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Lee Health reports increase in COVID cases and continued lack of monoclonal antibody treatments

By CJ HADDAD - | Jan 4, 2022

As the number of patients around the county being treated for COVID-19 rises coupled with the shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments, local health officials are advising residents to know how to care for one’s self at home.

Lee Health, in an email on Monday, reiterated it has exhausted its supply of the MAB treatment most effective against the Omicron variant. Lee Health has reported a dramatic increase in the number of patients coming to its inpatient hospitals with the virus, as the total stood at 178 as of Tuesday morning (six being treated at Golisano Children’s Hospital).

“With the current scarcity of treatments, it is even more important to know how to care for yourself at home if you are infected by the coronavirus,” said Lee Health spokesperson Jonathon Little in an email. “You should stay in one room as much as possible and not share a bathroom with anyone else in your home. It is also important to get rest and stay hydrated, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help you feel better.”

As of Tuesday morning, hospital census was at 94% 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.

On Monday, Lee Health emergency departments saw 1,198 patients. Little said before the current Omicron surge, its emergency departments were averaging around 900 patients per day.

On Monday, Lee Convenient Care saw 499 patients. Little said its LCC locations were averaging around 360 patients per day before the Omicron surge.

CDC updates booster recommendation

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its recommendation for when many people can receive a booster shot, shortening the interval from six months to five months for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.

The update means that people can now receive an mRNA booster shot five months after completing their Pfizer-BioNTech primary series. The booster interval recommendation for people who received the J&J vaccine (two months) or the Moderna vaccine (six months) has not changed.

Additionally, consistent with its prior recommendation for adults, the CDC is recommending that moderately or severely immunocompromised 5-11 year olds receive an additional primary dose of vaccine 28 days after their second shot. At this time, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and recommended for children ages 5 to 11.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to update our recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for the American people,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a release. “Following the FDA’s authorizations, today’s recommendations ensure people are able to get a boost of protection in the face of Omicron and increasing cases across the country, and ensure that the most vulnerable children can get an additional dose to optimize protection against COVID-19. If you or your children are eligible for a third dose or a booster, please go out and get one as soon as you can. Additionally, FDA took action this week to authorize boosters for 12-15 year olds – and I look forward to ACIP meeting on Wednesday to discuss this issue.”

Lee TeleHealth now free

Officials added that Lee TeleHealth is currently free and an easy alternative to avoid longer-than-normal wait times at urgent care centers.

Lee Health is making this service free for community members so they can utilize urgent care telehealth services from the comfort of their homes. This option allows anyone with non-life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms to avoid long COVID-19 testing lines, Lee Convenient Care locations and the emergency department. Lee Health emergency departments are not designated COVID-19 testing locations. The normal cost of a visit is $49.

“Lee TeleHealth is an on-demand medical service that connects patients directly with a physician or advanced provider and is available 24/7,” officials said. “All you need to use Lee TeleHealth is a smartphone, tablet or a computer with a webcam.”

Officials said if an individual has COVID-like symptoms, the provider will be able to evaluate the severity of the symptoms and make recommendations for testing, isolation and symptom management. They are also able to write prescriptions and make additional referrals as necessary. Officials said anyone experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, including difficulty breathing, should seek emergency care immediately.

Patients using the telehealth service can seek treatment and receive a prescription for a variety of conditions, including: cold and flu, sinus infections, rashes, pink eye, headaches, urinary tract infections, allergies, cough, sprains and strains.

“Lee TeleHealth is safe and secure. Every visit is encrypted to protect private information, and patients can expect the same level of care they would receive in a traditional doctor’s office,” officials said. “For current Lee Health patients, telehealth visits are added to their health record to ensure continuity of care.”

To access Lee Telehealth, download the Lee Health app or visit www.LeeTelehealth.org.

County advises to get tested when necessary

The Florida Department of Health-Lee (FDOH-Lee) and Lee County Government are collaborating to remind visitors and residents of when it’s most effective to receive COVID-19 testing.

Testing is readily available countywide at local pharmacies, private physician offices, laboratories and public testing sites. At-home testing kits are available for purchase online and in retail pharmacies.

Officials are urging people to get tested when it’s appropriate so that resources are not overwhelmed.

“That situation creates a shortage for people who truly need to be tested,” officials said.

Individuals who should be tested include:

• Individuals who were exposed and are testing on Day 5 to know if they can break quarantine.

• If a person is tested too early after exposure, the test may show negative and give a false sense of security.

• Symptomatic individuals, particularly those likely to experience poor health outcomes due to COVID infection. This includes those ages 65 and older, immunocompromised individuals and individuals with underlying medical conditions.

“In addition, FDOH-Lee recommends consulting your physician if you are symptomatic,” officials said. “Additional tests could determine if someone is positive for strep, influenza or another respiratory virus if the COVID test is negative.”

FDOH-Lee has an agreement with Nomi Health for drive-thru COVID-19 testing appointments at its clinic located at 3920 Michigan Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33916. Nomi Health through an additional agreement also has testing at the Lee County Sports Complex at 14100 Ben C. Pratt/Six Mile-Cypress Parkway, Fort Myers, 33912.

To schedule an appointment at either site, visit the vendor’s website directly at http://testing.nomihealth.com/signup/fl.

“People with appointments should prepare for long waits when they arrive at the site,” officials said. “Bring water to stay hydrated, be sure your gas tank is full and follow the directions of on-site law enforcement.”

Additional testing resources can be located at floridahealthcovid19.gov/testing-sites/.

DeSantis calls for more MAB treatments

On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on President Joe Biden and his administration to release what he called a “stranglehold” on MAB treatments for COVID-19.

DeSantis said Florida needs at least 30,000 more doses per week than it is receiving through the allocation system to expand capacity at existing treatment sites and to open additional locations.

“Prior to the federal government takeover of the monoclonal market, Florida successfully distributed approximately 30,000 doses per week when we managed our own supply,” DeSantis said. “The state has more than $800 million available to quickly deploy monoclonal antibody treatments throughout the state, and the only thing holding us back is the insufficient supply of treatment from the federal government. After failing to ‘shut down the virus,’ the Biden Administration has come to the realization that there is not a federal solution to COVID-19, and releasing the federal stranglehold on these effective treatments is a good first step.”

To find locations to receive monoclonal antibody treatments around the entire state, please visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj