COVID hospitalizations continue local surge

Omicron continues to push Gainesville hospitalization numbers to their highest levels since early September.

As of Tuesday, UF Health Shands Hospital and North Florida Regional Medical Center tallied 280 COVID-positive cases, up from 218 last week. And the continued increase may continue longer than originally predicted before plateauing, according to projections from UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute stated in a Jan. 4 report.

“The models are predicting different time frames and one of the things that’s been clear about all the models, none of them have ever been exactly right,” said Ed Jimenez, UF Health Shands CEO. “As I look at our hospitalized patients today, we keep going up. I think when we plateau, that will be a really good sign, so we’re not there yet.”

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UF Health Shands Hospital reported 179 COVID-positive patients with 58 in either the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Intermediate Care Unit (IMC), including 10 pediatrics cases with five in the ICU. Along with the 179 positive cases, an additional 25 patients remain in the hospital that started as COVID-positive but are no longer infectious.

“Of the 179, 75 percent of those came to us because of a COVID-related symptom or chief complaint,” Jimenez said, adding that 70 percent of the 179 are unvaccinated. “So it remains to be a virus that finds and targets preferentially those that are not vaccinated.”

Last Thursday, UF Health Shands Hospital reported 143 COVID-positive patients, including 40 in the ICU and 14 pediatric cases. That was an increase from 60 cases on Jan. 4 and 21 on Dec. 20.

Ed Jimenez

North Florida Regional Medical Center reported 101 COVID-positive patients today. That is an increase from 75 last Thursday and 35 reported on Jan. 3.

Florida Department of Health data released on Friday reported 430,297 new statewide cases for the week of Jan. 7 to Jan. 13, with 6,524 of those in Alachua County. The numbers rank Alachua County as the third-highest out of the 67 counties with 1,958 cases per 100,000, trailing only Dade (3,216) and Broward (2,452) counties. 

Symptoms for the omicron variant are closely mirroring those of the cold and flu, which can also throw people off.

“The omicron variant seems to have with it a difference from delta and the differences, therefore, are leaving the remaining symptoms behind to start to resemble colds and flus,” Jimenez said, pointing to people who are reporting body aches, fevers, congestion and coughing. “All of those sound like they could be colds or flus, so there’s a remarkable similarity. So what I say is people should go find testing sites and get tested if you’re symptomatic.

“We are seeing a combination, to a small extent, of people having a cold and omicron, but very little flu and omicron,” he said. “Some of the reasons we’re not seeing more, it feels people are washing their hands more, creating space from one another, people are wiping down still. The things that typically transmitted the cold and the flu, we all have behaviors that are limiting that.”

Children continue to see a rapid increase in COVID-positive cases, with Alachua County Public School dashboard reporting 976 students testing positive in the past 10 days and 1,556 in quarantine as of Jan. 13, up from six new positive cases and 37 students in quarantine on Dec. 19

“We’re finding vulnerability in kids for two reasons,” Jimenez said. “One, not all the kids qualify for the vaccine and, number two, kids became eligible later for the vaccine, so not everybody’s got their second vaccine in, and certainly none of the kids have a booster (shot) in.”

Click here to find area vaccine sites and testing sites

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