Q&A – Truth About Florida's COVID-19 Hospitalization Rate

Today’s entry: In this current COVID-19 spike of cases, the deaths although I’m aware it lags the cases by a couple weeks, the numbers are much lower than during the peak in the summer. Why are we hearing hospitals are overwhelmed?

Bottom Line: Like pretty much every other important issue in our society today, conflating of facts and half-truths being told by many in the medical establishment are leading to narratives being reported as fact as opposed to well, just the facts. This remains the case with hospitalization rates. Are hospitalization rates rising? Yes. Are there more people in ICU’s with non-COVID issues in Florida, than COVID-19? Yes. Are we anywhere near ICU capacity? No. I’ll drill down on those specifics for a moment because they’re important for understanding our current reality. As of yesterday, based on data reported to the Florida Department of Health, the ICU hospitalization rate statewide stood at 46%. Of that figure, 20% usage is for COVID cases with 26% for non-COVID related issues. Even with the recent surge in cases, Floridians are more likely to need emergency care for something other than COVID than for the virus itself. That’s the first fact-based narrative buster of three I’ll share with you. 

Second, according to CDC guidance, hospitalization rates are considered manageable, or low, as long as capacity is below 50% utilization, allowing for a doubling of admissions if needed during a surge in cases. With Florida’s rate below 50%, the state is still well within the safe zone. This is even the case within Miami-Dade, which has the highest infection total in the state. Yesterday’s ICU hospitalization capacity rate, for all issues, stood at 47%, barely above state average.Broward’s at 53%, while Palm Beach County stands at 42%. All counties have the ability to currently accept more than double the current total of COVID patients. That’s not to say specific hospitals aren’t dealing with higher rates than others, but on balance across the TriCounty and across the state, the current surge is manageable even if we experienced a doubling of demand. 

Third, based on current reporting, how responsible do you think most Floridians are at avoiding the spread of the virus? Based on data from COVID ACT Now, Florida’s transmission rate is lower than it was two months ago and far lower than the earliest months of the pandemic. At the peak of per person transmission in Florida, every person diagnosed with COVID-19 was spreading it to 2.3 other people. Today, the rate is 1.16. While it’s above the low of .81 people in August, it’s still half of the high and right about average during the pandemic. In other words, while we all have COVID fatigue at this point, data demonstrate that collectively, Floridians aren’t acting more irresponsible today than at other times during the pandemic. 

The facts I just shared with you likely are a bit of a surprise based on much of how the current surge is being reported. It’s important that we remain smart and safe to protect ourselves, while also realizing that what’s happening with COVID-19 was always likely to happen. As I outlined from the onset of the flu season in September, it was always most likely that COVID-19 would take the place of the seasonal flu, at least for this year. With Florida’s flu spread rating ranking “minimal” according to the CDC’s flu map, while the COVID surge is occurring. It’s evident that’s the case. 

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Photo by: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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