Florida doctors: Don’t let COVID-19 fears stop you from getting necessary health care

‘The hospitals are very, very safe,’ UF Health doctor says

More hospital beds for virus patients
More hospital beds for virus patients

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – While the number of coronavirus cases in Florida continues to rise statewide, doctors at UF Health say they’re also growing more concerned about patients with other medical needs not related to COVID-19.

Several doctors from UF Health spoke alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday during a news conference in The Villages, encouraging patients who have other medical needs not to delay getting the care they might need over coronavirus-related concerns.

Dr. Jeremy Spry, medical director of the emergency department at UF Health in The Villages, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an increase in the severity of a number of other illnesses. According to Spry, health experts are also seeing rising mortality rates among those patients.

“We’re not just seeing an increase in the severity but also in the mortality associated with it, too, so heart attack, stroke, other infectious illnesses aside from COVID. Patients are waiting, and they’re not coming in,” Spry said.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, some patients were encouraged to avoid seeking care at hospitals over fears that they could take up bed space that might be needed by a seriously ill COVID-19 patient, while others were avoiding hospitals over fears they might contract the novel coronavirus.

Once the curve appeared to be flattening and the state began reopening in May, DeSantis and health officials slowly began encouraging patients to resume seeking medical care at hospitals if needed, as bed space was no longer expected to be an issue.

Spry said since then, he’s seen some improvement, with some patients getting care earlier, but that he’s still seeing many patients come in when they should’ve sought care much sooner.

“That has a direct effect on their overall health. There’s going to be issues with delays and cancer diagnoses for not just reaching out and coming to the ER but also to even their primary care physicians,” Spry said. “So, you know, my job today is to let the public know and reassure them that our policies that we have and procedures and screening patients and visitors and staff on a daily basis, the hospitals are very, very safe. And, you know, we’re here and ready, and when. If you’ve got anything that you’re concerned about, you know, come in. Don’t delay.”

Dave Nelson, president of UF Health who oversees the Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses, as well as two hospitals in The Villages, said despite the recent spike in coronavirus cases in Florida, the facilities he oversees “have very good capacity.”

“I think there’s a lot of misconception in the general public when you hear that,” he said. “Let’s just say our Gainesville campus is 90% full. That’s a good thing, because we’re usually closer to 100% full because we need to run fully to serve our community,” Nelson said.

He said if the hospitals begin to see a rising number of COVID-19 patients, there are things that can be done to help free up space.

“We have triggers that we can turn. The governor turned one before which helped us decompress, which is elective surgeries, and you know we can continue to evaluate but at least so far in the Central Florida health hospitals and our Gainesville and Jacksonville community, we have significant capacity and don’t see that being a problem but we probably could go tenfold higher than we saw in what you would see as the first wave, because we never got into the mitigation strategies because we didn’t see what South Florida hit,” Nelson said.

He said he would expect to see less capacity at South Florida hospitals because those counties have seen higher positivity rates than the areas he oversees.

However, he did say that hospitals are getting more active and that health officials would keep an eye on that increase in activity then make any necessary calls.

“Overall, I think we’re definitely seeing a common younger persons’ spread. Hospitals are getting more active and we will continue to watch those numbers but have many triggers to pull to open up the system more as we need to,” Nelson said.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Health reported 6,336 new cases of COVID-19, as well as 150 new hospitalizations, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed cases since March 1 to 206,447, with 16,045 total hospitalizations.

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