JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the number of people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Florida continues to rise, state and local leaders worry COVID-19 could overwhelm the hospital system, much like it has in other states and countries.
In a tweet Tuesday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he’s monitoring hospital admissions data from COVID-19.
“Hospital admissions from this disease is the data point I am watching. Those would be severe to critical folks,” Curry said.
State data published Tuesday, March 24, shows 12 out of the 50 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Duval County were hospitalized and there were more than 200 people with COVID-19 in hospitals across Florida.
The state, local and federal governments are preparing for what could be a surge in hospital stays due to the virus.
Preparation has begun for a 250-bed intensive care unit field hospital at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville. The mayor said the facility is a precaution in case hospitals in the city become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
“Our hospitals are in good shape. This is an asset we will have in our region to use if needed,” Curry said. “The goal is to prevent the circumstances we’re seeing in other countries where hospitals are full of critical needs, patients are going without the care they need because of the lack of resources.”
One effort to push public officials to take action comes from a group of data scientists who put together the site COVIDACTNOW.org.
They created a model showing how many people might need to be hospitalized, depending on what actions are taken.
According to their calculations, in the state of Florida, if no action is taken, the number of people needing hospitalization would peak on April 24, with nearly half a million people statewide -- 465,699.
With three months of social distancing, that peak is delayed to May 14 and it peaks lower, under 185,184 hospitalizations.
But, according to their calculations, if the state put in a shelter-in-place order like some have done and kept the shelter-in-place for three months -- at the end of the model’s projections in July, there would be just 18,129 hospitalizations.
The group behind the model emphasizes it is not predicting the actual number of cases in the future, just showing what could happen to help decision-making efforts.
Some of these numbers are even more staggering when you look at the number of hospital beds in the state.
According to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, there are only about 48,536 beds in the state, and they are generally 63% full.
And when you consider that some COVID-19 patients need intensive care, there are just under 4,590 intensive care beds in Florida, which generally 67% full.
Several Florida senators, including Orlando Sen. Victor Torres and Delray Beach Sen. Lori Berman, are calling for the governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order to prevent more people from getting sick and alleviate pressure on hospitals.
“I am very concerned about our hospitals. I am concerned about shortages of hospital beds, ventilators, shortages of personal protective equipment and that’s why we have to flatten the curve and slow the transmission between individuals,” Berman said.
“For those of you that are unemployed, for those of you that are at home because of your jobs, there is hope or let’s say light at the end of the tunnel to help you in this manner. We are looking at money coming from the federal government, as well as the stimulus coming from the state,” Torres said. “Unemployment benefits, as well, so don’t give up and please don’t risk your neighbors, your family going out there and not needing to be out there in the streets.”
News4Jax on Friday received a joint statement from the CEOs of Memorial Hospital, Orange Park Medical Center and UF Health. I reads in part:
"We understand there may be concerns related to future demand for acute care and our region’s ability to meet these needs. While we have hospital bed capacity today, we are looking ahead, working around the clock to ensure we are ready to manage a potential surge in patient needs. Keep in mind that only a portion of those hospitalized will require intensive care.
“Possible acuity of patients is just one of the many variables we are looking at, using predictive analytics to project various possible “surge” scenarios. Across our region, we currently have nearly 500 ICU beds in place today -- but that doesn’t tell the whole story. We are diligently working to expand that number, when we need it.”