The rise in COVID-19 cases in Florida is straining state hospitals, a situation worsened by an increase in patients with other illnesses and a staffing shortage.
“This is significantly different from previous surges,” said Mary Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association.
The situation could also present political challenges to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has drawn praise from conservatives for his handling of the pandemic.
The number of COVID-19 cases has risen precipitously in Florida, from a seven-day average of about 1,600 cases at the end of June to over 12,000 cases as of July 27, according to data from the New York Times. The Centers for Disease Control reports 1,325 people were admitted to Florida hospitals with COVID-19 as of July 26. That’s up from 275 at the end of June.
Hospitals all over the state are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Joshua Lenchus, the chief medical officer at Broward Health, said his hospital currently has 202 COVID-19 patients.
“We are approaching the level that we saw last summer,” Lenchus said. “It is a little higher than what we saw in January.”
A spokesperson said the two hospitals in the University of Florida Health Jacksonville system had 178 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. That exceeded the previous high of 125 in January.
The Jackson Health System in Miami-Dade County had 205 COVID-19 patients on Monday, according to a local ABCNews affiliate. That’s up from 66 at the beginning of July.
AdventHealth had over 860 COVID-19 patients across its central Florida hospitals, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The cases are being driven by the much more contagious delta variant and by patients who have not been vaccinated. Lenchus said over 95% of patients with COVID-19 at Broward Health were unvaccinated. It was about 90% at AdventHealth, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
That causes the hospitalizations to trend younger.
“In terms of overall numbers, it’s younger people who are mostly getting it, which is the part of the population that’s under-vaccinated right now,” Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, told the ABCNews affiliate.
Lenchus said the average age of COVID-19 patients at Broward Health was in the mid-40s.
About 49% of the population of Florida is fully vaccinated.
Florida hospitals are also struggling with an uptick in patients suffering from other illnesses that is uncharacteristic for this time of year.
“I have talked to many hospitals, and there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to these illnesses,” Mayhew said. “It appears to be a multitude of factors.”
Mayhew suggested it might be a mix of patients with respiratory illnesses and people who have delayed care during the pandemic.
“The people we see coming in with non-COVID illnesses, in general, are a little sicker than normal,” Lenchus said. “Their disease states are a bit more advanced than we’d like to see and more advanced than what we saw prior to COVID.”
A workforce shortage is also compounding the crisis.
“There were challenges with workforce shortages with nurses, respiratory therapists, and lab technicians prior to the pandemic,” Mayhew said. “But over the course of the pandemic, nurses have left at rates hospitals have never seen.”
Mayhew said nurses left due to burnout from the pandemic and the attractive pay they can get by becoming travel nurses.
The COVID-19 surge could also have political implications. DeSantis has often refused to impose restrictions, such as a statewide mask mandate. Until July, he could point to the fact that Florida had fared no worse than most other states in terms of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The current surge could complicate that record. Last week, a group of 405 Florida doctors known as the Committee to Protect Health Care attacked DeSantis's handling of the current surge.
“If DeSantis were as concerned about stopping COVID-19 spread as he was about coming up with these clever jabs about Dr. Fauci, we might not be in this position,” said Dr. Bernard Ashby, a Miami cardiologist and leader of the group.
DeSantis has often been mentioned as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
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Original Author: David Hogberg
Original Location: Florida hospitals struggle with COVID-19 surge