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Lee Health: COVID cases at all-time high, please get vaccinated

By CJ HADDAD - | Aug 30, 2021

In a symbolic gesture of sending a message as a united front, Lee Health President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci, surrounded by more than a dozen medical professionals from all realms of Lee Health, again urged the community to become vaccinated to halt the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the county.

Antonucci recommended that unvaccinated individuals not wait any longer, as the prevalence of the virus is at an all-time high in Lee County and Southwest Florida.

“We are seeing unprecedented numbers again here with COVID. Our COVID rate in this county is three times what we’re seeing throughout the rest of the United States, and we’re just asking everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Antonucci said at the press conference Monday from Golisano Children’s Hospital. “We know the vaccine is safe, we know the vaccine is effective and we all stand behind the vaccine as a way to save our friends, our neighbors and our family members.”

Lee Health reported 100% hospital capacity on Monday and that Intensive Care Units were 98% full. Since the pandemic began, there have been 909 COVID-19 patient deaths in Lee Health hospitals (eight on Sunday), with the “vast majority” being unvaccinated individuals according to Lee Health.

Antonucci shared some recent experiences in Lee Health hospitals, as the current Delta variant is highly contagious and brings more severe symptoms.

“I’ve heard too many stories about patients who regret not having the vaccine, who in the throes of COVID or are about ready to get intubated and put on a ventilator, that they say they wish they’d gotten the vaccination.

“We’re seeing too many of our friends, neighbors and family members – young people, otherwise healthy people, who are now on ventilators who are dying. We’re losing eight to 12 people a day in our health system, and it’s not necessary.”

Antonucci said this past weekend started with a slight drop in total COVID patients at inpatient hospitals, going from a high of 690 to at one point 601. That trend unfortunately reversed when Sunday saw 92 new COVID-19 admissions. “That’s the highest (single day) total I certainly can remember throughout the pandemic,” Antonucci said.

Lee Health did discharge 49 on Sunday, bringing Monday morning’s total to 639 patients with COVID. Of those 639, 119 are in the ICU and 96 are on ventilators.

“As you know that with COVID, that’s the end of the line for treatment is to put someone on a ventilator, and we know that once they’ve done that, that the prognosis is not great,” Antonucci said.

He continued to speak about how the virus is now affecting young people in the community at a greater rate. Antonucci said Golisano would have maybe one or two children at their facility with COVID during the spike last summer and that on Monday, there were 15.

“We’re opening up all sorts of different spaces in the hospital for young patients,” he said. “And again, many of them are otherwise healthy.”

Antonucci went on to advise the public to listen to their health care professionals and scientists, and not turn to the Internet for decision-making.

“There is so much misinformation out there on the Internet, and I’m asking everyone to please trust their physician,” he said. “We’ve had years of training, we’re scientists, we keep up with the journals. We know the research, we understand the vaccine, we understand how it works, and we believe it is safe and effective. We are a better source than the Internet or social media, and we encourage everyone to please talk to their doctor about it. Trust us when we tell you the vaccine is safe and effective. It is heartbreaking to see what we’re seeing in this hospital.”

Pregnant, feeding mothers may be at greater risk

Lee Health’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist, interim Chief of Quality & Patient Safety, Stephanie Stovall, said expecting mothers, feeding mothers, or those currently trying to conceive, could be especially vulnerable to the virus for a number of reasons.

“One is that COVID hits them harder. Second is that many of them are carrying a life inside them that is also going to be hit harder. Our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is full — it’s overflowing. It’s never been this full before. Part of that is because pregnant woman who have COVID are more likely to deliver early – they’re more likely to have pregnancy complications.

It is recommended that every pregnant woman, every lactating woman and every woman who thinks she may become pregnant, get vaccinated to try to protect her and her baby, officials said.

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.

Sick and tired?

Lee Health Department Chair for Emergency Medicine at Cape Coral Hospital, Dr. Timothy Dougherty, addressed answers to questions he frequently gets with impassioned remarks.

“Are we tired of walking into the room with a pit on our stomach, knowing that a young vaccinated patient who came gasping for air won’t make it out of the hospital? Yes.

“Are we tired of seeing expressions in the eyes of patients as we confirm their fears, or seeing the sadness when I tell a mother her child has COVID? Yes.

“Are we tired of hearing all the reasons why the COVID-positive patient didn’t want to get the vaccine, or listened as they questioned themselves out loud, should they have gotten it sooner? Yes.

“Are we tired to understand why they’re so adamant against the vaccine but so quick roll up their sleeve for the experimental drug(s), let alone asking for unproven therapies? Yes.

“Are our (Emergency Department) volumes unprecedented for this time of year and do we need to continue to care for admitted patients in the emergency department until a bed becomes available upstairs? Yes.

“Are we tired of working ten to twelve hours a day with N-95 masks and all the PPE with waiting rooms just as full as when we started our shifts? Yes.

“But are we too tired to do our jobs? Absolutely not. We are steadfast and unwavering in our commitment to care for this community’s medical needs. We’ve expanded our ERs, opened trailers started MAB clinics – physicians and nurses have taken extra shifts to meet the demand. Our goal has and always will be to care for you and your families in this community. But 49% of the people that walk into the emergency department are related to COVID and that number is insane. No other disease demands this amount of resources… and all of it could be prevented with vaccination. Help us stop this madness. Get vaccinated.”

When it comes to members of the community not taking the message seriously, or calling COVID-19 a “hoax,” Antonucci said it’s frustrating.

“More people are coming in, but we need them to come in faster and for more patients to get vaccinated,” he said.

Running out of room?

Antonucci added that Lee Health is “looking at alternative space” when it comes to their ability to treat as many patients as possible.

“We’re taking areas that were otherwise storage rooms and we’re using them as clinical space. We’re doubling up on patients when we have to and when it’s safe. So we’re doing everything we can and meet the need.”

At Cape Hospital last week, a refrigerated external morgue was added. Stovall said Lee Health has no plans of similar nature to add morgues at other facilities. Cape Coral Hospital can house four deceased individuals.

By the numbers

As of Monday morning, Lee Health had 639 COVID-19 patients isolated in system inpatient hospitals, including 92 new COVID-19 admissions and 49 COVID-19 on Sunday. Of those patients, 15 are children under the age of 18. Since the start of the pandemic, Lee Health has reported 909 patient deaths inside of their hospitals due to COVID-19, including eight on Sunday.

Census as of Monday morning was at 100% 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 Monday, 46% of ventilators and 2% of ICU rooms are available for use across Lee Health facilities.

As of Monday, there were 96 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 119 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