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Florida Hospitals Prepare For Possible Surge In Coronavirus Patients

A 67-year-old woman is being treated for coronavirus at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She's one of two new cases in Manatee County reported by the Florida Department of Health early Saturday.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As the number of coronavirus cases in Florida continues to grow exponentially, some predictive models show things could get bad, fast. Many hospitals are gearing up for a possible surge in sick patients.

A model called COVID Act Now is put out by data scientists, epidemiologists, political leaders, and public health experts at Stanford University.

It's designed to help leaders make quick decisions, not predict the future, according to its website.

CORONAVIRUS: Complete Coverage From WUSF And Health News Florida

As of mid-week, the model calculates that with no preventive measures, Florida hospitals hit the overload point by April 15th. Incidentally, that’s three days after Easter, when President Donald Trump has said he wants to see the country open up again.

By the end of April, more than 400,000 people would need hospital care, or 12 times the number of hospital beds Florida has available.

Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance, says that’s a worst-case scenario. But it’s not far off from the current pace of infections.

“If you see a big increase, if the cases start to double every three days or every week, and 20% of those people have to be hospitalized, it would not be long before the state of Florida would have a situation where the hospitals were swamped,” Senior said.

In Florida, the case count is doubling every 2.8 days, according to data from Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Meanwhile, cases around the country double every 2.4 days.

Jared Moskowitz, Director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, addressed the issue of medical supplies on Wednesday, from a warehouse where the state is stocking them.

“You’re talking gowns and gloves and booties and Tyvek suits, you’re talking about 2,000 ventilators we have ordered, the 5,000 ventilators we asked for from the federal government. In the other room the hospital beds that are coming. We have ordered 3,000 of those. We have ordered 150 ICU beds. So this is a massive, basically medical operation, making sure that while we don’t necessarily have that need today, making sure we are ready to have that need in the future.”

Local hospitals are preparing, but are not buying into doomsday predictions, says Sarasota Memorial Hospital CEO David Verinder.

"We're not anticipating a surge, but that we're prepared if that’s what happens. I think it's very hard to  predict what's going to happen. If you looked at predictive models two weeks ago, those really aren't where we are today. And so I don't really know where we'll be two weeks from now,” he said.

Images of people lying on floors in hospitals in Italy, have raised alarm about how quickly a health care system can get overwhelmed by coronavirus. Verinder says Sarasota Memorial, which had its first COVID-19 death this week, is looking at all options.

“We certainly have thought, like, what if, you know, Italy happens here? What if something like that happens here? Then we have to get a lot more creative and look at different options. And it's not just (erecting emergency medical) tents if you will,  I think there's repurposing hotels, repurposing underutilized hospitals, maybe even ambulatory surgery centers, things like that. But so far, we have not needed to go down that route.”

Sarasota Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer James Fiorica
Credit Sarasota Memorial Hospital
The Florida Channel
Sarasota Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer James Fiorica

The state is also looking at some of those options. Having faster testing on hand will also help, and that’s expected in the next couple of weeks, according to Sarasota Memorial Hospital chief medical officer James Fiorica.

In the meantime, he urges people to continue social distancing, particularly so people -- who face a higher rate of hospitalization -- are not infected.

“Many of these infections are self-limited, and patients will get better. It's who they expose in the interim. So we're really trying to get people to sort of lay low for the next 14 days and try to prevent the spread,” Fiorica said.

The COVID Act Now Model updates every four days, to account for community measures like social distancing, shelter in place, or the kind of lockdown that took place in Wuhan, China.

Even with months of social distancing, the model shows Florida hospitals could be overloaded by May 1.

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Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.