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SWFL health systems see impacts as COVID-19 cases rise, state reaches 1 million positive cases

Florida reached 1 million reported positive coronavirus cases Tuesday after reporting its daily numbers. The Sunshine State is the third in the U.S. to reach this many cases.

The state joins California and Texas, but Florida reports more cases based on population than either of them. Florida ranks 23rd in the nation per 100,000 people.

We looked at what the 1 million cases means for hospitals in Southwest Florida.

Lee Health announced it’s at 90% of its staffed bed capacity, with 11% of those beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Cases are rising in Charlotte County too.

“Our numbers are up significantly. We’ve had a few days where we’ve had over 70 cases in one day,” said Joseph Pepe, the administrator of Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County.

Pepe says the wave Charlotte County is experiencing is harder to fight than what was seen during the past summer.

“What we’re seeing is just a lot more widespread in the communities, so it has been a little more challenging to fight this one than it was back in March and April,” Pepe said.

The battle is spilling out all across the state, as cases climb over the 1 million mark.

“The United Sates has the most COVID cases in the world, around 13 million,” said Dr. Nicole Iovine, an infectious disease specialist at UF. “If you were to make Florida its own country, it would be around number 15 in the world.”

Iovine says the caseload will strain hospitals and impact patients, regardless of whether they have COVID-19.

“Being stuck in the emergency room for 12 hours, or 13, 14 or longer because there’s no bed for you because we’re full of COVID patients, that’s not going to be the best way for you to get the best health care,” Iovine said.

A grim reality is already playing out in Charlotte County.

“We’re seeing some challenges where ambulances are bringing patients, and there may be some delay time before they can transition patients into the hospital,” Pepe said. “Not that they’re not receiving care, but it’s just bed availability and staffing, and things like that are a major challenge.”

While case counts in Southwest Florida are going up, death rates remain stable. That’s because, as we’ve learned more about the virus, health care leaders have learned more about how to treat it. However, deaths lag behind cases, so it’s something to keep an eye on, as our cases go up, and our hospital capacities go down.

Of the 1 million cases that have been reported in the state, more than 55,000 resulted in hospitalizations and 18,916 deaths.

When asked Monday about whether he’d require Floridians to wear masks to slow the spread of the disease, the governor wouldn’t budge. He also said the state will not return to lockdowns and business closures seen earlier in the year.

“At some point, you have to look at the observed experience about what is happening,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Respectfully, there are narratives that lockdowns work, and they don’t if you look at the evidence.”

Agriculture Commissioner NiKki Fried says the governor is refusing to show leadership by not mandating masks or restricting businesses. She says the virus is not going away anytime soon.

“It’s time for everybody to kind of step up and take personal responsibility on this,” Fried said. “It’s not behind us. It’s continuing to spread. We hope that a vaccine comes out in the near future, but until that time, we need to make sure we are doing our part.”

South Florida has the most COVID-19 cases in Florida, with more than 40% of all Florida cases coming from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In Southwest Florida, more than 59,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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