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SWFL Hospital officials urge prevention and vigilance as COVID cases rise

Yuri Samoilov via Flickr creative commons

Amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent weeks, predictions of a surge in new infections across the South and the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend, Southwest Florida hospital officials are raising awareness about taking precautions and getting vaccinated.

Last Thursday, Lee Health reported treating 80 COVID-19 patients in its five hospitals, marking a 175% increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients since May 1. Meanwhile, Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Sarasota and Venice campuses combined have seen a 53% increase in hospitalized COVID patients since the beginning of the month with 32 patients on May 24 compared to 17 on May 2.

Overall, infections appear less severe than in previous phases of the pandemic, with both health systems reporting fewer than 10 patients needing ICU-level care.

Conversely, NCH officials, last week, reported no steady increase in COVID hospitalizations so far in May.

Statewide, the Florida Department of Health has been reporting increases in the weekly number of COVID-19 cases for at least the past ten weeks. In the week ending May 13, state health officials reported 39,374 cases of coronavirus among Florida residents, marking a 19.47% increase in cases from the week prior. The following week, the health department reported a 52.9% jump in new COVID infections with 60,204 cases as of May 19.

Lee Health’s medical director of epidemiology Dr. Mary Beth Saunders says varying symptoms of hospitalized COVID-positive patients leads her to believe more than one variant is spreading in the community.

“Some folks are presenting with diarrhea and nausea, which is something we saw in the very early pandemic as a presenting symptom and they have very little respiratory symptoms, and then we have those folks that are presenting with the classic respiratory symptoms and loss of taste and smell,” said Dr. Saunders.

“Probably the respiratory variant – the one that has more respiratory symptoms – is probably a little bit higher, but without doing the testing we just don’t really know.”

In a recent video message, SMH infectious disease specialist Dr. Manuel Gordillo said now is a time for residents to think about prevention. “It is time to prepare. We’ve been through this cycle before. I call it the ‘panic-neglect’ cycle because we tend to neglect things, and then when the numbers start rising we panic,” said Dr. Gordillo. “And it gets repeated with every surge.”

Former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx has told multiple media outlets in recent weeks that she’s expecting another COVID-19 surge in Southern states like Florida this summer.

In an effort to increase community awareness and encourage residents to be proactive, particularly ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Lee Health’s Dr. Saunders says now is the time to be more vigilant.

“If you’re sick, don’t be going to the party anyway…Don’t come to work and spread more infection to your coworkers and elsewhere.”

Dr. Saunders reminds that preventative measures many people have become lax about like social distancing and proper hand hygiene, remain important. “I hate to bring up the mask word, but masking does two things: It protects the person wearing it and prevents the spread of viral particles. So, it may by in some situations that people would consider wearing their mask again. Where we’ve all kind of put masks aside and put them in our desk drawers and walked away, but it may be a time that, for the next week or so until we know where this is going, to be vigilant and hopefully slow down the spread within our community.”

Dr. Saunders and Dr. Gordillo also wants the community to remember the benefits of vaccination. “Just look at whether you are up to date with your vaccines…especially if you are over 50 and if you are immunocompromised,” said Dr. Gordillo. “This is a must.”

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