Eighty-two cases of COVID-19 among students and faculty were reported by Duval County Public Schools following the first week back in class.
According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard — which documents cases that impact the campus, not all cases — 16 cases were among faculty and staff while 66 were students.
In 24 hours, the number of cases jumped by 35. Some community members worry it may be a sign of things to come.
Data shows the majority of cases — 74 percent — were reported at elementary schools, which also house the highest number of students who are too young to be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are available to people 12 or older.
Still, district-reported data shows that no one school houses more than three cases currently. Cedar Hills Elementary, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, Hogan-Spring Glen Elementary, Lone Star Elementary, Pickett Elementary and Twin Lakes Elementary have each reported three cases.
Getting young people vaccinated has been a concern because so many — or their parents — haven’t considered them vulnerable. But the delta variant and recent surge in cases have proven otherwise.
Saturday several young people took advantage of the Rev. Mark Griffin and Wayman Temple AME Church’s offer to give anyone 12 to 25 years old $25 gift cards in exchange for getting vaccinated at their Jacksonville event.
It’s hard to compare this week’s case numbers to this time last school year since the district hadn’t yet launched its daily tracker. However, records show numbers were significantly lower.
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In late August last year, the Florida Department of Health reported 24 cases impacting private and public elementary, middle and high schools in Jacksonville, total. Duval Public Schools surpassed that number by the second day of classes.
And for the entirety of August 2020, Duval Schools reported a total of 10 cases among faculty and students combined — the district reported 10 cases on the first day of school this year alone.
Health experts say infection rates now are going to be higher than last year because the coronavirus delta variant is much more contagious than the original strain.
In fact, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins data showed that Duval County reported 955 cases the week of Aug. 20 when school began. Now, the county is reporting 8,157 cases this week ending Thursday. That’s a change of 754 percent, or 8.54 times as much as last year.
The first week of school also marked the passing of two school district employees who separately had COVID-19.
State hospital count climbs again
COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to climb to their highest statewide level to date Saturday, even as portions of Northeast Florida reported a partial improvement in statistics tracking the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Friday afternoon, the Florida Hospital Association reported current statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased to 15,441 — a rise of 6,112 in a span of two weeks.
That count stands at 152 percent of the state’s COVID-19 peak from prior waves, reached on July 23, 2020.
The Florida Department of Health’s death toll is also rising. Friday’s weekly report showed an increase of 1,071 COVID-19 deaths among Florida residents in the seven-day span from Aug. 6-12, a count that includes new deaths as well as newly reported deaths that actually occurred in previous weeks.
The cumulative death toll for Florida residents surpassed 40,000 during the week and now stands at 40,766.
However, unlike earlier stages of the pandemic in which the Health Department provided more detailed day-by-day and county-by-county breakdowns of cases and deaths, the current weekly reports include fewer specific statistics.
New infections continue to rise. Across Florida, state officials recorded 151,415 new cases in the past week at a pace of more than 20,000 per day. The previous week had added 134,506 positive COVID-19 tests.
In a more hopeful sign for the region, however, Duval and several other counties in Northeast Florida showed a decrease in both new cases and positivity, although both statistics remain far above their levels from the start of the summer.
Duval reported 6,358 new cases this week, down from 8,143 new cases the previous week. Baker County reported 245, down from 285; Nassau County reported 659, down from 737; and St. Johns County reported 1,503, down from 1,740. Clay County showed little change, from 1,510 to 1,504, while Putnam County increased further from 576 to 643.
Putnam at 32.7 percent is among 15 counties statewide, most of them chiefly rural, to record new-case positivity rates above 30 percent during the past week. Union County (36.2 percent) and Bradford County (31.8 percent) also surpassed 30 percent, while Franklin County, at 36.9 percent, ranks highest in Florida.
New-case positivity decreased in Duval (25.4 to 22.1 percent), Baker (27.9 to 27.3), Nassau (24.9 to 20.6) and St. Johns (24.2 to 22.2) counties.
Some Duval hospitals are also reporting fewer COVID-19 patients. Baptist Health Jacksonville’s system recorded 527 current COVID-19 patients as of Saturday morning, down from a peak of 584 recorded Monday. Patients at Wolfson Children’s Hospital have also decreased from 21 to 10 since Monday.
However, Baptist Health reported a continuing rise in the number of patients in intensive care units, rising to 130 as of Saturday.
The Florida Hospital Association said Friday that only 8.8 percent of adult ICU beds remain available in the state.
City test sites to begin opening Monday
As COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations continue to climb across Florida, the city of Jacksonville announced new details of plans Friday to open five testing facilities across the area beginning Monday.
The sites are:
- Clanzel T. Brown Community Center, 4545 Moncrief Road
- Lane Wiley Senior Center, 6710 Wiley Road
- Emmett Reed Community Center, 1093 W. Sixth St.
- Cuba Hunter Community Center, 4380 Bedford Road
- The former Beaches Kmart location, 540 Atlantic Blvd. in Neptune Beach.
The locations have different hours and services, although none will require appointments.
The City Council on Tuesday approved using $4 million in federal recovery money to open the sites amid the pandemic’s rise across Northeast Florida, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
The Clanzel Brown and Beaches test sites open Monday, with Lane Wiley Senior Center beginning testing on Wednesday and the Emmett Reed and Cuba Hunter sites starting Thursday.
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At the Clanzel Brown and Lane Wiley centers, testing hours will extend from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. In addition, vaccinations are available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Emmett Reed and Cuba Hunter sites provide both testing and vaccinations from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. These centers will have separate sections designated for testing and vaccinations.
The Beaches location will conduct testing only and remain open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The tests will be drive-thru only.
Unlike the other new locations, the city describes the Beaches site as a “self-pay” location, saying that “city reimbursement for uninsured patients will begin upon contract execution.”
Testing remains available through several other sources, including pharmacies, some medical offices and the Florida Department of Health.
However, residents attempting to get tested for COVID-19 in recent weeks have frequently reported very long wait times both in Jacksonville and elsewhere across Florida.
In addition to the new test sites, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced the launch of a new “rapid-response unit” in Jacksonville for treating COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies.