Almost a year and a half ago, when leaders at all levels of government were compelled to make tough decisions about pandemic restrictions, few expected that we’d be here right now.
The vaccines are out, obviously, but a slow adoption rate means that they have become less effective over time in blocking disease. But they do, of course, stop serious disease, even now.
The message has been vaccination, a golden mean that allows people, such as Mayor Lenny Curry and others, to say credibly that we don’t need a mask mandate because vaccinations are available.
Besides, the Governor has blocked them; even if he hadn’t, people aren’t following them anyway.
We’ve seen leaders from throughout this region battling with the virus. Rep. Tracie Davis and Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman are on the road to recovery, the latest two to be stricken by COVID-19.
We could see more. Even Gov. Ron DeSantis expects a peak later this month, though he also expects a swift drop off from there.
If there is one positive, it is this. People, at least more than before, are finally seeing the urgency of getting vaccinated. What’s clear — we learned this the hard way.
And for many of our neighbors, the lesson came too late.
Granite state of mind
U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack continues cultivating a national profile, and out-of-state trips like one to New Hampshire later this month will only help.
Cammack, who represents Clay County in the Jacksonville area, is scheduled as the keynote speaker for the New Hampshire Young Republicans’ 2nd Annual Pig Roast on Aug. 28.
— New Hampshire Young Republicans (@NHYR) August 2, 2021
The event will be in Warner, and Cammack is not the only star power on the bill: former Sen. Kelly Ayotte will also attend.
Cammack is the youngest Republican Congresswoman, as the invite notes. And she faces reelection this year, but in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which is deep red, Cammack should have few problems — unless redistricting brings some massive change to the map, that is.
Another tragic loss
The coronavirus continues to wind its way through Northeast Florida, and its dangerous path took the grandfather of a state legislator’s daughter this week.
“My daughter @moxiegirlcomics lost her grandfather to COVID yesterday. Mask Mandates are needed, in addition to vaccinations and social distancing. Also, we need to increase the amount of COVID testing sites. I’m actively working on this,” tweeted Rep. Angie Nixon.
Nixon, a first-term Democrat representing House District 14, fought her own battle with COVID-19 last July.
The legislator has addressed the effects of the pandemic on her district and beyond. Recently, she and Rep. Anna Eskamani participated in a roundtable looking at the effects of COVID-19 relative to women and minorities. You can read it here.
A candidate who opened an account to run in HD 11 earlier this year seems to have closed it.
Jacksonville Beach podcaster Matthew Collins had not raised any money, so it’s not going to change much. Still, the two people are running for the seat held by Rep. Cord Byrd: Hilliard’s Bo Hodges, who has not fundraised either, and Jacksonville Beach lawyer Heath Brockwell.
Duval County GOP chairman Dean Black has been exploring a potential run, which requires him to move to the district.
With Senate leadership backing Rep. Clay Yarborough in the battle for term-limited Sen. Aaron Bean’s seat in SD 4, Byrd faces an uphill battle in fundraising and endorsements. Theoretically, he could come back to the district race, but time will tell. The field is far from fixed.
Plans are afoot to expand COVID-19 testing, reports WJXT.
A Jacksonville City Council committee heard from the Duval County Health Department, as lines snake around the building at the city’s main testing site and dayslong waits at places like Walgreens.
“Right now, the health department is offering free testing at its Springfield center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Representatives with the health department spoke to Jacksonville City Council on Monday and said it is hoping to change testing hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and possibly adding testing availability on Saturdays,” reported Jim Piggott Monday.
While there may be a will, however, there may not be a way. The pressures of the pandemic have led to a shortfall in the workers needed to expand hours and testing capacity.
Take a look
The Jacksonville Chapter of the NAACP questions why the city and its nonprofit partner have slow-walked releasing $29 million in funds intended for rent relief for those affected by the pandemic.
In a letter released to media Monday, NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin told City Council President that he wanted to investigate why “thousands of people are still waiting for assistance.”
The letter notes that United Way’s claims of not having enough staff to process the applications aren’t much use, given that the eviction moratorium deadline was the end of July. Landlords can move as of now to evict nonperforming tenants.
The letter requests a “complete investigation” and swift action to ensure qualifying tenants get the money they deserve.
In comments on MSNBC Tuesday, Curry discounted the claim.
“If someone makes me aware of the fact that we haven’t gotten federal dollars into the people’s hands that need it, I will look into that and make sure that’s fixed, but I believe that’s a false allegation,” Curry told Chuck Todd.
Universal access to vaccines for adults couldn’t slow down COVID-19, and the delta variant is hitting Northeast Florida especially hard.
On Tuesday, a week before Jacksonville-area students attending Duval County Public Schools begin a new school year, Superintendent Diana Greene addressed media.
Jacksonville is an epicenter of the current coronavirus variants, and the prospect of unmasked children has roiled and concerned many parents.
“It was my sincere hope that this news conference would be about getting back to normal … instead, this news conference is more about the new normal than the old normal.”
Greene said a new normal is in reach if “everyone eligible” is vaccinated.
“Please get the shots,” Greene said.
Greene also urged face coverings for students as a “simple act of kindness.” Staff will be required to mask up through Sept. 3, she noted.
“Within the latitude we have, we will work to make our school environments as safe as possible to keep our students in school as long as possible,” Greene said.
Cleaning and sanitizing, more nurses, and free telehealth services are among the other modalities the district will use to crush a virus that thus far has proved resilient. Meanwhile, the district is flushing and readying its HVAC systems.
Appointed to the bench in June by DeSantis, Duval County Judge Julie Taylor posted July numbers that show she is serious about winning election next year.
According to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections records, Taylor staked her campaign account with $100,000 of her own money.
All told, Taylor had nearly $118,000 in her first fundraising report, including a $1,000 contribution from former 4th Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey. That is the maximum allowed under the law.
Taylor previously was General Counsel for the 4th Judicial Circuit Court. She was also an Assistant State Attorney, private attorney and Assistant Public Defender.
A Jacksonville City Councilman seeking reelection is taking no chances, continuing strong fundraising in July.
Ron Salem, an at-large Republican, reported over $22,000 in new money to his campaign account. Donors include former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, Duval County Tax Collector Jim Overton, and former Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love.
Salem, who has over $125,000 in a county-level political committee (“Moving Jacksonville Forward”), has over $62,000 in his campaign account. Records for both, of course, are maintained with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.
Salem won a narrow election in 2019, and the margin might be narrow again, given a Democratic registration advantage. But with nearly $200,000 banked this early, he will have the ammo for the war.
Football is back!
Returning for the 2021 NFL season is the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Gameday Xpress program, along with new mobile ticketing.
This season, the Gameday Xpress offers roundtrip transportation to the Jaguars games, with direct service from five JTA parking locations to TIAA Bank Field for all home games, starting with the Aug. 14 preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.
Service begins two hours before kick-off and continues for one hour after each game ends.
Following the latest Transportation Security Administration COVID-19 directive for public transportation, face masks are required at all times while onboard a Gameday Xpress bus and in JTA facilities.
New this year, the JTA is offering mobile cashless ticketing. Customers can purchase secure mobile tickets through either the MyJTA or Token Transit mobile applications.
The apps are available on the Google Play Store for Android and the Apple App Store for iPhone.
Season passes are just $50 and include round-trip service for all Jaguars’ home games. Single-game passes are $8 from downtown locations and $13 from suburban locations.