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COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise in Southwest Florida

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Amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across the country, healthcare systems in Southwest Florida are reporting increases in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.

Lee Health and Naples Community Hospital (NCH) Healthcare System have both experienced their number of hospitalized COVID patients more than double.

On Jan. 4, Lee Health reported treating 111 hospitalized COVID patients throughout its hospitals compared to 54 patients a month ago. The increase prompted the health system to issue a statement from Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist and Lee Health’s Chief Clinical Officer for Hospital-Based Care & Quality and Safety Dr. Stephanie Stovall.

“We continue to encourage everyone to take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, influenza and other illnesses. Get vaccinated, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask if you are at-risk or not feeling well, gather outside if the weather allows, and stay home if you’re sick,” the statement reads in part.

NCH’s two hospitals in Collier County reported treating 38 COVID patients on Jan. 4, compared to just 15 patients on Dec. 15.

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System (SMH) reports its number of hospitalized COVID patients hasn’t doubled, but has been rising steadily from 48 patients the first week of November compared to 70 patients last Friday, Jan. 6.

Dr. Stovall said this current uptick has not been as severe as past surges such as the one last summer driven by the Delta variant.

“You probably remember what a disaster that kind of was, but we’re handling this one okay,” said Dr. Stovall.

“Definitely numbers are up. Cases are up. Hospitalizations are up. Interestingly, ICU admissions are not significantly elevated, so most of the patients that are coming in are not quite as ill as we had seen back with Delta.”

ICU admissions of COVID patients through SMH and NCH are also low at this time. Dr. Stovall said the current surge could be driven by the BQ1 or BQ1.1 subvariants of the Omicron variant BA.5, but not necessarily. “It’s also possible that we could be seeing a newer variant that we expect to see more and more of. So, I expect that there’s more than one circulating out there right now,” said Dr. Stovall.

“Probably because people are moving. Flights are landing. They are moving again and people are taking vacations and things like that, that allow them to move from one area to another. So, I do think that variants are playing a role in addition to all of those other conditions that change a person’s immunity.”

Stovall says recent cold weather in Florida could also be playing a role.

“I think the cold snap we had around Christmas probably put people in a lot of close proximity because Floridians don’t handle cold weather very well,” said Dr. Stovall.

“So, I think that that probably is more relevant to us in Florida as opposed to other parts of the country where there behaviors probably didn’t change as much as ours did.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued an advisory about a surge in Group A Strep infections in children five-15 years old. “I will say anecdotally, we have seen more Streptococcal disease this season than we have in several seasons and whether that is related to the current respiratory viruses and the strains that are out there like the particular strain of Group A Strep that’s going around is unknown, but that is being seen all over the United States and it is being seen locally as well,” said Stovall.

Dr. Stovall notes, the steps she recommends people take to avoid a COVID infection also apply to other respiratory viruses whether it’s the flu, croup, or the common cold.

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