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As nation marks grim COVID-19 milestone, Lee Health reports hike in patients

By CJ HADDAD - | May 19, 2022

A grim milestone was reached this week.

According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics on Monday, more than one million individuals throughout the United States have passed away from COVID-19 since the pandemic began more than two years ago.

Local health officials that have been on the front lines and have cared for members of the community who are unfortunately part of that total shared their sentiments.

“As the United States records its 1 millionth death from COVID-19, I want to express my condolences to everyone who has experienced the pain of loss,” said President and CEO of Lee Health, Dr. Larry Antonucci, in a statement. “Our team here at Lee Health has seen firsthand the devastating toll that the pandemic has taken on our community, and our thoughts and prayers are with every family that has lost a loved one to COVID-19.”

President Joe Biden at the Global COVID-19 Summit said: “Today, we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States: one million COVID deaths, one million empty chairs around the family dinner table — each irreplaceable. Irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.

“My heart goes out to all of those who are struggling, asking themselves, ‘How do I go on without him?’ ‘How do I go on without her?’ ‘What will we do without them?’ It’s grief shared by people across all of our nations.”

According to data from the CDC, there have been 74,272 COVID-19 deaths in Florida since the start of the pandemic out of 6,039,475 confirmed cases. Of those deaths, the most recent data from the Florida Department of Health up until May 5 shows 191,963 cases stemming from Lee County, including 1,009 deaths.

As of Thursday morning, Lee Health officials said they are caring for 80 COVID-19 patients in their hospitals — an increase of 175% since May 1 and the most COVID-19 patients they have treated in a hospital setting since March 1.

According to the CDC, over the last 14 days, new cases of COVID-19 are up 71% in the state and 57% in Lee County.

“While infections have been less severe during this surge in cases, these numbers illustrate the threat the virus that causes COVID-19 poses to vulnerable populations like the elderly or those with comorbidities,” said Lee Health spokesperson Jonathon Little in an email. “Lee Health encourages you to make sure your COVID-19 vaccination status is up-to-date for the protection of yourself and your loved ones.”

Antonucci in his statement added: “I am grateful for the support that our community has shown us over the course of this pandemic, and for our talented health care workers who have shown incredible dedication to their patients and have helped save thousands of lives.

“We have traveled a long road together, and while our journey isn’t over, it is with the promise of better days ahead that we move forward. As always, please take all the necessary actions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy.”

Those interested in becoming vaccinated at Lee Health can make an appointment on their website at www.leehealth.org.

Data from the CDC states that 72.8% of Lee County residents have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and that 65.3% are fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Biden announced that COVIDTests.gov is open for a third round of ordering. Officials said U.S. households are now able to order an additional eight free at-home tests at COVIDTests.gov–bringing the total number of free tests available to each household since the start of the program to 16. Officials said the highly transmissible subvariants of Omicron drive a rise in cases in parts of the country, free and accessible tests will help slow the spread of the virus.

Those who have difficulty accessing the internet or need additional support placing an order can call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489) to get help in English, Spanish, and more than 150 other languages–8 a.m. to midnight ET, 7 days a week. For more information, people can visit: https://www.covid.gov/tests/faq.

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj