COVID hospitalizations declining in Gainesville

A dip that first started last week has turned into steady downhill momentum.

Local hospitals report growing optimism that the worst of the COVID-19 delta variant surge may have passed. Hospitalizations at UF Health Shands and North Florida Regional Medical Center are down almost 100 combined patients from a high of 453 less than two weeks ago.

“I am extraordinarily optimistic we are moving in the right direction and happy and thrilled to believe that our various strategies are starting to take hold,” UF Health Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said during a virtual press conference Thursday. “That more people are getting vaccinated, that more people are masking, that more people are considering outdoor versus indoor, that more people are creating distance from themselves, and that more people are becoming aware of being infected or having symptoms so they can take advantage of the medications that are available to us. All of it helps and we have to keep pressing all of it.”

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Jimenez reported that UF Shands has 197 COVID-positive patients, including 55 in the ICU. That number is down from 217 and 60 on Monday and a high of 245 on Aug. 19. The number of COVID-positive children hospitalized is also down to nine, compared to 14 on Monday.

At North Florida Regional, the overall hospital census is 31 percent COVID-positive hospitalizations, which is down from 43 percent two weeks ago, according to director of media relations Trip Farmer.

The downward trend comes amid a statewide push to stand up monoclonal antibody treatment centers for those who test positive for COVID-19 and meet the required health and time frame to receive the infusion. There are also 21 state-operated sites offering the treatment, including locally at Fellowship Church in High Springs off of U.S. Hwy 441.

UF Health officials are still emphasizing vaccination as the first line of defense against the coronavirus. That’s true at UF Shands, where Jimenez announced a new protocol will require returning students to be vaccinated before they can start their clinicals.

While UF Shands does not mandate employees to vaccinate, student-learners are equivalent to volunteers or visitors, so Jimenez said hospital officials will be contacting them within the next two days to initiate their vaccinations.

“This week we are notifying the student-learners that they need to have things in place by an appointed time in October,” Jimenez said. “We’ll tell them if that’s not in place, then they can’t learn here.”

Looking ahead, Jimenez said a variety of factors will determine whether Labor Day weekend and the return of Florida Gators football on Saturday will lead to another spike in cases and hospitalizations.

“It’s outdoors, so that’s a plus; some people will wear masks, so that’s a plus; there will be some number of people vaccinated, so that’s a plus,” Jimenez said about the football game. “It’s hard for me to gauge completely if it is good or is it bad because no one knows exactly how many people will be vaccinated and how many people will actually wear a mask, so we will have to wait and see the impact, but there’s a few things at least in our favor.”

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