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Coronavirus: Why hospitals are watching their ICU bed counts so closely

Is Duval County ready if COVID-19 cases at hospitals double?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are worries that an apocalyptic surge in novel coronavirus cases will overwhelm Northeast Florida hospitals.

In fact, hospitals across the nation are under siege.

New York City is simply running out of beds because of the dramatically growing number of cases. It’s at the tipping point. People are literally lining up outside hoping to get a bed. Detroit is out of beds. Atlanta is at capacity.

In Duval County, the situation is being monitored hour by hour, day by day. Mayor Lenny Curry is mindful of what is going on in New York, and what could happen in Jacksonville if admission rates related to coronavirus start to double.

“That’s what we have to keep an eye on because if that starts to happen exponentially, that’s when you have to, that’s why we’re setting up the field hospital,” Curry said.

That field hospital will be established at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

In a joint statement released Friday by the CEOs at Memorial Hospital, Baptist Health and other area hospitals, the leaders acknowledged the community concern but said to 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,” the statement reads. “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.”

As the pandemic intensifies, it is clear some communities will be better equipped to treat the sickest patients than others. The sickest meaning those requiring admission to intensive care.

The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice looked at ICU capabilities nationwide and the amount of critical care beds available based on population.

Gainesville ranked No. 2 in the nation with 65 ICU beds per 100,000 people. Of the 304 cities that were ranked, Jacksonville also fared well with 43 beds per 100,000 people.

To give you some perspective as to why the number of ICU beds is important, ICU beds are typically the hospital units equipped to treat patients with respiratory problems who require ventilators, a serious concern for those with COVID-19.

The concerns in South Florida are much different. With a much larger population over 65, a group at greater risk of complications if they are exposed to COVID-19, there is worry hospitals there may be overwhelmed. And, unlike in Northeast Florida, there is a dramatic shortage of testing kits. Those two issues have health experts concerned the region could experience a situation that overwhelms area hospitals, not unlike what New York is seeing right now.

How local hospitals are preparing

Matt Zuino, executive vice president and chief operating officer, for Baptist Health, joined The Morning Show on Friday to talk about how his hospital is preparing for the expected jump in coronavirus cases.


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