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Baker County grapples with 10 coronavirus cases at 1 nursing home

The status of the infected residents is still unknown.

A small North Florida county is reeling in the wake of an outbreak of the coronavirus in a nursing home that now accounts for 10 of the 11 cases in that jurisdiction.

Baker County Commission Chair James Bennett confirmed an outbreak of the illness at the Macclenny Nursing and Rehab Center this week.

Jordan Duncan, public health preparedness planner for Baker County,  said she didn’t know if the victims infected were still in the nursing home. She said the county simply provides guidance and the nursing home administrators would decide what to do.

The nursing home did not respond to an inquiry Friday afternoon.

Duncan said a county investigation is underway to find out how such a high concentration of victims contracted the illness in one facility.

“That’s part of the investigation that involves our contact tracing trying to figure out how it got there,” Duncan said.

Baker County, a rural jurisdiction, had been relatively unscathed from the pandemic with only one case reported. Then that jumped to a total of 11 when 10 cases were concentrated in the nursing home, according to the Florida Department Health website and coronavirus dashboard.

“This condition is a challenging situation for many folks,” Bennett said. “Our residents have a tremendous amount of confidence.”

“Our Health Department has worked very closely and have kept us informed. Our residents are doing a great job of following the recommendations from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as well as the Governor. So, I’m not hearing a tremendous amount of fear right now from our society,” Bennett added.

While the outbreak was in the town of Macclenny, Bennett said it’s been Baker County fire and rescue officials who’ve been handling the nursing home cases along with county Health Department officials. He said the rescue personnel have been extremely cautious.

“They’re following all the right protocols,” Bennett said, while declining to say if those personnel who’ve come in contact with the victims have been quarantined.

Duncan also declined comment on the status of the first responders.

Bennett said the Baker County outbreak does not change the difference between rural and urban areas and the susceptibility to COVID-19. Though he acknowledged urban areas have a higher density of people, which makes transmission likely to happen faster.

Still, he said Baker County residents should stay steady.

“All the directions we’ve been given have been working. I would encourage [residents] to follow that direction. It’s the best way; social distancing is critical,” Bennett said. “I would encourage them to follow those guidelines and be safe.”

Bennett said Baker County administrative offices are functional for limited county personnel, but offices are closed to the public. He added the County Commission has already postponed its regularly scheduled board meeting next Tuesday.

Bennett said he’s adjusted to the coronavirus outbreak and is carrying on and doesn’t feel under any particular threat from the illness.

“No more than any other residents,” Bennett said. “I’m simply following the same guidelines and I’m working from home. I’m practicing social distancing.

“Yet, we are doing a lot of conversations by phone and video conferencing. I’m keeping close contact with our staff at a county level. I’m fine, I have no undue concerns,” Bennett said.

Written By

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at dixonator2@hotmail.com.

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