Sarasota Memorial Hospital staff seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients

Sarasota Memorial Hospital lung specialist and Health Department staff cite vaccinations as best protection against serious illness and death

The Sarasota Memorial complex is on U.S. 41 in Sarasota. Photo courtesy Sarasota Memorial Health Care

On July 30, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 patient census was 115. Exactly one year earlier, on July 30, 2020, the count was 103.

By Aug. 9 of this year, the Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) total was up to 192, with 41 COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), staff noted in its update for that date.

Two days later, the overall COVID-19 patient count had jumped to 211. Those who had not been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus made up 89% of the total, the hospital reported. That level climbed to 90% on Aug. 12, the hospital said in that day’s update.

As of Aug. 12, the hospital had 205 COVID-19 patients, it reported, with 45 of those in the ICU. The latter figure marked an increase of one from the previous day. Altogether, the ICU census on Aug. 12 was 69, compared to 73 on Aug. 11, the report noted.

For the seven-day period ending on Aug. 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website, the number of new hospital admissions throughout Sarasota County was 241, a 46.06% hike from the figure in the previous seven-day report.

With the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee continuing to provide just weekly updates, the latest data from the state that was available prior to the publication deadline for The Sarasota News Leader this week — for the period of July 30 through Aug. 5 — showed 1,934 new cases in Sarasota County and a positivity rate of 14.5% averaged over the previous seven days.

This graphic shows the changes in positivity rates for the county. Image courtesy Sarasota County

For the seven-day period ending on Aug. 10, the CDC pointed out on its website, the number of cases in the county had climbed 35.78%, compared to the figure for the previous seven-day reporting period.

The seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate for Sarasota Memorial Hospital on Aug. 12 was 18.7%, compared to 13.8% for the week ending Aug. 6, the hospital said in its update.

On its website, the CDC put the county’s positivity rate at 18.7% for the seven-day period through Aug. 8; that marked a 2.36% uptick from the level in the prior report.

This is data from the CDC reflecting the COVID-19 situation in Sarasota County. Image from the CDC website

The average number of cases per 100,000 population in the county was 438.4 for the period of July 30 through Aug. 5, state data show.

In an Aug. 9 update, G. Steve Huard, public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota), noted that 282,832 county residents — 70% — had been vaccinated for COVID-19.

This is the Sarasota County ‘heat map’ for Aug. 11, showing the number of COVID-19 cases, by zip code, over the previous 14 days. Image courtesy Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County
This is the Aug. 4 ‘heat map.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County and the Florida Department of Health

‘A very stressful time’ for health care providers

In a video of an interview that Sarasota Memorial Hospital released on Aug. 10, Dr. Joseph Seaman, a critical care pulmonologist, emphasized the continuous rise in the number of COVID-19 patients as this week progressed.

“Around six weeks ago, or so,” he said, SMH staff members felt they were “in a good place,” with only three COVID-19 patients in the facility and none in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

With people continuing to get vaccinated against the illness, Seaman added, “I thought: ‘That’s it; we’re smooth sailing.’”

Now, given the sharp increase in the patient census over the past week, he said, “It’s obviously a very stressful time for all parties involved.”

Dr. Joseph Seaman. Image courtesy Sarasota Memorial Hospital

Last year, he noted, most of the COVID patients the hospital treated were older. With this new surge, he continued, staff is attending to “a disproportionate amount of young folks” — people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. These younger patients, he explained, “are, on average,” sicker than those of the same age whom the hospital was treating a year ago. “They’re on more oxygen; they’re having more airway disease.”

“The biggest issue is the predominant respiratory failure that folks are getting,” Seaman pointed out.

On the positive side, he noted, hospital staff members are not seeing as much incidence of kidney failure as they did last year.

Patients have been expressing surprise that they have become so ill, Seaman said, since they had managed to go through 18 months without catching COVID-19. “Just because you dodged a bullet last year doesn’t mean you’re going to continue to get by without getting sick,” Seaman stressed.

Additionally, “numerous patients” have voiced regret about not getting vaccinated, he pointed out. “I’ve had a couple of sad situations where people were told to get the vaccine, and they succumbed to the illness. … Almost all of this is preventable.”

When he walks through the ICU and sees people dying, he said, “It’s just incredibly frustrating.”

SMH does have an abundance of oxygen, to his knowledge, and an adequate supply of ventilators, Seaman continued. Further, the hospital staff learned a lot last year about treating patients, he noted, including the fact that not all patients benefit from medication.

Yet, he emphasized, by the time a person is ill enough to come to the hospital, it can be difficult for staff to treat the disease. “There’s no amazing therapy available.”

Seaman also referenced “a lot of bad press out there” about therapies that have not been proven to work.

This is the Aug. 12 patient census from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Image courtesy SMH

Vaccines and testing

Huard, the DOH-Sarasota public information officer, is reminding the public regularly that anyone can get a COVID-19 vaccination, without an appointment, at the department’s facilities in downtown Sarasota and in North Port.

“The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be vital to ending the pandemic, including combating the recent case increases locally, nationally and globally,” Huard stressed in a news release this week.

The benefits of vaccination follow, he noted:

  • It significantly reduces the risk of contracting the virus even if a person is exposed to COVID-19.
  • It teaches the body how to fight the virus.
  • It reduces the risk of severe symptoms, hospitalization and death if a person contracts the virus.
  • It minimizes the ability for the virus to spread, “especially to our most vulnerable populations.”
  • Vaccination fights “against emerging variants that can cause worse symptoms and spread.”

DOH Sarasota offers the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at its 2200 Ringling Blvd. location in Sarasota and at 6950 Outreach Way in North Port. Both locations close from noon to 1 p.m. for lunch, Huard added.

Additionally, COVID-19 vaccines are available at multiple community outlets. To find the nearest location, a person may visit www.vaccines.gov.

A sign outside the Robert. L. Taylor Community Complex alerts the public to the free testing site. Image courtesy City of Sarasota via Facebook

As for testing: Two other county sites have been added in the past week:

  • The Robert L. Taylor Community Complex parking lot, located at 1845 34thSt. in Sarasota.
  • Dallas White Park, which stands at 5900 Greenwood Ave. in North Port.

Both sites are operated by Lab Services, Huard pointed out.

Additionally, Nomi Health continues to offer testing at the former Sarasota Kennel Club, which is located at 5400 Old Bradenton Road in Sarasota.

All three sites are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Huard reported. They will test anyone regardless of symptoms, and the testing is free. Both PCR and rapid antigen tests are available.

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