As virus numbers rise, officials warn ‘stay healthy, avoid the ER’

August 20, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

According to local health officials, after fighting COVID-19 for more than 500 days now, the curve of the virus is continuing an upward trend in our area, in part because of the Delta variant … and some hospitals are running out of beds. This statement was followed up by some advice: If you can help it, avoid the hospital by staying healthy and find other places to get tested.

In a press conference held on Tuesday, Aug. 17 Lee Health CEO Lawrence Antonucci said that hospitals in their network are at the highest capacity they have ever been. While the highest previous number of patients was 1,500, Antonucci said that as of Monday, Aug. 16 they had 1,536 patients registered, including 129 patients who were being treated in the emergency room, waiting for a bed.

As of Monday, Aug. 16 there were 571 patients with COVID being seen or admitted to Lee Health facilities, and nine people died of COVID-19. On another note, the amount of vaccinations given in the last two weeks has increased by 75 percent.

All elective surgeries have been suspended in the Lee Health system, but necessary surgeries that don’t require a long-term stay in the hospital will continue being performed at this point.

“This number of patients is overwhelming to our staff members, who are also trying to stay healthy,” Antonucci said. “But while last week we thought the Delta variant wasn’t so bad, we have since realized differently. We are now seeing patients in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s … patients who are otherwise healthy people.”

In July, Florida saw roughly 25 deaths per day. Now we are seeing up to 100 people die a day of COVID across the state, of all ages.

Armando Llechu, head of patient in-service for Lee Health, spoke at the conference and said that patient ages have dropped significantly since the newest spike in cases began, and they are getting sicker, and for a longer period of time.

“These patients are often younger and more critical,” he said. “They are also getting sicker, faster, with their oxygen levels worsening more quickly. Their transference from CPAP machines to ventilators is also happening quicker, and their needs for increased oxygen – from two liters to five, then 10, then 13 liters per minute – are increasing more rapidly.”

Llechu said they are seeing many more young children as well, and more cases of Multi System Inflammatory Disease.

“We are seeing children who are admitted or seen in the ER, who leave while being treated for COVID, then coming back a few weeks later with these other symptoms,” he said. “They present almost like the flu, sometimes with a fever, respiratory symptoms and body aches and pains. If parents have children at home who had COVID, or if they think their child had COVID and they are now experiencing those symptoms, those children need to be seen. If the symptoms are bad, they should come to the ER, but they should preferably be seen by their own physician if their symptoms are mild.”

As of Wednesday, Aug. 18 Sarasota County had 41 available ICU beds in their hospitals (out of 113) and no pediatric ICU beds available. In Charlotte County there are 39 beds filled in adult ICU units (out of 59). There are no pediatric ICU units in Charlotte County.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has been categorized as an outbreak location for COVID-19 by the Department of Charlotte County Health, as a large number of the sheriff’s office’s members have tested positive for the virus. Last week, CCSO had 20 positive tests and, so far on Monday, the sheriff’s office had eight more positive tests.

In August, there have been a total of 34 positive cases. Prior to August, CCSO had its highest number of positive cases, 25, during the month of February.

When asked when the Lee Health hospital system resources would be “tapped out,” Llechu said they have been lucky that there have been no shortages of medicine or PPE, and that they have a multi-phased plan in place when more hospital beds are needed.

“There is no door to close,” he said. “The ER never closes. It becomes our responsibility to figure out how to deal with every patient who arrives.”