COVID hospitalizations at twice previous peak

Like the shrill blast of a foghorn, Ascension Sacred Heart
sounded a piercing alarm last week about the effect COVID-19 is having on its hospitalizations.

And the Florida Department of Health that serves Gulf and
Franklin counties sent out one that for the most part echoed the blast.

On Aug. 19, Ascension sent a release that said, on that day,
the combined number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus in its three Panhandle
hospitals- in Panama City, Miramar Beach and Port St. Joe – was more than two times
higher than the previous peak at the hospitals.

“The number of hospitalized patients fluctuates frequently,
so any individual data points are only a moment-in-time snapshot,“ it
cautioned, going on to say that the 157 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in
Bay, Walton and Gulf counties, was two dozen more than the 133 one week ago.

On July 4, shortly before the COVID-19 surge began, the hospitals
had just six patients hospitalized with COVID-19, read the release.

Of these patients now hospitalized with COVID-19, 93 percent
are unvaccinated. “We are seeing an increased number of younger patients in
their 20s, 30s and 40s during this latest surge driven by the Delta variant of
the virus,” it reads. “There are fewer elderly patients in this latest surge
because of the significant number of people 65 and older who are vaccinated.

“The health and safety of our patients and community remains
our top priority. We cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated,”
the release said. “We believe the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and
effective and the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh any identified risks or
side effects.”

A report from the Florida Department of Health that serves
both Gulf and Franklin counties reports a vaccination rate of 48 percent, 18
percentage points below the state average of 66 percent.

“The vast majority of cases in Franklin and Gulf counties
are unvaccinated individuals,” read the release from the county health
department. “The vast majority of all patients being hospitalized in Florida
are unvaccinated individuals. Hospitals have seen a rapid spike in
hospitalizations due to the spread of the more contagious delta variant of

Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart’s pediatrics office in
Panama City is offering the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 12 years of age and older.
Those wishing to receive the vaccine do not have to be a patient, but they must
call 850-804-3870 to make an appointment.

Ascension, which has begun offering rapid COVID testing at
its family medicine offices in Bay and Walton counties, reported that the group
planned to offer the service at its Gulf County offices this week.

“This point-of-care test can provide test results in 15
minutes or less. The test is a non-invasive nasal swab that is performed in the
primary care doctors’ offices.” It read.

The hospitals’ release made clear that “the most effective
ways of protecting each other are to wear masks in indoor spaces and get
vaccinated to protect you, your loved ones and the community. Everyone in our
community plays a critical role in keeping us safe from this virus.”

The health department’s release, while touting the value of
vaccines, made no mention of masks.

“The best defense against COVID-19 is the vaccine,” it read.
“COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic
under control. The vaccine helps protect you and the health of the broader

“If you still get COVID-19, the vaccine has been proven to
reduce the severity of illness, hospitalization, and death,” it read.

The percentage of people testing positive for the
coronavirus remains stubbornly high in Gulf and Franklin Counties.

Last week, in Franklin County, slightly more than one out of
three people tested, 94 of 277, or 33.94 percent, were positive, slightly down
from the 37 percent a week earlier, but still higher than the two weeks prior,
about 30 percent between July 23 and Aug. 5. In the middle of July, fewer than
20 percent of those tested were positive.

In Gulf County, about one in four people tested, 79 of 328,
or 24 percent, were positive, slightly higher than the 22 percent a week before
that, but better than the two weeks of about 28 percent before that.

The health department release said healthcare providers
might recommend investigational treatment to patients more likely to get very
sick from COVID-19. It said monoclonal antibodies are a treatment authorized
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization use
in patients age 12 and older who have either been diagnosed or exposed to
someone with COVID-19 and are at high risk for progression to severe illness,
hospitalization, or death.

“In clinical trials, this treatment resulted in a 70 percent
reduction in risk for hospitalization and death, and resulted in an 82 percent
reduction in risk for contracting COVID-19 for people exposed to the virus by
other members of their household,” it read.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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