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Collier, Lee counties see fewest COVID-related hospitalizations in months

Frank Gluck
Fort Myers News-Press

Lee Health, the largest hospital operator in Southwest Florida, is seeing the fewest COVID-19-related hospitalizations in three months, part of a national trend in declining cases.

The same is true with Collier County's largest hospital operator, NCH Health Care System, which is tracking a similar decline.

As of Monday, Lee Health counted 90 hospitalizations. It counted 93 on Friday. Lee Health's COVID-related hospitalizations haven't been in the 90s since mid-November, records show.

Related coverage: Lee Health plans bigger raises, new bonuses in 2022 as financial fortunes rebound from depths of COVID-19

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NCH's latest available count on Friday was 49 novel coronavirus-related hospitalizations. The last time it was that low was Nov. 23.

More:Which hospitals in your community are getting hit hardest during COVID-19 surge?

Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, a Lee Health infectious disease specialist, said it's too soon to know if this is a statistical fluke or part of a longer-term trend. She noted that vaccinations continue to increase throughout the region, mask wearing is more common and the holiday season — with its large gatherings — is long over.

Related coverage: New state data reveal who's getting vaccinated in Lee and Collier

More: Vaccine shortage hindering hospital employee inoculations in Lee and Collier

"What we're seeing is a combination of all the things that we're doing to try and keep people safe from COVID, and keep ourselves safe and our families safe," Saunders said. "There's still the importance of masking, social distancing and ... reminding people to wash their hands. And then, yes, hopefully, vaccinations are starting to make an impact."

NCH officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday about their hospitalization numbers. 

USA TODAY reported on Monday that COVID-19 cases have been dropping since their peak several weeks ago.

On Saturday, there were 83,321 reported new cases – the first time since Nov. 2 the country had reported less than one new case every second, according to that report. The following day, Johns Hopkins University reported an even slower 64,938 cases. Its tracking map is also showing sharp declines in recent weeks.

Since the start of the pandemic, Lee Health has treated and discharged roughly 5,000 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. Though this number includes patients with other primary diagnoses, all virus-positive patients must be isolated and medical workers require extra protection when interacting with them.

About 2,000 Lee County residents have been hospitalized primarily because of COVID-19 symptoms, according to the state's Department of Health. As of Monday, 854 had died.

NCH has discharged more than 2,100 COVID-positive patients since the pandemic's onset, according to that hospital system. Nearly 1,500 Collier residents have been hospitalized primarily because of COVID-19, and 430 have died.

Florida has provided a first or second vaccine dose to more than 2.3 million people, state data show. That includes nearly 94,000 in Lee County and more than 62,400 in Collier.

County-level COVID death trends are difficult to track because the Department of Health does not post dates of individual deaths, citing privacy concerns.

While some trendlines are going in the right direction, it's unclear how newer, more contagious strains will impact the state. Florida was the first state to count more than 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first discovered in England.

"If I were Tony Fauci (President Biden's chief adviser on COVID-19), I might be able to make that prediction," Saunders said. "I'm hopeful that they are, but I really don't know because we have new variants coming in. The main thing to note is we can't become complacent."

Frank Gluck is a watchdog reporter with The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Connect with him at fgluck@news-press.com or on Twitter: @FrankGluck