Southwest Florida hospitals brace for COVID-19 spike after Fourth of July celebrations

Liz Freeman
Fort Myers News-Press
Fireworks light up the skies over Fort Myers Beach, Florida on Sunday, July 4, 2021. Some municipalities brought back fireworks after a year of cancellations due to COVID-19 pandemic.

The three-day Fourth of July holiday could bring a spike in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Florida, a region which already is deemed at high risk for spreading.

The publicly-operated Lee Heath in Lee County is hovering just under 100 hospitalized patients with the virus, and officials fear the number could jump after the holiday.

The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County had 34 patients hospitalized with the virus this week. That’s an uptick since NCH’s caseload was holding steady in the 20s or lower since May, hospital data shows.

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The bulk of Florida counties, including Collier and Lee, are high risk for community transmission of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In high-risk counties, the CDC recommends wearing masks indoors.

Only Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties in Southwest Florida are medium risk.

Dr. Stephanie Stovall, chief clinic officer of quality and patient safety at Lee Health said holidays throughout the pandemic often result in case counts going up because people are in close proximity during crowded activities.

“This holiday weekend, with increased rates of COVID transmission in our community and upcoming festivities, the risk of infection is high,” she said.

“Those who are at risk of severe infection due to underlying health status or lack of immunity should be cautious in order to minimize their risk of infection during crowded activities,” she said.

There are 2,013 cases in Lee County and there have been 16 deaths over a seven-day period ending June 28, according to the CDC.

In Collier there are 785 cases and under 10 deaths. The positivity rate in both counties is 23%.

How to be safe?

Stovall said people should consider social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding crowded environments to lessen exposure risk.

Data after the Fourth of July holiday last year shows Lee Health had a 35% increase in hospitalizations two weeks after the holiday to 81 patients. The system had 60 hospitalized patients on July 7, 2021.

Syringe with a label that says COVID-19 booster vaccination.

NCH saw a 68% increase to 37 hospitalized patients two weeks after the Fourth last year when it had been 22 patients going into the holiday.

“Prioritize handwashing and maintaining up to date immunizations to maximize protection for yourself and others,” Stovall said.

Recent data shows the state saw 11,018 new infections this past week and 46 deaths for a total of 75,463 cases.

That’s a far cry from a record high this year of 423,150 new cases the first week of January and 401 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 6.5 million Floridians have been infected and 75,738 people have died.

The positivity rate now is 20% to 25%, according to the CDC. On average 628 people in Florida are hospitalized with the virus.

In terms of vaccinations, 14.5 million Floridians are vaccinated for a rate of 67.6%. In terms of booster shots, 6 million have gotten a first booster as of last August.