COVID-19 patient count continuing to fall at Sarasota Memorial, but death rate climbing

Hospital’s infectious diseases specialist offers hope that latest data are indication surge is past its peak

This graph, created with Florida Department of Health data, shows the trend in COVID-19 positivity in Sarasota County since early June. Image courtesy Sarasota County

While the number of new COVID-19 patients has been falling at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH), the pace of deaths has been climbing over the past couple of weeks, the medical center’s regular updates show.

On Sept. 2, SMH had 253 COVID-positive patients. By Sept. 16, the figure had fallen to 187.

However, on Sept. 8, the hospital revised its weekday updates to reflect the count of patients who had cleared the infectious stage, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and hospital guidelines, but who still had “serious medical issues complicating their recovery or discharge,” staff pointed out.

“This change reflects the increasing number of COVID patients who remain hospitalized for weeks or even months due to lung damage, renal failure or other medical issues preventing a safe discharge, and their impact on our hospital census and capacity,” SMH representatives explained when they established the new system.

Therefore, in its Sept. 16 report, SMH pointed out that its COVID patient total that day included 55 persons who had been cleared of infection but who remained under care because of complications.

As for deaths: On Sept. 2, the total for the hospital since the outbreak began in March 2020 was 355. By Sept. 16, the number had jumped to 438.

On Sept. 12, the count was 409; on Sept. 13, 417; on Sept. 14, 425; on Sept. 15, 434.

Thus, over five days — from Sunday through Thursday of this week — the total number of new COVID-19 deaths at SMH was 29.

This Sarasota Memorial Hospital graphic reflects data as of Sept. 15. Image courtesy SMH

The September tallies came after what Allison Gottermeier, multi-media producer for the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, described in a Sept. 9 update as “an unprecedented COVID-19 surge in August.”

In June, she noted, the hospital had 59 COVID-19 admissions. In July, the total was 315, she added. In August, the number rose to 1,048.

In a video interview Gottermeier conducted with Dr. Manuel Gordillo, medical director of SMH Infection and Prevention and Control, which was released on the afternoon of Sept. 9, Gordillo talked about how the latest surge was the most severe the hospital staff had experienced since the pandemic began.

“In June,” he said, “we were happy; jumping up and down.” One June day, he continued, only three COVID patients were in the hospital. “We were congratulating ourselves for a job well done, with the vaccinations and so forth.”

Yet, Gordillo continued, he felt a nagging concern about the Delta variant, which was spreading worldwide. It “was displacing every other variant in Florida,” he noted.

Referring to the patient count, he added, “Come July, it started to take off.”

Dr. Manuel Gordillo. Image courtesy Sarasota Memorial Hospital

Gordillo called August “brutal.”

“Overall,” he said, “we hope, we think,” that the latest peak occurred in late August. Still, he said, staff was not certain. Moreover, he warned, another surge could occur.

Regarding the death toll, Gordillo said, “Keep in mind that it is a lagging indicator. … People start getting sick and they don’t die until two weeks later.”

After seeing only five deaths in all of July, he added, SMH staff experienced 99 in August. Prior to this latest surge, he noted, only 250 COVID patients had died at SMH.

The August figure illustrates “the magnitude of the surge,” Gordillo said.

Previous surges in the United States and the rest of the world, he noted, typically lasted two months. “We hope that will be the case here,” he said of the Delta surge.

State, county and CDC data

Altogether, the Florida Department of Health said in its latest weekly update — for the period of Sept. 3-9 — that 48,772 more people in the state had died because of COVID-19 infections.

On Sept. 16, the CDC continued to classify the community transmission level in Sarasota county level as “High,” noting that the positivity rate was 15.16%. That was declined 2.02% over the past seven days, the CDC said.

The total number of new county cases for the seven days through Sept. 14 was 2,139, the CDC reported, with a seven-day case rate of 493.15 per 100,000 people. The latter figure was down 25.39% over the same period, the CDC chart said.

This is the Sept. 15 ‘heat map’ for Sarasota County, showing the numbers of new COVID-19 cases by zip code for the previous 14 days. Image courtesy Sarasota County and the Florida Department too Health in Sarasota County

For the period of Sept. 3-9, the Florida Department of Health reported 2,142 new cases in the county, noting that 51,218 Sarasota County cases had been identified since the start of the pandemic in Florida in March 2020.

This graphic reflects the data released by the state Health Department for the period of Sept. 3-9. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Vaccinations the key to ending the pandemic

Sarasota County Health Officer Chuck Henry has joined physicians at Sarasota Memorial in encouraging people to get vaccinated. When Henry addressed the County Commission on Sept. 8, the top statement on his list of “Key Messages” was “Vaccines work!”

No. 2 on that list was, “COVID-19 is a Vaccine Preventable Disease.”

On Sept. 16, SMH reported that 84% of its COVID patients were unvaccinated.

Doctors and medical researchers have explained that vaccinated individuals who end up hospitalized with the virus typically have underlying health problems — or they are older, with immune systems that are not as strong as those in younger individuals.

This is the latest vaccination data for Sarasota County, posted on the CDC website on Sept. 16. Image from the CDC

In Sarasota County, the Health Department — which offers the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines — has revised its hours, though it still does not require appointments.

In a Sept. 13 advisory, the department’s public information officer, G. Steve Huard, pointed out that vaccinations are available from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at the department’s offices on 2200 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota and at 6950 Outreach Way in North Port.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, the schedule is 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., he noted.

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are available at multiple community outlets. To find the nearest location, visit

Huard also emphasized that vaccines provide the following benefits:

  • They significantly reduce the risk of contracting the virus even if you are exposed.
  • They teach your body how to fight the virus.
  • They reduce the risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death “if you contract the virus.”
  • They minimize the ability of the virus to spread, “especially to our most vulnerable populations.”
  • They fight against emerging variants that can cause worse symptoms and spread.