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Clay County COVID Surge Overwhelms Area Hospitals

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Orange Park Medical Center
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The Orange Park Medical Center is among the First Coast area hospitals seeing a surge in patients.

As the coronavirus surge continues in Northeast Florida, hospitals in Clay County  — where the vaccination rate is just 33%  — are getting slammed. 

Green Cove Springs Mayor Ed Gaw said the pandemic is worse now than ever before in his small town on the St. Johns River, and Ascension St. Vincent’s hospital in Middleburg is bursting with patients. 

“It’s becoming acute as far as hospitalizations,” Gaw said. “We have 120 beds, and 89 as of yesterday morning are occupied with COVID.”

A medical worker at Clay County’s Orange Park Medical Center, who asked to speak anonymously due to job security concerns, told WJCT News that the 320-bed hospital has admitted 370 patients, with another 40 in the emergency room waiting to be seen. 

Of those, the staff member said 120 are COVID-19 patients, 50% of whom are under the age of 45 and 97% of whom were unvaccinated. 

Related: Jacksonville Helps Clay County With Emergency Runs As COVID Cases Increase

“This is the worst surge yet according to all area hospitals. Baptist South, Baptist Beaches, and Flagler are now diverting patients to outlying hospitals,” the employee wrote in an email. “Please be careful out there and encourage everyone you know to get vaccinated and continue to wear a mask.”

In response to the worsening surge spurred by the more contagious Delta variant, the CDC Tuesday updated its guidelines to recommend masks indoors for everyone — including people who have been vaccinated — in areas of high transmission like Clay County. 

The CDC reports that coronavirus cases have skyrocketed by 65% in the last week in Clay County, where the vaccination rate is half the state’s average. 

Gaw encouraged Green Cove Springs residents to get their shot, saying local campaigns would prove more effective than state or national mandates. 

“From a small-town perspective, at best we can appeal to our community,” he said. “Instead of thinking individually, if you think as a community, and protect your most vulnerable. 

In addition to several pharmacies in Clay County, COVID-19 vaccines are also available at the county’s Bear Run Clinic in Orange Park. Call (904) 529-2800 for more information.  

A list of vaccine locations in Clay County from vaccines.gov is available here.

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.