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Sarasota Infectious Disease Doctor Changes Stance On Masks Amid 'Surge'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital
The Florida Channel
Dr. Manuel Gordillo, an infectious disease specialist, says most of the COVID patients in his hospital now are unvaccinated.

Dr. Manuel Gordillo is now urging people, whether they are vaccinated or not, to wear masks while indoors in public places.

Cases of coronavirus are rising exponentially in Sarasota and hospitalizations are surging, too, mainly among people who have not been vaccinated, according to Dr. Manuel Gordillo, a leading infectious disease expert at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Gordillo said Monday he recently changed his stance on wearing masks indoors and is urging people, whether they are vaccinated or not, to wear face coverings inside public places.

"Right now, we're seeing so much of this exponential growth that I would advocate that everybody that goes indoors these days should probably wear a mask when they're in public," he said.

“About a week ago, I changed my stance on this whole thing. I used to tell everyone, 'You don't need to wear a mask if you're vaccinated if you go to a public place.' But now with the rise that we're seeing, I changed my recommendation. I favor mask use indoors in public.”

Over the past three weeks, “we’ve gone from about three (COVID) patients in the hospital to the current upper 30s,” Gordillo said, adding there are now seven COVID patients in the intensive care unit at Sarasota Memorial.

“The same thing that's happening here in Sarasota is happening in Florida,” Gordillo said in a video interview distributed by the hospital press office. “Florida also has seen an explosion of cases in the last two, three weeks.”

The highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus appears to be driving the surge, combined with the hot summer weather in Florida — which tends to make people seek cooler, indoor environments — and the reluctance of some people to get vaccinated, he added.

The delta variant is about twice as transmissible as the previous strain of coronavirus that was widely circulating in Florida, Gordillo said.

“The vast majority of people that end up in the hospital are unvaccinated,” he said.

“Basically, this has transformed into the epidemic of the unvaccinated,” Gordillo said. “Some of them are hesitant still, but some of them are vaccine hostile.”

The Florida Department of Health’s latest report shows about 11.3 million people statewide have been vaccinated, which makes up less than 53% of Florida’s total population according to the latest census in 2020.

With school starting in a few weeks, just one-third of Floridians ages 12 to 19 have received a coronavirus vaccine. Those younger than 12 are not yet eligible for a shot.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday recommended that ages 2 and up wear masks in schools for the 2021-22 school year, regardless of vaccination status.

However, the Florida Department of Education, in an April memo, asked all districts to make masks optional, arguing that face-coverings “do not impact the spread of the coronavirus,” despite recommendations to the contrary from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Unfortunately, this has become politicized,” said Gordillo.

“For all those parents that are concerned, I would send the kids with masks to school,” he said.

“It doesn't say you cannot wear a mask in school, it's optional. So, I would say that if we have a high prevalence in the community, kids should be wearing a mask in the classroom or indoors in school. If the numbers go down to where we were a month ago, then we can just rethink that and maybe not wear a mask indoors,” he added.

“But for now, the way this way the situation is, I would encourage mask use indoors.”

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