Sunbelt states rush to line up hospital beds, not barstools

Sunbelt states rush to line up hospital beds, not barstools

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida and other states across the Sunbelt are thinning out the deck chairs, turning over the barstools and rushing to line up more hospital beds as they head into the height of the summer season amid a startling surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

With newly reported infections running about 40,000 a day in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on Tuesday that the number could rocket to 100,000 if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.

Over the past few days, states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have reversed course, closing or otherwise clamping down on bars, shutting beaches, rolling back restaurant capacity, putting limits on crowds at pools, or taking other steps to curb a scourge that may be thriving because of such factors as air conditioning and resistance to wearing masks.

“Any time you have these reopenings, you’re depending on people to do the right things, to follow the rules. I think that’s where the weak spots come in,” said Dr. Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist. She warned that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Hospitals in the new hot spots are already stretched nearly to the limit and are scrambling to add intensive care unit beds for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.

Newly confirmed cases in Florida have spiked over the past week, especially in younger people, who may be more likely to survive the virus but can spread it to the Sunshine State’s many vulnerable older residents.

The state reported more than 6,000 new confirmed cases Tuesday. More than 8,000 were recorded on each of three days late last week. Deaths have climbed past 3,500. Floridians ages 15 to 34 now make up 31% of all cases, up from 25% in early June. Last week, more than 8,000 new confirmed cases were reported in that age group, compared with about 2,000 among people 55 to 64 years old.

Hospital ICUs are starting to fill up in South Florida, with a steadily increasing number of patients requiring ventilators. Miami’s Baptist Hospital had only six of its 82 ICU beds available, officials said.

In hard-hit Arizona, hospitals are looking for ways to cram more beds into their facilities and hiring out-of-state nurses. State officials have authorized “crisis standards of care” telling hospitals which patients should get a ventilator or other scarce resources if there is a shortage.

Dignity Health, which operates several hospitals in the Phoenix area, is converting more areas to treat COVID-19 patients and preparing to put multiple patients in private rooms, spokeswoman Carmelle Malkovich said. It’s bringing nurses from underutilized hospitals in its system to Arizona, and hiring travelling nurses and respiratory therapists throughout July.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey shut down bars, movie theatres and gyms and banned groups larger than 10 at swimming pools.

Air conditioning could be a factor in hot-weather states where new cases have been spiking, because it recirculates air instead of bringing it in fresh from outside, said Dr. Kristin Englund, an infectious-disease physician at Cleveland Clinic.

“I definitely think the air conditioning and the oppressive heat in the South is going to play a role in this,” she said.

The coronavirus has been blamed for over a half-million deaths worldwide, including about 130,000 in the U.S., where the number of new cases per day has soared over the past month, primarily in the South and West.

“I would not be surprised if we go up to to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned,” Fauci said on Capitol Hill.

Van Johnson, mayor of the tourism-dependent city of Savannah, Georgia, announced he is requiring the wearing of masks, with violators subject to $500 fines.

Savannah, population 145,000, becomes one of the first cities in Georgia to take such a step. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has largely prohibited local governments from imposing rules stricter than the state’s.

After talking with the governors of Arizona and Texas, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that his state will rein in previously set rules for bars and nightlife. Under the modifications, bars that had been allowed to operate at 25% capacity will be closed for in-person service if they don’t serve food.

The new round of shutdowns across the country is likely to cause another spike in layoffs.

Nikki Forsberg said she is relying on government loans to keep the Old Ironhorse Saloon, the only bar in the Texas Hill Country town of Blanco, afloat after it was closed for two months beginning in mid-March and then shut down again Friday by the governor’s order.

She said money got so tight for some of her eight employees during the first shutdown that she told them to go the bar and take whatever they needed — petty cash, toilet paper, even one of the refrigerators.

“That’s how desperate it got,” she said. “By the time we had opened back up, we had stripped the bar of all the non-liquor inventory.”

Health officials say the next several weeks will be critical in Florida. The Fourth of July, the reopening of Walt Disney World on July 11, and the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville at the end of August promise to draw crowds and create the potential for person-to-person spread.

While cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg and Sarasota have mandated masks, some people in Florida have been resistant.

In The Villages retirement community near Orlando, tension has developed among residents who wear masks and those who don’t. And the split has been along political lines.

Ira Friedman, who along with wife, Ellen, is active in the local Democratic Party, said that at first, he would just make an exaggerated cough to get his point across if he saw someone without a mask. But he said he has become more vocal about it as the number of cases has grown.

“Unfortunately, we don’t find that the Republicans are following the same protocols as we are,” his wife said.

Elsewhere, the European Union will reopen on Wednesday to visitors from 14 countries — but not the U.S., which has barred most Europeans. The EU also kept its ban in place for visitors from China and from countries such as Russia, Brazil and India where infections are running high.

Americans make up a big share of Europe’s tourism industry, and summer is a key period. More than 15 million Americans travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.

“Americans were 50% of my clientele,” lamented Paola Pellizzari, who owns a mask and jewelry shop on the Saint-Louis island in the heart of Paris and heads its business association. “We can’t substitute that clientele with another.”

Across the English Channel, things are also headed in reverse in places.

Britain reimposed a lockdown in Leicester, a city of 330,000 that officials said accounted for 10% of all new coronavirus cases in the nation last week. Stores closed their doors, and schools prepared to send children home.

___

Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio. Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

Tamara Lush And John Seewer, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

About 50 AUPE members were protesting outside Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre early this morning. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
UPDATED: Health care workers strike at Red Deer hospital

Some surgeries and ambulatory care clinics postponed around the province

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre could be affected by cuts to Alberta Health Services announced by the government Tuesday. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
David Marsden: Yes, we know how to do laundry

Union leaders would have us believe there’s something special about their members:… Continue reading

Email letters to editor@interior-news.com
Removing Molly Banister extension makes no sense

Re: “Removing road extension would be ‘terrible,’ says former city manager,” Oct.… Continue reading

jj
NDP is certain to tire of propping up Trudeau’s Liberals

To impose his will on the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin… Continue reading

Mariah Bell of the United States competes during women’s freestyle program in the International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Canadian Keegan Messing earns bronze at Skate America in Vegas, Chen wins gold

Messing earns 266.42 points at Skate America in Las Vegas

In this Oct. 7, 2020 photo, chef Sohla El-Waylly prepares Swedish meatballs during a taping of “Stump Sohla,” in New York. El-Waylly became a familiar face on YouTube as a standout on Bon Appetit’s test kitchen channel. But during the nationwide racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, she was among members of the test kitchen who accused the channel’s owner, Conde Nast, of discriminatory practices. She departed Bon Appetit in August after failed negotiations. Her new show is her own, pushing her to deploy her talent, charm and encyclopedic culinary chops to solve challenges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
‘Babish’ expands as pandemic boosts YouTube cooking shows

Daily views of videos with “cook with me” soaring

FILE - Oprah Winfrey arrives for the presentation of Stella McCartney’s ready-to-wear Fall-Winter 2019-2020 fashion collection in Paris on March 4, 2019. Winfrey is setting aside her usual book club recommendations and instead citing seven personal favorites ranging from James Baldwin’s landmark essays in “The Fire Next Time” to Mary Oliver’s poetry collection “Devotions.” She is calling her choices “The Books That See Me Through,” works she values for “their ability to comfort, inspire, and enlighten” her. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)
`The books that see her through’: Winfrey suggests seven

Mix of fiction, poetry, non-fiction and spirituality

Most Read