Lee Health announces third coronavirus death, urges public to take threat seriously

Frank Gluck
Fort Myers News-Press

The Lee Health hospital system on Tuesday announced a third Lee County COVID-19 coronavirus death, and its top administrator urged the public to heed warnings about congregating in large groups.

The patient, a 67-year-old male who had contact with another confirmed COVID-19 case, was receiving treatment at HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers, according to Lee Health and the Florida Department of Emergency Management. 

"Our hearts go out to their family as they mourn the loss of their loved one," said Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci.

Lee Health Preside and CEO Larry Antonucci, left, speaks at a press conference about COVID-19 cases and preparedness at Gulf Coast Hospital on Saturday, March 7, 2020.

Public health agencies have so far identified 32 coronavirus cases in Lee County. The two other patients who died were a man and a woman, both 77 years old.

Antonucci, who for most of this month has been giving daily briefings to reporters about the hospital system's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, spent much of his Tuesday report praising the work of hospital staff and urging the public to take the coronavirus threat seriously.

He noted that the known number of worldwide COVID-19 cases grew from 100,000 to 200,000 in 11 days. And, he said, it grew from 200,000 to 300,000 in four days.

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As of Tuesday, there were more than 409,000 cases, over 51,000 of which were in the United States. Florida has identified more than 1,400.

"Our frontline providers have dedicated their lives to caring for their neighbors, and today they are faced with helping control the biggest public health threat of many of our lives," Antonucci said. "This is why images of spring breakers ignoring these warnings are so disconcerting when I know the potential challenges our staff are facing."

He added that he supports government efforts to enforce social distancing and "additional steps where possible to increase it."

Lee Health and the Naples-based NCH Healthcare System had a combined 189 employees under quarantine as of Tuesday, a 5% increase over the previous day. None have tested positive for COVID-19, administrators say.

Lee Health is treating 10 coronavirus patients, up from seven on Monday. NCH was up by one patient, to three. 

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In Collier County, NCH has halted its mobile test-collection site after testing supplies ran out, said NCH's president and CEO, Paul Hiltz. He also said rumors of lost test samples from the sites were untrue and that any delayed results were due to a "technology issue."

"We still have plenty of supplies for patients in the hospital who meet the testing requirements, and we will re-open the drive-through testing when the supplies are replenished," Hiltz said. He did not say when that might be.

Lee Health this week set up a second mobile test-collection site, at the Cape Coral Sports Complex. On Monday, Lee Health collected 125 samples at its two sites which will be tested for coronavirus. About 170 samples were expected to be collected Tuesday at the two sites.

Follow this reporter on Twitter: @FrankGluck

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