In roundtable with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida hospital CEOs say unvaccinated are majority of COVID-19 patients

Florida broke another record in hospitalizations with 11,515 people hospitalized Tuesday

ORLANDO, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis held a virtual roundtable discussion Wednesday morning with Florida hospital CEOs.

The roundtable began around 10 a.m. with several health leaders, including Orlando Health CEO David Strong and Orlando Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. George Ralls.

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The virtual discussion comes as Florida broke another record in hospitalizations with 11,515 people hospitalized Tuesday, breaking last year’s record for the third straight day and up from just 1,000 in mid-June.

A common refrain among those on the governor’s roundtable was that between 95% and 99% of the patients being treated throughout their hospital systems are not vaccinated.

“That’s a really important message for people to hear that despite the information that’s coming out about people that are fully vaccinated still getting COVID, those numbers are low, number one, and they are absolutely still in a better situation than they would have been had they gotten COVID without the vaccine,” Ralls said.

In addition to the hospital CEOs and doctors on the call, the mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry, also took part in the roundtable. He echoed their message about vaccinations.

“A lot of people are afraid and panicking. This is — from my perspective — the solution is: get vaccinated. I’m not suggesting we coerce or force or mandate people to get vaccinated, but we keep working together to educate them that the vaccine is effective, it will keep you out of the hospital and it will keep you from getting really, really sick,” Curry said.

News 6 reached out to the governor’s office to find out what the state’s plans are to improve vaccination rates. This story will be updated if a response is made available.

While most of the hospital CEOs said they were seeing breakthrough cases among those who are vaccinated, they stressed that those cases were rare and in most instances mild.

“12% of our admissions are from vaccinated people, half of that group are people that are coming in for other reasons than COVID,” Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health System, said. “So, about a quarter of our positive people — we have right now 280 patients that are COVID positive — a quarter of those are here for other purposes and are asymptomatic. Of course, when we test them, we find out that they have COVID, but they’re not here for COVID.”

Aside from vaccinations, a big topic of conversation during the roundtable was monoclonal antibodies — an antibody treatment for people who get infected with the coronavirus.

“I will tell you it from our perspective, both anecdotally and from a scientific perspective, they work,” John Couris said. “Anecdotally, almost 100% of our patients have told us that 24 to 48 hours later they feel much better and symptoms start to subside. We’re doing 35 to 40 treatments, a day.”

Couris added that they have begun giving the antibody treatment “prophylactically for a certain type of patient that’s high risk.” In other words, some patients — like those undergoing organ transplants — are given monoclonal antibodies as a protective measure against COVID.

The health experts did warn that the antibody treatment is meant for those in the early stages of infection. The governor said his administration would be working to further education about the availability of monoclonal antibodies as a treatment.

In Central Florida, Orlando Health said it is not currently offering monoclonal antibody treatments.

“We are actually not doing this in our EDs (emergency departments) at the moment because of the inpatient ED volumes, really, requiring us to use all of that space for acute care at the moment,” Ralls said.

He added that the hospital is organizing monoclonal antibody treatments for patients “in concert with some of our outpatient resources.”

Orlando Health added that they believe they reached a plateau of new cases — with about 500 patients within the last week — and the hope is that it will experience a trend similar to what was seen in the United Kingdom, which saw a rapid downward trend following its peak.

Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty said antibody treatments help, but he believes the focus needs to be on the vaccine and prevention.

“Antibody treatments are great, but that’s sort of like after the fact, it’s after you’ve gotten COVID,” Husty said. “I’d like it if we didn’t have to use antibodies because people aren’t getting COVID. That’s really what the focus has to be is not getting COVID.”

Husty adds the vaccine is about prevention while antibody therapy is treatment.

“You focus on prevention rather than on treatment. When somebody has a problem, sure you treat it, but prevention is the key,” Husty said.

DeSantis insisted Tuesday that the surge in cases and hospitalizations will subside in the next couple of weeks and that he will not impose any business restrictions or mask mandates.

“We are not shutting down,” DeSantis said. “We are going to have schools open. We are protecting every Floridian’s job in this state. We are protecting people’s small businesses. These interventions have failed time and time again throughout this pandemic, not just in the United States but abroad. They have not stopped the spread, particularly with delta.”

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President Joe Biden criticized several state leaders, including DeSantis, for the response to the nationwide surge of cases.

“If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people trying to do the right thing,” Biden said.

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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.