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COVID-19 Surge Prompting SWFL Hospitals to Impose Visitation Restrictions

The Focal Project
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As a surge in new COVID-19 infections is leading to increased hospitalizations, heath systems in Southwest Florida are re-imposing restrictions on hospital visitation.

On July 27, Sarasota Memorial Hospital began restricting patients to two visitors a day between noon and 6 p.m. All visitors must wear a mask and be 16 or older. The hospital’s full visitation policy, including mask requirements can be found here.

Between Friday, July 23 and Monday, July 26, Sarasota Memorial reported a 59% increase in admitted patients with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 as the number of coronavirus patients increased from 54 to 86.

On July 21, officials with NCH in Collier County began restricting patients to one visitor at both the health system’s hospitals. NCH’s full visitation policy can be found here. NCH also plans to require new employees, contractors and volunteers to be vaccinated against the virus beginning Aug. 16.

Lee Health’s five hospitals in Lee County are also experiencing an increase in COVID-19 patients. Last Friday, the health system reported having 128 admitted coronavirus patients. By July 27, Lee Health reports that’s grown to 199 admitted COVID-19 patients, including eight patients on ventilators and 26 in intensive care. Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci plans to address the media with more updates Wednesday afternoon.

So far, Lee Health has not imposed hospital visitation restrictions in response to the current surge, but officials with the health system have restarted daily incident briefings related to the pandemic. Lee Health’s full hospital visitation policy can be found here.

In a statement, Lee Health “strongly urges everyone in the community to get vaccinated. Doing so provides significant protection against serious illness even if you are exposed to the coronavirus.”

As of July 22, the Florida Department of Health reports vaccination rates in Southwest Florida counties range between 42% AND 68% of the eligible population 12 and older. Statewide, 60% of the eligible population is vaccinated. In Charlotte and Collier Counties, 66% of the population is vaccinated. In Lee and Manatee Counties 58% of the population is vaccinated. In the Southwest Florida region, Sarasota County leads with 68% of the population vaccinated. DeSoto, Hendry and Glades Counties lag behind with vaccination rates of 46%, 44% and 42%, respectively.

The Florida Department of Health reports, during the week ending July 22, there were 73,199 new COVID-19 infections reported statewide for a cumulative total of more than 2.4 million infections since the beginning of the pandemic. The previous week, state health officials reported a much lower increase of 45,584 new cases. The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests statewide also increased over that same time period from 11.6% to 15.1%.

In a conversation on NPR’s Morning Edition, Wednesday, former FDA commissioner and a Pfizer board member, Dr. Scott Gottlieb said a more accurate picture of how the virus is spreading is challenging to measure because fully vaccinated people and younger people who are more likely to experience asymptomatic or mild infections are less likely to get tested or seek treatment.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in places with high infection rates.

Governor Ron DeSantis, however, continues to oppose mask mandates, particularly for public school children who will be returning to the classroom next month.

On Monday, DeSantis held a closed-door meeting with physicians to oppose mask mandates in schools. DeSantis continues to voice concerns that the federal government may try to impose mask mandates for students. Last week, DeSantis said he’d consider calling state lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special legislative session.

The AP reports, DeSantis acknowledged during Monday’s roundtable that YouTube removed a video of a similar meeting he convened earlier this year because panelists falsely said there was no scientific justification to masking children in schools.

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