Ambulances wait outside hospitals as COVID infections spread


FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) – COVID-19 cases have filled so many hospital beds in Florida that emergency services and fire departments are scrambling to respond to emergencies.

In St. Petersburg, some patients wait up to an hour in ambulances before they can be admitted to hospitals – a process that typically takes about 15 minutes, said Barry Burton, councilor for Pinellas County.

While ambulances sit outside the emergency rooms, they are essentially disconnected from the network.

“You cannot be reached to take another call, which forces the fire brigade on site to take over this transport in the event of an accident or the like. That caused quite a backlog for the system. “

Hospital admissions rose more than 1,100 to 14,787 patients with COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health. More than 47% of the intensive care beds were occupied by around 3,000 coronavirus patients. That number has almost tripled in the past three weeks.

At no other time in the pandemic was there such a high proportion of COVID patients in intensive care units as in the last two days. Last year around mid-July, the percentage was around 45% in around 1,400 patients. Officials increased beds in hospitals and were reporting about 2,500 ICU patients at a time at their peak. At the height of the summer surge last year, there were a total of about 10,170 COVID-19 hospital admissions in Florida.

Burton stressed that the most serious non-COVID cases like heart attacks and strokes are still treated promptly in emergency rooms. And he says the county is working with firefighters to find more ambulances and have additional staff available. But “that really puts a strain on the already overburdened fire and rescue personnel,” he warned.

According to the Florida Hospital Association, nearly 70% of Florida hospitals expect a critical staff shortage in the next seven days. The influx of COVID-19 also comes at a time when Florida hospitals are seeing “an unusually high number of very sick non-COVID patients,” said association president Mary Mayhew.

“Our frontline health heroes are thin and physical and mental exhaustion takes its toll,” she said, noting that many of those hospitalized were between 20 and 30 years old.

Officials said the increase caused by the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 is mainly among the unvaccinated. And it comes when kids all over Florida go back to school. Classroom classes begin this week in the densely populated areas of Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando. Most students in South Florida will be back to school next week.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the state has now exceeded 20,000 for its 7-day average of new cases, the day after the federal agency misreported Florida Department of Health numbers by using the Data from the last three days combined into two.

Although the numbers are skyrocketing, hospitals in the state are unlikely to run out of inpatient beds, said Justin Senior, director of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents some of the largest hospital systems in the state. He said many Florida hospitals can convert anything from conference rooms to outpatient centers into COVID units.

Kevin Cho Tipton, an intensive care nurse who works at two hospitals in South Florida, said teams in the emergency rooms and intensive care units were exhausted. He sees cases in which unvaccinated family members fall ill together and are hospitalized.

Tipton said he recently treated a young father who was required to be life support. The man’s wife also battled an infection in the hospital, and the woman’s father was later admitted and put on a ventilator. The young father died.

“Every person we lose is painful, but it was even harder walking down the hallways talking to his wife, who was also recorded, and worrying about their children at home,” Tipton said. “Her father, who took care of her children at home, was eventually accepted too.”

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