COVID-positive patient census ‘has gone up very quickly over past six weeks,’ hospital CEO says
Before the latest pandemic surge began weeks ago, the highest count of COVID-19 patients recorded on a single day at Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) was 130, Kim Savage, the medical complex’s public relations manager, told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
The same day Savage provided that information — Aug. 18 — Sarasota Memorial reported that it had 250 COVID-19 patients, up from 239 the previous day.
The number of COVID patients in the Intensive Care Unit was down to 48 from the 52 recorded on Aug. 17, SMH noted.
However, the ICU capacity has been increased gradually over the past two weeks. As of Aug. 18, the number of beds was 98; 70 of those were full.
A day later — Aug. 19 — the COVID patient census had dropped by one, to 249. However, three more of them were in the ICU, the hospital noted in its daily update. Savage told the News Leader that, prior to this fourth surge, the highest number of COVID patients the hospital had had in the ICU at any time was 31.
Further, on Aug. 18, she said that the COVID patients in the ICU ranged in age from 36 to 85.
The total ICU patient count was 81 on Aug. 19, up from 70 the previous day, the hospital reported.
Countywide, for the seven days through Aug. 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted on its website that 56.47% of hospital ICU beds in Sarasota County were in use for COVID patients. That figure was up 12.64%, compared to the percentage for the previous seven days, the CDC said.
Altogether, SMH reported on Aug. 19, 86% of its COVID-positive patients had not been vaccinated against the virus.
The youngest COVID patient the hospital has treated was 22 days old, President and CEO David Verinder pointed out in an Aug. 13 video interview that Savage provided the News Leader this week.
Many of the “very sick” patients SMH has been treating during this latest surge are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, Verinder said.
“The biggest thing anyone can do is wear a mask, stay socially distanced, and get the vaccine,” he stressed in the video.
And while the hospital recorded only four COVID deaths in July, he added, the pace of deaths has been picking up.
On Aug. 12, SMH noted in its patient census that it had handled 280 deaths since the first pandemic cases were identified in the county in March 2020. That figure was up to 296 by Aug. 16. On Aug. 19, the total was 304.
“This is taking a huge toll on our staff,” Verinder pointed out of the surge. “It’s heartbreaking for them every time they have a patient come in.” And when a patient dies, he added, that “devastates them.”
Verinder noted that the Aug. 13 video was the 20th he had recorded since the pandemic began. Prior to that video, he continued, the most recent one had been filmed about a month ago. At that time, he continued, “We had a much different experience going on” in the health care system and in the community. “We were feeling optimistic that we had turned the corner on COVID. But today, we are facing a different reality.”
The COVID-positive patient census “has gone up very quickly over the past six weeks,” he pointed out, “and we’re still not sure when the top of that might be. Many of the recent patients, he stressed, “are very severely ill … and our ICUs are full.”
In fact, Verinder explained, staff members are constantly working to figure out how to accommodate more ICU patients.
State and county case counts climbing
With the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee having reduced its COVID-19 reporting to a weekly basis, the latest state information — for the week of Aug. 6-12 — features a chart that underscores the figurative march of the Delta variant through the state. The department’s tally of new COVID-19 cases for the week of June 4 was 11,836, with a positivity rate of 3.5% statewide. By the release of the update for the week of July 16, the case count was 73,205. For Aug. 6-12, the total was 151,415, with a positivity rate statewide of 19.3%.
Thus, the total count of new cases for the first full week of August was nearly 13 times higher than the figure for the first full week of June.
In Sarasota County, the number of COVID-19 cases was higher by 443 in the latest state report than the total in the previous weekly update. The Florida Health Department reported 2,377 new cases from Aug. 6-12 in the county, with a positivity rate of 16.5%, up 2 points from the figure in the previous update.
The state report did note that 287,453 county residents — 72% — had received vaccinations through Aug. 12.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the Sarasota County positivity rate for the seven days through Aug. 15 was 19.01%. It also noted that the data it had received showed that the number of new cases over the seven-day period ending on Aug. 17 was 2,383.
“Each day,” Verinder said, “I’m asked when do we think this surge will end.” He added, “I don’t know.”
The Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) continues to point out in a weekly update to county employees that “the elderly and those with underlying medical problems,” such as high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes, “are more likely to develop serious illness.”
“The Department always recommends everyday preventive actions to help impede the spread of respiratory diseases,” including the following, the advisory notes:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with persons in poor health.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then dispose of the tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
COVID-19 testing sites
Those who feel sick or those who believe they may have been exposed to the virus may visit one of three county testing sites, DOH-Sarasota reminds the public.
- The former Sarasota Kennel Club,located at 5400 Old Bradenton Road in Sarasota, is a drive-through facility open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It offers rapid and PCR COVID-19 testing. This site is operated by Nomi Health.
- The Robert L. Taylor Community Complex parking lot, located at 1845 34th St. in Sarasota, is a walk-up site openMonday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PCR COVID-19 testing is available throughout the day; however, rapid tests are available only from noon to 4 p.m. This site is operated by Lab Services.
- Dallas White Park, located at 5900 Greenwood Ave. in North Port, isalso a walk-up site. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PCR COVID-19 testing is available throughout the day; however, rapid tests are available only from noon to 4 p.m. This site also is operated by Lab Services.
“All three sites will test anyone regardless of symptoms,” DOH-Sarasota points out. “Testing is free,” DOH-Sarasota adds.
Florida Department of Health guidance continues to stress that vaccines are “the most effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be vital to ending the pandemic, including combating the recent case increases locally, nationally and globally.”
DOH Sarasota offers the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, with no appointment necessary, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at its offices located at 2200 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota and at 6950 Outreach Way in North Port.
Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are available at multiple community outlets. To find the nearest location, visit www.vaccines.gov.