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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Courtesy of Lee Health
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Golisano Children's Hospital Pediatric ICU Nurse Tami Anderson speaks at a Pandemic Press Conference, Tuesday.

Two Court Hearings Set as Fights Continue Over School Mask Mandates

The legal battles over mask mandates in Florida schools are continuing with two court hearings scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 8.

A state judge in Leon County ruled in August that school districts do have the power to require masks. Then Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration appealed the decision. So now Judge John Cooper will consider whether school mask mandates should be allowed to stay in place until the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee has weighed in on the issue.

In federal court, a separate lawsuit is also getting a hearing. This one targets both state officials as well as some school districts, including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

The lawsuit argues kids with disabilities and severe medical conditions are so vulnerable that they won’t be able to go to school at all unless everyone is wearing masks.

COVID Infections and Hospitalizations Are Declining Statewide

Florida is reporting a decline in new COVID-19 cases. According to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, in the week ending Sunday, the state added 129,202 infections, which is down 15% from the previous week, when 151,760 new cases were reported.

Likewise, Florida is experiencing a statewide decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and healthcare systems in Southwest Florida are part of that cautiously optimistic trend.

The Florida Hospital Association reported 13,292 hospitalized COVID patients, Tuesday, which is down from a high of nearly 17,000 a month ago.

Most hospitals in Southwest Florida are now reporting declines in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

At a press conference, Tuesday, Lee Health officials reported having 525 COVID patients in the health system's hospitals, marking the fewest since Aug. 13th. Fifteen of those cases are pediatric cases in the Golisano Children's Hospital.

Pediatric ICU nurse Tami Anderson spoke at Tuesday's press conference. She said having been a nurse for 38 years, previous outbreaks like H1N1 and the AIDS epidemic now feel like a "dress rehearsal" compared to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a virus that is more indiscriminate, that is more unpredictable, or that is more brutal than COVID-19 has been on our children. This is kind of a new thing for us, because we’re seeing children from as young as a week or two of age all the way up to 17 and 18 years of age coming into our intensive care unit very, very ill with conditions that we don’t usually see in children like blood clots in their lungs,” said Anderson.

“Fifteen and 16-year-old healthy children, male and female, coming into the ICU not even strong enough to be able to walk into their own beds. They can’t breathe. They can’t move. They can’t get up.”

Lee Health's resources remain strained, as the health system is operating at 97% of staffed operational bed capacity. 97% of ICU rooms are full with 88 COVID patients in the ICU, including 75 on ventilators.

Since the start of the pandemic 995 COVID patients have died in Lee Health hospitals, including 40 fatalities over the Labor Day holiday weekend and 13 deaths on Monday alone.

Lee Health's surge plan remains in place with command centers open in all the health system's hospitals and with elective surgeries and hospital visitation remaining limited. Over the past several months, Lee Health has hired more than 150 nurses.

Some adult patients are now being treated at the Golisano Children's Hospital, where the pediatric sedation unit has been converted into a pediatric patient treatment area. Pediatric sedation is now limited to emergency cases.

NCH reported treating 191 COVID patients, Aug. 7, compared to 205 last Friday. Nine NCH patients have died since Friday, for a total of 301 fatalities and 85% of NCH's hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated.

NCH is operating at 151% of critical care bed capacity with 47 COVID patients in critical care, including 36 on ventilators.

Physicians Regional Healthcare System in Collier reported having 96 hospitalized COVID patients, Tuesday, which is the same number as last Friday.

Meanwhile, Sarasota Memorial Hospital reported treating 211 COVID patients, Tuesday, after a week of declines. Tuesday's COVID patient population at Sarasota Memorial was down 27% from the Aug. 29 peak of 291 patients. 84% of the hospital's current COVID patients are unvaccinated.

The Herald Tribune reports, Sarasota Memorial reports having 60 COVID patients in the ICU. There were 16 more COVID deaths over the holiday weekend for a total of 377 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic, including 111 fatalities in just the past month.

Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton had 89 COVID patients, Tuesday, which is down from 106 on Friday. Lakewood Ranch Medical Center had 59 COVID patients, yesterday, which is down from 61 on Friday.

Lee Schools Report More COVID Cases in First Month of Classes than During All of Last Year

More COVID-19 cases have been reported in Lee County schools in the first four weeks of this school year than were reported in the entire last school year.

The News-Press reports, that between the first day of school Aug. 10 and Labor Day, the district confirmed a total of 4,371 cases, and that they've occurred in all of the district's 87 school locations.

District-wide, students account for 88% of all cases. Elementary schools have been hit the hardest so far this year with 1,662 student cases of the virus and 282 cases among staff. About 53% of staff cases in Lee County schools this year have been among employees working in elementary schools.

Meanwhile, the Collier County School district has reported 1,282 COVID cases so far this school year, which is about 700 fewer cases than during the entire previous school year.

The Collier district is on pace to surpass the entire last school year's number of COVID infections by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Lee County School District officials, late last week, threatening to withhold state funding from the district due to its mask-wearing policy for students.

The Lee School District's 30-day mask policy provides an opt-out option only with a doctor's note. The News-Press reports, Corcoran's letter says that violates a rule adopted by the Florida Department of Health Aug. 6, that allows parents to decide whether their kids will wear masks in schools.

Corcoran says he intends to withhold funding in the amount of school board members' salaries as well as imposing other sanctions, until the district complies.

The Lee County School District is one of several around the state, including Sarasota, that Corcoran has threatened to withhold funding from over student mask mandates.

Labor Day Weekend Gas Prices Climb to Highest in Seven Years

Labor Day weekend travelers faced the highest gas prices in seven years.

It’s because of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida.

Gas prices in Florida are averaging $3.02 a gallon. That’s higher than prices this time last year and in 2019, when prices were 58 cents less.

AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins says prices are higher because of the way the coronavirus pandemic has affected supply and demand.

“Last year there were fewer people traveling, driving. So, a lot of countries dialed back. They cut back on some of their crude oil production. And that led to less supply in the market, and now this has just come roaring back, I think faster than many producers anticipated.”

Meanwhile Hurricane Ida left nine crude oil refineries offline. Jenkins says gas prices could begin to level off as four have initiated the process of restarting.

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