protecting against the delta variant.

“Previously, with old versions of the virus, these vaccines were 95% effective at preventing illness. So now we’re seeing vaccine failure with this delta variant. People are getting sick that have been vaccinated. Fortunately, it’s very rare for someone (who is) vaccinated to become so severely ill that they require hospitalization,” Silvers said.

Pastor John Newman hosted the event. He said he’s disappointed to hear about low vaccination numbers in Florida’s Black community.

“Oftentimes in the Black community, things lag in the community and oftentimes last, but in this particular case, we need to really get to the front of the line because there’s so many people who can infect so many more people simply because they’re not vaccinated,” Newman said in an interview with News4Jax.

Staats said for nearly every person, getting vaccinated is the right choice and prioritizes personal and public health.

Newman preaches following a golden rule.

“If you love you, protect you. If you feel like, well, I’m okay. I think I’m fine, but let’s say you have a loved one you’re concerned about, you love them, then receive the vaccination because you love them,” Newman said. “And any parent would see a car careening down the street and their child in danger would immediately run out to save that child and risk their own lives to do that. Well, that’s what we’re talking about. Doing what is necessary to save not just only your life but the life of those you care for.”

There has been a higher demand for COVID testing amid the spike. Doctors say the PCR test is 90 to 95% accurate. The rapid test is more in the 65% range. They say that you can’t rely on a negative rapid test and encourage a re-test if you have symptoms.

Children and the delta variant

Children under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine.

Adrianna Cantville, a pediatrician who attended the town hall, said she’s seen an influx of children being treated for the virus. She said the best way to protect them is by wearing masks and that those who are eligible should get vaccinated.

Younger, sicker, quicker is the mantra many doctors have when it comes to explaining the delta variant. Cantville said she recently treated a COVID patient who was 3 weeks old.

“We’re seeing more children being treated and in the hospital and long term complications,” Cantville said. “Most important thing we can do is create a cocoon of safety. Everyone in their life needs to be vaccinated so we can protect them. We still need to wear masks.”

Cantville feels with numbers on the rise that students should continue wearing masks in schools.

RELATED: Pediatricians group recommends everyone wear masks at schools

“This is the best way to keep them safe, and this is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended,” Cantville said. “Not just the students, but everybody in the school. Teachers, the staff, whether the teachers and staff have been vaccinated or not, that’s the recommendation.”

About the Authors:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.