Jacksonville: Infectious Disease Expert Slams Decision to Reopen Beaches as 'Premature'

Jacksonville, Florida grabbed the attention of the nation on Friday when Mayor Lenny Curry decided to open beaches in the city, with Duval County following under guidance and orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis. While many are urging the nation and its businesses to reopen amid the pandemic, many voices are saying it is too soon to force life back to normalcy.

One of those voices is Dr. Mohammed Reza, a Jacksonville infectious disease specialist who has been studying the virus in Duval County. Dr. Reza and other medical professionals across the country helped found COVIDIQ.org to track and monitor the coronavirus and its impact across different communities.

"I think we’re prematurely opening up the beaches," Dr. Reza said. "The way I can describe it is, I prescribe you a prescription for 10 days for a bacterial infection. You take that for two or three days and you’re feeling better, ‘Oh, I don’t need to take it anymore.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing at this point. This is scary because that infection will get a lot worse and come back with a vengeance. We know this from other countries."

Since Reza and his colleagues launched the site in early April, close to 500 people throughout Jacksonville participated in a survey on the coronavirus and symptoms they experienced. As News4Jax reveals, the data supported the doctor's concerns.

"In Duval County, from April 9 through April 16, the number of people that reported symptoms consistent with COVID19 has gone from 11 percent to now 15 percent," he says. "That’s close to over 40,000 people who have started developing symptoms."

The estimates are far off and much higher than the totals reported by the Florida Department of Health, with a report released Sunday claiming 847 people in the city have tested positive. But as Dr. Reza explains, the difference in the data is related to a familiar problem for many leaders around the country.

"We don’t have that antibody testing we need," he says. "This virus is a lot more spread throughout our communities than what we’re picking up at this point."

The push to open Florida has been sparked by President Donald Trump's comments that the cure for the coronavirus can't be worse than the problem. The economics behind the quarantine and re-opening the country are a driving point behind Florida's beaches grabbing headlines. Gov. DeSantis has said he will follow Trump's lead on opening the nation, with Trump saying governors will be the deciders.


"You are going to call your own shots," Trump said in the call. "I've gotten to know almost all of you, most of you I've known and some very well. You are all very capable people, I think in all cases, very capable people. And you're going to be calling your shots."

Despite the structure of the re-opening and the current "phase 1" approach, many experts seem to disagree on the level of preparedness the U.S. currently has to test and control the virus. And despite statements telling people to follow social distancing guidelines, Jacksonville's beaches were flooded with people shortly after opening.