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DeSantis: hospital capacity is fine, new cases are young

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

In a press conference today, Governor Ron DeSantis talked about the COVID-19 situation in Florida. So far, 1.5 million people have been tested for COVID-19—about one out of every 15 people in Florida.

One of the big themes of the press conference was that COVID-19 is affecting a much younger group of people now than it was a few months ago. Last week, the median age of positive individuals was 37. (In Alachua County, the median age was 27.) Mortality and morbidity of the disease are closely linked to age, and DeSantis said the median age is plunging even further this week.

Many of the people who are now testing positive in Florida are not symptomatic. At the beginning of the epidemic, these people would not have been able to get tested; tests were mostly reserved for people who were over 65, but now anyone who wants a test can get one.

There’s a big difference that’s developed between the positivity rate for people 65 and older and younger age groups, with the biggest increase under the age of 45. DeSantis said “that’s an indication it’s circulating more” in those age groups.

Earlier in the week, DeSantis had said that outbreaks in the previous week had been mainly in discrete communities, such as migrant farmworker communities, but this week, we’re seeing increased cases in the 18-35-year-old category. However, Florida still has not had any fatalities under the age of 18. 86% of the COVID-19 fatalities in Florida were over 65 years old, and there have been more fatalities over the age of 90 than under the age of 65.

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All workers in long-term care facilities are being tested every 2 weeks, and every resident of a long-term care facility has had the opportunity to be tested. Many of the hospital beds that are currently in use for COVID are occupied by medically-stable COVID-positive nursing home residents because their facilities can’t safely accept them back. 

DeSantis pointed out that a majority of Florida’s fatalities aren’t from its large senior population as a whole but from the long-term care facilities. However, the procedures that have been put in place have limited those cases to about 20% of long-term care facilities; about 80% of the long-term care facilities in Florida have never had a single COVID-positive case. Florida is seeing a decline in long-term care cases, which is a good sign because those are the patients who are most likely to be hospitalized. 

DeSantis also addressed the recent stories about bed availability in hospitals, saying there is twice as much capacity today than there was before the pandemic began. That includes people who are in the hospital for elective surgeries; the total number of COVID patients is a small fraction of the hospital beds in the state. 

There were predictions that Florida would run out of hospital beds by mid-April, but it never has. Florida currently has ample testing resources and ample personal protective equipment. 

DeSantis then spoke briefly about mitigation efforts. He said the guidance hasn’t changed for those who are elderly or have significant underlying medical conditions: they should avoid crowds and contact with people outside the home. He said there’s been some “erosion” in social distancing in the younger population, and the State will step up its messaging to remind everyone of the recommended measures.

Several people spoke after DeSantis, including the mayor of Miami and several people from hospitals in the Miami area. Although they all acknowledged that positivity rates are rising in young people, none of them were concerned that this population would contribute to capacity problems at the hospitals, given that younger people are far less likely to be hospitalized.

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