Shands CEO: Record COVID hospitalizations continue

Gainesville’s hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-positive cases that may not peak until the end of August, local officials reported Thursday.

North Florida Regional Medical Center reported 171 COVID-positive hospitalizations, taking up 33 percent of their total hospital census—a dramatic increase from the 5 percent the hospital had just six weeks ago.

UF Health Shands Hospital has 216 COVID-postive adult patients, a 54 percent increase over the hospital’s previous pandemic high of 140. Among those adult patients, 54 are in the ICU. Shands reported having nine children under the age of 19, including six in ICU.

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“Kids are now getting COVID in numbers that are different than before,” UF Health Shands Hospital CEO Ed Jimenez said at a Thursday news conference. “If a child gets COVID, we can’t today be so confident that they’re not going to wind up in the hospital, let alone sick. If they are 12 and over, we really should be vaccinating them.”

Among COVID-positive patients at Shands, 86 percent of the adults and all of the kids are unvaccinated. By vaccinating children 12 and over, that would solve potential problems for middle and high schoolers, said Jimenez, especially with schools re-opening this week.

Dr. Sean Benoit, North Florida Regional Medical Center’s CMO, also pointed to the role of treatments for those who contract COVID-19.

Dr. Sean Benoit

“As the number of COVID-19 positive cases continue to rise in our community, North Florida Regional Medical Center is providing monoclonal antibody treatments to eligible individuals as an additional solution to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said in an email statement.

Monoclonal antibody treatments can be used for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals who have tested positive for the virus and who are at high risk for severe illness or immunocompromised. Healthcare experts have agreed that this treatment is safe and effective to prevent major side effects of COVID-19—which can decrease a person’s chances of becoming hospitalized.

Area hospitals have indefinitely canceled elective procedures to focus resources on the pandemic surge.

“By canceling elective procedures to prevent overnight stays, we are putting a COVID patient there,” said Jimenez. “What changes is that COVID patients need a lot more work and effort. And No. 2, more COVID patients means less other kinds of ICU patients.”

Area VA hospitals also announced Thursday that they are suspending elective surgeries.

“In alignment with other hospitals within our community, we are postponing elective surgeries and some procedures at our Malcom Randall VA Medical Center and our Lake City VA Medical Center,” said David Isaacks, the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System executive health system director.

Vaccination still remains the medical community’s No. 1 priority in stemming the tide of COVID variants. The recent delta variant, which started earlier this summer, has proven significantly more infectious than the prior COVID strain and flourished amid laxed masking and social distancing in recent months.

“There’s no question we are back in a situation where everybody should consider masking, social distancing, checking our outdoor/indoor status, and know the vaccination status of those around us,” Jimenez said.

Hospital staff continue to struggle, especially with the latest COVID surge.

“Our staff are tired, emotionally tired,” Jimenez said. “For 18 months they have been at this. Emotionally, we try to make available more resources, counseling and therapy. Second, we try to feed our people. We tell our managers to be more in tune to people working too much overtime.”

Benoit said North Florida Regional is also focused on staff needs.

“We are forever grateful for our dedicated healthcare heroes and colleagues in the community,” Benoit said in an emailed statement. “The team at North Florida Regional Medical Center has continued to answer the call to care for our community through each changing wave of the pandemic, and we could not be more proud of their unwavering dedication to our patients and their families.”

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