SARASOTA — Two sets of numbers tell the tale of the impact on Sarasota Memorial Hospital of the delta variant COVID-19 surge: cases and deaths.
One set is improving but the second probably won’t for a couple of weeks.
SMH had 59 COVID-19 admissions for the month of June, said Dr. Manuel Gordillo, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control.
But in August there were 1,048 COVID-19 admissions — an average of nearly 34 a day and about 18 times as many as in June.
There were 111 through Sept. 5, he said in a video interview Thursday, reflecting a downturn in cases since the end of last month.
“Overall, we hope — we think — we reached the peak sometime in late August,” he said.
Deaths lag behind cases by two or three weeks, however, so they’re not yet declining.
SMH had only five COVID-19 deaths in July but averaged more than three a day in August, for a total of 99. Prior to that there had only been 250 since the beginning of the pandemic, Gordillo said.
There have been more than 20 this week, including eight reported on Wednesday.
The biggest issue in caring for the influx of patients was and remains staffing, he said.
SMH was able to open up space so regular ICU units could be used solely for COVID patients, and it was well stocked with equipment, but staff, especially people with direct patient contact, have struggled.
They’re exhausted, he said, and coping with PTSD, anxiety, depression and burnout.
They’re also now under a federal mandate to get vaccinated, if they aren’t already.
According to a letter President & CEO David Verinder sent to staff Friday, about three-fourths of SMH’s 7,600-plus employees and about 90% of its 1,000-plus member medical staff is vaccinated.
Because of “critical staffing shortages,” it states, the hospital’s focus has been on incentivizing vaccination.
Employees can qualify for a $500 “special appreciation payment” this year and next year regardless of when the mandate becomes effective.
Not enough is known about it for SMH to develop a policy, Verinder writes.
Vaccination is still the major weapon in the public fight against the coronavirus, Gordillo said.
“The vaccine is the tool everyone should use not to get the disease, or if you get it, to get a mild form of the disease,” he said. “We haven’t found a variant that is vaccine-resistant yet.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has been hyping the availability of monoclonal antibodies, including Regeneron, which SMH tested in a clinical trial. But not everyone is a candidate for it, and it works best if administered within five days of symptoms appearing, Gordillo said.
Even though it can reduce the need for hospitalization by up to 70%, it’s still a treatment, not a preventive, he said.
“Prevention always wins,” he said. “We want to give people immunity through vaccination, not through disease; that’s very dangerous.
“The virus will find the unvaccinated and inflict the most damage on them.
“This is not a tribal issue. We’re all in this together.”