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COVID Variant Surging Locally

Virus Outbreak Seniors
Marta Lavandier
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2021, file photo, Florida seniors have their temperatures taken before receiving the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Health System in Miami. COVID-19 hospitalizations are plunging among older Americans. The falling numbers show the country’s vaccination strategy is working, pushing deaths lower and easing pressure on the frayed hospital system. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson and officials of the area’s three major health centers held a conference call on Monday, to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases in general, and the Delta variant in particular.

After the call, Robinson took to his Facebook page.

“I think the most significant thing that did take place, as we all agreed, is that we need to get back to getting the hospitalization information that we were receiving, prior to the end of June,” said the mayor. “We’re going to get that back again.”

The case reporting, for both Pensacola and Escambia County, resumed on Tuesday. As of then, there were 107 hospitalizations at Baptist, West Florida, and Ascension Sacred Heart. And the online dashboard containing the numbers is also making a comeback.

“The 107 [patient number], we don’t feel is as critical – it’s not the impact there,” said Robinson. “But obviously the concern there is, we went for a long period of time when we were under 50 [hospitalizations], to now where we are at 107. And to have that go up almost 50 people since last weekend, obviously, are our concerns.”

The current surge with the Delta variant is leading to another challenge — getting the unvaccinated vaccinated.

“All three hospitals confirm, for the most part, they’re seeing 90% of the people that are in the hospital are unvaccinated,” said the mayor. “Again, it’s not saying that you can’t either get COVID or have significant impacts if you have a vaccine; but you’re far less likely to.”

The state Health Department has indicated more people have wanted the shots over the past two weeks, after two to three months of stagnant numbers.

“We will be updating any information we receive from both Community Health; Florida Department of Health, the hospitals or anything else on vaccines and opportunities to get vaccines,” said Robinson.”

“The [phone] discussion really was just around where the hospitals are currently with the increase that we’ve seen,” said Gay Nord, President, and CEO of West Florida Hospital. She says they covered a lot of ground.

“We talked a little bit about preparedness; all three health care systems continued to be positioned very well to handle what we’re currently experiencing,” Nord said. “As well as any surge that might come our way.”

If there’s any one advantage to having endured the fight against the first round of COVID last year, Nord says it’s that hospitals and health care workers have a better grip on the new situations, in large part because of the continued collaboration among the three hospitals.

“We all know how to access each other, as health care systems and local resources,” she added. “But I do think we have a lot of experience — fortunately or unfortunately — under our belts that will prepare us to take great care of our patients as always.”

“We decided that we were going to continue to meet every two weeks; the department of health is also on that call. It’s a really good brain trust of community leaders so that we can just keep a pulse on what’s happening here in Escambia County,” said Dawn Rudolph, Ascension-Sacred Heart President.

She says they don’t expect any changes in the reporting from the state. But locally, the numbers will go to the county’s public safety office for distribution.

“I did hear the mayor say that he would support the Escambia County COVID dashboard being reengaged,” Rudolph said. “It may not have all the data on it — because the state is collecting like it used to — but at least locally, we’ll have a source for people to go to.”

Was Rudolph surprised when the virus began blowing up once again? She says no – because the vaccines are not 100% effective.

“And so we couldn’t tell you the variant locally, but what I can tell you is that our COVID-positive hospitalizations are increasing,” she said. “So the shocking is, to me, how fast they’re increasing, as well as the average age of those that are in the hospital.”

Ascension Sacred Heart announced this week that it’s now requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID. The decision comes after what’s being called a "thorough moral and ethical analysis.”

“It was a good call,” said Baptist Health Care President Scott Raines. “Because of those numbers increasing most recently, the band got all back together again with the mayor, the three health systems in the community and others, the health department, and we talked about the current state.”

Raines says they have re-implemented the use of masks on its campus. And a task force is looking at that, visitation, and other issues. An announcement on policy changes is forthcoming.

“We don’t have a change in policy at this time, but we are continuing to evaluate measures and are in communication with Ascension and other health systems,” said Raines. “we are evaluating and implementing practices that are shown to enhance and protect our workforce and the communities.”

The pandemic is not the first instance of collaboration among the hospitals, Raines says such work is good for the hospitals, and best for the communities to act in lockstep in making certain decisions.

“While we are all individual and unique in our business practices and what we do, in the face of a pandemic and in the face of crisis, when we are communicating and working together, along with the health department, we’re unified in making good decisions to help protect our community to the degree that we can,” said Raines. “That’s the biggest lesson learned.”

And Raines joins his counterparts in the chorus of those calling for the unvaccinated – to get those shots.

“Become aware and educated, and give that consideration that is an answer to flattening this and stopping these surges.”

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.