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SWFL hospitals seeing slight increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations as health systems prepare vaccine rollout for kids six months to five years old

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System

The rate of new coronavirus infections statewide is relatively unchanged from two weeks ago, but some hospital systems in Southwest Florida have been reporting slight increases in hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the last couple of months. And now they’re preparing to provide vaccinations for young children ages six months to five years old.

A daily average of new COVID-19 infections in Florida of about 10,641 cases remains unchanged from the Florida Department of Health’s previous COVID report two weeks ago, but both Lee Health and Sarasota Memorial Health Care Systems have been reporting slight increases in hospitalized coronavirus patients over the last couple of months.

On May 19, Lee Health reported a 175% increase in hospitalized COVID patients compared to the beginning of May.

“So, back then we were around 80 (hospitalized COVID-19 patients). Currently in our system for the past week or so, it’s been between 91 and 105,” said Lee Health Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist and Chief of Quality and Patient Safety Dr. Stephanie Stovall.

“And so we’re continuing to see a slight increase, but it is definitely not the steep climbs that we recall from, say, last summer.”

Dr. Stovall also notes current hospitalized coronavirus patients are experiencing milder symptoms than during previous phases of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a lot of patients now who are just having primarily upper respiratory symptoms. Of course, most of those are not the ones that wind up being hospitalized with lower respiratory symptoms. Currently, we’re not seeing as much in the GI (gastrointestinal) realm of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, but it is more respiratory,” said Dr. Stovall.

“And I would say that just when I talk about folks that are coming into our outpatient offices, we’re definitely seeing more mild cases than we have previously in the pandemic.”

Stovall says even with coronavirus patients generally experiencing milder symptoms, “It’s a little too soon to let our guard down. We’re always on the lookout for an additional variant. As we all know, viruses change and we just have to be ready for whatever they bring about. So, could we see a more severe variant come through that is particularly able to attack that lower respiratory tract and have a lot more illness that’s severe enough to require hospitalizations? That could definitely happen. I think it’s too early to predict just how well vaccination and immunity is going to help our patients fight off any potential variants coming in the future."

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System’s Sarasota and Venice hospitals combined were treating 17 coronavirus patients on May 2, compared to 89 on July 6. SMH Pharmacotherapy Specialist in Infectious Diseases, Dr. Jamie Kisgen, said they’re experiencing similar trends.

“We still see patients coming in with respiratory illness. I don’t think we’re seeing as many patients becoming urgently intubated and in the ICU level of care, but still some very sick patients, which always is very concerning to us,” said Dr. Kisgen.

“And we’re trying to implement some strategies to catch patients earlier on to hopefully prevent those admissions.”

Those strategies include working to educate patients and physicians alike about available therapies including a monoclonal antibody treatment for patients with a COVID-19 infection, as well as a pre-exposure prophylactic treatment for people at high risk of severe infection.

“These are monoclonal antibodies to target this virus. They’re given as an injection though, so that’s something to take into consideration there. They’re given as a one-time injection and providing that, either treatment or prophylaxic, we’re looking for.”

Dr. Kisgen notes there are also two oral antiviral therapies as well, intended for high risk patients who’ve tested positive for the virus: Paxlovid and Molnupiravir.

“So, these are drugs that are again, trying to target that virus. They work a little bit differently, with Paxlovid probably having the best data that we have as far as reliability in reducing hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Kisgen.

He said his focus has been addressing challenges in reaching vulnerable patients who lack access to health insurance and health care resources.

“It is a very short window. We have to get these medications on board early in this disease. How do we get them access? And that’s where its: making sure people are aware of these therapies, making sure our physicians and prescribers in the community know about them and know which patients are going to benefit most, and then making sure they reach out and get access to them through their local pharmacies that stock them,” said Dr. Kisgen.

At the same time, both health systems are preparing to roll out vaccinations for children six-months to five years old.

“So we’re anticipating giving our first doses within the system around July seventh and at that point we’ll be able to give them not only in our pediatric practices affiliated with the Lee Health System, but also in our pediatric infectious diseases sub specialty office,” said Lee Health’s Dr. Stovall.

Dr. Kisgen says Sarasota Memorial has also been able to order vaccine doses for these very young children and that he’s working to put a vaccination game plan together with pediatric practices in the region.

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