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Lee Health urges vaccinations amid uptick in hospitalizations

More cases involving younger patients

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Apr 16, 2021

Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci (right) urges the public to get vaccinated for COVID-19 during a press conference in front of Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida. Antonucci said the number of cases involving children is rising. Dr. Stephanie Stovall (left), interim chief for quality and safety, said COVID-19 variant cases are also increasing.

Like clockwork, the Florida Department of Health has been reporting a nearly consistent weekly increase in COVID-19 cases of 2% for Lee County and the state for the past month.

At Lee Health, though, a downward trend in hospitalizations since a vaccine became available earlier this year, has reversed. After dropping from having 200 patients with COVID-19 isolated in its hospitals in early January, the health care agency reported having 64 patients as late as March 8. This week, the hospital’s hospitalization numbers pushed back up to 106 on Friday, up from 89 a week ago.

The cases are also getting younger, Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci said.

At a press conference held Friday in front of Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, Antonucci said “we’re seeing younger and younger patients in the hospital and I think that’s a reflection of the fact that over 70% of the over 65 population has been vaccinated, so the people that are vulnerable right now are the younger ages.”

Dr. Stephanie Stovall, Lee Health’s interim chief for quality and safety medical director for its COVID-19 response, said the reasons for the increased hospitalizations include a relaxation by some as to the dangers of COVID-19, relaxation of mask requirements in certain jurisdictions, spring break and increased prevalence of COVID-19 variants.

Lee Health currently does not have a test for the COVID-19 variants.

The White House announced Friday it would be expanding funding nationwide to test for the variants, including the dominant B.1.1.7 (known as the United Kingdom variant). There have been 20,915 cases of the variant identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) thus far nationwide despite limited testing. Florida leads the country in B.1.1.7 cases with 3,510 according to the CDC.

Antonucci said he wants to focus on getting younger adults getting vaccinated.

“This disease is still in our community and we know nationwide this is still a significant problem. Yesterday, 500 people died of covid in the United States and there are over 70,000 new cases. The disease is not going away yet. We know the only way we are going to knock this disease out is by getting the population vaccinated,” Antonucci said.

Antonucci said Lee Health is administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, as a reminder that there are two vaccinations widely considered to be safe despite the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“The risk factor of getting a blood clot if you get covid is much higher” than the risk of getting one from the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“For women, birth control pills have a much higher risk of blood clots than what we are talking about today,” he said.

“We just want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Antonucci said.

Stovall said Lee Health is expecting 1,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine next week. Stovall said for direct patient care, staff members at Lee Health are vaccinated “upwards of 50%.”