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With Three Hospitals — One Temporary — Do Keys Have Capacity For COVID?

Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West has seven isolation beds, but also an empty section that could be converted for COVID-19 care.
Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West has seven isolation beds, but also an empty section that could be converted for COVID-19 care.

So far, Monroe County has only seen a few cases of COVID-19 — three cases by the 6 p.m. Tuesday update. But the 100-mile-long island chain only has three hospitals — and one of them is a temporary facility while a new one is built to replace the building destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

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Medical and health representatives in the Keys say the county is prepared to handle COVID-19.

Lower Keys Medical Center in Key West has seven isolation rooms. But if the hospital that serves the Lower Keys sees an influx of COVID-19 patients, it has some options, said Dr. Jack Norris, the hospital's chief of staff.

"We have a unit that we're not operating at the moment just based on volume. That unit will be converted in an area for COVID patients," he said. The extra ward could house about 30 patients, he said.

Baptist Health System owns Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon and Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. In an email, Baptist Communications Director Georgi Pipkin said Mariners has eight intensive care beds and both hospitals have an electronic ICU, which uses telemedicine to treat critical cases.

She also said patients requiring specialized care would be taken to Baptist hospitals on the mainland.

Bob Eadie, administrator for the state Health Department in Monroe, said hospital capacity is not his top concern for the Keys.

"The issue with capacity that I'm thinking about is our medical providers," he said. "Our doctors and nurses and PAs and nurse practitioners — we only have a finite number of them here."

Monroe County's Trauma Star air ambulance will not transport patients with COVID. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office said they can't protect the flight crew and cleaning the helicopter afterwards would take it out of service for too long.

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