Good news and bad news

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Posted July 20, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

The bad news: Marion County is seeing an unyielding spike in coronavirus cases – so much so that the number of cases has tripled since the first of the month and almost doubled over the past week.

The good news: Few of the growing numbers of sick people are dying, and local hospitals currently have capacity to handle more virus victims, if the current spike continues.

Dr. Michael Torres, chief medical officer at AdventHealth Ocala, described the local hospital as “an outlier” because it continues to have capacity for new patients in both its 52-bed COVID-19 unit, as well as its ICU unit, while a growing number of Florida hospitals are being maxxed out with new COVID-19 cases. This, despite seeing the number of cases in Marion County almost doubling over the past 10 days and seeing the single highest one-day totals of deaths and new cases.

“What we’re finding is the general population (in Marion County) is getting it. … They’re not sick enough to be hospitalized, but they’re getting it. So, we’re seeing an explosion, but we’re not seeing hospitalizations (like other communities).”

At Ocala Health’s two hospitals, Ocala Regional and West Marion, officials said they too are seeing more coronavirus patients, but the majority of intensive care unit patients coming into the hospitals have been for maladies other than the virus.

“It’s important for our community to understand that bed capacity is a fluctuating figure depending on the care needed by our patients on any given day, and that prior to the current pandemic, our ICU bed usage and hospital bed capacity usage rates were often high,” said Lauren Debick, Ocala Health spokeswoman. “Over the last few weeks, the majority of our ICU patients have been admitted for health concerns unrelated to COVID-19.”

While Ocala Health officials declined to be interviewed about the current situation, Torres said at AdventHealth they are getting a better grasp of how to treat the virus, and the result is positive.

“The death rate is dropping,” he said. “I think that’s because we in health care are learning how to mitigate it. We know it requires a multi-pronged approach. The knowledge gained on how to attach the disease has led to an improvement in the survival rate because we have developed this multi-pronged approach to treatment.”

He explained that doctors now know COVID-19 attacks the body in various ways, including robbing the body of oxygen, causing inflammation of a person’s organs and causing blood clots.

Moreover, Torres and Debick both said local hospitals have adequate bed space for even more COVID-9 cases, as well as sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and the various medications used to combat the virus. What concerns Torres, as well as a group of physicians leading a petition drive in the community to make masks required in public, is the toll the growing numbers of cases is having on the medical staffs of area hospitals.

“Every hospital in the county is stretching its staff,” Torres said. And while staffing is adequate right now, he said the existing health care workers cannot go on indefinitely working the kinds of hours and days the current spike is demanding.

Dr. David Kuhn, who is among the organizers of the mask petition, appealed to “anti-maskers” to wear a mask if for no other reason than to help local health care workers.

“We’re really just saying, ‘Please, it will have a positive effect on health care workers.’ I can’t think of a thing that is more patriotic than wearing a mask to protect your fellow Americans.

“You hear a lot about the hospitals being where the fight is be fought. But the hospitals are really the last line of defense. Out in the public is the front lines of the fight.”

Torres agreed. As he finished his interview, he interjected this: “Please ask the community to give strong consideration to wearing a mask. That’s the biggest thing people can do – wash your hands frequently, cover your face and don’t touch your mouth and nose.”

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