TAMPA, Fla. — Fueled by the more contagious delta variant, Florida hospitals are reporting record high COVID-19 admissions.
The state now leads the nation in per capita hospitalizations as more COVID patients are younger and the vast majority are unvaccinated.
At the area’s largest hospital, Tampa General, more than 90 percent of beds in the COVID unit are filled.
In the past four weeks, COVID-19 patients in BayCare hospitals have quadrupled, said a spokesperson, surpassing their busiest peak, which occurred last summer.
State agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis, tweeted Sunday the situation is “worse than the worst last year” referencing when statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked in July 2020.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw responded, saying Fried’s statement was “factually incorrect” and went on to cite data from Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration showing the overall percentage of beds occupied is lower now than last July.
Are current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida “worse than the worst last year” during the July peak?
- Florida COVID-19 data via the Dept. of Health & Human Services
- Dr. Jason Salemi, epidemiologist specializing in public health surveillance, University of South Florida
- Dr. Jay Wolfson, senior assoc. dean for health policy & practice, USF Morsani College of Medicine
- Mary Mayhew, CEO, Florida Hospital Association
Yes, current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida are “worse than the worst last year” during the July peak.
WHAT WE FOUND
Confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida peaked at 10,014 on July 23, 2020, according to Dr. Jason Salemi, who specializes in public health surveillance and manages his own COVID dashboard with data reported to the Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Monday, there were 10,389 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, exceeding last summer’s peak.
“The numbers are accelerating much more rapidly and are likely to continue well beyond what we saw in the summer surge,” Salemi said.
Five weeks ago the state was averaging about 250 adult hospitalizations per day, he said. That’s jumped to 1,525 adult hospitalizations a day, and 35 daily pediatric hospitalizations, in the past week.
“Even when you adjust for our large population size," Salemi said, “Right now we are number one in the nation in a metric we really don’t want to be number one.”
Statewide nearly 19 percent of patients currently in a hospital bed have COVID-19, according to Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA). COVID-19 patients account for more than 34 percent of ICU beds currently in use.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw, in arguing current hospitalizations are not worse than last year’s peak, cited AHCA’s data for July 22, 2020 showing the percentage of hospital and ICU beds filled with COVID patients then was slightly higher than now.
Last July, 27 percent of beds in use were occupied by COVID-19 patients and nearly 38 percent of occupied ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients, according to the ACHA data confirmed by 10 Tampa Bay.
But Dr. Jay Wolfson says it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because it doesn’t account for the fact the total number of available beds year to year is likely different as hospitals can and do flex space and staffing based on current needs.
“The percentage is just a percentage of admissions to occupiable beds,” he said. “But if the number of occupiable beds changes then those percentages are not easily comparable across two time periods.”
Mary Mayhew, CEO of the Florida Hospital Association who formerly headed up Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration for Gov. DeSantis, says COVID-19 hospital admissions in the state over the past month have been increasing at a faster rate than at any time in 2020.
“We went from 2,000 to 10,000 cases last year in roughly 60 days,” she said. “We’ve gone from 2,000 to 10,000 cases in 27 days with this delta variant surge."
Hospitalizations in the Tampa/St. Pete area are averaging at about 76 percent higher than during last summer’s peak, according to data from an informal survey about COVID-19 hospitalizations conducted by the FHA.
In the Jacksonville area, hospitalizations are at 192 percent of their previous highest peak.
“If last July they had 200 COVID patients, today they are close to 400 or 500,” she said. “And it’s continuing to increase.”
Of those hospitalized for COVID-19, Mayhew says 96 percent are unvaccinated.
But even more challenging, she said, than last year is that overall demand for hospital services is up at the same time.
“Individuals who don’t have COVID but are sick are in our hospitals in higher numbers than you would typically see this time of year,” Mayhew said. “So overall demand is through the roof.”