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Lee Health: New COVID cases may be subsiding

By CJ HADDAD - | Sep 14, 2021

Lee Health on Tuesday reported that over the past week, they have discharged more COVID-19 patients than have taken in new each day — a positive sign that the recent spike in new cases could be subsiding.

“I want everyone just to continue to do whatever they can to slow down the spread of this virus,” said Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci. “We’re still facing significant capacity challenges. We’re at 95% capacity system wide and our ICUs are at 96% capacity. Masking, social distancing, hand washing, all of those things really do make a difference.”

As of Tuesday, there were 85 patients in the Intensive Care Unit and 75 on ventilators.

“Which is still a significant number, and as you know those patients will have a poorer prognosis unfortunately,” Antonucci said.

Biden vaccine mandate

Antonucci also addressed the President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandates for healthcare system employees, federal workers and other employers. Biden’s plan, which he announced Thursday, will see the requirement of COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement, including but not limited to hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies. Lee Health falls into those categories.

“We are waiting for further clarification from the government on how that’s going to be done,” Antonucci said. “There’s going to be a public opinion piece of this and then there will be rule making, and once the rules are made, we will work with our teams to follow whatever the guidelines say as that comes down the pike.”

Vaccinations for the youth

Lee Health Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist and Chief of Quality and Patient Safety Dr. Stephanie Stovall reiterated the importance of vaccinations for eligible youth.

“Children ages 12 through 17 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, and they should receive it,” Stovall said. “If you haven’t gotten your child vaccinated, you should. There’s more and more data coming out showing that vaccines do prevent hospitalization — they do prevent death. That even applies to our 12 to 17-year-olds, and is vitally important we are taking care of your 12 to 17-year-olds who are vaccine eligible. And we urge you to go get them vaccinated as soon as you can.”

Lee Health’s free vaccination clinic at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers (13681 Doctors Way) is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Individuals looking to become vaccinated can visit www.LeeHealth.org or call 239-343-0999 to schedule an appointment. A parent or guardian must accompany a minor.

The weight can be heavy

Lee Health Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Higgins spoke about the current conditions inside hospital walls

“Although the numbers are coming down, I don’t want you to think that that means these patients are any easier to deal with or that the mental toll doesn’t continue,” Higgins said. “We still have high volumes in all of our hospitals. We have a lot of patients that are here for a long length of stay who continue to battle this disease and it’s very difficult as the days go on for both family members and the care team members to continue to navigate and make certain that the family members are being kept informed and that the patients feel like they’re getting what they need. Sometimes this is a very slow process.”

Higgins said it’s tough for the staff to see such a quick decline in the condition of a patient.

“Some of the patients may be fine one day or seem to be improving but then begin to deteriorate very quickly and may end up on a ventilator the next day in the ICU,” she said. “Even with the numbers going down, we’re still having lots of communications around end-of-life care. These are very difficult conversations with family members and the care team.

“Unfortunately, these conversations continue to take a huge mental toll on our care team members, nurses and staff all across the health system.

“These are people. These numbers are people, they’re our community members, they’re our neighbors. It’s very real to young and old alike.

By the numbers

As of Tuesday morning, Lee Health had 394 COVID-19 patients isolated in system inpatient hospitals, including 23 new COVID-19 admission and 63 COVID-19 discharges since Monday. Lee Health also reported 209 new COVID-19 admissions and 217 COVID-19 discharges over the weekend. Of that total, eight are under the age of 18.

Since the start of the pandemic, Lee Health has reported 1,056 patient deaths inside of its hospitals to COVID-19 related complications, including seven on Monday.

Census as of Tuesday morning was at 95% of staffed operational bed capacity. Staffed operational capacity reflects the number of beds for which the hospital has adequate staffing, not the total number of beds within Lee Health hospitals. Overall bed capacity fluctuates hour to hour as the system discharges patients throughout the day who are ready to go home.

As of Tuesday, 46% of ventilators and 4% of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

As of Tuesday, there were 70 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 85 in the intensive care unit.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

With the number of COVID- 19 cases again climbing due, in part, to the latest mutation of the virus, the CDC is recommending that even vaccinated individuals “maximize protection from the Delta variant and possibly spreading it to others” by wearing a mask indoors in public in areas “of substantial or high transmission.”

The CDC also recommends masks for those at high risk of serious illness from COVID, those with compromised immune systems, those who are older and those with underlying medical conditions.

Vaccination is highly urged.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj