Surging COVID-19 numbers are leading local hospitals to shift resources to meet sharply rising demand.
On Wednesday UF Health Shands Hospital reported 107 COVID-positive patients, almost eight times the number of patients it had a month ago. Meanwhile, North Florida Regional Medical Center reported Thursday that 20 percent of its total patient census is now COVID patients—four times the number of a month ago.
“The preponderance of it all is that 92 percent of our COVID patients are non-vaccinated,” Shands CEO Ed Jimenez said in a phone interview. “I would definitely say that resurgence is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 51 percent of Alachua County’s population is vaccinated, including 58.3 percent of those over the age of 12. Only 56.9 percent have received at least one vaccine dose.
The local numbers are comparable to national trends. CDC reports 49.4 percent of all Americans are fully vaccinated, including 57.7 percent over the age of 12, and 57.2 percent with at least one dose.
“We have dedicated isolation areas for our COVID-19 patients that are separate from other areas of the hospital,” North Florida Regional CMO Dr. Sean Benoit said. “This ensures that our COVID-19 patients receive the care they need, and that other patients can continue to seek safe care at our facility.”
Jimenez stressed the importance of vaccination, adding it is important for people to get their information on the vaccines from reliable sources.
“It’s not that (the vaccinated) can’t get COVID—that’s not a surprise because we knew that from the clinical trials,” he said. “It’s just that they won’t either be hospitalized or get deathly ill.”
The rise is in sharp contrast to May, when new cases and hospitalizations were decreasing. But then the delta variant started emerging worldwide and numbers have shot up again.
Benoit feels confident in North Florida Regional’s ability to provide beds, staffing, supplies, and equipment needed for its COVID patients, but added that increased vaccinations are key to stem the tide.
“We cannot stress enough the importance of becoming vaccinated,” he said. “Receiving the COVID-19 vaccines has been proven to be one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of the virus.”
Shands had its highest COVID admittance mark at 150 in early January, with the number dwindling to a mere 14 positive patients four weeks ago, while North Florida Regional’s total COVID census was at just 5 percent.
The delta variant, coupled with the relaxed masking and social distancing, has helped fuel the new surge, which Jimenez says he doesn’t expect to decline soon.
“It’s accelerating dramatically,” he said. “You can’t say when it will stop because it is all based on human behavior. But if I see with my eyeballs the way it is—where I see people without masks or social distancing—it’s going to continue to grow.”