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The South Florida Roundup

Jackson Doctor Concerned About Hospital Capacity As South Florida COVID Cases Increase

Jackson Health System is among the South Florida hospitals monitoring the recent uptick in coronavirus cases across the state.

Florida continues to see record numbers of COVID-19 cases. About half of known cases are coming from South Florida — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

State and local officials are moving forward with reopening despite the recent spikes. On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed the increases, attributing them to more testing among young people, who aren’t showing symptoms.

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A national model run by the Policy Lab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia projects that Florida could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The model takes into account increased testing in the state.

South Florida officials are watching hospital capacity as an important metric to continue safely reopening. According to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, fewer than one in four ICU beds is still availableacross the state.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson talked about COVID-19 during reopening with Dr. Andrew Pastewski, head of the ICU unit at Jackson South Medical Center.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

DR. ANDREW PASTEWSKI: We have a 24-bed unit that we have designated the COVID unit to isolate it from the rest of the patients. Last Thursday, we had eight COVID patients. This morning, we have 18. Which is obviously a greater than a one hundred percent increase. That means there are six more beds there, where if those beds get occupied, we're moving on to other places again.

TOM HUDSON: What does that mean?

What happened initially was we removed all the patients from the medical ICU, which is a state-of-the-art 24-bed ICU. We put them in makeshift ICU rooms throughout the hospital, utilizing an old ICU, utilizing some other areas, that we were able to then make capable. We subsequently opened that back up about six weeks ago when the number started to get down.

We have been back in this unit now for two weeks, which is really great for the ICU team and the patients. Obviously, they get the better care when they're all in one place. But as we see that we can't meet the capacity on the COVID floor, we're gonna have to do some shuffling again because it's going to look like it's going to be worse than the first time.

What can you tell us about the patient profile of folks that are hospitalized in your facility with the virus?

One thing that we have noticed, which is why we were able to close down the COVID ICU and we are able to put all the patients in one floor, which is a mixed unit that has some ICU capability and some medical capability, we noticed the severity of illness decreased in these patients. We went from 10 to 14 ventilated patients in the beginning.

Now, although we're seeing more numbers, we've only got two on ventilators, and they happen to be elderly. Younger people seem to be tolerating this a little bit better without needed to be intubated the way they were in the beginning. And although we've seen steady numbers, we haven't seen them as sick.

We're gonna have to do some shuffling again because it's going to look like it's going to be worse than the first time. - Dr. Andrew Pastewski, Jackson South

What about hospital policies? Any changes on visitation or just the general public coming in?

Ironically, last week, we were planning to open up visitation this week across the health system. However, that was put on hold, as over the weekend the numbers started to spike. And obviously now that's indefinitely on hold. That's really tough for patients and their family members. We have instituted a policy here where we've got a couple of wonderful nurses who go around and their sole job is to FaceTime with an iPad, with family members as much as possible so they can at least see their family members in the ICU units.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Andrew Pastewski, a guest during the first segment of this episode of the South Florida Roundup, said he was awaiting his COVID-19 test results at the time of the show. He said his brother, who came from Queens, New York to stay with him, tested positive for the coronavirus. Dr. Pastewski confirmed Friday afternoon that he tested negative.

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Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.