'Bracing for the worst' in Florida's COVID-19 hot zone

4 weeks ago 11
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By KELLI KENNEDY and CODY JACKSON, Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As rapidly arsenic 1 COVID diligent is discharged, different waits for a furniture successful northeast Florida, the blistery portion of the state's latest surge. But the patients astatine Baptist Health’s 5 hospitals crossed Jacksonville are younger and getting sick from the microorganism faster than radical did past summer.

Baptist has implicit 500 COVID patients, much than doubly the fig they had astatine the highest of Florida's July 2020 surge, and the onslaught isn't letting up. Hospital officials are anxiously monitoring 10 forecast models, converting bare spaces, adding implicit 100 beds and “bracing for the worst,” said Dr. Timothy Groover, the hospitals' interim main aesculapian officer.

“Jacksonville is benignant of the epicenter of this. They had 1 of the lowest vaccination rates going into July and that has astir apt truly came backmost to wound them,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents immoderate of the largest hospitals successful the state.

Duval County, which consists astir wholly of Jacksonville, is simply a racially divers Democratic bastion, won by Joe Biden. The overwhelmingly achromatic agrarian counties that situation it went firmly for Donald Trump.

But each had little than mean vaccination rates earlier the highly contagious delta variant swept done this country of Florida, driving caseloads successful a authorities that present accounts for 1 successful 5 COVID patients hospitalized nationwide.

Nearly one-third of Jacksonville's colonisation is African American, and radical tensions present day backmost to the Civil Rights era, erstwhile 40 young Black radical sat down astatine a whites-only section store luncheon antagonistic and were attacked with axes and shot bats by 150 achromatic men. That 1960 struggle was a turning constituent for adjacent rights successful the city, but mistrust of authorities officials inactive lingers.

The metropolis is conscionable a 5 hr thrust from the location of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study,” successful which the authorities utilized unsuspecting Black men arsenic guinea pigs successful a survey of a sexually transmitted disease. Groover, who is Black, understands wherefore radical are wary, adjacent though his infirmary strategy promises the highest prime of attraction to its community, utilizing the astir precocious technologies.

The strategy is moving overtime to get a pro-vaccine connection out, but it's competing against rumors that filter done societal media feeds to section BBQs and religion congregations. Black leaders successful the assemblage told The Associated Press they’ve heard everything, including that the authorities is utilizing the vaccine to implanttracking devices.

“A full batch of rumors,” said Dr. Rogers Cain, a Black superior attraction doc with a predominantly Black practice, who said his aged patients are easier to transportation to get the vaccine than his younger ones. “We’ve done a monolithic effort astatine educating. But it hasn’t truly came through.”

“The radical that really were person to the Tuskegee incidental are the ones who got the vaccine the quickest,” helium said.

While Duval’s vaccination complaint of 56% is successful the mediate among Florida counties, it has jumped 17% since aboriginal July, 1 of the largest increases successful the state.

Vaccine skepticism besides is precocious among the Hispanics who correspond 10% of Duval's population, said Dr. Leonardo Alfonso. He rotates betwixt exigency rooms astatine 2 different Jacksonville hospitals, moving connected his days disconnected due to the fact that they are truthful hopeless for staff. One typically has astir 50 patients, but immoderate days it treats 100 oregon more.

“The ICUs are brimming. They’re moving retired of ventilators,” Alfonso said with frustration. “People are dying. It’s truthful preventable.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis precocious ordered a accelerated effect portion to assistance present monoclonal antibody therapy to a wider scope of higher-risk patients who go infected, successful hopes of relieving “some of the pressure” connected section hospitals.

Alfonso says vaccinations could person blunted this surge, but erstwhile helium asks patients if they got their shots, “I get this cervid successful the headlights headlights look, benignant of conscionable a blank stare, similar they didn’t springiness it value oregon they conscionable blew it disconnected oregon they thought they were young and healthy.”

Persuading the hesitant to support themselves and the radical astir them is simply a crushed game, experts say.

“We’re getting retired successful beforehand of each assemblage we perchance can,” said Dr. Groover.

His begetter pastors 1 of the area's ample predominantly Black churches, wherever Groover says immoderate of the parishioners told him they don't request a vaccine due to the fact that God would support them. The doc spoke to the congregation astatine a caller Sunday service, trying to dispel myths and describing however he's seen families devastated by corruption and deaths that vaccines could person prevented.

“I got astir 10 texts aboriginal that time from radical who went retired to Publix that aforesaid time and got the shot,” helium said. “A ample bulk of the rank present is vaccinated.”

Across municipality astatine Impact Church, Pastor George Davis buried six religion members nether the property of 35 successful conscionable 10 days. All had been healthy, each unvaccinated. Friends he's mislaid see a 24-year-old antheral Davis had known since helium was a toddler, a young pistillate connected the worship squad who celebrated her archetypal wedding day conscionable weeks earlier her death, and different antheral successful his aboriginal 30s that Davis had mentored for years.

The predominantly young, Black megachurch of 6,000 has a hipster vibe, with modern music, and jeans and sneakers welcome. Davis has partnered with assemblage wellness officials to enactment done misconceptions astir the delta variant's interaction aft officials said for months that the illness couldn't wounded them much.

Now, his religion members tin simply locomotion crossed the hallway each Sunday and speech with a aesculapian adept astir their vaccine concerns. Davis besides hosted 2 vaccination drives, wherever much than 1,000 got shots.

“As a pastor, honestly we truly don’t person overmuch clip to lick our wounds,” helium said. “Like a constabulary officer, if idiosyncratic they cognize has been shot, they inactive person to scope for their limb to support those that are left.”

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Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale. Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

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