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COVID-19 Morning Report

FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, file photo, a patient receives an influenza vaccine in Mesquite, Texas. Amid all the focus on COVID-19 vaccinations, U.S. health experts have another plea: Don’t skip your flu shot. With U.S. schools and businesses reopened, international travel resuming and far less masking this fall, flu is likely to make a comeback. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
LM Otero/AP
FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, file photo, a patient receives an influenza vaccine in Mesquite, Texas. Amid all the focus on COVID-19 vaccinations, U.S. health experts have another plea: Don’t skip your flu shot. With U.S. schools and businesses reopened, international travel resuming and far less masking this fall, flu is likely to make a comeback. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Florida School Districts Continue Legal Fight Over Florida’s Ban on Student Mask Mandates

Eleven Public School Districts in Florida could be facing financial fines for defying the state’s effort to prevent mandatory mask policies. Most of the districts continue to require students to wear face coverings. The Miami Dade and Leon County school districts are preparing to file a new lawsuit against the state.

“We will be filing another petition to DOAH (Division of Administrative Hearings), probably the first part of next week, in regard to the new emergency rule issued by the Department of Health,” said Leon Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

A lawsuit by several districts was dismissed by an administrative judge after the Florida Department of Health changed its mask rules. The federal government has promised to replace any money districts may lose. It recently issued a payment to the Alachua County School District.

Florida Department of Health Threatens Orange County Over Vaccine Mandate

The Florida Department of Health has sent a letter to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings late last week telling him he must reverse a vaccine mandate for county workers.

Demings said the letter says the county could be fined for each infraction of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning vaccine mandates, but Demings said the county is on firm legal ground as no employee can be terminated for not getting the shot.

“County Attorney Newton is reviewing the letter and will be responding this week,” said Demings.

Last week, Demings announced county employees could only be reprimanded in writing for not getting one of three available vaccines.

Lee Health Reports Continued Decline in COVID-19 Patients

Lee Health reported treating 161 COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, marking another daily decline in the number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus and down from a pandemic high of 657 COVID patients on Aug. 26.

Five of Lee Health's COVID-19 patients, Sept. 29, were children.

Lee Health reported seven more deaths of COVID-19 patients, Wednesday, for a total of 1,160 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday morning, Lee Health was at 85% of staffed operational bed capacity.

86% of Lee Health's intensive care bed capacity is full with 42 COVID patients in the ICU, including 27 on ventilators.

Federal Funds to Boost COVID-29 Vaccination Efforts Coming to Florida Community Health Centers

Community health centers in Sarasota and Manatee Counties are receiving more than $2.5 million combined in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

The Herald Tribune reports, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the award of nearly $1 billion to 1,300 health centers nationwide, including almost $40 million for 45 health centers across Florida.

The funding is intended for health centers working with underserved and vulnerable communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding can be spent on things that help boost vaccination efforts such as procuring freezers to store vaccine doses, mobile vans to bring vaccines into communities, and for construction and renovation of health center facilities.

Sarasota-based CenterPlace Health is receiving $694,425 and MCR Health based in Palmetto was awarded $1,841,252.

Flu Season Begins Friday

Flu season officially begins Oct. 1, as Florida is still recovering from the biggest surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nationally and here in Southwest Florida, last year's flu season had a relatively benign effect in terms of hospitalizations, which health experts attribute to COVID safety measures like masking and social distancing.

Lee Health infectious disease expert Dr. Mary Beth Saunders tells the News-Press that flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has been mild. That's used as a metric to predict what the severity of flu season will be in the Northern Hemisphere.

Still officials with the NCH Healthcare system in Collier County say they're preparing for an increase in influenza cases this year as COVID safety mandates concerning masking and social distancing have been lifted and more people are returning to normal activities.

Flu cases don't typically start to peak in Southwest Florida until January and February, but can start to rapidly increase in the fall, which is why public health experts urge people to get the flu vaccine now. Shots are already available through physician's offices and retail pharmacies.

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over six months old.

Hear How the Surge In COVID-19 Deaths Is Taking A Toll on One Florida Doctor

COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining in Florida. But the situation is still bleak for many health care workers, who are watching patients admitted during the delta surge die after weeks of battling the disease.

Dr. Syed Zaidi, practices internal medicine, as an independent contractor at hospitals in Brandon and Bradenton.

In his own words, he shared his experience treating severely ill COVID-19 patients, most of whom are unvaccinated, and said that the past couple of months have been some of the hardest of his life:

You know, it's an uphill battle, and every day I go to work, I feel like I've lost.

Before we would come home, you know I would tell my wife about the people that have made it through or that my medicine has helped. These people aren't going home.

I can tell you that these past two weeks that I've been working, I've signed the most death certificates that I have in my entire career.

And we are seeing younger and younger patients. Before, people would come in, you know, they would be 65, 70, and they would be on the ventilator and wouldn't come off of it. Now we have 30-year-olds, 35-year-olds, people that are my age that are dying. And it's so preventable.

Out of the 30 patients I saw today, 22 were COVID and only one of them was vaccinated fully and she's probably going to leave later today. Everyone else is unvaccinated.

I have a 32-year-old woman, she's 22 weeks pregnant. She's been on the ventilator since she was 19 weeks. It's crazy. All because of a shot.

I had a patient ask me to write a script for ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug. It is not safe. But you don't want to get the vaccine because that's experimental? It just doesn't add up.

And that's really why I reached out to you because I felt like I was at my wit's end. And this pandemic has become so much more difficult than what it really needs to be.

"Please get the vaccine"

The misinformation and the lack of patient trust in us is just absolutely astounding. I always ask, “Why didn't you get the vaccine?” And most times people come up with, “Oh, we were too busy,” or, “I was just about to get it.” Another woman said, “I have done my own research,” I think this is the most predominant thing. And unfortunately, this was someone that actually passed away.

When she got sicker, she told me, “I'm going to leave and get the vaccine.” And I told her that it was too late. But she should tell her friends and family to get vaccinated because being in here, this experience has changed her mind. And she showed me the Facebook group that she sent the message out to. And the next day when I came, she was already transferred into the ICU and she was on a ventilator and she didn't make it.

There has to be a point where this starts taking a toll on you mentally, and it has, not only for me, for all the doctors out there. It's just been a constant struggle without an end in sight. The vaccine was our end, we thought this was going to be over when the vaccine came.

After all, no matter what we feel, what we do, we signed up for this, we're trained to do this. You know, we just we try to do the best we can.

The other day I told this patient, I was like, “I don't want to send you home until your wife gets vaccinated.” And he was like, “I hear you, doc.” And he texted her and she got an appointment. She walked into CVS the next day, she got vaccinated and then a day later, she came to pick him up. These are such big victories for us. It keeps us going, but unfortunately, those are far and few in between.

Please get the vaccine. In the hospital, we see despair. We see regret. We see people that would change their situation in a minute if they had an option to. Don't be one of them.

We promise you, as your physicians, that the vaccine is safe. So trust us, believe us. We're tired, we're exhausted. We don't want this to go on and we need your help."

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