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Thursday, June 13, 2024

COVID-19 Update: UF cases spike in midst of in-person classes with nearly 150 reported positives over three days

Shands hospitalizations falling, but more patients on ventilators as Delta variant surges

UF Health Shands Hospital saw a decrease of hospitalizations after a month of over 200 patients.

However, following effects of the Delta variant, patients are requiring longer and additional care at the hospital.

Meanwhile, the decrease in hospitalizations accompanies an increase in cases on campus, with nearly 150 cases reported within three days. The increase happened Wednesday through Friday preceding the Gators’ first full-capacity game since the start of the pandemic.

UF won’t know until later this week if there will be a spike in cases due to Saturday’s football game, UF Health Shands Hospital CEO Ed Jimenez said. However, he expressed enthusiasm over hospitalizations decreasing by about 18% earlier this week. After falling below 200 cases Thursday, Shands had 161 patients Tuesday, he said.

“I had enthusiasm Thursday, and my enthusiasm continues,” Jimenez said.

However, 80 patients were left out of the count. The patients were left out because they are either no longer infectious with COVID-19 but still at Shands, possibly with COVID-19 related problems, Jimenez said. Others had the virus at Shands, went home and are back at the hospital, he said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen by about 34% since Shands’ last peak of nearly 250 hospitalizations Aug. 19. 

However, because of the Delta variant, Jimenez said patients on ventilators are staying in the hospital longer and requiring additional care. 

Staff are fatigued after weeks of about 200 hospitalizations, Jimenez said. He said Shands has had to bring more nurses in from other hospitals to address the COVID-19 patients. The hospital has also hired agencies that provide contract nurses, he said, and asked staff to work overtime and extra days.

“I do feel for them, because they are giving their emotional all, their intellectual all and then their physical all,” Jimenez said. 

There were 245 patients Aug. 19, followed by 217 Aug. 30. And Shands had 205 COVID-19 patients Sept. 1 — 44 of whom were on ventilators. In January, Shands had a peak of 157 patients with COVID-19, 26 of them on ventilators, Jimenez said.

“There’s no question that this particular Delta variant is hitting people pretty hard,” Jimenez said.

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At UF, cases peaked higher than in Summer 2020, with three peaks over 60 cases since Aug. 2, leading to faculty-wide demands for mask and vaccine mandates.

Facing a Delta wave with daily cases consistently above 30 — only four days had more than 30 cases in March, when vaccines were first made available to students. Despite outcry for vaccine and mask mandates, UF hasn’t required either.

In a similar trend to general hospitalizations, Jimenez said Shands had five children in the hospital Tuesday, compared to the record of 16 Aug. 26. One child was in the intensive care unit Tuesday.

When asked about policy changes following potential spike in cases, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldán wrote in an email that UF continues to stress the importance of masking and vaccinations. 

Roldán wrote UF doesn’t expect to make changes to the mask expectation at this time, due to an overwhelmingly positive response to the request. When it comes to vaccines, she wrote, the university does not have the authority to mandate vaccines. Only the state of Florida can mandate vaccines, she wrote.

However, other universities have been able to mandate vaccines. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Aug. 12 refused to block a plan by Indiana University to require students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

UF plans to continue with in-person instruction, Roldán wrote. However, she added the university is consulting with its health experts who are closely monitoring the pandemic.

“We are ready to take appropriate steps aimed at continuing to safeguard our university community if needed,” Roldán wrote.

Now, with over 150 hospitalizations, UF Health and Alachua County are continuing vaccination campaigns. With more people taking precautions, Jimenez said, officials at UF Health remain hopeful.

At UF, the number of affiliates quarantined Tuesday dropped about 41% compared to Aug. 19, leaving 931 in isolation. There were 462 students quarantined.

There were 143 positive tests, over 40 per day, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 3. 

Florida ranked first in the nation in COVID-19 cases proportionate to population, contributing to a weekly average of over 11,000 new cases per day Monday.

UF Health continues to support vaccination, Jimenez said, noting it reduces the severity of the virus, along with wearing masks.

UF is offering COVID-19 testing at the UF Cultural Plaza Parking Garage. UF Health and Alachua County are offering walk-up vaccinations.

Contact J.P. Oprison at Follow him on Twitter @JOprison.

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