Hospital authorities in Northeast Florida are advising people to be vaccinated as the number of COVID-19 patients approaches or exceeds levels seen during the pandemic’s peak, owing to the “rampant” development of the more transmissible delta form of the coronavirus.
University of Florida Health According to Chad Neilsen, head of infection control at the hospital, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in recent weeks has increased “exponentially” in Jacksonville, Florida’s most populated city.
The previous high of 125 COVID-19 patients a day across the hospital’s two campuses was set in January; the hospital surpassed that three days ago, Neilsen said, and is now at 136, with roughly 40 people in the intensive care unit.
According to Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, there were 75 COVID-19 patients in the hospital last week, 45 the week before that, and 20 the week before that.
“Because of the fast rise, we recognized it was most likely related to the delta variant assuming a larger footprint here in Northeast Florida,” Nielsen said. “Everyone in town is going through the same thing we are.”
During a COVID-19 press conference with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local health care leaders on Wednesday, Dr. Ken Thielen, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said there has been a “significant” increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past three weeks, “approaching our previous peak numbers.”
“This is a five-fold spike in COVID hospitalizations, and it comes after several weeks when we only had a few of COVID patients hospitalized,” Thielen said.
Other commonalities across the area’s hospitals include the fact that the COVID-19 patients they’re admitting are mostly unvaccinated and younger than those they’ve seen previously throughout the epidemic.
Ninety percent of COVID-19 patients at UF Health Jacksonville are unvaccinated, and almost 70 percent are between the ages of 40 and 69, according to Neilsen. Prior to this spike, he added, 75 percent of COVID-19 patients were 60 and older.
Over 96 percent of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, according to Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, which operates a hospital in Jacksonville.
“Our median age of our hospitalized patients is 49,” VanOsdol said during a news conference on Wednesday. “Prior waves of this epidemic, it was in the mid-60s.” “Unfortunately, a younger generation that is not getting vaccinated is developing COVID, and these instances require hospitalization for treatment.”
COVID-19 patients at Baptist Health in Jacksonville are “younger, sicker, and becoming sicker faster,” according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Timothy Groover at the briefing.
He added that 44 percent of COVID-19 patients at the hospital were in their 40s or younger in the preceding month, and that “most were previously healthy.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida is one of four states with the highest weekly COVID-19 case rates per capita, with over 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, as the delta variation has swiftly become the dominant form spreading in the United States.
According to the CDC, the seven-day average of new cases in Duval County, where Jacksonville is located, increased by 107.48 percent as of Monday.
At the same time, the CDC reports that only around half of the state’s inhabitants are completely vaccinated. In Duval County, just 41% of residents have had all of their vaccinations.
“Vaccines are stagnating here in Northeast Florida, and the delta variety is spreading like wildfire among the unvaccinated,” Neilsen explained.
The recent spike, according to Neilson, is due in part to the delta’s ascent coinciding with Fourth of July celebrations, but it’s difficult to anticipate where hospitalizations will go “since it spreads so rapidly.”
As the epidemic progresses and unvaccinated employees are exposed in the community and become ill, hospitals in the region are concerned about staff burnout and shortages.
“If this continues, we’re going to have a genuine personnel issue,” Nielsen warned.
People should get vaccinated if they haven’t already, and mask-wearing, social distance, and hand-washing should continue, according to the area’s health care officials.
Curry also advised citizens to be vaccinated but didn’t go so far as to impose any restrictions.
“Increasing our percentage of vaccines is the key to getting beyond the surge and preventing future ones,” he said at the briefing on Wednesday. “Vaccines are proven to be effective. Restraints on our economy and personal liberties are not the solution. Getting immunized is the answer.”
“Unvaccinated people are clogging up hospitals, therefore the solution here is to obtain the vaccination,” he continued.