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Lee Health: More COVID-19 positives not necessarily indicative of coronavirus comeback

By Staff | May 6, 2020

As testing for COVID-19 becomes more readily available to the public, local health officials said Wednesday it could result in an increase of positive tests in the area and throughout the state.

More testing equals more potential positive results for some who may not show symptoms of the virus but still carry it and could potentially pass along to others.

This no-appointment-necessary testing can help isolate those who will not see dramatic health deterioration if positive and give the state a better idea of how many cases there actually are.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, as part of an Executive Order, launched sites across the state to make testing more available, including the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers.

“Don’t be surprised if we see a spike in the number of cases in the coming weeks. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the virus is making a comeback,” said President and CEO of Lee Health Dr. Larry Antonucci Wednesday afternoon. “Testing is becoming more prevalent and, with the state’s opening of collection sites in Southwest Florida, our community has more access to testing than ever. These will allow us to better understand the spread of the virus in our community, but remember that more tests do not automatically mean more spread of the virus.”

As Antonucci said, an increase in positive cases may not necessarily mean the virus is spreading at a more rapid pace. He still cautioned the public to remain vigilant about hygiene and social distancing.

“I want to remind our community that while we are winning the fight against the coronavirus, now is not the time for complacency as the state works its way through its reopening plan,” Antonucci said. “It is OK to get out of your house and enjoy a meal at a restaurant or a stroll on the beach, but remember to keep a six feet physical distance from others, wear a mask over your nose and mouth and practice good hand hygiene. These are the only sure ways we can stay safe until this pandemic is over.”

* By the Numbers

As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, there are 38,002 cases of the new coronavirus confirmed in Florida, an increase of 563 since FDOH’s last update Tuesday morning.

More than 16,800 test results were reported to the Department of Health on Tuesday, May 5.

The death toll increased by 68 from 11 a.m. Tuesday to 11 a.m. Wednesday, reported among Lee, Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Dade, Escambia, Hillsborough, Leon, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.

A total of 480,654 individuals have been tested: 442,049 have tested negative, 603 tests were inconclusive and 1,351 tests are pending results. Of those testing positive, 6,557 have been hospitalized at some point during their illness. There have been 1,539 deaths.

While Florida’s testing has increased over the past week, the percent of those testing positive for COVID-19 overall is 8 percent. On May 5, 3.7 percent of new cases tested positive.

In Lee County, 1,176 individuals have tested positive as of 11 a.m. Wednesday; 467 in Fort Myers, 217 in Cape Coral, 242 in Lehigh Acres, 92 in Bonita Springs, 51 in Estero, 37 in North Fort Myers, 10 in Sanibel, 10 on Fort Myers Beach, six in Alva, one on Captiva and one in Boca Grande.

Positive COVID-19 cases in the county have ranged from infants to a 100-year-old man. Lee County saw its first two cases on March 7, when a man and a woman, each 77, tested positive. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic.

There have been 54 deaths in Lee County, all but two between the ages 61 to 96. The exceptions were a 39-year-old man who died March 25 and a 52-year-old man who died April 30.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Lee Health had 90 COVID-19 patients isolated in system hospitals, a decrease of five from their last update Tuesday afternoon. A total of 273 patients who had tested positive have been discharged, including 12 on Tuesday.

The system has submitted a total of 11,856 specimens for testing, with no results currently pending.

Lee Health mobile collection sites on Tuesday collected 176 specimens and had a total of 1,334 telemedicine visits between Lee TeleHealth and MyChartVideo.

Lee Health has 209 employees quarantined at home, up 12 from Tuesday. Twenty-eight employees currently are positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at work, up from one from Tuesday.

Current bed capacity is still at 68 percent, with 8.5 percent of those being COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 is a highly contagious viral disease. For most individuals, symptoms are mild. For a minority, the disease becomes a type of viral pneumonia with severe complications. Especially at risk are those who are older, those with underlying health conditions and the immune-compromised.

Officials strongly urges all members of the public who can, remain at home so as to limit exposure and so limit the number of cases so as to not overwhelm the health care system with at-risk and severe cases.

For more detail on Florida resident cases, visit the live DOH Dashboard.

To find the most up-to-date information and guidance on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage. For information and advisories from the Centers for Disease Control, visit the CDC COVID-19 website. For more information about current travel advisories issued by the U.S. Department of State, visit the travel advisory website.

For any other questions related to COVID-19 in Florida, contact the Department’s dedicated COVID-19 Call Center by calling 1-866-779-6121. The Call Center is available 24 hours per day. Inquiries may also be emailed to COVID-19@flhealth.gov.

* Occupancy rate remains good while some elective procedures begin

Lee Health facilities were able to resume some elective surgeries last week as part of the Phase One reopening of the state.

These are “non-emergency” procedures to improve a patient’s quality of life, such as knee and hip replacements, or even removing a cancerous tumor or an internal organ such as a gallbladder.

Antonucci reported Wednesday Lee Health is operating at about 20 to 25 percent of their normal elective surgery volume.

“We are taking a cautious approach to phasing in services, and as each phase begins, it is fair to expect an increase in admissions as we serve more non-COVID-19 patients,” Antonucci said. “I want to assure the community that we have the capacity to provide access to safe health care for every person who needs it, and an increase in admissions is not something to be alarmed about, but a metric that shows things are slowly returning to normal.

“I want to thank our community for understanding why we had to suspend these procedures and their patience as we reschedule their surgeries. Now that elective surgeries are once again being performed, I also understand their frustration in having to wait a little longer as we phase them back in. While we all want to be back to 100 percent as soon as possible, we must take every precaution to track our personal protective equipment and follow our phasing in plan for the safety of our entire community. As I said from the beginning of this pandemic, we are all in this together and I am so thankful for the support Southwest Florida has shown us during this trying time.”

* Lee Health Celebrates National Nurses week beginning Wednesday

From May 6-12, Lee Health will honor and recognize the contributions made by nurses through a variety of virtual activities, videos and social posts as part of National Nurses Week.

“I want to (recognize our nurses) for the dedicated and compassionate care they provide for their patients,” Antonucci said. “While no two days in the life of a nurse are ever the same, the last two months have created even more challenges for these health care heroes as they serve on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus.

“As nurses adjusted to their new normal during a global pandemic, I have been so impressed with their resiliency and teamwork. I have witnessed firsthand the special bonds they share with each other and have seen how they help lift the spirits of entire units during our efforts against COVID-19. Their leadership has been heartwarming, and in a time when we are not able to allow visitors for the safety of patients, they have found new ways to help their patients interact with their loved ones through virtual platforms.”

This year’s theme created by the International Council of Nurses is: “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health.”

This theme will demonstrate how nurses are central to addressing a wide range of health challenges.

National Nurses Week ends on May 12, appropriately enough on the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the English nurse recognized as the founder of nursing birthed from her work during the Crimean War.

“Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing, and fittingly the conclusion of National Nurses Week will fall on her 200th birthday,” Antonucci said. “There have been a lot of innovations in the field over the last 200 years, and our Lee Health nurses continue to be on the cutting edge of their profession. I know Florence would be as proud of them as I am.

According to a Lee Health release, “The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as ‘The Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ to mark the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. National Nursing Associations throughout the world are organizing local events throughout the year to celebrate the profession and demonstrate its unique position in the healthcare landscape.”

You can show your support for local nurses on social media by using the hashtag #YearoftheExceptionalLeeNurse.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj