COVID cases, hospital occupancies concern St. Pete leaders headed into Thanksgiving

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – As coronavirus cases continue to rise across the nation and in Florida, hospitals in the Tampa Bay area are getting ready to handle the increase.

“COVID deaths are increasing in Pinellas County, currently at 859 as of this morning,” Dr. Ulyee Choe said at a county commission meeting on Tuesday.

Choe is the Director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County. He said COVID cases are increasing in his county, with a current percent positivity rate of 6% compared to 3% in September.

“Regarding the health care system, the capacity currently is doing well but we have seen an increase in COVID occupied beds, ventilators and ICU beds,” said Dr. Choe.

As of Tuesday, regular hospital beds and ICU beds are 75% full with 25% availability, according to the Pinellas County COVID-19 Dashboard. That’s about 1,200 regular beds and almost 100 ICU beds available.

Meanwhile, statistics show 75% of all ventilators in Pinellas County are still available, which is about 300 machines.

To break it down further, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration, Northside Hospital had the best percentage of ICU bed availability in the county as of Tuesday with 45%. On the flip side, it said the lowest percentage of ICU beds available were at Bayfront Health in St. Pete with 15% and Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater at 10%.

“We’re concerned. The numbers are moving in the wrong direction,” St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman told 8 On Your Side Tuesday. “While reports we got as far as hospitalizations aren’t at a point where our hospitals are being stretched thin, if our numbers continue to climb, I don’t think that situation is going to remain.”

8 On Your Side also spoke on the phone with Pinellas County Emergency Management spokesperson David Connor who said the numbers are sustainable but troubling. He said they’re nervous about the upcoming holidays because while hospitals are OK right now, they could potentially get overwhelmed quickly.

Mayor Kriseman agreed and said if COVID cases don’t start decreasing, restrictions on businesses may increase.

“If we do what we need to do – with wearing masks and keeping socially distanced, being smart, washing our hands – we will be able to get that [COVID] number back down again and we won’t have to put further restrictions in place. But, if things continue the way they are now, we may not have a choice,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman said it’s going to be key that on Thanksgiving we all do our part to get COVID numbers down by avoiding large gatherings, masking up and spreading out.

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