PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

COVID-19 Morning Report

Joann Marcus
Marta Lavandier/AP
Joann Marcus of Fort Lauderdale, left, cheers as she listens to the Broward School Board's emergency meeting, Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A small but vocal group spoke vehemently against masks, saying their personal rights were being eroded and their children were suffering socially. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Florida Continues Record COVID-19 Hospitalizations

More Floridians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic: more than 12,400 patients across the sunshine state.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 2,500 Floridians are severely ill with COVID-19. That means 38% of all intensive care unit beds in Florida have COVID-19 patients.

Governor Ron DeSantis held a roundtable with hospital CEOs Wednesday. He emphasized that breakthrough cases, where people who are fully vaccinated still get COVID-19, are rare and hospitalizations are even rarer.

“We have seen a lot of fully vaccinated people test positive,” DeSantis said. “So when people see that, some people will say, ‘man, these vaccines must not be doing their job.’”

Florida has not reached the level of daily deaths seen during the last wave of the pandemic. DeSantis said that’s because a higher percentage of Florida seniors are vaccinated.

“About 55% of our inpatients are between 40 to 64 years old, so it’s a younger group, certainly heavily represented by unvaccinated patients” said Orlando Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. George Ralls. “Unfortunately, that vaccine message didn’t penetrate the way we had hoped with everybody, but definitely did protect that older group.”

DeSantis did not take questions from reporters at the roundtable. The roundtable did not have representatives from AdventHealth or Health First, which have stopped doing elective surgeries because of the current surge.

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 60 percent of Florida’s hospitals say they will have a critical staff shortage in the next week.

Hospital representatives at DeSantis’ roundtable meeting also said COVID-19 patients in Florida now skew younger and the vast majority have not been vaccinated.

CEO of Jackson Health System in Miami Carlos Migoya said Jackson has about 280 patients who have COVID-19.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us, but, you know, we feel pretty good about this. We are looking at maybe reducing some of our electives right now. We stopped our visitations because we want to make sure we don’t spread it,” said Migoya.

Meanwhile, Memorial Healthcare System in Broward announced plans to stop elective procedures next Monday, Aug. 9.

SWFL Hospital COVID-19 Patient Rates Continue to Increase

The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to Lee Health's five hospitals dropped slightly on Wednesday to 309 patients, but the health system reported Thursday morning, admissions have increased to 338 patients.

70% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 5% of ICU rooms are available. Thirty of Lee Health's COVID-19 patients are on ventilators and 63 are in intensive care. The health system reports 82.5% of its coronavirus patients are unvaccinated.

Meanwhile the NCH Healthcare System in Collier County reported treating 149 COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, which is up from 140 patients the day before. Thirty coronavirus patients are on ventilators and 55 are in the intensive care unit. NCH reports 83% were unvaccinated upon admission.

According to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were 12,408 COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals throughout the state, Wednesday, marking a 4.6% increase from the day prior.

The Herald Tribune reports, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg is reporting a record number of pediatric COVID-19 cases. In July, All Children's Hospital reported 181 COVID-19 positive pediatric patients compared to just 12 positive tests in June. Those numbers reflect how many children tested positive for the virus, not how many were hospitalized.

As of Wednesday, All Children's Hospital reported treating 15 hospitalized pediatric patients, including four in the intensive care unit.

Symptomatic patients coming to the ER and asymptomatic kids in the hospital for a different reason account for many of the positive tests.

Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Infectious disease specialist Camille Sabella tells the Herald Tribune that the Delta variant responsible for the current surge in new infections is more contagious among kids, but that symptoms tend to be mild.

Florida School Districts Defy Ban on Mask Mandates

Three Florida school districts, so far, say they plan to require masks when students come back to classrooms this month, in defiance of an executive order announced by Governor Ron DeSantis, Friday, barring schools from imposing mask mandates amid a surge in new COVID-19 infections.

The AP reports, the Broward, Duval and Alachua County school boards will be requiring masks.

The Duval County school board voted, Tuesday to require masks in schools unless parents fill out paperwork to opt out.

Broward school district officials plan to review their policy at an Aug. 10th meeting before the school year begins. Leon County School District Superintendent Rocky Hanna sent a letter to DeSantis, Wednesday, asking him to give local school officials "flexibility and autonomy" in regulations aimed at protecting students amid the surge in new infections and to "not allow pride or politics to cloud our better judgement."

DeSantis has threatened to withhold state funding for districts that require mask-wearing, but attorney for the statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, Ron Meyer, tells the Herald Tribune, Florida law is on the side of the school districts.

Meyer notes that when DeSantis forced the reopening of brick and mortar schools last year, the state was under an emergency declaration.

Without the emergency declaration in place, Meyer says the state constitution gives school districts broad authority to set conditions for how schools will open.

Gov. DeSantis Responds to President Biden’s Calls to “Get out of the way”

During a press conference in Panama City, Wednesday, Governor DeSantis openly defied President Joe Biden, saying he would "stand in the way," of any federal restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Florida is the epicenter of a nationwide surge in new infections and soaring hospitalization rates. DeSantis was responding to comments made by Biden from the White House, Tuesday, calling on Republican governors like DeSantis who broadly oppose pandemic restrictions, to "get out of the way."

Late last month, DeSantis said he may call state lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special legislative session if the federal government moves to mandate mask-wearing in schools.

Despite Surge, Florida To Rely on Local Governments to Open COVID-19 Testing Sites

Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state does not plan on reopening coronavirus testing sites despite a surge in cases.

These large state-supported sites at locations such as Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg shut down this spring as demand for testing waned. However, things have changed as cases in the state reach record levels.

Speaking in Sarasota on Tuesday, DeSantis said he's leaving it to local governments to decide whether to reopen their own sites.

He said “they've got huge amounts of money from CARES Act” that can go toward opening the sites, adding that testing is also widely available at pharmacies, labs and doctor's offices.

The Hillsborough County Health Department announced Tuesday it was opening two temporary sites in Tampa with cases on the rise due to the coronavirus variant.

In a news release, county health officials said the sites are opening “out of an abundance of caution and to enhance community testing capabilities.”

The two temporary sites will administer 500 free tests on a first-come, first-served basis, and no appointment is necessary. All testing will be conducted indoors, and rapid tests will be administered, though PCR tests will be available upon request.

Face masks will be required, along with a photo ID. Those without insurance can still receive a test.

Sarasota County kept its site open at the former Sarasota Kennel Club throughout the summer. This site is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will test anyone regardless of symptoms.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.
Verónica Zaragovia
Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters,WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.