LAKELAND, Fla. — Health care leaders in Polk County held a press conference Thursday to address rising COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations in the county.
They’re calling them the highest numbers we’ve seen so far, but this time around, these cases are mostly preventable with the development of the vaccine, which was not the case during last year’s peak.
Now, with the surge of the delta variant, cases are at an all-time high.
“Your risk of contracting COVID has never been higher since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Dr. Steven Achinger, Managing Partner at the Watson Clinic.
That was Dr. Achinger’s message to those who have yet to be vaccinated, as cases in Polk County hit an all-time high, even with roughly 54 percent of the county being vaccinated.
“We’re talking about 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds who are in the ICU or on high-flow oxygen. I mean, the stories I’m telling you are real. Just a few days ago we had an 8 and 10-year-old come to the ICU to say bye to mom who’s 38-years-old. That’s awful,” said Dr. Timothy Regan, Chief Medical Officer at Lakeland Regional Health.
That mother was not vaccinated, and neither are the majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional.
“We have individuals in their 30s, 40s, and 50s that are with us in the hospital. Many of the patients in our ICU fall into these lower age demographics,” said Danielle Drummond, President and CEO of Lakeland Regional Health.
During last year’s pandemic peak, Drummond says Lakeland Regional had 180 COVID-19 positive patients in their hospital. As of Thursday, that number sits at 275, higher than they’ve ever seen during the pandemic.
“It’s disheartening. It’s frustrating that there’s distrust in the scientific community, that these vaccines are effective. People are focusing more on one-off stories on social media or things their neighbors are telling them, and paying less attention to the actual scientific data,” said Dr. Regan.
Dr. Regan reminds people that even with the vaccine, there will still be a small number of breakthrough cases, but the point of the vaccine is to prevent severe infection.
“You don’t get hospitalized, you don’t die from the disease. That’s what vaccines are for,” said Dr. Regan.
And as cases rise and the first day of school looms, these healthcare professionals urge people to listen to what science has been saying all along, until vaccination rates are high enough to pull us out of the pandemic.
“Kids can get COVID, and parents have the ability to make the decision for their child. So we encourage them, if they’re concerned, to encourage their child to wear a mask at school,” said Dr. Joy Jackson, Director of the Department of Health in Polk County and Hardee County.
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