COVID-19 hospitalizations surge across Florida; nationwide restrictions starting to return

Nikki Ross
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

As COVID-19 cases begin surging across Florida once again, hospitalizations are on the rise, something experts attribute to the highly contagious Delta variant and the large population of unvaccinated residents.

As of Thursday, the state reported a total of 871 Delta variant cases, compared to 280 reported last week at this time.

Over the past seven days, Florida has seen a 36.8% increase in coronavirus-related hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

During the same time period, 32 counties in Florida experienced an increase of more than 25% in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the CDC reported, adding that all but five Florida counties are reporting either substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission, CDC data stated. 

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Dr. Vincent Hsu, an epidemiologist and executive director of infection prevention at AdventHealth, said the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations is a result of the highly contagious Delta variant. The Delta strain, which mutated from the original COVID-19 virus and is now the dominant variant both in Florida and nationwide, is also infecting fully vaccinated people, according to Hsu, though typically the symptoms aren't enough to be admitted to the hospital.

As of July 8, 42% of Florida’s population has not been vaccinated against the virus, according to the Florida Department of Health’s most recent update. 

The same trends are occurring nationwide, causing some hospitals to begin reinstating restrictions, such as mask-wearing and limiting visitors for patients, and, in more extreme cases, suspending or delaying elective surgeries. 

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in the U.S. as fall approaches, and the biggest concern is children, according to health experts.

Since June 1, 106 hospitals nationwide have postponed elective surgeries due to the COVID-19 resurgence, according to Becker’s Hospital Review.

So far in Florida, only Baptist Health in Jacksonville has asked physicians to delay elective surgeries and only for surgeries that would require an overnight stay at the hospital, according to a press release. 

Duval County, which includes Jacksonville, has seen a 31.73% increase in new hospital admissions due to COVID-19 over the past seven days, according to the CDC. This equates to 8.33 people hospitalized with COVID-19 per 100 beds. 

“As we constantly review our COVID-19 patient census, we are working with our surgeons to manage the number of elective surgical procedures that require overnight admission to the hospital," said hospital spokeswoman Wesley Roberts. "It is very important to note that many patients are still able to have their procedures as originally scheduled, while others who have been contacted by their surgeon will be given a new surgery date."

Additionally, North Florida Regional Medical Center, Lee Health, AdventHealth, Halifax Health and Flagler Health + have not suspended elective surgeries at this time. 

Halifax Health spokesman John Guthrie said there are no plans in place to suspend elective surgeries across its three hospitals in Volusia County. 

“A decision to do so would be based upon multiple aligning factors in consultation with our medical staff and nursing staff,” Guthrie said. “We have the volume capacity across our three campuses to maintain our elective and emergent surgical schedule.”

Edward Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands, said if Florida hospitals began suspending elective surgeries, they would most likely be the last hospital to do so because of the work they do with the University of Florida, their offering of specialty surgeries and high ICU bed count, which is over 400. 

The CDC data shows Alachua County has seen a 104.76% increase in new COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past seven days. The data shows that for every 100 beds, there are 4.76 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

Effective Friday, Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville will update its visitation rule: Inpatients and outpatients may have one visitor if they are not COVID-19 positive. 

As of Thursday, no additional restrictions had been announced at any other Florida hospitals. 

More:Health experts: COVID Delta variant may already be dominant strain in Florida

Local case increases

AdventHealth hospitals across central Florida, which spans seven counties and includes five hospitals in Volusia and Flagler, reported 430 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday. That’s an increase of more than 100 people compared to the same time last week, according to hospital officials. 

“The good news is that we are not seeing infection in patients who are fully vaccinated in the hospital,” Hsu said at Thursday’s AdventHealth morning briefing.

Black Sheep Medical, a family medicine practice in Ormond Beach, posted on Facebook Thursday morning informing the public that AdventHealth Daytona Beach was “out of beds” and there were “30 plus people in the ER waiting on a bed due to a surge in COVID.”

Dr. Joe Smith, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Daytona Beach, responded in an emailed statement to The News-Journal. 

“We are experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization, but there’s been no disruption of care and we routinely manage our capacity through AdventHealth’s network of hospitals throughout Central Florida,” he said. “We continue to urge everyone to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting the COVID-19 vaccine, which is safe and effective at reducing hospitalizations and deaths.”

Volusia County experienced a nearly 163% increase in new hospital admissions due to COVID-19, resulting in 6.2 COVID-19 patients per 100 beds, according to the CDC data. Flagler County reported a 140% increase, or 7.36 patients per 100 beds.

Halifax Health was caring for 34 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, more than double the average of 15 patients per day the hospital system experienced from June 1 to this time last week, according to Guthrie.

“Almost all of our current patients have not chosen to receive the vaccine,” Guthrie said in an emailed statement. “There is a clear correlation between patient admissions and patients who have chosen to be vaccinated.”

Flagler Hospital in St. Johns County was treating 23 patients with COVID-19 as of Thursday, according to Gina Mangus, hospital spokeswoman. The county has seen a nearly 17% increase, or 6.27 patients per 100 beds, according to CDC data.  

“This is not an unusually high number compared to the volumes we have experienced over the course of the past year,” Mangus said in an emailed statement. “With that, surgeries and procedures are continuing as usual. Our team continues to monitor volumes closely and remains focused on ensuring that we are providing the safest possible environment for our patients and staff.”

Mangus said hospital staff continues to encourage people to get vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines. 

The vaccine is the best protection against the virus and its many variants, according to Dr. Michael Keating, chief medical officer for AdventHealth for Children during the hospital system’s morning briefing Thursday.  

“It doesn’t make you bulletproof against the COVID virus, but what it does is it basically puts Kevlar on you so that you’re not going to feel the full impact of the virus,” he said. 

Hsu said it is still possible for the region and state to reach herd immunity if enough people become vaccinated.

“With variants there are risks that the vaccine won’t be as effective … but, even with Delta, it’s still shown to have a significant protective effect,” he said. “It’s not too late.”

Liz Freeman with the Naples Daily News, Danielle Ivanov with the Gainesville Sun and Beth Cravey with The Florida Times-Union contributed to this report.