While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising in South Florida, ICU populations are not

Hospital groups across South Florida are reporting upticks in COVID-19 related patients.

MIAMI – Hospital groups across South Florida are reporting upticks in COVID-19 related patients.

Take, for example, Jackson Health System.

“We tested 200 people yesterday positive for Covid in our emergency departments. Ten days ago that number was less than 10,” said Jackson Memorial Hospital CMO Dr. Hany Atallah. “Our hospitalizations have risen rather dramatically and fairly quickly.”

Across Jackson’s hospitals, they have gone from 38 COVID-19 positive patients to 98 in just over a week.

While those numbers are far fewer than the more than 400 patients they had in late-August during last summer’s delta variant-driven case surge, the swift increase is something hospital officials are keeping a close eye on.

There is, however, some good news.

“The patients that are being admitted to the hospital tend not to be as sick as they were this past summer,” said Dr. Atallah. “Our ICU patient population hasn’t been as high as it was with the delta variant, which is a good thing.”

Dr. Atallah said that whole omicron is highly contagious, what they are currently monitoring is how sick it makes those who catch it.

“It is a little bit of a wild card in terms of how many people we think are going to need hospitalization,” he said. “We are still a little bit up in the air exactly what this is going to look like, how is this going to peak, how sick are people going to get, how many ICU beds are we going to need. Those kinds of things are still a bit up in the air.”

In terms of hospitalizations and severity of positive cases, a similar observation came from Memorial Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marc Napp.

“Right now, we’re not seeing any increase at all in any of our intensive care units,” he said. “If it’s a delta surge, it probably will burn out relatively quickly. If it’s an omicron surge, all bets are off.”

Ultimately, time will tell as officials continue to monitor and study the new variant.

“It’s really hard to know at this point,” said Dr. Napp. “Give us another couple of weeks and we’l have a much better picture.”

Dr. Atallah also explained why it is anticipated that cases will go up over the holidays.

“The omicron variant, the variant that is the predominant strain, that we have now is much more transmissible, so it is more contagious to people” he said. “It gets people less sick but it is more transmissible, so you are much more likely to get it, and when they are around family, tend to relax a little bit more, which means the masks come off.”

The CDC still recommends the use of masks while in poorly ventilated indoor spaces or when around a lot of people.

Dr. Atallah says it is good to remember that “if you were vulnerable before, older and have underlining medical conditions, you are still vulnerable.”

Both Dr. Atallah and Dr. Napp continue to advocate for vaccination, which they say mitigates against the severity of illness if you do catch Covid.

“Vaccines certainly do help,” said Dr. Atallah. “Prevention is obviously the best thing so if you are eligible for a booster and get a booster, gather outside if you can, and we are still encouraging people to be careful, focus on wearing masks which we know help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

Added Dr. Napp: “The single best thing that people can do for themselves with their family, etc., is to get vaccinated. And if you’ve been vaccinated to get the booster.”

Of the breakthrough cases, Dr. Napp said, “There were milder infections because people have been vaccinated. The notion that we can actually get through this without having severe illness because of the vaccine is something that really should not be overlooked.”

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."