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Rural Baker County sees explosion of new COVID-19 cases

In one week, Baker County went from 423 coronavirus infections to 932, inmates in prison contribute to rise.

Baker County is one of Northeast Florida’s most rural counties. But it is now seeing an unusual increase in coronavirus cases and inordinately high positive test rates for the illness, due largely in part to correctional facilities in the county.

In the past week, Baker County has more than doubled its total recorded cases of COVID-19 going from 423 cases on Aug. 4 to 932 total infections, according to Florida Department of Health figures released Monday.

Another wild statistic is the extreme increase in the positivity rate for infections which started to pick up Aug. 5 at 27.9% and increased to Saturday’s high of 36.9%. Even Monday’s figure showed a 33.8% positivity rate when 25 new cases were added to the count.

Baker has held steady at four fatalities due to the illness for several weeks.

But Baker County has largely been a footnote in the coronavirus pandemic on the First Coast since the outbreak. The county did gain some state attention when 10 patients at the MacClenny Nursing and Nursing and Rehab Center contracted the illness over a couple-day span in April.

Baker County has only one public COVID-19 testing center at the CVS pharmacy on West MacClenny Ave.

Given the limited public testing, Baker County Commissioner James Croft said the unusual spike in increased cases in recent days is baffling.

“I’m not sure what it is attributed to at this point,” Croft said. “After all these weeks, it’s concerning… . I’m not sure what these numbers are reflecting.”

The Baker Correctional Institution prison and the Baker Correctional Detention Center located in the county added to much of that figure. The Florida Department of Corrections data website confirmed 466 positive tests for COVID-19 have been recorded at Baker Correctional Institution. There were 22 staff members of the facility that tested positive.

The DOH confirmed Monday afternoon that about 50% of all Baker County infections are centered at the correctional facility.

Croft said while Baker County has dodged any significant influx of COVID-19 infections during most of the pandemic, many of the residents who travel to Jacksonville for their jobs stayed home for weeks on end during the thrust of the outbreak. But they’ve recently returned to those jobs and that might also be contributing to the uptick.

“When the shut down came, 60% of our population worked in other counties, mainly Duval County,” Croft said. “Our people were at home so we didn’t see our numbers jump up.

“I wondered when things began to open up and people started crossing county lines, would we see an increase,” Croft said.

Meanwhile, Baker County’s coronavirus figures are going in the opposite direction of the rest of the five-county First Coast region.

Jacksonville saw an increase of only 97 cases in Monday’s data. That’s the lowest single-day increase of cases since mid-June when Jacksonville first surpassed the 100 single-day case mark  June 16.

Jacksonville now has a total of 23,530 infections while adding another fatality Monday for a total of 189. Jacksonville’s positivity test rate dropped below 6% for the first time in weeks  coming in at 5.5%.

In other First Coast counties;

  • St. Johns County added 25 cases for a total of 3,660 and two new fatalities due to coronavirus for a total of 36.
  • Clay County saw 16 new infections for a total of 3,298 cases and no new fatalities, staying at 51.
  • Nassau County added six new cases for a total of 1,239 and no new deaths, holding steady at 11.

Across Northeast Florida there are now 32,659 total cases of coronavirus, an increase of 215 cases over Sunday’s figures. Another 281 people have died from the illness in Northeast Florida, an increase of three over Sunday’s sum of 279.

Around Florida, there are now 536,961 cases of coronavirus and 8,408 fatalities attributed to the pandemic.

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 drewdixonwriting@gmail.com.

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