South Florida hospitals take dire steps as COVID-19 trends worsen

Visitations cut, large spaces being converted to treat more patients

Some hospitals are converting space to add more beds for patients, as COVID-19 variants send unvaccinated people to the ICU.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – From Miami-Dade to Broward, the pressure on hospitals from unvaccinated community members falling sick with COVID-19 is intensifying.

The numbers are staggering. Jackson Health in Miami-Dade is experiencing a 210% increase in the number of COVID-19 patients since the start of the month.

Memorial Healthcare System in Broward has seen a 225% jump, and both hospital groups say the majority of all their patients are unvaccinated.

And as the cases surge, the Memorial announced Monday that hospital visitation will now be restricted to only the fully vaccinated.

That comes as they work to expand capacity to treat more patients, converting an auditorium at Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines and the conference center at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood to “clean beds,” meaning clinical areas for non-COVID patients.

Jackson also altered its visitation policy last week.

Dr. David De La Zerda, the ICU director at Jackson Memorial Hospital, says he’s seeing patients regretting not getting vaccinated. The majority that they are treating right now are between the ages of 25 and 45.

“Most of them are saying, ‘Why didn’t I get vaccinated?” he said. “Before we admit them to the ICU, we see them on the floor. That’s the No. 1 comment. ‘I am so so ashamed I didn’t get [the vaccine] before and it’s too late.’”

Jackson Memorial is short on beds and nurses and looking to add 50 ICU beds in the next week. At this point, that hospital is 80% full, including non-COVID patients.

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He says he did not imagine they would be in this situation again, and that within a week we could be back to the peak situation of a few months ago.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, describing himself as “very frustrated” by the national rise in COVID-19 cases.

Miami-Dade County is trying to get ahead of this wave of infections by opening five new mobile COVID-19 sites where testing is underway and Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be administered starting Tuesday.

With the CDC saying the Delta variant now accounts for the majority of cases, infectious disease experts like Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University recommend you wear a mask when indoors.

“These Delta variant cases are shedding thousand-fold more virus than the original, and remember, any protection can be overwhelmed with an overwhelming dose,” Marty said. “And so now we’ve got the unvaccinated shedding outrageous amount of virus, and yes you’re vaccinated, but in an enclosed space, your immunity can be overwhelmed by these high-dose infections.

“That’s why I’m recommending that when people are indoors, in poorly ventilated, crowded spaces, go back to wearing a mask, even if they’re fully vaccinated.”

For information on where COVID-19 vaccines are available in South Florida, click here.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."