Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Central Florida. While hospitals say they can handle the spike, doctors are urging the nearly 50 percent of unvaccinated Volusia County residents to get their shots.
“The vast majority of hospitalized patients we are seeing today are unvaccinated. I think this is a critical point for all of our community,” AdventHealth Chief Medical Officer Dr. Neil Finkler said.
Health officials are particularly concerned because new cases have recently spiked.
In a three-week period from May 13 to June 3, Volusia County reported 1,267 new cases of COVID-19, per the Florida Department of Health. But the number has risen dramatically more recently. In the week between July 9 and July 15, new cases numbered 1,359.
“We’re seeing an influx of patients faster than we’ve seen before,” Finkler said during a July 22 press conference. “A lot of this is probably due to the delta variant.”
The delta variant of COVID-19 is much more contagious than previously observed variants of the virus, and has become the predominant strain nationwide.
Finkler called the disparity between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals a “tale of two cities.”
“The unvaccinated tend to get sick if they get COVID. They require hospitalizations and oftentimes end up in our ICUs,” he said. “The vaccinated, if they get COVID, tend to have a much milder case. They tend to be treated symptomatically at home, and rarely do they have to come in the hospital. Even rarer than that do they succumb to their illness.”
While cases are rising rapidly, the number of hospitalizations in AdventHealth Central Florida facilities has still not reached the peak-hospitalization levels of January 2021, when the county was averaging about 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 weekly.
The situation at Halifax Health is different. On July 22, Halifax Health reported 79 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across its Central Florida hospitals. According to spokesman John Guthrie, the previous high, in January, was only 52 patients.
Of those 79 hospitalizations, Halifax Health confirmed the median age is 62, and that 10 percent of those hospitalized have been vaccinated.
Both AdventHealth and Halifax Health said they have taken precautions to ensure additional personal protective equipment, ventilators and beds are on-hand. Those supplies are good, a spokesperson for Halifax Health said, but staffing has been a challenge throughout the pandemic.
Halifax Health Chief Medical Officer Margaret Crossman said vaccinations help to halt hospitalizations.
“The good news is, COVID-19 vaccination does protect from severe disease and death; real-life experience is consistent with data from the vaccine trials,” she said. “Further, we now have evidence that even if a vaccinated individual develops [a] breakthrough infection, there are fewer viral copies created, and less opportunity for mutation of the virus.”
She continued, “Vaccination is an important part of any mitigation strategy, including this one.”
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, AdventHealth officials recommended wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in crowded places. Halifax Health’s Crossman provided additional strategies.
“In lieu of vaccination, vulnerable individuals should mask when unable to avoid the three C's, which are closed spaces, crowded places, and close-up contact.”
As of July 15, 53 percent of people 12 and above, or nearly 261,000 of Volusia County’s 552,000 residents were vaccinated against COVID-19. Children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine under the current FDA authorization.
For information about where to find a COVID-19 vaccine, visit www.vaccines.gov.
Worried that your sniffles may be something more serious? Visit the Volusia County website, HERE, for more information about where to get a COVID-19 test.