TAMPA, Fla. — With rising COVID-19 numbers and hospitalizations, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor held nothing back Friday saying we are in crisis mode dealing with a surge in the virus across Florida.
Castor sent a strong message to everyone in Tampa Bay during a press conference at Lykes Gaslight Square Park saying if you haven’t been vaccinated, you better reconsider.
“With this Delta variant, if you have not been vaccinated you have a 100% chance of contracting COVID-19,” she said.
Castor was joined by the chief medical officers for Tampa General Hospital, AdventHealth Tampa, and BayCare at the press conference. She was also joined by two COVID-19 survivors, including Nick Hansen, a father of 5 and avid runner, who is still dealing with COVID-19 symptoms 7 months after he contracted the virus.
“I could only equate what I went through as hell on earth,” Hansen said, adding that most days he couldn’t even get out of bed. “I consider myself lucky that I was able to breathe most days and that I was able to wake up.”
Hansen said his symptoms were mild when he first contracted the virus in December of 2020, and it was only after he tested negative that symptoms started really showing up, and he became one of the COVID "long-haulers."
“Debilitating headaches, fatigue, memory loss, I was unable to get out of bed most days. Imagine trying to have a 5-minute conversation with your spouse or your children, or your business partners, and having to lie down for 2 to 3 hours just because that conversation on the phone took that much energy out of you,” said Hansen.
Ray Wong, a healthcare architect in Tampa is another survivor of COVID-19 who shared his story at the press conference. He considers himself a very healthy and active person, but he and his family all contracted the virus.
“I was incredibly, incredibly sick. I think I’ve always prided myself in my professional career of having this being no more than 1 or 2 days being sick, but I was laid out for 21 days,” said Wong.
Ray and Nick joined the team of medical professionals at the conference in encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
Hospitals are filling up, and staff across the Tampa Bay area are now stretched thin.
BayCare alone went from 100 COVID-19 patients in early July to 1,000 COVID patients hospitalized now.
“This is the time of the year when volumes aren’t this high, and we are seeing record volumes in our hospitals. We have nurses but they’re working hard. They’re working overtime," said Dr. Nishant Anand, Chief Medical Officer for BayCare.
It's a similar message shared across the board when it comes to our local health systems.
“We are all working tirelessly, or I should say tiredly, to take care of more and more patients coming in. We’re capable of doing it but we thought we were going to get a break,” said Dr. Doug Ross, Chief Medical Officer of AdventHealth Tampa.
Doctors say they continue to see patients of a younger demographic filling ER beds.
“We’re fighting this virus once again, with larger numbers than ever before, all of them, pretty much all of them unvaccinated," said Dr. Ross.
But they say being vaccinated is the one thing proven to help the situation.
“Those who’ve had COVID, those who think their immune systems will fight COVID, again, this is not about our personal health, it’s about each other,” said Dr. Peggy Duggan, Chief Medical Officer of TGH.
And they encourage vaccination before it's too late.
“You can be vaccinated all over the city of Tampa, all over Hillsborough County, all over the Tampa Bay Area, the one place you cannot get a vaccination is once you arrive at the hospital emergency room with COVID-19,” said Mayor Castor.
With big events returning like the Bucs pre-season, local leaders are increasing testing, encouraging masking, and sending the message that vaccination could save your life.