As Florida continues to break new daily records for the COVID-19 cases, emergency departments in some areas are so overcrowded that doctors are sending patients home with small, portable pulse oximeters and oxygen so they can free up beds for sicker patients.
Dr. Leonardo Alonso, an emergency department physician who rotates between two hospitals in Jacksonville, said Wednesday that it's typically a labor intensive and expensive bureaucratic process to send oxygen home with patients. But he's hopeful that a new protocol will help ease the strain.
“A lot of people just need oxygen," Alonso said. “The only reason they’re being put in the hospital is because they need oxygen.”
He explained that it took one patient hours to get the oxygen to take home.
“The patient just sat in the room eight hours," he said. “The next one, 10 hours and never got it, and had to be admitted.”
On Tuesday, the state reported 24,753 more COVID-19 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida's seven-day rolling average of new cases was 21,156 on Tuesday, up from an average of less than 2,000 new cases in early July.
Since the pandemic began, Florida has recorded at least 2,806,813 confirmed COVID cases and more than 40,100 deaths, the CDC reported.
In Jacksonville on Wednesday, the Baptist Health system reported 584 COVID patients across its five hospitals.
“I think we have COVID fatigue at this point," said Dr. Timothy Groover, the hospital's interim chief medical officer. “People have heard that I need to be vaccinated, I need to wear masks that, frankly we saw as an inconvenience. Now people are continuing to roam, they’re engaged in large events and I think there’s a comfort level here that’s ill advised.”
Across the state, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continued to rise as well Wednesday. Florida reported 15,071 patients being treated for the virus. Those hospitalized are largely unvaccinated and younger than those seen in hospitals during last summer's surge, doctors have said.
While the emergency departments are slammed with COVID patients and people being treated for non-COVID emergencies, Alonso said they are also experiencing a spike in the number of people coming in to get tested for the virus.
“Try to avoid an emergency department,” Alonso advised.
He said last year people were generally afraid to come to hospitals, and there were mass testing centers across the state, where people could get tested for COVID-19.
That's why he's encouraging officials across the state to ramp up testing sites in addition to their vaccination pushes. He noted that this week he went to a drug store to buy a COVID home test kit when his wife came down with a cold.
“We couldn’t get any. They were all out.”