Greater Jacksonville leads Florida, nation in COVID resurgence

Analysis of CDC data shows four First Coast counties lead nation’s metro counties in community transmission

Jacksonville area also now leads the state in hospitalizations.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nassau County has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases per capita of any large metropolitan county in the United States, according to a News4Jax analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Baker, Clay and Duval counties are also in the top five counties in large metropolitan areas in America, based on the rate of new infections in the last seven days.

CDC’s national map showing the level of community transmission shows nearly every Florida county in red, at the highest level of transmission. Data posted with the map also gives the rate of new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days. Nassau County’s rate is 744.71 per 100,000, Baker’s is 708.66 and Clay County’s is 541.84.

At 483.24 per 100,000, St. Johns County is in the worst 10 large metropolitan counties in the nation for COVID-19 increases. The remaining large counties with the highest per capita transmission are in Louisiana and Texas.

CDC county-by-county map of risk of community transmission of COVID-19. ((July 27, 2021))

Florida reported 16,038 new COVID-19 cases to the federal government on Tuesday, the highest number of new cases since Jan. 15, CDC data show.

The Tuesday total was the seventh consecutive day in which Florida reported more than 12,000 new cases and came as the CDC issued guidelines advising fully vaccinated people to wear masks while indoors in public places. The increased numbers and new CDC guidance have come as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps across the nation and as many people remain unvaccinated.

Nationwide, an additional 80,701 new COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday, meaning Florida accounted for about 20% of the newly reported cases for the day.

More troubling than new cases are the rising number of COVID-19 patients in Florida hospitals.

The Florida Hospital Association reported there were 8,816 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state as of Thursday -- four times as many as there were a month ago and 87% of the peak seen during last summer’s surge. But the Jacksonville area was experiencing 154% of last July’s peak and the Orlando area was 115% of last summer’s peak.

The HFA notes that:

  • Hospitals report more than 95% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not fully vaccinated
  • The average age of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 is younger than previous peaks
  • Hospitals are implementing surge capacity plans as local situations warrant

“The virus has a new target: the unvaccinated and younger people,” said Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. “Previously healthy people from their teens to their 40s are now finding themselves in the hospital and on a ventilator. Regardless of your age, get vaccinated, if eligible! What you heard last year and last spring about this virus mostly targeting seniors and those with pre-existing conditions is not true today. I understand and respect that COVID-19 vaccination is a deeply personal and serious decision. There are no options without some degree of uncertainty or risk. My only request is that you ask questions, be informed, and make a decision that is best for you and the community.”

Late Tuesday, Michael Mayo, CEO of Baptist Health, said they are seeing an all-time high of of COVID-19 patients and posted an urgent appeal on its Facebook page:

“It’s never been as bad as it is now,” wrote Mayo. “Today, our number of COVID-positive patients surpassed 400, 18 of whom were children, from infants and school-age kids to teens and young adults. Though this figure changes daily, the percentage of unvaccinated patients has consistently stayed above 97% during this surge. The human cost of COVID-19 is real. According to a study recently published in The Lancet, more than 1.5 million children lost a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID-19.”

States and businesses scrambled Wednesday to change course after the federal government’s new guidance calling for the return of indoor mask wearing in virus hot spots.

The guidelines also call on all schools to require masks for students, teachers and visitors. As districts around the country tried to navigate the latest advice, Florida districts face an extra challenge with Gov. Ron DeSantis an outspoken critic of mask mandates -- even threatening to call a special session of the legislature to pass a law against requiring face coverings.

“I know this is not a message America wants to hear,’' CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told CNN. “With prior variants, when people had these rare breakthrough infections, we didn’t see the capacity of them to spread the virus to others, but with the delta variant, we now see that you can actually now pass it to somebody else.’'