Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said as the state moves closer to establishing an opening date, he will continue to move forward in a way that is “safe, smart, and step by step.”
In a press conference held at Orlando Health, a private, not-for-profit network of community and specialty hospitals based in Orlando, DeSantis turned to a panel of four medical professionals who shared insight and about plans to reopen their hospitals and to help local businesses open safely.
David Strong, president and CEO of Orlando Health, said that it is time to allow for elective surgeries and other treatments that have been delayed by the shutdown. “Central Florida right now is worried about taking care of things that have been put off,” he said.
ER Physician Dr. George Ralls has been serving on the front line of the COVID-19, but said he thinks it’s time for comprehensive healthcare to return.
“Patients ignored chest pains, seizures and come in with worse,” Ralls said. “Looking at the numbers, it is time to come back and get your healthcare,” he said. “We are here, we are open and we are safe.”
Anesthesiologist Dr. Jamal Hakim spoke about 12 patients doing well after receiving convalescent plasma from survivors of COVID-19 and listed the efforts made early on in the pandemic that have kept the cases in Central Florida at a minimum.
“We did universal masking, cohorting of patients, limited visitors, testing of pre-surgical patients for COVID-19 for more than 250 pre-surgeries, women coming in to have babies, testing them all as they come through the door, none of the 150 asymptomatic mothers tested positive.”
Of the 2,400 hospital beds across the Orlando Health system a normal capacity is 2,100. But as of April 26, only 1,300 beds were occupied, the doctors reported.
On April 25 the four-county region cared for by Orlando Health with a population of 2.6 million reported 21 new cases of COVID-19.
“Is the curve flat in central Florida? Right now it is going down,” Strong said.
DeSantis and the panel agreed that the elderly and residents that are chronically ill have been identified as the highest at risk for suffering the most and dying from COVID-19.
With that in mind, continued testing of staff and residents at long-term care facilities remains a priority.
Dr. Sunil Desai, a practicing intensivist who works in ICU and with patients who are positive with COVID-19 said that there is a caveat about the elective procedures that have been put on hold.
“It’s elective when you set up the time,” he said. “To that patient, to that family it is not elective. We’re ready, we’re going to do it safely,” he said about reopening the hospitals.
When asked about what businesses and citizens need to do to stay safe as reopening occurs, Desai emphasized the importance and dangers of wearing face masks. “It seems intuitive to universally use a mask,” he said. “More important, is hand hygiene and don’t touch your face.
“How you touch the mask where you lay it down,” he said. “Treat it like a power tool,” he said about how people have been trained how to take face masks off and how to store them and dispose of them properly.
“Social distance, hand washing, don’t touch your face,” he said.
Orlando Health has a task force that will reach out and help businesses get back to work as safely as possible, the doctor said.
“Should I mask my staff, should I not?” he said. “We will work with businesses to help them open incrementally. That’s our responsibility.”
“We are going to come back safely to help others. It is the obligation as healthcare providers to help the community through the opening.”
Gov. DeSantis said he expects to make big announcements soon about his reopening plans in upcoming briefings as soon as Monday, but did not give any further details.