‘It’s Still Here’: Doctors Urge Public to Follow Guidelines as COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations Continue to Rise in Florida

‘It’s Still Here’: Doctors Urge Public to Follow Guidelines as COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations Continue to Rise in Florida
As the state’s infections continue to grow faster than at any other time during the pandemic, many are wondering what these numbers mean for us? (Source: WWSB)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - There are now 82,719 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Florida.  That's an increase of more than 26-hundred cases from this time yesterday - a trend the state has been seeing for the last 10 days.

On the Suncoast today, Manatee County is seeing 40 new cases and Sarasota has 14 new cases. As the state’s infections continue to grow faster than at any other time during the pandemic, many are wondering what these numbers mean for us?

When Phase 2 began, we spoke to health experts who told us that as things started opening up, the state was expected to see an increase in cases. However, how quickly and consistent these spikes have been is what now has doctors worried.

“If you look around in the community, people have been more relaxed about the virus. I think with the fact that we’re starting to have an uptick shows that this is real. It is still contagious,” Dr. Kirk Voelker, Critical Care Specialist and the Director of Clinical Research for Sarasota Memorial Hospital, explained.

Doctors warn that COVID-19 and this pandemic is still very much here, and that everyone must continue safety measures to help stop the spread of the disease.

“Part of why we did so well in southwest Florida is because people did take this seriously. We did follow CDC guidelines. We did physically distance. We did self-quarantine. We didn’t give it a chance to spread somewhere else. It can’t go anywhere if you don’t give it a door to open into and jump on somebody else,” Dr. Lisa Merritt from the Multicultural Health Institute said.

“I encourage handwashing because everyone is focused on wearing masks right now, but handwashing should be the main focus,” continued Dr. Kirk Voelker.

Governor Ron DeSantis says that the cases are increasing because of expanded testing of people who show no symptoms. However, testing has declined on the Suncoast in recent weeks, and the positive test rate has grown to 4% in Manatee County and 1.5% in Sarasota County. These are still relatively low rates compared to other parts of the state, but what’s alarming to doctors is that we are seeing more hospitalizations – something that is not affected by increased testing and where the real risk is involved.

“Two weeks ago, I was actually celebrating the fact that the COVID ICUs were empty. We had discharged our last patient. Unfortunately, now we have four patients on breathing patients in the intensive care unit,” explained Dr. Kirk Voelker.

There are a total of 187 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Sarasota County and 243 in Manatee County.

While there is still no official cure for COVID-19, doctors have been relying on convalescent plasma from recovered patients to treat those currently infected and in the hospital - which is now in very little supply.

“Now, it’s been a struggle. We only have seven on our shelves right now, and we’re actively trying to get the message out to people to find those that can come and donate,” expressed Scott Bush, CEO of Suncoast Blood Bank.

Suncoast Blood Bank is also offering antibody testing to help get more asymptomatic carriers to donate their blood plasma.

“As we see the numbers start to uptick, this plasma can be stored to up to one year. We need to start preparing for the possibility that we’re going to need these units,” Jane Fare, Director of Community Development for Suncoast Blood Bank, added.

In the meantime, health experts say the only way to control this, is to not let our guard down.

“This virus will stop spreading only when we stop giving it a place to go. We’re not telling people to stop living or working, but do it sensibly. Take the precautions to protect yourself and your friends. Don’t act like it’s not something you need to take into consideration because we really do,” explained Dr. Merritt.

Anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 and has the antibodies, Suncoast Blood Bank is looking for plasma donations. Each donor can donate twice a month – with each donation possibly saving four lives.

Copyright 2020 WWSB. All rights reserved.