AdventHealth considers mandating staff COVID-19 vaccinations, limiting visitors as hospitalizations rise across Central Florida

·3 min read

AdventHealth plans to announce on Thursday potential changes to its policies on elective surgery, masking and visitation procedures as the COVID-19 virus again spreads rapidly around the region, said Dr. Neil Finkler, the chief medical officer of AdventHealth’s Central Florida division, which covers seven counties.

Finkler also said the hospital system is also weighing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for its workforce of about 38,000. About half are vaccinated, he said.

“I personally struggle with the concept that I’m allowing people to take care of sick immunocompromised people, and they’re not vaccinated,” he said. “We know we can have asymptomatic disease ... so why wouldn’t I do everything to protect the patients?”

These discussions come as Central Florida healthcare providers see a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infection hospitalizations. AdventHealth, the region’s largest hospital system, saw its totals nearly double in the past week, from 430 last Thursday to about 700 on Tuesday — about 200 shy of its January peak.

Orlando Health is seeing similar trends, with 294 inpatient positive COVID-19 patients, 31 of whom are in the intensive care unit, and 90% of whom are unvaccinated, said hospital spokesperson Nicole Ray on Tuesday. On June 25, only 67 people were hospitalized with the virus, and six were in the ICU.

The rise is fueled by unvaccinated people becoming infected, likely with the rapidly spreading delta variant. About 94% of people hospitalized at AdventHealth are unvaccinated and about 90% at Orlando Health, according to statements from both systems.

“The rise we are now experiencing is not unexpected and attributed primarily to the large number of individuals who have not been vaccinated,” Ray said.

Hospitalizations are seen as an indicator of the seriousness of the virus spread throughout a community. Increases typically follow a few weeks behind spikes in new infections, which have exploded across the state in recent weeks.

Between Sunday and Tuesday, more than 2,000 new cases of the virus were found in Orange County alone, according to data released by the Florida Department of Health in Orange County. Only six of those people are vaccinated.

The delta variant, the most infectious mutation of COVID-19 yet, accounts for about 83% of new cases nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Tom Unnasch, a public health professor at the University of South Florida, said new infections are doubling weekly in Florida, meaning the state could approach its January peak of infections in about two weeks if trends continue.

“This wave is looking to be a steep climb,” he said. “We’re at the outer band of this hurricane right now and we can see it coming.”

Finkler said AdventHealth has plenty of capacity despite the rise in hospitalizations. A statement released by the hospital system Tuesday said it has “sufficient supplies of ventilators, monitors and other specialized equipment in order to quickly convert spaces in the hospital to both standard and ICU level rooms, should they be needed.”

The statement concluded that though this is “evidence of the risk still posed by the virus in our community, it is not cause for alarm in terms of hospital capacity.”

AdventHealth will announce its decision about potential new hospital restrictions Thursday at 9 a.m. on a live Facebook stream.

ccatherman@orlandosentinel.com, rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com

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