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Lee County remains ‘high’ risk area for COVID transmission

CDC recommends mask should still be worn indoors in public

By CJ HADDAD - | Mar 1, 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last Friday updated its policies on wearing masks in correlation to the transmission level of COVID-19 in counties throughout the United States.

As of the last update by the CDC on Feb.24, Lee County is designated as a “high” risk for transmission area.

Recommendations brought forth by the CDC state that mask wearing can now be optional in “low” risk counties. Those in “medium” risk regions are still given an optional recommendation on wearing a mask, but that those who are high risk should talk to their healthcare provider on whether or not the individual should wear a mask and take additional precaution.

The CDC stated that those in “high” risk areas, such as Lee County, should continue to wear a mask indoors in public.

The CDC masking guidelines are based on community risk factors such as COVID-19 hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new COVID cases. Lee, as well as and Charlotte County, are currently in at “high” risk category, while Collier County is in the “medium” category.

“Using hospital capacity and COVID hospitalizations as an indicator of when we should take extra preventive steps makes sense,” said Dr. Larry Antonucci, president and CEO for Lee Health, in a statement. “Anything we can do to decrease COVID-19 hospitalizations means more capacity for other patients.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, during a media call, said, “With widespread population immunity, the overall risk of severe disease is now generally lower. Now, as the virus continues to circulate in our communities, we must focus our metrics beyond just cases in the community and direct our efforts toward protecting people at high risk for severe illness and preventing COVID 19 from overwhelming our hospitals and our healthcare systems. This new framework moves beyond just looking at cases and test positivity to evaluate factors that reflect the severity of disease, including hospitalizations and hospital capacity, and helps to determine whether the level of COVID 19 and severe disease are low, medium, or high in a community.”

As of Feb. 25, officials said more than half of counties representing about 70% of Americans are in areas with low or medium COVID 19 community levels — an increase from about one third of counties at low or medium community levels last week with indicators of improvement being seen in many communities.

By the Numbers

As of Tuesday morning, there were 72 COVID-19 patients isolated at Lee Health inpatient hospitals. Of those patients, five are being treated at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

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. Census in the intensive care unit was at 88% of staffed operational bed capacity on Tuesday. There were seven COVID-19 patients in the ICU.

On Monday, Lee Health emergency departments saw 951 patients.

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 area residents and guests 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.”

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

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj