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DeSantis Discusses COVID Surge During Roundtable With Hospital CEOs

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Hospital executives on the roundtable were, clockwise from top left, Carlos Migoya of Jackson Health, John Couris of Tampa General, Dr. George Ralls and David Strong of Orlando Health, and Shane Strum of Broward Health.

More Floridians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic: 22,6% of total in-patient beds on Wednesday, according to the HHS.

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a virtual roundtable with hospital CEOs on Wednesday as COVID-19 cases in the state continued to surge and the state set another mark for hospitalizations related to the disease.

Hospital executives who participated in the roundtable included:

  • John Couris, President and CEO of Tampa General Hospital.
  • Carlos Migoya, President and CEO of Jackson Health System.
  • Shane Strum, President and CEO of Broward Health.
  • David Strong, President and CEO of Orlando Health.
  • Dr. George Ralls, Chief Medical Officer of Orlando Health.

Also participating were Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

VIDEO: Watch The Governor's Roundtable With Hospital Executives

More Floridians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point in the pandemic. The state reported 12,408 in-patient beds were in use for COVID patients - 22,6% of total beds - on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our hospitals are incredibly busy,” Curry said.

More hospitals are suspending visitors and elective surgeries to allow staff and space to be focused on the rising numbers of COVID patients; the latest is Broward County's Memorial Healthcare System, which said its six facilities are treating the “highest number" ever.

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 60 percent of Florida’s hospitals say they will have a critical staff shortage in the next week.

However, the hospital executives in the roundtable said the current surge at their facilities is nowhere as bad as this past summer.

“Do not delay care,” said Couris. “The hospitals are ready, and we’re able to take care of patients in a crisis and an emergency. At TGH right now, we have 126 COVID patients — we are a 1,041-bed hospital. That’s a little over 10% of our beds are devoted right now to COVID patients.”

Strum said the situation was similar at Broward Health.

"I think another critical or important number to share with you would be that 80% of our patient census is non-COVID patients,” he said.

Florida set a new mark Tuesday with 140 new COVID-related deaths, nearly 23% of the deaths reported nationally, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the spike is significant, Migoya said deaths were "dramatically less" than summer.

Florida has not reached the level of daily deaths seen during the last wave of the pandemic. DeSantis said that’s because a higher percentage of seniors are vaccinated.

“Talking about that average age, ours was in the low 70s last time (summer). This time, it’s in the 50s, low 50s. So, you see a big difference there," Strum said.

The participants stressed the importance of the vaccines.

At Jackson Health, Migoya said, nearly half of all vaccinated patients hospitalized are inpatients due to other causes but simply tested positive with no or mild symptoms. Orlando Health and North Broward Health reported roughly 95% of COVID inpatients were unvaccinated, with Jackson Health reporting roughly 88%.

“About 55% of our inpatients are between 40 to 64 years old, so it’s a younger group, certainly, heavily represented by unvaccinated patients," Ralls said. "Unfortunately, that vaccine message didn’t penetrate the way we had hoped with everybody, but definitely did protect that older group.”

Curry, whose region is among the hardest hit in the nation right now, does not call for vaccine mandates. But he wants to keep pushing for people to get the shot.

“There’s a lot of discussion, a lot of people are afraid and panicking," he said. "From my perspective, the solution is to get vaccinated. I’m not suggesting we coerce or force or mandate people to get vaccinated. But we keep working together to educate them that the vaccine is effective, it will keep you out of the hospital and keep you from getting really, really sick.”

DeSantis and the executives emphasized that breakthrough cases, where people who are fully vaccinated still get COVID-19, are rare and hospitalizations are even rarer.

“Despite the information that’s coming out about people that are fully vaccinated still getting COVID, those numbers are low,” Falls said. “And, they are absolutely still in a better situation than they would have been had they gotten COVID without the vaccine. So (it's) really, really important to drive that message to everybody.”

DeSantis did not take questions from reporters at the roundtable.

WMFE's Abe Aboraya , the Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.