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USF Professor: Current ICU bed capacity reflects COVID-19 cases from 3 weeks ago

Posted at 3:53 PM, Jun 25, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — With the recent upswing in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in Florida, some Tampa Bay area hospitals are beginning to see a decrease in ICU bed capacity.

ICU bed availability is lessening, and the capacity we’re seeing today is reflecting the numbers of cases from nearly 3 weeks ago. That's according to a professor and researcher at USF.

“We’re starting to push up against our capacity,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished Professor at USF and an adviser to the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group.

Exponential growth is what Dr. Thomas Unnasch uses to describe Florida's increase in COVID-19 case count, saying our cases are doubling about every seven days.

ICU capacity could get exceeded...somewhere between the second week in July and the first week in September,” said Dr. Unnasch.

This IHME chart, which is used by the CDC, shows current projections for ICU bed capacity in the state of Florida.

Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) show these county-specific percentages for available adult ICU bed capacity in the Tampa Bay area:

  • Citrus County - 20%
  • DeSoto County - 12.50%
  • Hardee County - N/A
  • Hernando County - 33.33%
  • Highlands County - 35.14%
  • Hillsborough County - 19.63%
  • Manatee County - 34.74%
  • Pasco County - 7.3%
  • Pinellas Countny - 11.28%
  • Polk County - 21.74%
  • Sarasota County - 40.98%

The Florida Department of Health does not list how many ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients specifically, so some of these beds are likely being used by patients receiving elective surgeries.

Still ICU bed availability has been shrinking.

“In 3 weeks, our models say it’s going to be pressing up, potentially crossing the point where all the ICU beds that we have are going to be occupied by COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Unnasch.

And in three weeks, that’s when our hospital bed capacity will more accurately reflect today’s case numbers.

“What we’re dealing with here is about a 3-4 week delay in ICU capacity," said Dr. Unnasch.

That’s because people don’t often require hospitalization until a couple of weeks after they test positive for the virus.

So hospitalizations today are a better reflection of our case count near the beginning of June when our daily case count was still in the hundreds.

“If everybody wears a mask and everything, we may exceed that for one or two days in September, by about maybe 20 or 30 patients above the actual need for ICU beds; if we don’t do anything, we’ll have five people to six people waiting for every ICU bed,” said Dr. Unnasch.

The silver lining, according to Dr. Unnasch, is that current mask mandates could help ease the number of cases going forward.