Record number of COVID-19 patients being treated in Lee Health hospitals

Ninety-one percent of Lee Health’s staffed beds are full, and the number of patients coming through their doors isn’t slowing down.

As cases rise, Lee Health has to prepare for more difficult scenarios.

Over the weekend, Lee Health hospitals surpassed their all-time high of 372 patients on July 20, 2020, with 419 now hospitalized. Thirty-six are on ventilators and 70 are in the ICU. Eighty-four percent of them are unvaccinated.

Lee Health admitted 177 COVID-19 patients since Friday and discharged 113.

It’s the second time in less than a week that one of our hospital systems broke its COVID patient record.

“It is much more contagious than the prior and we’re seeing it spread through primarily the unvaccinated community very, very rapidly,” said Dr. Larry Antonucci, CEO and president of Lee Health.

He hopes that as quickly as the surge came, it will drop off, but he believes we haven’t seen the peak yet and it’s bound to get worse.

“Certainly in emergency departments, we’re seeing unprecedented volumes, you know, we’re seeing over 900 patients a day in the ED and 40% of those patients have COVID symptoms. So it’s a tremendous strain on the system, as we care for these patients.”

Is the hospital system ready to handle the continuing rise in patients?

“We still have the capability to expand. Right now we’re manning about 1,400 beds, and we could get that up to 1,600.”

Antonucci said they may have to “start doubling up on rooms, we may have to do some limitations on visitation, those would be the next immediate steps.”

And COVID isn’t targeting just the elderly or adults anymore. The delta variant has been known to be more contagious among the younger population.

“If you look at our numbers, we have 419 patients in the hospital today. Just a few weeks ago, we had 163. And what’s also concerning is we’re starting to see more children.”

Lee Health reported Monday there are 16 children with COVID-19 at Golisano Children’s Hospital. Two of those are in the ICU.

Antonucci said that earlier in the pandemic that Golisano never had more than two kids with COVID.

“Right now, I can tell you that the age has ranged from two months to 18 years. And clearly some have had underlying conditions. But I would also say that many don’t. And it’s just a simple aspect of getting the virus and getting sick from it.”

Kids under 12 can’t get the vaccine, and Antonucci fears what will happen when kids head back to school.

“I think we need to do everything that we can to keep our children safe until we get the approval to vaccinate younger children. And clearly one of the things is mask-wearing. We know that the Lee County school district is requiring masks and we would encourage parents to use those masks until at least we can see a drop-off, and that the numbers begin to go down.”

Antonucci is recommending parents heed the district’s requirement and have their kids mask up for school.

“I would recommend that children wear masks until we have better control of this virus and we’re seeing the numbers go down and our positivity rate gets much lower.”

As for capacity, he said they’re working to expand before they have to resort to field hospitals or triage tents.

NCH COVID hospitalizations continue to rise

NCH said Monday its hospitals are treating 172 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s up from 152 reported Friday.

Of the 172, 148 (86%) are unvaccinated, 38 are in the ICU and 25 are on ventilators.

Patient ages range from 15-97 with a median age of 57.

Below is a transcript of Dr. Antonucci’s remarks from Monday’s media briefing:

“The crisis Southwest Florida is facing from the spread of the coronavirus continues to become bleaker by the day. As of this morning, Lee Health is caring for 419 COVID-19 patients in our hospitals including over 70 in intensive care. This means that over the weekend we significantly exceeded the highest number of hospitalized patients since the pandemic began – which had been 372 last July, which means we are over 12% higher than our peak last year. Our hospitals and ICU rooms are both 91% full. Yesterday, 40% of the 914 patients we cared for in the emergency department had COVID-19 symptoms. Our models predict these conditions to continue for the next several weeks.

“We are caring for 16 children with COVID-19 at Golisano Children’s Hospital, including 2 in intensive care. Before the current outbreak in our community, we were averaging no more than 1 to 2 kids with COVID in the hospital per day. With schools starting tomorrow, we expect this number will continue to grow. I applaud the Lee County School District for requiring masks for all students, and I ask parents to please wait to opt out of this requirement. Please let the surge subside before putting children at further risk. Wearing a mask at school will help keep kids out of the hospital.

“Yesterday the State of Florida set a record for the number of positive cases (over 23,000), and 1 in 5 cases in America today are happening in Florida.

“I am making a personal plea to everyone in Southwest Florida, please do your part in helping fight this pandemic. Find a place to get vaccinated today. The vaccine is in plentiful supply and available on almost every corner – at Publix, Walgreens, CVS and other retailers. We welcome you at Lee Health’s vaccine clinic, which is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. You can make an appointment online or walk-in. Less than 50% of Lee County is vaccinated against COVID-19, and getting vaccinated today could be the difference between this surge lasting only weeks instead of months. I want to thank the influx of people who were vaccinated last week and who have scheduled to get vaccinated this week. It is not too late to help!

“While the vaccine is the most powerful tool we have in this battle, there are other things you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, even if you are vaccinated. I support the CDC’s recommendations of wearing a mask when in indoor public places. Please continue to social distance, and wash your hands frequently.

“I appreciate the support that our community continues to show our Lee Health family. Our team members are understandably tired and distressed by the devastating loss of life they have witnessed. But they are also resilient, and I am moved by the compassion each and every one of them has for their patients. Please keep everyone in the Lee Health family in your prayers, as they continue to face the biggest challenge of their professional lives. Many of them also have children returning to school this week, and they are concerned that, if nothing changes, their own kids could be the next ones hospitalized with COVID-19. If you live with or near one of our healthcare workers, I encourage you to reach out to offer them support and hope.

“We all must remember that these numbers we report out are people; they are our friends, families and neighbors. Their lives are in danger; they are ill; sick enough to require care in the hospital or in the ICU. Sadly, some of them will not make it home again. We all can make individual decisions that will save lives.”


Eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine includes all persons 12 years of age and older. Those ages 12 to 17 are eligible only for the Pfizer vaccine.

Publix pharmacies

To make an appointment, you must reserve your spot online and not in person or by phone. For more information on those times and to reserve a slot, click here.

Customers with health insurance will need to bring their insurance card to their scheduled appointment. There is no out-of-pocket cost to you. Medicare members should bring their red, white and blue Medicare Part B card. Customers without health insurance will need to provide their driver’s license or Social Security number.

Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies

All Florida Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacy locations are now offering walk-in vaccination appointments. Membership is not required to get a vaccination at Sam’s Club.

To schedule in advance, go to: or

Winn-Dixie pharmacies

Accepting walk-ins and appointments. They offer all three manufactures: Moderna and Pfizer (two doses) or Johnson & Johnson (one dose), subject to availability. The Pfizer vaccine is approved only for those 12 and up. Moderna can be administered to those at least 16 years of age.

If you prefer an appointment, click here.

CVS pharmacies

Accepting walk-ins and appointments. Each store can administer up to 100 doses per day. To check for availability, go to

Walgreens pharmacies

Accepting walk-ins and appointments. You will be required to create and sign into a Walgreens online account to book your vaccine appointment. To check for an appointment time visit:

Costco Wholesale pharmacies

You do not need to be a Costco club member to schedule a vaccine. To check for an appointment time visit:

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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