Meeting by phone, Jacksonville City Council wrestles with virus
Jacksonville City Hall.

City_Hall_St_James_Building
At least one council member has already tested positive.

In the wake of news that at least one Jacksonville City Councilman had coronavirus, some legislators convened Monday in the safest way possible.

Breaking with all manner of protocol and precedent, some members of the group conference called to discuss COVID-19 and the local state of emergency. Others showed up.

President Scott Wilson, standing at a lecturn, called roll, and one by one the scratchy cell phone voices affirmed their virtual presence.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry noted he was “disturbed and disappointed … by bars and restaurants filled to capacity.”

Council members, meanwhile, were “disturbed and disappointed” about their own risks.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan wondered if she and others should be tested, but asymptomatic individuals are not planned to be tested.

Confusion reigned as Morgan’s “static feedback” caused her question to repeat on endless loop, and the decision was made to just take questions in chamber.

“I’m nervous … I feel like I should have been tested yesterday,” said Councilman Reggie Gaffney. “How can I be tested? How soon should I be tested?”

Curry said that Council member Sam Newby, who tested positive for the virus, had not been in the building for two weeks.

“If you don’t have symptoms, they’re not testing,” Curry said.

Gaffney wanted a written guarantee that he’s OK, before being reassured that if he hadn’t had a close-talk conversation with Newby in the preceding two weeks, he should be OK.

Councilman Matt Carlucci lauded Newby for not showing up to the building since being diagnosed.

Councilman Randy White, self-isolating after visiting Newby in the hospital, said he had no symptoms, which is happy news for Council members in what is an otherwise dark time.

The internal drama of the City Council and the existential health fears of its members overshadowed, to some degree, a stark forecast from Curry.

At 5 p.m., Curry said hard limits of 50 people would be set up for bars and restaurants. And a midnight last call for alcohol would be imposed.

Decisions will cause “economic difficulty,” Curry said, and the city is looking for solutions with state and federal partners.

“This should be a wake up call for Duval County,” Curry said about infected Sam Newby and self-isolating colleague Randy White.

Drive-thru testing and other potential expansions of testing are in process, Curry said.

Meanwhile, hospital visitations are limited.

“This is only going to get worse in the days ahead,” Curry said, again recommending “social distancing” given that a “smaller number of reported cases” offer a “false sense of security.”

Curry urged now-standard safety precautions to “reduce person-to-person interactions.”

City event spaces are closed, as are parks, schools and libraries, Curry added.

Elections, meanwhile, will continue, with “sanitized and safe” polling places.

Curry noted “frustrations” and “anxieties,” adding that “this is not an overreaction.”

Members generally agreed.

Ron Salem, a pharmacist on the Council, said “further restrictions” may be necessary.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at [email protected]


One comment

  • Frankie M.

    March 16, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    Why is anybody visiting somebody in a hospital outside of family? How is this guy a council member again?? Shouldn’t be allowed to walk and chew gum.

    Kudos to City Council for passing the buck on sales tax referendum once again. For a bunch of jokers that want to get it off their plates they sure don’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. It wasn’t a priority for City Council six months ago and it isn’t now. Shocking right?

    My hope is that the 30 days expire on the DCPS pending lawsuit and the COJ takes it in the arse the same way DCPS has been screwed over by the state legislature with teacher pay and charter schools per pupil funding carveouts. Good job Wilson!

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