Dear Campus Community,
As every day brings a new deluge of statistics and we watch the rates of COVID-19 in our community and state rise, it’s understandable to have questions and even some concerns. It can be hard to know what to think with all the figures tossed around and a new, often alarming, media headline at every turn.
Please know that the infectious disease experts and epidemiologists at UF Health are watching the numbers closely. We understand that these figures can seem scary at times, especially if you are worried about the ability of you or your loved ones to have easy access to the state-of-the-art care available in our community.
I’d like to share some background and context that may help allay some of your fears, if you have them.
We are now about three weeks into a surge in cases that is being seen all throughout Florida and the rest of the Sunbelt states, and those who have tested positive are primarily people in their 20s. In fact, the median age for a new case in Florida over the last three weeks has been 21. Almost all of this surge has been the result of people socializing at bars, parties and restaurants or attending gyms without wearing a mask or following other recommended physical distancing guidelines.
It’s important to note that for the first two to three weeks, the increase in cases did not lead to growing numbers of people hospitalized with COVID-19, although that began to change statewide a few days ago. The current outbreak has moved, as expected, from a group of people at low risk for complications into age groups and others with medical issues that potentially put them at higher risk. Nevertheless, we are encouraged that many of these patients are less severely ill than what we saw with the first series of cases this spring. Many of our admissions are very similar to a more flu-like admission for pneumonia, with an associated shorter length of stay. While this isn’t the case for all patients, especially those who are older, many are recovering more quickly than those in the first months of the pandemic. We’ve also gained a lot of experience caring for COVID-19-positive patients and have employed leading-edge treatments.
Hospitals around the state are reaching capacity but remember that many hospitals are normally near capacity, and ICUs are near capacity as well. The overwhelming majority of these beds and ICU rooms are not full with COVID-19 patients, despite the surge in cases. ICU numbers change hourly, and in many cases even more frequently, and that’s the case regardless of COVID-19.
UF Health, for example, has two Level 1 trauma centers, one in Gainesville and one in Jacksonville, and we see many trauma surgery patients as well as cardiac surgery and general medical/surgical patients who fill these beds quickly on a normal basis. It is hard to go by some of the numbers you see reported, as they are merely a snapshot in time and fluctuate regularly. Here in Gainesville, we have 1,100 regular beds and can greatly expand the number of ICU beds if needed in an emergency. We are well within our capacity at this time. We also have the ability to flex up or down to meet the needs of our patients, such as using step-down beds that provide an intermediate level of care for patients with requirements somewhere between that of a medical-surgical unit and the ICU. This also includes making adjustments to redistribute staffing levels and other resources required to care for them.
Make no mistake, we are concerned about the increase in hospital admissions and the need for more ICU beds, and this likely will continue for the next two to four weeks. Despite these challenges, our hospitals remain a safe place if someone requires care, with the universal use of masks, physical distancing and countless other steps taken behind the scenes to support a safer health care environment.
We will continue to take steps to ensure that our community can receive the care patients need, when they need it, and we are closely monitoring the evolving situation.
Please continue to do your part to show care and concern for others by wearing masks, physically distancing from others whenever possible and frequently washing your hands ― when at work, at home or out in the community. These healthy habits are among the best tools you have in the battle against COVID-19.
As always, please visit https://coronavirus.ufhealth.org/screen-test-protect/ for more information and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can be of any help at all.
Michael Lauzardo, MD, MSc
Deputy Director, Emerging Pathogens Institute
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine
UF College of Medicine