JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry, the mayors of the beaches communities and others held a virtual news conference at midday Wednesday urging residents who haven’t yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the shot.
“The recent increase in hospitalizations that is causing strains on our health care systems is almost exclusively among unvaccinated individuals,” Curry said. “The vaccine is the best tool we have to stop this virus. It’s the best tool we have to protect our health systems. And it’s the best way to keep our economy thriving, preventing encroachment on personal freedoms and put this pandemic behind us one and for all.”
Curry quickly added that he will not order a mask mandate or impose any community restrictions as he did by executive order in the spring of 2020 because we had no other option last year to prevent the spread. He feels vaccination is the only weapon we need to battle the virus.
“So I am not considering (a) shut down of any form. People need to be able to go to work. They need to be able to go to school they need to be able to live their lives,” Curry said. “This isn’t about bullying people about vaccinations. This isn’t about shaming individuals -- some people have legitimate concerns and questions, and that’s OK. But I encourage those folks to discuss those concerns with a trusted, reputable medical professional and I think, in most cases, they’ll find the vaccine is an effective and safe answer.”
This is the first event of this kind that Curry has hosted in months. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, the mayor hosted weekly and sometimes daily, updates on the virus and how the city was planning to keep people safe.
Curry did host a similar conference on July 21 when he and local hospital leaders addressed the skyrocketing number of new cases and hospitalizations. During that meeting, they also advocated for people to get the vaccine.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s latest data on Friday, 438,933 Duval County residents -- 52% of the population -- have had at least one shot.
Curry said he doesn’t plan to mandate vaccinations on anyone, including the city’s 8,000 employees.
“I don’t know the percentage off the top of my head of employees that have been vaccinated,” Curry said.
As the only local elected leader on a roundtable discussion of Florida hospital CEOs hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier in the day, Curry said the only need he needed from the state is the continued message that vaccines are effective.
Asked during the midday news conference about the need to address long lines at testing sites, Curry said efforts are underway.
“We are working with Agape (Family Health) to expand testing to a couple more sites,” Curry said. “And we are working with the Health Department to add another testing site. My Emergency Operation Center is in regular communication with hospital administrators and working with them actively on their needs as I am in conversation. So my message right now, today Jim is we need to get people vaccinated. There is testing available and we are working on expansion.”
Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown said there seemed to be a higher demand for oxygen now than previously during the pandemic, referencing one company’s experience that was used to servicing 12 to 15 people a week.
“They are now getting requests (from) 25 people a day. They are not able to serve all of them. Oxygen is limited,” Brown said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Public Defender Charlie Cofer also provided a perspective on how the pandemic is impacting legal proceedings and Dr. Saman Soleymani provided details on increased testing and vaccine rates and answered medical questions that came up during the call.