Thirty COVID-19 patients at Lee Memorial Hospital are hooked up to ventilators to help them breathe. Sarasota Memorial Hospital has half its intensive care units tied up by COVID-19 patients and won’t allow visitors to the facility anymore. Now, elective procedures at some local hospitals are being suspended.
One of Florida’s most reliably conservative areas, Southwest Florida has become a favorite place for Gov. Ron DeSantis to trumpet his restriction-light approach to the pandemic. Just last week, he forbid school districts from mandating masks after announcing the stance at a Cape Coral restaurant.
But medical professionals increasingly say the region has a problem that is growing increasingly out of control.
“Our leaders have decided in the name of freedom to prevent us from using these very well-proven remedies like masking,” said Dr. Marguerite Barnett, a Sarasota surgeon and former Florida delegate to the American Medical Association. “The Governor actually signed executive orders forbidding mask mandates in governments and schools. I, as a private company owner, can’t demand proof of vaccination from patients who come and see me.”
This has already impacted individuals’ livelihoods, Barnett said, and it could get worse.
Lee Health on Thursday announced it was canceling elective procedures requiring overnight stays, according to NBC-2. The hospital system on Thursday morning reported it had 309 COVID-19 patients isolated at inpatient hospitals. A total of 31 such patients were admitted just Wednesday.
The hospital stressed 69% of ventilators and 8% of ICU rooms will be available. About 92% of the bed capacity throughout the system is full.
Meanwhile, Naples Community Hospital said 149 patients tested positive at the hospital just Wednesday, about 123 of whom were unvaccinated. A total of 29 of those are now being treated in the hospital’s ICU, and 13 are hooked up to ventilators.
Further north at Sarasota Memorial, 32 patients at the hospital are being treated for COVID-19 in the system’s ICU units and 140 patients in total. There are just 78 ICU units available, and 63 of them are filled.
Along with Lee Memorial, that hospital has instituted a no-visitor policy for patients, and most hospitals in the region still allowing guests have severely limited the number.
In the 10-county Southwest Florida area, 8.83% of all residents have now tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 50.57% have been vaccinated.
But there are wild differences depending on communities. In Sarasota County, 58.87% of the population has been vaccinated, and in Charlotte, 58.58% of the community has had a shot. Notably, those communities have the lowest infection rates in the region, with 7.3% of Sarasota residents testing positive at some point, along with 7.04% of Charlotte residents.
Meanwhile, 12% of DeSoto County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and only 37.76% of residents have been vaccinated. In Hardee County, just 27.53% of the population has received a dose of vaccine, and 11.86% of the population has tested positive for COVID-19.