Florida’s Department of Health on Friday confirmed 6,933 new cases of COVID-19 Friday — the highest one-day total since mid-August. Local governments are limited in their responses — Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned them from closing businesses or enforcing mask mandates.
Despite the recent surge in cases, Florida remains one of only 16 states without a mask mandate. The governor is not as visible as he once was when it comes to updating Floridians about the virus — earlier in the year, he held news conferences several times a week to communicate plans for addressing the pandemic.
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Justin Senior, CEO of Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, talked about the state’s increase in infections and hospitalizations on the Florida Roundup with host Tom Hudson.
Here’s an excerpt from the discussion.
TOM HUDSON: What are Safety Net Hospitals experiencing now with COVID-19 patients throughout the state?
JUSTIN SENIOR: There has been a bit of a bump in the number of COVID patients over the last several weeks. It is not yet at anywhere near the level that it was back in July. Hospitalizations peaked back in July in terms of the number of patients in Florida who are in the hospital with a primary diagnosis of COVID at just under 10,000 patients. Sixty thousand hospital beds in the state with about 10,000 patients back in July. It was extremely heavy volume in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Lee counties as well as Palm Beach.
So it was very concentrated in South Florida at that time. Right now, the numbers are at about 3,100 to 3,200. So it's quite a bit lower than it was then. But it's a thousand patients higher than it was about a week or two ago. So we are seeing a bump. We're seeing an increase, as you guys mentioned on the show earlier, in the number of infections that are being identified each day is now over 5,000 on average for the last week. And we're also seeing a slight increase in the positivity rate for a number of weeks in September and October. We actually had gotten it as a state underneath five percent, which is a pretty well-controlled infection rate. But unfortunately, it's now up closer to about seven or eight. And it's not at 10 percent. So it's not yet at alarming levels, but the increase is enough, I think, to be concerned.
As you mentioned, the hospitalizations for COVID are only a third of what they were during the summertime surge, but they're up 40, 50 percent in just the past 10 or 12 days or so. So a pretty significant uptick in a relatively short period of time. So what preparations are happening now?
At this point, I can say that hospitals, fortunately or unfortunately, are very familiar with this particular pandemic and have protocols in place to help control the infections, to help identify patients as they come in as COVID patients. Whether they're presenting and at the hospital for COVID or not, you really have to have protocols in place. If someone's been in a car accident or someone's coming in to give birth, you have to be able to identify whether that person has COVID or not. So the testing capability tends to be there. The supply chain has improved so that the personal protective equipment tends to be there, and all of the training is in place now. So hospitals should be much better prepared for it.
What about the elasticity, though, of the bed capacity? There's the census bed capacity. In other words, a licensed bed capacity of these medical facilities. There's the staffed bed capacity. So, how many nurses and technicians and doctors are available to actually be able to treat the patients who are in the bed. And then, of course, there's the overflow capacity. We saw this in the summertime, with some of these field hospitals being set up. So what is that elasticity in the capacity as you're seeing again, you know, a 30, 40 percent increase in hospitalizations in two weeks?
SENIOR: So we're not there yet. There are a number of different strategies that hospitals can use to try to create capacity, to free up capacity, to make sure that they can handle a surge. And what we saw in South Florida, for example, and you referenced it back in July, is that you can start to do things like postponing scheduled procedures. These are medically necessary procedures. So you're going to have to do them. But you can potentially get away with postponing a hip replacement or a knee replacement for four to six weeks to free up staff and to free up space to deal with some of the COVID patients.
One thing that Florida's done a really good job of is, Florida's Division of Emergency Management, I have to compliment the governor. I actually don't think that his emergency management processes are political. He has a registered Democrat, a former Democratic member of the House of Representatives in charge of his emergency management operation.
And one of the things that I think has worked really well in Florida is that patients start to come into a hospital, and we saw this in South Florida, they can start to pile up. And that is to say, patients can actually become stabilized. But you can't discharge them yet because they live in a retirement community, or they live in a nursing home, or they live in an assisted living facility. And [they're] still COVID positive. And you can't send them back to that facility and potentially expose all of the residents.