Local COVID hospitalizations rise despite case dip

While the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations moderately increased by 9 percent since last week, Gainesville hospital officials still say the patient number hasn’t peaked. 

According to the Florida Department of Health’s (FDOH) weekly report on Friday, COVID-positive cases declined statewide, dropping from 430,095 on Jan. 21 to 289,204. In Alachua County, the number dropped from 6,524 cases to 4,943.

But COVID hospitalization rates in Alachua County have yet to plateau and may not start decreasing for another couple of weeks yet. On Monday 306 were hospitalized locally for COVID-19, up from 280 last week.

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“I would not say we’re there yet,”UF Health Shands Hospital CEO Ed Jimenez said during a virtual press conference. “We’re still moving up, but we should balance out hopefully soon.”

UF Health Shands Hospital reported 181 COVID-positive patients with 58 in either the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Intermediate Care Unit (IMC), including eight pediatrics patients and four in ICU. UF Shands is also treating 38 patients who started COVID positive but are no longer infectious.

Ed Jimenez

“We’re at just under 70 percent who came to the hospital because of COVID symptoms or COVID-related reasons,” Jimenez said. “And we’re at 70 percent of the patients that are hospitalized who are unvaccinated.”

On Jan. 13, UF Health Shands Hospital reported 143 COVID-positive patients, up from 60 cases on Jan. 4 and 21 on Dec. 20.

At North Florida Regional Medical Center, the numbers have jumped from 101 last Tuesday to 125 COVID-positive patients admitted as of Monday. That figure has increased from 75 on Jan. 13 and 35 on Jan. 3.

“Our COVID-19 census has continued to slowly increase during the month of January,” said Dr. Sean Benoit, North Florida Regional’s CMO, in a statement emailed to Mainstreet Daily News. “The majority of our COVID-19 census is comprised of unvaccinated individuals. We are hopeful that we will reach our peak of Omicron-related COVID infections by the end of the month and our COVID-19-related admissions will begin to decrease.”

The 306 total Gainesville COVID-positive hospitalizations on Monday are well short of the peak witnessed during the delta variant outbreak late last summer—when cases topped at 453.

“If I compared an ICU [omicron] patient today to an ICU patient for delta, their severity of illness was very high [with delta],” Jimenez said. “ICU to ICU I don’t think it’s different, IMC to IMC I don’t think it’s different. I definitely think we’re seeing in total if you look at ratios, we’re not seeing that many ratio-wise ICU patients as we did with delta.”

Jimenez added that the vaccination rates in August were lower than they are now, which also plays a factor in the severity of the two variants, even though omicron is more highly transmissible.

On July 19, only 63.8 percent of Alachua County residents 12 or older were vaccinated.  The FDOH Friday weekly report stated 91 percent of Floridians 65 and older are now vaccinated along with 59 percent of 12 to 19-year-olds and 19 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds.

Dr. Sean Benoit

“As we have always said throughout the pandemic, we cannot stress enough the importance of becoming vaccinated,” Benoit said. “The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of the virus and encourage those who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot. We also recommend the community remain vigilant, continue to practice infection prevention best practices, and follow the latest guidance from the CDC.”

Click here to find area vaccine sites and testing sites

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