TAMPA, Fla. - It's a number we never wanted to reach: 1 million COVID-19 cases. Florida has now become the third state to reach the milestone, behind Texas and California.
Florida added another 8,800 cases Tuesday, putting the Sunshine State over the one million mark, while also adding 82 additional deaths, bringing total resident deaths to more than 18,600.
As case numbers go up, so do hospitalizations. More than 55,000 Floridians have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. In recent weeks, Florida's current COVID-19 patient counts have risen by the day.
"Everybody's watching because certainly, the numbers are going up," Justin Senior, CEO of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.
More than 4,200 patients are in Florida hospitals with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. That's up from about 3,100 two weeks ago.
"At 4,200, that's pretty high," Senior said. "About six to eight weeks ago, it was only about 2,000. So, it's doubled in the last couple of months."
The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida represents hospitals like Johns Hopkins All Children's, Sarasota Memorial and Tampa General. While it's a trend hospitals want to slow down, they already dealt with much worse during the summer surge.
Gov. Ron DeSantis commented on increased hospitalization Monday, saying, "We have about 4,000 patients who are being treated for COVID who are COVID positive. In the summer, we were at almost 10,000 COVID patients."
As we saw months ago, hospitals do have plans in place in case they desperately have to free up bed space, such as postponing some non-essential procedures. Local hospitals have not yet had to do that with this most recent surge.
265 current Florida patients are in Hillsborough County hospitals, 192 are in Pinellas County and 131 are in Polk County. Though Florida's numbers are rising, we're better off than other states. On a map showing percentages of hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages in the past week, Florida ranked among the lowest in the nation at 8.2%.
"Right now, there is still quite a bit of bed capacity in the state," Senior said, "that includes in the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas County and Hillsborough County, they both have probably 20% to 30% vacancies, and between 15% to 20% vacant ICU beds."
Hospital workers have gained a lot of experience with the virus, and PPE is no longer in short supply. Still, Senior urges everyone to keep following guidelines to keep stress off of hospitals.
"It's been a very stressful time for them," Senior said. "These are very difficult situations to deal with. If we take those steps to control the spread and control the virus and protect each other and protect ourselves, it helps everyone."
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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