Area COVID hospitalizations start slowing

Area COVID-positive patients have more than doubled since last week, but hospital officials report admittance rates are finally slowing and may plateau soon.

According to a revised model projection regarding the highly transmissible omicron variant, a UF Emerging Pathogens Institute report released Jan. 4 predicted the surge would peak around mid-January. And while COVID-positive cases are skyrocketing locally—with almost 6,000 confirmed cases in Alachua County over the last two weeks—hospitals witnessed much higher numbers during the late-summer delta variant explosion.     

“When I hear from colleagues in South Florida, they are are certainly seeing a plateauing, if not a downward trend, on their numbers and we tend to follow them,” UF Health Shands Hospital Chief Operating Officer Traci d’Auguste told reporters during a virtual press conference Thursday. 

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“Our numbers are still going up, but not at the same rate of increase as they were before,” she said. “I’m not sure we’ve hit our plateau yet, but it has certainly slowed, so we’re hopeful that we’ll plateau soon and start to see a decline.”

On Thursday, UF Health Shands Hospital reported 143 COVID-postive patients, including 40 in the ICU and 14 pediatric cases. That is an increase from 60 cases on Jan. 4 and 21 on Dec. 20. Of the 143 patients, 70 percent are unvaccinated.

Not every COVID-positive case at UF Health Shands was admitted due to issues related to the virus, d’Auguste explained. Among the total, 23.7 percent of the patients came in due to other medical conditions and later tested positive.

North Florida Regional Medical Center currently has 75 COVID-positive patients, up from 35 reported on Jan. 3.

“Unlike the surge we experienced with the delta variant last fall, hospitalizations remain lower and individuals who have tested positive for the virus are experiencing much milder and moderate symptoms—particularly those who are vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Dr. Sean Benoit, North Florida Regional’s Chief Medical Officer, in a statement emailed to Mainstreet Daily News.

Health officials say vaccinations and masking continue to be two of the most effective methods to battle the ongoing pandemic that is now going into its second year.

“With omicron, the high transmissibility of this variant has proven that cloth masks alone and surgical masks alone do not provide the high level of effectiveness that we would hope to see,” d’Auguste said, recommending that people either double mask or don N-95 or KN-95 masks for better protection.

The COVID-positive numbers also continue to show people who have not been vaccinated are the ones who are hit harder and end up in the hospital.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we urge those who are not vaccinated, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as this will help protect you from developing severe symptoms from the virus,” Benoit said. “We have also seen that getting your COVID-19 booster has also provided additional protection and reduces your risk of becoming hospitalized.”

On Tuesday, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners reinstated vaccine incentives for county residents and employees.

UF Health also released an interview on Thursday discussing the recent federally approved Prizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for 12- to 15-year-old children.

Click here to find area vaccine sites and testing sites.  

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