A group of hospital CEOs and doctors from around the state met virtually with Governor Ron DeSantis in a roundtable discussion about the recent COVID surge. They stressed that while cases are reaching record numbers, this surge is not as severe as last summer, and Floridians should not delay other needed health care because of it.
Governor Ron DeSantis was joined by Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Simone Marstiller and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a conversation with hospital leadership from major hospital systems across Florida regarding the effectiveness of vaccines, the success with COVID-19 treatments and hospital capacity.
Tampa General President and CEO John Couris told those worried about the recent surge “Go to your emergency room if you’re having a real emergency. We’re open. We’re here. Don’t wait. Don’t delay care. Hospitals are ready and ready to take care of patients in an emergency.”
Carlos Migoya, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jackson Health System admitted that the “spike is pretty strong,” but he said the number of deaths is “nowhere close to where they were last summer.”
“Dramatically less,” he added.
DeSantis asked Broward Health CEO Shane Strum if he’s seen the same.
“The patient volumes are definitely moving in that direction, but they’re not where they were last summer,” Strum said. “Last summer you saw the surge, really, in South Florida. Now you’re seeing it statewide. I would say our numbers are comparable to the other major health care systems out there.”
Strum said only 20 percent of Broward Health’s patients have COVID-19.
At this point bed space is not a dire situation.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12,408 in-patient beds are in use for COVID-19 patients in Florida. That total represents 22.56 percent of total in-patient beds. The numbers are based on 232 hospitals reporting.
Those attending the roundtable confirmed those reports. Although the number of beds in use has increased over the past few weeks, the hospital leaders reported between five and 20 percent of inpatients are due to COVID-19. In contrast, Jackson Health reported this number was as high as 50 percent last summer.
“Do not delay care,” said Couris. “The hospitals are ready, and we’re able to take care of patients in a crisis and an emergency. At TGH right now we have 126 COVID patients — we are a 1,041-bed hospital. That’s a little over 10 percent of our beds are devoted right now to COVID patients.”
“We want to make sure that we’re continuing the work that we’re called to do every day,” said David Strong, President and Chief Executive Officer of Orlando Health. “I don’t want folks to lose sight of that. One of the things that occurred, and you’ve heard some of my colleagues talk about it this last year, where people delayed care. That creates significant issues. Unfortunately, many people are paying for that today. So, we would just encourage people not to delay care, but seek the care that you need.”
Strum and Curry said between 95 and 99 percent of the current hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
Couris said, “the vast majority” of those who are vaccinated and still have to be hospitalized with COVID-19 are “immunosuppressed already.”
Migoya said only 12 percent of Jackson Health’s current 280 COVID-19 patients are vaccinated, and nearly half of all vaccinated patients hospitalized are inpatients due to other causes but simply tested positive with no or mild symptoms.
“Despite the information that’s coming out about people that are fully vaccinated still getting COVID, those numbers are low,” said Dr. George Ralls, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Orlando Health. “And they are absolutely still in a better situation than they would have been had they gotten COVID without the vaccine. So really, really important to drive that message to everybody.”
The hospital CEOs also told DeSantis that the good news of available little-known monoclonal antibody treatments is not getting out and that they are effective if patients seek treatment with the onset of symptoms.
“The two messages here are really obvious: vaccinated people have a lot less potential of getting hospitalized — that’s extremely important,” said Migoya. “If you get sick, go see someone in the first seven days, monitor your oxygenation rate. There are machines nowadays you can put in your finger [and] if your number is down below 94 percent, that’s a problem. Go to your [emergency department].”
He said the monoclonal antibody treatments are very beneficial if given within the first seven days.
“Almost 100 percent of our patients have told us that 24 to 48 hours later (after the treatment), they feel much better,” agreed Couris.
But, all of them agreed the best course of action to avoid serious illness was to get vaccinated.
At Tampa General, the median age of COVID-19 inpatients was 68 last summer and is currently around 57. This shift toward younger demographics is, in part, due to the success of vaccinating seniors and protecting them against more severe illness. At Orlando Health, approximately 55 percent of patients being seen with COVID-19 are between 40 and 64 years old, whereas people over the age of 65 comprised more than half of those hospitalized last summer.
Strum said, “Talking about that average age, ours was in the low 70s last time. This time, it’s in the 50s, low 50s. So, you see a big difference there. I think another critical or important number to share with you would be that 80 percent of our patient census is non-COVID patients.”
The Jacksonville mayor said, “There’s a lot of discussion — a lot of people are afraid and panicking. The solution is to get vaccinated. I’m not suggesting we coerce or force or mandate people to get vaccinated, but we keep working together to educate them that the vaccine is effective. They will keep you out of the hospital and keep you from getting really, really sick.”