A nurse checks in on a Covid-19 patient in the Covid ward at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida.
Michael S. Williamson | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Dr. David Wein, an emergency medicine physician at Tampa General Hospital in Florida, said the Covid-19 outbreak there is the most severe he and his colleagues have witnessed since the pandemic began.
In Hillsborough County, where Tampa General Hospital is located, the number of new Covid cases has reached an average of about 1,200 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than twice the national rate when adjusting for population.
Covid patients are now occupying nearly 200 of Tampa General Hospital’s 1,041 beds as of Tuesday, according to data provided by the hospital, which serves western Florida and the greater Tampa Bay region. Sixty-one patients are in the ICU. The surge in patients, most of them unvaccinated, is causing a strain on the hospital’s 8,000-plus member staff, Wein said.
“Everyone is working at full capacity and then some, and it feels like we’ve been that way for a long time,” Wein said Tuesday in a phone interview. He added the hospital was beginning to run low on nurses. “It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.”
Hospitals across Florida are now being pushed to the limit with ICU beds filling up and providers struggling to find enough staff to care for patients as the state fights one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the nation, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.
Florida’s surge in cases comes as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to resist calls from the Biden administration and state advocacy groups to enforce mask mandates and other pandemic-related measures to help contain the massive outbreak. He signed an executive order and law in May that lifted all Covid restrictions across the state and permanently blocked local officials from enacting new ones starting July 1.
In late July, DeSantis issued a controversial executive order that blocked mask mandates in the state’s schools, overruling two counties that required face coverings for their students and defying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking recommendations. DeSantis’ office didn’t immediately have a comment for this article and the Florida Department of Health didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cases have continued to climb. Florida’s latest Covid data, which is released just once a week on Fridays, shows its seven-day average of new cases hit a new record last week of 19,250 per day, up from around 1,500 in June and accounting for almost 18% of new cases in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. On a per capita basis, Florida is second-highest in the nation in cases at 90 new infections per day per 100,000 people — behind Louisiana at 116 cases per 100,000 residents.
DeSantis has blamed the Biden administration’s policies on immigration for the new wave of Covid infections.
DeSantis’ policies have been “utterly irresponsible,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. He said the policies threaten to slow the entire nation’s progress in ending the pandemic, especially as schools reopen and employers begin to bring workers back to the office this fall.
“With a highly contagious delta variant raging through the state, the people have been largely abandoned by their state government,” Gostin said. “America is so close to getting back to normal. This could be a major setback to our national Covid response.”
Hospital beds are filling up in the meantime, with 86% of in-patient beds in use compared with 74% nationwide as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services. Across the U.S., roughly 10% of all hospital beds are being used to treat Covid patients, while nearly 28% of the beds in Florida are occupied by them — the highest of any state, the data shows.
Just over 90% of the state’s ICU beds were in use as of Wednesday, almost half of them filled with Covid patients, according to HHS data.
Florida’s death toll is on the rise as well at a seven-day average of 88 daily Covid deaths, up 51% from last week but below the record average of more than 180 deaths per day in late January, according to Hopkins data.
The federal government is now sending 200 ventilators, 100 breathing devices and other related supplies to the state, according to NBC News, to help Florida health officials respond to the record number of hospitalizations. DeSantis said he was unaware of the federal allocation, but local and state health officials had requested equipment from the national stockpile, according to NBC News.