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Tampa Bay hospitals suspend surgeries, limit visits as COVID admissions rise

BayCare and Advent Health institute emergency measures to cope with influx of patients, call for more people to get vaccinated.
Justice Padgett, 12, of Tampa, is given a COVID-19 vaccine shot by first-year University of South Florida physican assistant student Zara Meadows at a back to school health clinic held Saturday at Middleton High School in Tampa. Hospital officials are renewing calls for people to get vaccinated as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record levels.
Justice Padgett, 12, of Tampa, is given a COVID-19 vaccine shot by first-year University of South Florida physican assistant student Zara Meadows at a back to school health clinic held Saturday at Middleton High School in Tampa. Hospital officials are renewing calls for people to get vaccinated as COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record levels. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 4
Updated Aug. 5

On the day that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted that Florida’s hospitals are still open for routine business, two hospital chains suspended some elective surgeries in Tampa Bay and announced restrictions on hospital visits as their COVID-19 admissions reached record levels.

BayCare is limiting patient visits to one masked visitor a day and suspended elective surgeries at six of its Hillsborough County hospitals as its number of COVID-19 admissions topped more than 800 patients Wednesday. That’s well above the previous peak of 702 in July 2020 when no vaccines had been approved.

“This week we have reached a grim milestone: Our 14 acute care hospitals have more COVID-19 patients than any other time since the pandemic began,” said spokeswoman Lisa Razler.

Related: DeSantis to Biden: ‘I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you’

Officials at AdventHealth also announced new restrictions on hospital visits at all of its Tampa Bay locations and have suspended non-urgent elective surgeries that require an overnight stay at its Wesley Chapel and Carrollwood hospitals.

“Across our six hospitals in the Tampa Bay region, we’re well over 300 patients now,” said Doug Ross, AdventHealth’s chief medical officer in Tampa. “That is exceeding our past surges entirely and it’s continuing to grow.”

Similar emergency measures have been reported at other hospitals across Florida as the state has recorded record levels of hospitalizations. Memorial Healthcare System in Broward County said it will suspend elective surgeries at its hospitals effective Aug. 9. Sarasota Memorial Hospital has suspended patient visits although with some exceptions, according to its website.

The state’s hospitals are preparing for the worst as Florida continues to lead the U.S. in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. The Florida Hospital Association reported a record 12,041 hospitalizations on Wednesday, the largest spike yet.

There have been four consecutive days of record hospitalizations, during which an additional 7,223 new patients were admitted for COVID-19.

Health experts fear those numbers will only climb as admission rates tend to lag about two weeks behind increases in infections. Florida led the country with 22 percent of the nearly 470,000 new U.S. COVID-19 infections detected last week, some 110,477 cases. It’s the first time since early January that the state surpassed 100,000 infections in a single week.

Related: Florida leads nation in COVID infections, hospitalizations as patients get younger

Officials for two of Tampa Bay region’s biggest hospitals — Tampa General and Bayfront Health St. Petersburg — told DeSantis on a conference call Wednesday they are busy but not overwhelmed and still operating normally. But Tampa General CEO John Couris said the hospital is reviewing the situation “hour by hour.”

The hospital reported 129 COVID-19 admissions with 55 patients in its ICU as of Wednesday afternoon.

“If we believe that we get into a position that’s unsafe, we will start to slow things down and will start to move things around,” Couris said, while stressing that patients who need elective surgeries should continue to come to the hospital for now.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke with the CEOs of five major Florida hospital chains Wednesday.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke with the CEOs of five major Florida hospital chains Wednesday. [ JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL | TNS ]

The conference call included the CEOs of five major hospital chains. DeSantis highlighted that more than 90 percent of those ending up in the hospital are unvaccinated and stressed that, despite reports of breakthrough infections, immunization remains the best protection against severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Florida’s governor also said he wants to increase public messaging about the availability and success of treatments such as monoclonal antibodies, which have proven effective at preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms if administered within a week of symptoms first appearing.

Related: Tampa General hopes COVID antibody treatment can ease burden on ICU as cases soar

The virtual event, which was broadcast live on the Florida Channel, included Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller. Orlando Health Chief Executive Officer David Strong and Chief Medical Officer George Ralls also took part. The hospital chain purchased Bayfront in October.

Ralls said he is optimistic that admissions may have plateaued. Part of that stems from models that analyzed recent surges in infections in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where the delta variant made up the bulk of cases.

“This peak went up very rapid and fell very quickly,” Ralls said.

Bayfront on Wednesday reported 41 in-house COVID-19 patients, 16 of whom are in the intensive care unit. Roughly 90 percent of those are unvaccinated, the hospital reported.

“Like many healthcare organizations across the country, we are constantly reviewing all options so that we can continue to protect the communities we serve and address the increasing incidence of COVID-19 in our community,” Ralls said in a statement released to the Times.

The suspension of elective procedures by BayCare applies to St. Joseph’s, St. Joseph’s Children’s and St. Joseph’s Women’s in Tampa; St. Joseph’s North in Lutz; St. Joseph’s South in Riverview; and South Florida Baptist in Plant City. BayCare hospitals in Pinellas and some Polk County facilities will continue to perform elective surgeries for now.

St. Joseph’s South has also relocated patients out of a pediatric unit to make more beds available for coronavirus patients.

“Continuing to have such a huge patient load for COVID-19 limits our ability to provide a full complement of health care services,” said Razler, the hospital’s spokeswoman in an email. The emergency measure will make “staff and other resources available to address more urgent health care needs of the patients we are here to serve.”

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