Four months into the pandemic, Florida reports current COVID-19 hospitalization data

Daniel Chang, Ben Conarck
·4 min read

Ten days after Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said the state would release current hospitalization data for COVID-19, Florida’s hospital regulator quietly added the information to its online dashboard on Friday afternoon amid a surge of new cases and reports that South Florida hospitals were approaching capacity.

The state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which updates the data in real time, reported at 4 p.m. Friday that 6,974 patients were hospitalized statewide with a “primary diagnosis of COVID.” The data does not distinguish between the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital intensive care units and those in acute care beds, which require less attention from nurses.

Until Friday, Florida was one of only three states that did not report current hospitalization data for COVID-19, and the only one to refuse to do it while experiencing a dramatic rise in new cases.

Earlier in the day, speaking in Orange County, DeSantis assured Floridians that hospitals have room for more patients.

“It’s an important message to folks throughout the state of Florida just to know the hospitals have capacity,” he said.

DeSantis noted that the state has opened 12 COVID-only nursing facilities statewide, including one in Miami, and that reinforcements of about 1,000 nurses and other healthcare workers were on the way to help at hospitals, testing sites and other areas.

Still, it is clear that the resurgence of COVID-19 in Florida has strained hospitals statewide.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, the AHCA dashboard reflected that there were 917 ICU beds, or 15% available, in hospitals across the state. For acute care hospital beds, 11,782 or nearly 20%, were open. The state’s numbers also indicated that Miami-Dade had 1,578 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID as of 4 p.m. on Friday and that 121, or about 13%, of Miami-Dade’s ICU beds were still available.

But the county — which has been publishing its own statistics for months on a “New Normal” dashboard that’s updated daily and self-reported by hospitals — has painted an increasingly urgent picture, showing Friday morning that ICU capacity in Miami-Dade had nearly been reached, with 386 out of 397 ICU beds occupied as of 10:15 a.m. and 1,779 hospitalized COVID patients.

Jennifer Moon, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade, said there may be a number of reasons why the county’s hospitalization data differs from the state’s.

One explanation is the time of day when the data is reported. In Miami-Dade, the county reports the number of COVID patients in beds, available ICU beds, ventilator inventory and other data twice a day — at 10:15 a.m. and at 7:15 p.m.

AHCA’s dashboard updates its hospitalization data every hour or more often, and it does not include information such as ventilator inventory.

In addition, patients who visit the hospital for other emergencies, such as appendicitis or child labor, and then test positive for the coronavirus may not be counted in AHCA’s dashboard unless COVID-19 is the primary diagnosis. South Florida hospital administrators have said many patients coming to the emergency room for other urgent medical needs are testing positive for COVID after they are admitted.

Another reason, Moon said, is human error.

“One day we get something from a hospital that says 23 and the next time it’s 32,” she said. “There’s a lot of fat finger things going on.”

Despite the differences in the data, however, it is clear that the resurgence of COVID-19 in Florida has tested the limits of beds and staff at many hospitals. At the height of COVID hospitalizations in April, hospitals in Miami-Dade reported a peak of 726 patients with COVID. On Friday, that number stood at 1,779, according to the county’s data.

Moon said county officials were closely monitoring ICU capacity at county hospitals.

“We’re very concerned,” Moon said. “It’s why the mayor has taken some of the actions he took this week to prevent the spread.”

Gimenez has ordered a partial roll back of Miami-Dade’s reopening, restricting restaurants to outdoor dining and takeout or delivery orders, and restricting Airbnb operations and other short-term vacation rentals.

As hospitals statewide continue to see a rise in patients, the biggest concern is not the number of beds but maintaining healthcare staff, especially nurses, who are nearing exhaustion after caring for COVID patients since March.

This week, DeSantis said the state would send 100 nurses to help at Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s taxpayer-owned healthcare network and the largest public hospital in Florida, where 375 patients with COVID were hospitalized on Friday — 46 more patients than the prior day.

Baptist Health South Florida also said this week that its 11 hospitals in Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach counties were nearing capacity, and that the nonprofit healthcare system expected to add 100 nurses from out-of-state by next week and an additional 96 nurses who will graduate from Baptist Health’s training program.